The ORE of Latin American History will be available for subscription in late September. Speak to your Oxford representative or contact us to find out more.

Show Summary Details

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, LATIN AMERICAN HISTORY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 25 September 2017

Digital Resources: The Wheelan Collection of Photographs of the Mexican Revolution

Summary and Keywords

The John D. Wheelan Collection primarily contains photographs taken along the Texas-Mexico border in the areas of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, México. The processed collection, housed at Texas A&M University’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, comprises nearly 700 photographs documenting the Mexican Revolution and the war’s spillover into the United States, during a span of 1912 to 1919. Other portions of the image collection document American soldiers stationed in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. The images have been digitized as JP2 files and can be viewed at the library’s institutional repository as well as downloaded. While most of the photographs derive from the film stock shot for The Life of General Villa, there are also portraits, scenes of daily life, and landscapes produced by El Paso studio photographers, photo postcards, and postcards. With the exception of some postcards, nearly all the images are black and white. The photos themselves vary in their measurements, though 3.5" x 5" and 5" x 7" predominate; each image’s dimensions is included in the accompanying metadata found in the repository.

John Wheelan, already active in the fledging Texan motion picture industry, was one of numerous reporters and photographers who covered the Mexican Revolution. He probably arrived in northern Mexico early in the winter of 1913–1914, when General Francisco “Pancho” Villa held Ciudad Juárez. Villa was considered the most able military commander among the Constitutionalists, a loose coalition of revolutionaries against General Victoriano Huerta’s provisional government. In February 1913, Huerta had conspired in the overthrow of the constitutionally elected government of President Francisco Madero. Villa, an ardent supporter of Madero, was one of several leaders in northern Mexico who were fighting for both the restoration of constitutional government and revolutionary agrarian land reforms.

Keywords: Mexican Revolution, combat photography, Francisco “Pancho”, Villa, Battle of Ojinaga, Porfirio Díaz, Francisco I. Madero, John D. Wheelan

While the John D. Wheelan Collection, housed at Texas A&M University’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, contains several hundred images of the Mexican Revolution and the borderlands, an overview of the Revolution itself gives context to the persons, places, and events shown in the collection’s photographs.

Causes of the Revolution: The Last Grasp of the Porfiriato

On November 20, 1910, the government of longtime autocratic dictator Porfirio Díaz was challenged by the proclamation of Francisco I. Madero, calling for a revolution in Mexico. Madero, nominated on April 15, 1910, ran as the Partido Nacional Antirreeleccionista candidate in the presidential election of that year, an election that was manipulated by Díaz in his own favor. Subsequently Díaz had Madero arrested and imprisoned in San Luis Potosí (June 13, 1910), but Madero escaped (October 6, 1910).1 Safely in San Antonio, Madero issued the Plan de San Luis Potosí, calling for the nullification of the 1910 presidential election in favor of an open, democratic election, naming himself provisional president until free elections could be held, and for Mexicans to rise up against the Díaz government at 6:00 pm on November 20, 1910.2 While there were provisions for returning seized lands to peasant farmers, Madero’s plan clearly centered on political reforms, not social or land reforms, that would have encompassed upper-class, middle-class, and working-class Mexicans, mostly mestizo, but few real radicals, to make Mexico into a viable, modern nation.

These events were the culmination of a series of actions building since Ricardo Flores Magón’s 19063 call for Díaz’s ouster and Díaz’s 1908 interview with James Creelman where Díaz indicated that an opposition party would be allowed. Díaz was quoted as saying, “I retire when my present term of office ends, and I shall not serve again . . . [T]herefore I desire to advise it and forget myself in the successful inauguration of complete democratic government in the country.”4 This interview was taken by members of the middle class, especially those with democratic or constitutional leanings, to mean that the time had come to be active in political affairs. Yet it was not to be, as evidenced by Díaz’s interference in the election for the governor of Morelos5 in February 1909 in favor of his candidate, Pablo Escandón y Barrón. Additionally, Díaz had jailed thousands of Madero’s supporters in anticipation of the June 14, 1910, presidential election.

Returning to Mexico from Texas, Francisco Madero, along with his brother Raul, found that rebels under the leadership of Abraham González, Pascual Orozco, and local leaders, such as Francisco “Pancho” Villa, had already taken up arms in Chihuahua. Madero’s call to revolution had been heard.

Property Rights and Agrarian Land Reform

The distribution of land in Mexico, especially for agricultural use, has always been a contentious matter.6 During the Porfiriato, Mexico’s vast natural resources were seen as untapped, and they attracted many foreign firms and investors willing to introduce the latest industrial innovations. The national government would offer incentives, like tax waivers, or create economic zones to spur growth and trade, yet the growth varied greatly from region to region. Modernizing the economy did integrate many rural Mexicans into the national economy, yet there were deep social antagonisms. Less benign was the assistance given by the Díaz government in the transfer and sale of large tracts of land to foreign investors, as much of the land was obtained by dubious means. Instability arose as common people were displaced and/or dispossessed of their lands to make way for the operations related to transportation, mineral extraction, and stockraising in northern Mexico and agricultural and industrial centers in central Mexico or along the Gulf Coast.

The zapatistas and villistas, like other revolutionary forces, held a strong interest in land reform stemming from land disputes between peasants and the owners of haciendas, hacendados, or latifundios, latifundistas. With technological improvements, the land needed for agricultural production was becoming more consolidated into larger and larger haciendas or latifundios. As the amount of public land became scarce, hacendados and latifundistas attempted to convince the peasants to sell the title to what land they did own, but many campesinos refused, as the land and the crops or livestock produced were the sources of their livelihood. Not content with being refused, the landowners resorted to pressure, bribery, violence, and assorted “political and judicial maneuvers—condemnations, court orders, foreclosures, and defective-title rulings”7 to make the peasants leave their lands, often held in common. The tactics were successful and haciendas or latifundios became huge, transforming the agrarian and livestock sectors where the former smallholders became resident laborers (gente de casa) or sharecroppers, or were coerced by debt peonage8 into near slavery. The rural masses were becoming severely impoverished while there was tremendous economic growth in other sectors of the Mexican economy.

An illustrative incident stems from the actions beginning on April 25, 1910, at Hospital Hacienda, a sugar plantation, in Anenecuilco, Morelos. The hacendados annexed the lands surrounding the hacienda and barred the campesinos, the former rightful owners, from planting crops, particularly corn, thereby appropriating their means of existence. The campesinos called upon both the national and local governments to act on behalf of their land rights, but to no avail. As mentioned, the governor of Morelos, Escandón, was governor by the action of Díaz, and clearly the interests of the large haciendas took precedence over the concerns for the livelihood of the displaced campesinos and their pleas for assistance.

As the growing season approached with no favorable resolution in sight, the campesinos declared that they would be ready to forfeit their ownership rights of the disputed lands and rent the land simply to be able to plant and harvest their crops. Time for planting continued to pass and the governor was indifferent to their pleas, though he eventually forwarded them to the hacendado. The hacendado absolutely refused to allow the planting of crops, prompting the president of the village council, Emiliano Zapata, to embrace different means to rectify the loss of their lands—taking up arms. For the elites who had disposed the Morelos indigenous communities of their common lands during the sugar boom, they reaped what they had sowed and fled to Mexico City, clamoring for action against the Zapata uprising. Being influential, their successful demands for action against Zapata actually served as a boon for Madero and the fight in the North: Arms and attention were diverted and forces that might have defeated Madero were instead deployed to the South, to fight a guerrilla war in rugged country that favored Zapata.

The Resolution of the Porfiriato

In mid-1911, Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa prevailed upon Francisco Madero that the majority of their forces should be used to take Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. At the last minute, Madero changed his mind and called off the attack, afraid that artillery shells might go astray and land in nearby El Paso, Texas, drawing the United States into the conflict. Orozco ignored Madero and started the action against Ciudad Juárez,9 and the city’s federal commander surrendered on May 10. After the victory at Ciudad Juárez, others towns such as Tehuacán and Durango fell. On May 12, Zapata overran Cuautla. The press began to turn against Díaz, government officials saw his days numbered, and many federal troops began deserting their posts. Díaz realized that his time was over and sent negotiators to Madero. Via the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez, signed May 21, 1911, Díaz agreed to resign on May 25, 1911, and enter into exile in Paris, France. Díaz had been overthrown, but the revolution had just started.

The Revolutionary Forces

Although the images within the Wheelan Collection are primarily of the military activity in parts of northern Mexico, the revolution was fought across much of Mexico and by several distinct military forces.

The principal revolutionary forces were:

  • The División del Norte (so called beginning in 1913), the forces under the command of General Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Villa’s forces fought in northern Mexico, generally Chihuahua, but eventually had a presence in Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Colima, Aguascalientes, Querétaro, Coahuila, Estado de México, Guanajuato, and part of Jalisco. They were active from 1910, and according to Friedrich Katz, the División del Norte “was probably the largest revolutionary army that Latin America ever produced,”10 perhaps with 50,000 troops.

  • The Ejército Libertador del Sur, based in the state of Morelos, was led by General Emiliano Zapata and fought in southern and central Mexico—Morelos, Estado de México, Guerrero, Puebla, and Tlaxcala. Zapata’s Plan de Ayala (November 28, 1911) called for extensive agrarian reform, partial devolution of land taken by hacendados, and a renewed vigor in the revolution.11 It was issued as Zapata grew steadily more dissatisfied with Madero’s lack of interest in land reform.12 Zapata’s forces took up arms beginning in late 1910, with the formal name of Ejército Libertador del Sur appearing in December, 1911.

  • The Ejército Constitucionalista was formed in Coahuila by Venustiano Carranza, once Madero’s minister of war, in March 1913 in response to General Victoriano Huerta’s13 betrayal and overthrow14 of Madero and Madero’s subsequent assassination. Conceived to operate in seven different zones across Mexico, there were actual three armies: the Northwest Corps, commanded by Álvaro Obregón (Sonora, Sinaloa, Durango, Chihuahua, Baja California, Jalisco); the Northeast Corps, commanded by Pablo González (Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Coahuila, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo); and the Central Corps under Pánfilo Natera (Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Durango). Carranza’s Plan de Guadalupe15 called for restoring the 1857 Constitution and omitted the social reforms present in the Plan de San Luis Potosí and the Plan de Ayala. Neither Villa16 nor Zapata agreed to the Plan de Guadalupe, and Carranza, once in power, would see that their opposition would cease.

Villa’s División del Norte in Images: John D. Wheelan Photographs

As with other 20th-century conflicts, the Mexican Revolution was also a war fought in the “media” where the manner in which stories and images were portrayed in newspapers and cinema could have an effect as surely as a battle. At stake was the backing of the United States government and its people—who could, as in the past, intervene decidedly in favor of one side or another, if they chose. Given this reality, the revolution saw propaganda evolve from the crude publication of rival “official” claims into more subtle attempts to influence the views of the journalists and cameramen who came into Mexico trying to navigate the policy differences among the revolutionaries versus the federales (federal forces), as well as the shifting allegiances among villistas, zapatistas, constitucionalistas, convencionalistas, and so on.

John Davidson Wheelan17 was already active in the fledging Texan motion picture industry when the Mexican Revolution began. In the Handbook of Texas, John Slate18 indicates that

the earliest documentable company established in Texas for the purposes of making and distributing motion pictures was the Wheelan-Loper Film Company of Dallas and San Antonio, incorporated on July 18, 1908, as the J. D. Wheelan Film Company. The enterprise was started by John D. Wheelan, exclusive Texas representative of the monopolistic Motion Picture Patents Company, and, later, the General Film Company and the Mutual Film Corporation of Texas. Although the enterprise was formed primarily to distribute the films of a number of domestic and foreign companies, part of the capital stock is listed in the company’s charter records in terms of equipment and supplies, including cameras, lighting apparatus, and reels of unexposed film stock. The Wheelan-Loper Film Company ceased doing business after the teens.

During the pivotal winter of 1913–1914, Wheelan and his crew of motion picture photographers, employed by the Mutual Film Corporation, likely arrived in northern Mexico, joining other newspaper and magazine reporters, photographers, and filmmakers to cover the Mexican Revolution, especially the movements of General Pancho Villa. Villa understood the influence and importance of the media’s reporting his deeds and was no doubt attracted by the idea of motion pictures capturing his exploits that could help garner needed money and supplies to sustain his fight against General Huerta. Although Ciudad Juárez, across the Río Grande from El Paso, Texas, had been under the control of Villa’s forces by the time of Wheelan’s arrival, the revolution was far from finished. Images from the collection do show aspects of stable, daily life in both El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, but the portrayals in the images across the collection are quite at odds. Ciudad Juárez has bull fights and a keno hall, while El Paso is highlighted by its plazas, schools, and panoramas in contrast to the destitution of the rural landscape and destroyed towns and cities elsewhere in northern Mexico.

On January 5, 1914, only a few weeks after his troops occupied Ciudad Chihuahua in an attempt to remove the federal government’s power in the North, Villa signed a contract with D. W. Griffith’s Mutual Film Corporation of Texas, represented by partner Harry E. Aitken. Villa may have hoped to use the film to earn more support within the Wilson administration, which was already providing arms to his forces. Two days later, the New York Times reported on the deal:

The business of General Villa will be to provide moving picture thrillers in any way that is consistent with his plans to depose and drive General Huerta out of Mexico, and the business of Mr. Aitken, the other partner, will be to distribute the resulting films throughout the peaceable sections of Mexico and the United States and Canada. To make sure that the business will be a success, Mr. Aitken dispatched to General Villa’s camp last Saturday a squad of four moving picture men with apparatus designed especially to take pictures on battlefields.19

While the New York Times article provides some information, Friedrich Katz documents how Villa sold the filming rights for the military campaigns in his area of combat to Mutual for $25,000 and a 20 percent royalty on the film’s earnings. “For the film industry,” Katz writes in his The Life and Times of Pancho Villa, “this contract was very important. Newsreels were a relatively new genre, and the film industry was greatly interested in their development.”20

Yet by 1914, motion picture camera crews already had covered major military actions from the Spanish-American War to the Balkans War.21 Additionally, Mexico as a motion picture set was not novel, since native filmmakers had been active there since 1895 and the revolution had already been captured by camera teams from both sides of the border from the outbreak of the conflict.22 Thus there really was nothing surprising about Villa, or other military commanders on the opposing sides, having an agreement to film their troops in combat. A portion of what Wheelan and his crew filmed likely went into the motion picture produced by Mutual for distribution. That film, The Life of General Villa,23 among assorted other titles, was widely screened in movie theaters. Other segments were used for newsreels, and in some cases stills were printed as postcards. The footage was also screened by the Red Cross, though not present at battle sites, to illustrate to the group’s members how brutal the combat was in northern Mexico. However, the film’s plot made no effort to portray the long-standing sociolegal practices and economic grievances that led the villistas to so readily support Madero’s call to arms in the first place.

From El Paso, Wheelan, his film crew, and others would have crossed into Ciudad Juárez by the international bridge over the Río Grande and then traveled by rail to the battle zones within Mexico. Villa’s command outfitted train baggage cars with sleeping quarters and office space to transport the journalists, film crews, and others, as well as their equipment.24 Frequently, these modified cars were attached to the train in close proximity to Villa’s private car, affording him the opportunity to engage with the press.

Villa, savvy of his image and reputation as the most able military commander (at least at this stage of the revolution), welcomed reporters from the United States for interviews and photographs. He therefore appears more frequently in the Wheelan Collection images than any other person. To further cultivate his image with the U.S. press and gain support, Villa was also counseled by George C. Carothers, an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson, to emphasize democracy, federalism, U.S. political practices, and the special precautions that he, Villa, took to safeguard American lives and property. Villa enjoyed much success and huge popularity among the rural workers helping him to control over half of Coahuilla during 1914–1915. Yet in her study of the Revolution in Coahuila, Pasztor25 notes that on the whole, “Villismo appeared in Coahuila primarily as an agency of further destruction.” The destruction was not limited to Coahuila, and by the later stages of the revolution, though, Villa was being pursued by elements of the U.S. Army under the command of General John Jay Pershing in response to a March 9, 1916, raid on Columbus, New Mexico.26

The combat scenes captured on film by Wheelan and his crew, from approximately November 1913 to May 1914, typically show battle preparation—exhorting troops, clouds of dust as troops move, wheeling about of horses, positioning of artillery—and the after-action, including corpses and obliterated buildings. But images of actual combat in action are rare. There are also images of soldiers encamped, captured, making repairs (especially of railroad tracks), and awaiting transport.

While much genuine combat was captured on film, other scenes were staged: soldiers aiming at a mock enemy, a man in a suit firing a Hotchkiss machine gun while another uses binocular to see the bullets’ impacts, a soldier grinning as he and other troops take possession of new rifles, and men gathering about a wagon effecting repairs.

As many photos in the collection lack photographer credits (655 in total), it is likely that the still images are cuts from the motion picture film taken by the Mutual crew early in the revolution, rather than actual photographs. In other cases, photographs do carry captions and credits of several El Paso firms: Alexander Photo, C. R. Pimentel, Duncan Photo, H. H. Horne Co., W. H. Horne Co.,27 and Hills Photo Shop.

The Battle of Ojinaga: Images within the Wheelan Collection

An array of images in the Wheelan Collection conveys the Battle of Ojinaga and its ramifications on both sides of the Mexico–United States border. The Battle of Ojinaga (January 1–10, 1914) plays an important role in the Mexican Revolution, because the defeat of the Federal Army, led by Salvador Mercado, formalized Villa’s supremacy over the State of Chihuahua as governor. It also led to Villa’s meeting some of the senior leadership (including General John Jay Pershing) of the U.S. Army at Ft. Bliss, Texas. The United States sent additional troops from Fort Bliss to deal with the flood of civilian refugees and to assist the Red Cross in establishing a mobile hospital to treat the wounded. These additional U.S. troops were also disarming the deserting federalist troops and their supporters who fled across the border to Presidio, Texas. From Presidio, many of the federales then marched further to Marfa, Texas. This retreat of the federales into the United States was termed the March of Sorrow.28

Federal forces under General Salvador Mercado retreated 150 miles northeast to Ojinaga after the fall of Chihuahua29 in late November 1913. Villa’s forces were on a streak, having defeated federales at Ciudad Juárez and Tierra Blanca, occupying Chihuahua30 in early December, and thus pursuing Mercado’s troops across the desert.

This multiday battle started with General Toribio Ortega Ramírez’s31 men driving federal troops into the buildings in the center of the town; however, the federales effectively used artillery bombardment to greatly impede, though not stop, the villista movement. Although some federal troops deserted and crossed the border at Presidio, Texas, the battle continued as Villa relieved Ramírez of command after the officer ordered his men to withdraw following four days of ineffective attacks against federales barricaded in Ojinaga. Villa sent reinforcements from Chihuahua to continue the attack. About 7,000 of Villa’s soldiers under the commands of Generals Ramírez and Villa himself battled Mercado’s 4,000 federal soldiers in Ojinaga, forcing more than half of the federal troops to retreat over the Mexican-U.S. border. The victory assured Villa control of nearly all of northern Mexico since the federales and their supporters fled, cementing his reputation as a great military leader. As the images show, Ojinaga was in ruinsafter the multiday battle.

This battle produced one of the most iconic images of the entire Mexican Revolution. Captioned “General Villa after the Battle of Ojinaga,” the image clearly captures Villa on horseback, near the pinnacle of his power, with one hand holding the reins of his horse and dust being kicked up as he rides at the head of his troops. He is on the verge of driving the federales out of northern Mexico.

The image captioned “General Salvador Mercado, Maj. McNamara, and Mexican Consul. On rear seat of auto. Made at Marfa, Texas.” (wide angle) shows General Mercado (close-up) shortly after crossing into the United States after the Battle of Ojinaga on January 11, 1914. Mercado, his troops, and sympathetic civilians are escaping across the Río Grande to Presidio, Texas, for all intents and purposes ending the presence of the Federal Army in northern Mexico. Marfa, where this image was taken, is approximately 60 miles north of Presidio. Mercado remained in exile in the United States for several years. The Mexican federal troops were placed into makeshift camps by the U.S. Army, from whence they were transported to Ft. Bliss (El Paso, Texas) for indefinite detention. The civilians likewise were placed into detention centers in the same locale.

In what is a startling juxtaposition, while the Battle of Ojinaga was raging, Villa was simultaneously signing the motion picture contract with Mutual Film to shoot footage of the fighting for movies and newsreels from the vantage point of Villa’s revolutionary army. By his so doing, there are numerous images within the Wheelan Collection of this battle, its aftermath, and the relevant officers in Villa’s service.

Photographic Highlights of the Collection

One of several highlights of the Wheelan Collection is the image titled, “General Felipe Ángeles, commander of Villa’s artillery, speaking with reporters, likely explaining a military action.” General Ángeles attended, and later lectured at, the Military Academy at Chapultepec and received further study in France on artillery from 1908 onward. The revolution began while he was in France, and his request to return to Mexico was denied. When Madero came to power, Ángeles served as a general but was exiled again once Huerta overthrew Madero. Ángeles returned in secret and offered his expertise to Carranza. Although their relationship was tense, Ángeles was trusted to negotiate with Villa and Zapata, and Ángeles eventually joined Villa’s forces. While he conceived of the three-pronged attack that ultimately captured Mexico City, he was executed by Carranza’s government in 1919.

Raúl Madero was one of Francisco Madero’s brothers. After his brother’s assassination, Raúl Madero joined Villa’s División del Norte. He was instrumental in the capture of Ciudad Juárez in May 1911, and he commanded forces at the Battle of Ojinaga in early January 1914. In addition to being a military officer, he served as a governor of two different Mexican states during the era of the revolution: Coahuila (June 15–20, 1915) and Nuevo León (February 15–May 29, 1915). He voted against Carranza at the Aguascalientes Convention and remained with the División del Norte, operating under the command of General Felipe Ángeles. Raúl Madero broke from Villa toward the end of the revolution and settled in New York before returning to Mexico in 1921.

Another iconic image in the Wheelan Collection is that of “Pancho Villa with Generals Rodolfo Fierro, and Manuel Chao.” These two generals were major players in the villista forces. Rodolfo Fierro joined the División de Norte in September 1913 and was Villa’s henchman, known as el carnicero (“the butcher”). Having worked with the railroad before the revolution, he was also Villa’s railway superintendent. Manuel Chao was Villa’s chief of artillery and became Governor of Chihuahua in March 1914.

The image titled “General Luis Terrazas’ Estate” is a representation befitting a man who was a land and cattle baron. Relations between Villa and Terrazas were unsurprisingly poor, with Terrazas suspecting Villa of rustling his cattle. Villa was also the lead suspect in the detention and torture of Terrazas’ son, Luis Terrazas, Jr., during the revolution.

Musicians” is a highly constructed image that tells an interesting story. Villa captured this band of musicians in Ciudad Juárez in November 1913. He asked the director to have the band represent the music of the revolution. Villa, ever savvy of his image, bought the band members new uniforms and sent the director to New York to buy new instruments.

The photographs of aircraft that are in the Wheelan Collection feature an American variant of the British-designed De Havilland DH-4 produced by Dayton-Wright, which entered service in 1917. While the DH-4 was used to deliver mail and parcels, the paint schemes and military men shown in or around the planes make it likely that these DH-4 were used in Pershing’s Punitive Expedition to capture Villa following the 1916 Columbus, New Mexico, raid. That the desert was a harsh environment for the aircraft is clearly evident in the photos, where there is a hangar fashioned from canvas. In another image, a plane is strapped to fence posts and the seats are covered as a sandstorm approaches.

The White armored car, used also by the American Expeditionary Force during World War I, appears in several of the images. If one enlarges the photograph captioned “Armored Tanks Stationed at International Bridge,” a flyer for “Liberty Loan” is posted to a utility pole, and African-American soldiers operate the armored cars. In certain cases, there was improvization to armor a portion of a vehicle, as seen in the machine gun cars in “Ready for Parade.” The motorized vehicles in the Punitive Expedition altered the logistics of military operations away from horses and railroads, as well as liberating the combat elements of the expedition. However, Villa knew the geography better and was never caught.

Two uncaptioned images are fairly unique within the collection since they focus on groupings of indigenous peoples in an urban setting. The catalogers call them “Native Americans,” but perhaps they are Yaquis or Tarahumaras, given the locations where Wheelan and his crew worked. The images feature men who generally have bare legs, huaraches, and long hair, some wearing hats and many carrying a blanket over their shoulders.

Gas Drill” and “Gas Mask” are later images from the collection but do remind the viewer that the Mexican Revolution and World War I did overlap. The mask worn by the American soldier is an early design, probably a trainer—American Box Respirator—derived from the British Small Respirator, and as such can be no earlier than 1917. Also note that the exhalation valve lacks a black-painted steel bracket, found on later U.S. masks. Also lacking is a numeric stamp indicating the size (2 for small, up to 5 for large) that would appear on later gas masks on the circular disk between the eye lenses and respirator tube.

The Moderation Resolution of the Revolution

A number of political events led to a fairly rapid shift in the revolutionary leadership and momentum. Francisco Madero served as president of Mexico from November 6, 1911, until February 19, 1913. The counterrevolutionary General Victoriano Huerta led a coup against Madero, and on February 22, 1913, Madero was assassinated. Huerta assumed the presidency and remained in power until July 1914. Venustiano Carranza then emerged as the new opposition leader of Mexico and formed the Ejército Constitucionalista. Though both Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa fought against Huerta, they did not support Carranza politically, for his plans contrasted with their desired land reforms. In late 1914, the uneasy relationship existing between Villa and Carranza further deteriorated to the point that Villa would take up arms against Carranza. In 1917, Carranza was elected president and successfully implemented a new constitution that eroded the support of his rivals Villa and Zapata. Then Zapata was ambushed and killed in 1919 by associates of Carranza. Carranza himself was assassinated in May 1920, in part for orchestrating the election of his chosen candidate as president. Álvaro Obregón, another revolutionary general, became president in 1920, and the revolution came more or less to its ending. Villa settled in a hacienda near his old home in Parral, Chihuahua. On July 20, 1923, while visiting town without his usual bodyguards, Villa also fell to an assassination, killed in an ambush.

The Wheelan Collection contains scanned images of the early stages of the Mexican Revolution, whether stills from the now-lost film The Life of General Villa or the photo postcards that served as an early form of “war photojournalism” in Mexico’s North. Villa astride his horse during the Battle of Ojinaga is an iconic image, yet so too is the poignant photograph of detained refugees held at Fort Bliss passing food over a barbed-wire fence. The images expose social contradictions resulting from the decades-long rule of Díaz, where needed political and agricultural reforms were suppressed despite the tremendous economic development that had occurred, for instance, in mining and railways that favored the upper classes and foreign interests.

Primary Sources

The John D. Wheelan Collection of Mexican Revolution Photographs. Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M University.

The Franklin Lee Cleavenger Collection at the University of Texas at El Paso. Cleavenger worked for the Chihuahuan phone company during the Mexican Revolution. While repairing the lines between El Paso and Ciudad Chihuahua, he would take photos using coated glass plates.

The Otis A. Aultman Photo Collection at the El Paso Public Library. A favorite photographer of Pancho Villa, there are many images of the Mexican Revolution in addition to early El Paso, Ciudad Juárez, New Mexico, and archaeological sites. The University of Texas at El Paso also has some of his prints.

The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection of the South Texas Border Area of the University of Texas at Austin and Library of Congress. The Mexican Revolution images in this collection focus upon northeast Mexico (Matamoros, Monterrey, Ciudad Victoria, and the Texas border area) from 1913 to 1916.

Villa’s contract with Mutual Film Corporation, held by the Centro de Estudios de Historia de Mexico (Carso) Archivo Federico Gonzalez Garza, folio 3057.

Pancho Villa’s “Manifesto . . . to the Mexican People” opposing Venustiano Carranza as First Chief of the Revolution.

Emiliano Zapata’s Plan de Ayala called for extensive land reforms and redistribution of agricultural land.

The George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress contains the photographic records of one of the earliest news agencies in the United States.

The Sabino Osuna Collection housed at the Tomás Rivera Library Special Collections and Archives Department of the University of California Riverside, contains 427 glass-plate and film negatives covering the early years of the revolution, in particular the Decena Trágica (February 1913), when Francisco Madero was overthrown by Victoriano Huerta.

The Agustín Casasola CollectionFondo Casasola—in the Fototeca Nacional of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) contains nearly 500,000 images taken between 1895 and 1972.

The Mexican Revolution Collection at Yale University’s Beinecke Library highlights the military involvement of the United States in the Mexican Revolution.

Further Reading

Banwell, Julia. “Death and Disruption in the Photography Of the Decena Trágica.” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 30.1 (2014): 104–121.Find this resource:

Barra, Allen. “Pancho Villa’s War (Movie).” Military History 28.4 (2011): 58–63.Find this resource:

Beezley, William H., and Colin MacLachlan. Mexicans in Revolution. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Brunk, Samuel. Emiliano Zapata: Revolution and Betrayal in Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Gonzales, Michael J.The Mexican Revolution: 1910–1940. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002Find this resource:

Hall, Linda B.Álvaro Obregón: Power and Revolution in Mexico, 1911–1920. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Hart, John Mason. Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution. 10th anniversary ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Hart, John Mason. Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico since the Civil War. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Katz, Friedrich. The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.Find this resource:

Katz, Friedrich. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution. Vol. I: Porfirians, Liberals, and Peasants. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution. Vol. II: Counter-revolution and Reconstruction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.Find this resource:

McNamara, Patrick J. “Rewriting Zapata: Generational Conflict on the Eve of the Mexican Revolution.” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 30.1 (2014): 122–149.Find this resource:

Meade, Everard Kidder. “The Passion of the Mexican Revolution: The Trial and Execution of Felipe Ángeles.” Journal of Historical Biography 7 (Spring 2010): 30–99.Find this resource:

Mraz, John. Photographing the Mexican Revolution: Commitments, Testimonies, Icons. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Nasr, Rebeca Monroy. “Revolución Mexicana y la Modernidad Manifiesta en la Fotografía.” Patrimônio E Memória 9.2 (2013): 71–86.Find this resource:

Newman, Elizabeth T.Biography of a Hacienda: Work and Revolution in Rural Mexico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Pick, Zuzana. Constructing the Image of the Mexican Revolution. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Richmond, Douglas W., and Sam W. Haynes, eds. The Mexican Revolution: Conflict and Consolidation, 1910–1940. College Station: Published for the University of Texas at Arlington by Texas A&M University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Womack, John. Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969.Find this resource:


(1.) Caldwell, Laura. “Madero, Francisco Indalecio.”

(2.) While the plan called for the uprising to begin on November 20, the revolution effectively began two days earlier on the 18th in Puebla State as Aquiles Serdán was revealed to be involved in Madero’s movement. Serdán, family members, and other antireeleccionistas were killed by the federal army in a siege of Serdán’s home. See Stanley R. Ross, Francisco I. Madero: Apostle of Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), 121–122.

(3.) Ward S. Albro, Always a Rebel: Ricardo Flores Magón and the Mexican Revolution (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1992).

(4.) James Creelman, “President Díaz: Hero of the Americas,” Pearson’s Magazine , March 1908, 231–277. See pp. 241–242 of Creel’s interview with Díaz.

(5.) Nora Pérez–Rayón Elizundia, “La formación y desarrollo de la burguesía mexicana durante el porfiriato: Los Escandón Barrón y los Escandón Arango,” Sociológica 4.9 (January–April 1989): 9–37.

(6.) For a longer time frame of struggle for agrarian land reform, see John Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution in Mexico: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750–1940 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).

(7.) John Womack, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969), 18.

(8.) See Sarah Westbrook for more on debt peonage: “Una Esclavitud Simulada’: Debt Peonage in the State of Chiapas, Mexico, 1876–1911,” Journal of Peasant Studies 33.3 (2006): 367–412.

(9.) Madero was angry with Orozco for ignoring his order and consequently did not give him a position in his cabinet. In practical terms, these actions showed that the anti-Díaz coalition was separating.

(10.) Friedrich Katz, The Life and Times of Pancho Villa (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), xiii.

(11.) The Hospital Hacienda incident was in April–May, 1910.

(12.) On May 26, 1911, Madero issued a declaration that weakened the language in the Plan de San Luis Potosí concerning judicial review of land transfers and the eventual return of lands to their rightful owners.

(13.) In 1914, Huerta was overthrown after little more than a year of continuing battles capped by the U.S. occupation of Veracruz.

(14.) During a ten-day period—La Decena Trágica—Huerta, chief of the federal army, and a small faction led by Felix Díaz, Porfirio Díaz’s nephew, battled in Mexico City for ten days. On February 8, 1913, Díaz, Huerta, and Henry Lane Wilson, the U.S. ambassador appointed by the Taft administration, met at the U.S. embassy and signed “The Pact of the Embassy.” The pact outlined a coup against Madero and a plan to install Huerta as the new president, as Madero was perceived as too receptive to the more revolutionary elements. Madero’s sole defense was General Felipe Ángeles’s army. The Taft administration deployed U.S. warships and troops to the Mexican coast to bolster the coup’s success. Madero, Pino Suárez (the vice president), and Angeles were arrested, with Madero and Suárez being shot to death under the pretense of escaping on February 22, 1913. Ángeles, though briefly exiled, returned to Mexico and served under Carranza and Villa. He designed the three-pronged attack that ultimately captured Mexico City, yet in the end, he was executed by Carranza’s government in 1919.

(15.) The plan, proclaimed by Carranza on March 26, 1913, denied Huerta’s government as legitimate since his coming to power was unconstitutional. Carranza created a new army, the Ejército Constitucionalista, with himself as its commanding officer. Once Mexico City was occupied, Carranza would function as the interim president until a general election.

(16.) On September 30, 1914, Villa issued a “Manifesto . . . to the Mexican People” opposing Carranza as First Chief of the Revolution.

(17.) Wheelan directed filming operations for Mutual in the El Paso area during 1913–1914. He remained in the film industry, owning theaters in Dallas and Waco. Eventually he moved into phonographs and pipe organs before his death around February 24, 1926, per an obituary in the Dallas News.

(18.) John H. Slate, “Film Industry,” Handbook of Texas Online.

(19.) Special to the New York Times, “VILLA AT THE FRONT ‘MOVIES’SIGN HIM UP,” New York Times (1857–1922), vol. 1, January 7, 1914, ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

(20.) Katz, Life and Times, 325. Lore has it that the contract has clauses obligating Villa to conduct military actions in the best light or angles for the cameras. Katz unequivocally denies those apocryphal clauses, saying that “the actual contract in fact contained no such clauses. There was absolutely no mention of reenactment of battle scenes or of Villa providing good lighting” (325). The contract is held by Centro de Estudios de Historia de Mexico (Carso) Archivo Federico González Garza, folio 3057.

(21.) Aurelio de los Reyes, Con Villa en México: Testimonios de Camarógrafos Norte Americanos en la Revolución 1911–1916 (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1985), 36.

(22.) Aurelio de los Reyes, El Cine y Sociedad en México, 1896–1930 (Mexico City: Cinoteca Nacional, 1981).

(23.) There are no known surviving copies of The Life of General Villa, which is not surprising given the volatile film stock of the era and the business practices of early movie production. In a 2003 release, Los rollos perdidos de Pancho Villa, filmmaker and media archivist Gregorio Rocha chronicles his international search for the reels of the lost 1914 film. Rocha’s film may be the best proxy for recapturing a sense of the lost work.

(24.) These images show some of the camera equipment used during the course of the revolution.

(25.) Suzanne B. Pasztor, The Spirit of Hidalgo: The Mexican Revolution in Coahuila (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2002), 129.

(26.) Villa, always daring, undertook the raid for any number of reasons, such as his anger that the Wilson administration recognized his political adversary, Carranza, or to seize the opportunity to capture needed supplies. The raid raised the ire of the United States. General Pershing had a force of 10,000 men pursue Villa into Mexico and to capture him. While Pershing failed in his yearlong effort to capture Villa, he did utilize aircraft and armored, motorized vehicles. These were firsts for the U.S. Army, which was gaining valuable lessons in the art of the new warfare that would be applied by the American Expeditionary Force in World War I.

(27.) For more biographical information about Walter H. Horne and the technical process of producing photo postcards, see Charles Bennett, “Picturing the Revolution: The Real-Photo Postcards of Walter H. Horne,” El Palacio 115.1 (Spring 2010), 60–66. The Special Collections unit of the El Paso Public Library has his letters.

(28.) Zuzana Pick, Constructing the Image of the Mexican Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), 62.

(29.) Geographically, Chihuahua was in an untenable position for General Mercado to retain it for Huerta’s government, as Villa held Ciudad Juárez and Torreón.

(30.) Image 1, image 2, image 3, image 4, and image 5 show Villa and his staff reviewing the troops from the Palacio Federal in Chihuahua.

(31.) General Toribio Ortega Ramírez was one of the first to revolt against Porfirio Díaz on November 14, 1910. He was the second in command of Villa’s forces, but died of typhoid in 1916. This image shows him in Ciudad de Chihuahua, while another image shows the Brigada González Ortega that he commanded parading in Ciudad Chihuahua. In this second image, the standard of the brigade is clearly visible at the head of the column of mounted soldiers.