Who was Álvaro Obregón?
Álvaro Obregon was a Mexican revolutionary and military general who served as the president of Mexico from December 1920 to November 1924. He joined the Mexican revolution in 1912, on behalf of President Francisco I. Madero. After Madero’s execution, Álvaro allied with Venustiano Carranza and defeated Victoriano Huerta. However, Pancho Villa rose as his competitor. At the Convention of Aguascalientes, he chose Carranza’s side, against Villa. He crushed Villa in the Battle of Celaya. He then had a rift with Carranza over the presidentship and forced him out of the city. Carranza was killed by Herrera. Álvaro became the president soon and brought in massive educational, labor, and economic reforms. However, he lost the support of the people and the Church. A Catholic extremist killed him in 1928.
Childhood & Early Life
Álvaro Obregón Salido was born on February 19, 1880, at Siquisiva (near Álamos), Sonora, Navojoa, Mexico, to Francisco Obregón and Cenobia Salido. Though his father owned a lavish estate, it was confiscated by the government because of his father’s partner’s support toward Emperor Maximilian during the French conflict in Mexico. His father died the day Álvaro was born. Álvaro was thus raised by his mother and his elder sisters, Cenobia, María, and Rosa. As he grew up, Álvaro taught himself photography and carpentry.
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Early Farming Career
Álvaro Obregón began working on his family’s farm as a child. He then attended his brother’s school in Huatabampo. He was hired as a lathe operator at a sugar mill owned by his uncles in Sinaloa.
After his marriage to Refugio Urrea, he quit his job at the sugar mill and turned into a door-to-door show salesman. He then became a farmer and grew chickpeas.
He invented a chickpea harvester in 1909. He established a company to make these harvesters and sold them to farmers in Mayo Valley.
The Mexican Revolution
It is believed, Álvaro Obregón did not oppose dictator Porfirio Díaz initially. By the time Álvaro became part of the revolution, Díaz had been defeated. Francisco I. Madero had become the president, and the revolutionaries were engaging in a lot of infighting.
Early Military Career
In 1912, about 2 years after the revolution had officially begun, Álvaro joined it on behalf of President Francisco I. Madero. Madero was then fighting against his former ally Pascual Orozco in the north.
Álvaro built an army and joined the forces of General Agustín Sangines. Agustín was pleased with Álvaro’s tactics and promoted him to the post of colonel.
Álvaro crushed an army of “Orozquistas” at the Battle of San Joaquín, under General José Inés Salazar. Soon, Orozco escaped to the United States, leaving his army behind. Following this, Álvaro got back to his farm.
Fight Against Huerta
After Madero was executed by Victoriano Huerta in February 1913, Álvaro Obregón joined the forces against Huerta. By mid-1913, he had established himself as a crucial military general in Sonora.
When the army of revolutionary leader Venustiano Carranza somehow reached Sonora, Álvaro Obregón welcomed them wholeheartedly. Following this, in September 1913, Carranza made him the supreme military commander of the entire revolutionary army in the northwest.
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Soon, their alliance crushed Huerta and then Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. However, their forces dispersed in 1920.
While the revolution halted in the winters of 1913 to 1914, he modernized his army and included new methods. He had mastered the use of trenches, foxholes, and barbed wires.
In 1914, he bought airplanes from the United States and used them in his attack against the federal armies. This was one of the first cases of airplane warfare.
Victory Over Huerta and His Federal Army
On June 23, 1914, Pancho Villa's army crushed Huerta's federal forces at the Battle of Zacatecas. Of the 12,000 federal soldiers, only 300 could march into Aguascalientes.
Álvaro Obregón viewed Villa as his competitor and crushed the federal troops at the Battle of Orendain, taking control of Guadalajara on July 8. Huerta resigned on July 15. Álvaro then defeated Villa at the gates of Mexico City, which he acquired for Carranza on August 11.
After Huerta’s defeat, Álvaro visited Villa in August and in September 1914, but Villa caught Álvaro conspiring against him and threatened to kill him.
He let Álvaro go, but Álvaro was now determined to kill Villa. He returned to Mexico City and strengthened his alliance with Carranza.
The Convention of Aguascalientes
On October 5, 1914, the revolutionaries who had won against Huerta met at the Convention of Aguascalientes. While Villa, Carranza, and Emiliano Zapata sent their representatives, Álvaro was there in person.
The month-long convention ended without a resolution, as Villa and Carranza continued to compete.
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Álvaro gained many followers, while the convention voted Carranza out from his post of the First Chief of the Revolution and elected Eulalio Gutiérrez as the president. Gutiérrez asked Villa to defeat Carranza. Álvaro chose Carranza’s side.
The Battle of Celaya
Carranza sent Álvaro against Villa, not just because he trusted him, but also because he knew if Álvaro failed, he would lose a strong future competitor.
In April 1915, Álvaro moved toward Celaya. Villa attacked him, not knowing that he had dug trenches and planted machine guns.
The battle continued for 2 days, but Villa’s forces were defeated by Álvaro’s modern methods. After a week, Villa attacked again, but was eventually crushed in the Battle of Celaya.
The Battles of Trinidad & Agua Prieta
Álvaro chased Villa and fought the Battle of Trinidad, which went on for 38 days. Álvaro lost his right arm above the elbow but managed to win the battle.
Villa was pushed back to Sonora, where Carranza’s loyal men defeated him at the battle of Agua Prieta. By the end of 1915, Villa’s army had shrunk.
Return to Politics & Rift with Carranza
Álvaro became the minister of war in Carranza's cabinet. He crushed the Yaqui Indians who had once been his allies.
In early 1917, a new constitution was formed and Carranza was made the new president. Álvaro again went back to his farm. Álvaro then started a mining and an export-import business.
In June 1919, Álvaro decided to run for president in the 1920 elections. Carranza, however, had already chosen his successor, Ignacio Bonillas.
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Álvaro had the support of the military and the middle class, but Carranza took away Álvaro’s military rank. Both Álvaro and Carranza formed armies to attack one another.
Carranza left Mexico City in a train full of gold and advisors, but the train was attacked by Álvaro’s men. Carranza and a few survivors accepted sanctuary from Rodolfo Herrera in May 1920 in Tlaxcalantongo. Herrera, however, betrayed Carranza, and shot him dead while he slept in his tent.
As the President
Adolfo de la Huerta became the interim president for 6 months and struck a peace deal with Villa. Álvaro was made the president (representing the ‘Laborist Party’) in December 1920.
He brought in peace, land, and education reforms, and friendly ties with the United States. He also tried rebuilding Mexico’s battered economy.
Adolfo de la Huerta planned to run for president in 1924. Álvaro chose Plutarco Elías Calles instead and crushed de la Huerta's supporters.
De la Huerta went into exile. Calles was elected the president, and Álvaro returned to his ranch.
In 1927, Álvaro decided to run for president again. However, he was now opposed by the people and the Catholic Church (since he was anti-clerical).
When his competitors General Arnulfo Gómez and Francisco Serrano conspired against him, he got them killed by the firing squad.
In July 1928, Álvaro was made the president for a 4-year term. However, on July 17, 1928, he was assassinated by a Catholic named José de León Toral, in San Ángel, outside Mexico City. A few days later, Toral was executed.
Family & Personal Life
In 1903, Álvaro married Refugio Urrea Toledo. They had five children: Álvaro Humberto, Humberto Obregón, María, Jesús, and Cuca. In 1907, Refugio and two of their children died. His remaining children were raised by his three sisters.
He got married to his second wife, María Claudia Tapia Monteverde, on March 2, 1916, and had seven more children: Álvaro, Mayo, Alba, Francisco, Maria, Cenobia, and Ariel.