The Huerta Years
With the quasi-legitimate Madero dead, the country was up for grabs. Two more major players entered the fray. In Coahuila, the former governor Venustiano Carranza took to the field and in Sonora, chick pea farmer and inventor Alvaro Obregón raised an army and entered the fray. Orozco returned to Mexico and allied himself with Huerta, but the “Big Four” of Carranza, Obregón, Villa and Zapata were united in their hatred of Huerta and were determined to oust him from power.
Orozco's support was not nearly enough. With his forces fighting on several fronts, Huerta was steadily pushed back. A great military victory might have saved him, as it would have drawn recruits to his banner, but when Pancho Villa won a crushing victory at the Battle of Zacatecas on June 23, 1914, it was over. Huerta fled to exile, and although Orozco fought on for a while in the north, he, too went to exile in the United States before too long.
The Warlords at War
With the despised Huerta out of the way, Zapata, Carranza, Obregón and Villa were the four most powerful men in Mexico. Unfortunately for the nation, the only thing they had ever agreed upon was that they did not want Huerta in charge, and they soon fell to fighting one another. In October of 1914, representatives of the “Big Four” as well as several smaller independents met at the Convention of Aguascalientes, hoping to agree on a course of action that would bring peace to the nation. Unfortunately, the peace efforts failed, and the Big Four went to war: Villa against Carranza and Zapata against anyone who entered his fiefdom in Morelos. The wild card was Obregón: fatefully, he decided to stick with Carranza.
The Rule of Carranza
Venustiano Carranza felt that as a former governor, he was the only one of the “Big Four” qualified to rule in Mexico, so he set himself up in Mexico City and began organizing elections. His trump card was the support of Obregón, a genius military commander who was popular with his troops. Even so, he did not fully trust Obregón, so he shrewdly sent him after Villa, hoping no doubt that the two would finish each other off so that he could deal with the pesky Zapata and Félix Díaz at his leisure.
Obregón headed north to engage Villa in a clash of two of the most successful revolutionary generals. Obregón had been doing his homework, however, reading up on trench warfare being fought abroad. Villa, on the other hand, still relied on the one trick that had carried him so often in the past: an all-out charge by his devastating cavalry. The two met several times, and Villa always got the worst of it. In April of 1915, at the Battle of Celaya, Obregón fought off countless cavalry charges with barbed wire and machine guns, thoroughly routing Villa. The next month, the two met again at the Battle of Trinidad and 38 days of carnage ensued. Obregón lost an arm at Trinidad, but Villa lost the war: his army in tatters, Villa retreated into the north, destined to spend the rest of the revolution on the sidelines.
In 1915, Carranza set himself up as president pending elections and won the recognition of the United States, which was hugely important to his credibility. In 1917, he won the elections he had set up and began the process of stamping out remaining warlords, such as Zapata and Díaz. Zapata was betrayed, set up, ambushed and assassinated on April 10, 1919 on Carranza's orders. Obregón retired to his ranch with the understanding that he would leave Carranza alone but expected to take over as president after the 1920 elections.
The Rule of Obregón
Carranza reneged on his promise to support Obregón in 1920: a fatal mistake. Obregón still enjoyed the support of much of the military, and when it became apparent that Carranza was going to install little-known Ignacio Bonillas as his successor, Obregón quickly raised a massive army and marched on the capital. Carranza was forced to flee, and was assassinated by supporters of Obregón on May 21, 1920.
Obregón was easily elected in 1920, and served his four-year term as president. For this reason, many historians feel that the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920, although the nation suffered from horrible violence for another decade or so, until the level-headed Lázaro Cárdenas took office. Obregón ordered the assassination of Villa in 1923 and was himself shot to death by a catholic fanatic in 1928, ending the time of the “Big Four.”