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Orozco: The Life and Death of a Mexican Revolutionary, by Raymond Caballero, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2017, $34.95

After Hernán Cortez destroyed the Aztec empire, he worked to avoid the mistakes the Spanish made with the Indians of the Caribbean islands. For one thing, he put military police in Mexico City to enable local artists and merchants to safely sell their products in the open markets. He also permitted Indian communities to keep and collectively cultivate what he called “common land.” Evidently failing to learn from that bit of history, President Porfírio Díaz and his political circle started to seize that land—and sure enough, Mexico erupted in revolution in early 1911.

Pascual Orozco Vazquez Jr. led the first of a succession of insurrections, which saw Díaz go into exile three months later, followed by the November election of moderate revolutionary Francisco Ignacio Madero González as president.

In Orozco Raymond Caballero, former mayor of El Paso and an independent researcher on Mexican history, turns our attention to one of the revolution’s less-remembered heroes. A onetime mule-skinner in northwest Chihuahua, Orozco proved a natural military leader, whom the author suggests was the essential element in Díaz’s downfall, as well as one of the revolution’s most successful commanders. Orozco was nonetheless a complex and controversial character, subsequently accepting money from the conservative faction and changing camps to back Victoriano Huerta’s overthrow of Madero in 1913. At the same time he sought to maintain his connections with leftists.

Orozco’s end was perhaps inevitable, but nevertheless grisly—and not what one would expect. On Aug. 30, 1915, Texas authorities hunted down the revolutionary and four confederates, charged them with horse theft and summarily lynched them.

While we know much about Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, nothing was written about Orozco in Spanish for a century, or in English until 1967, with Michael C. Meyer’s Mexican Rebel. Thus Caballero’s biography fills a historical gap for anyone interested in Mexico’s turbulent revolution.

—Thomas Zacharis