How Corridos Capture the Essence of the Mexican Revolution

The songs emphasize the Mexican Revolution as a tragedy born from broken promises. Unlike textbooks listing battles and plans, the corridos capture the profound emotional cost and the shattering of a nation's hopes.

How Corridos Capture the Essence of the Mexican Revolution
Corridos: More than just music, they were the history books of the Mexican Revolution.

History gets told in more ways than one. Sure, there are those stuffy textbooks, packed with dates and drab names. But history also sings, its tales carried in the verses of folk songs, called corridos. In the case of the Mexican Revolution, these ballads tell a story not just of battlefields and betrayals, but of a spirit broken and betrayed.

It all began with hope. Francisco Madero, that idealistic little man, crossed back into Mexico aflame with promises of democracy after the long, suffocating reign of Don Porfirio Díaz. They cried “Viva Madero!” as he rode in triumph, the man who'd kick Díaz off his gilded throne.

But like the troubadours who sing the corridos, let's inject a dose of honest skepticism. These singers warned their audiences not to get overly boastful–fame and fortune are fickle things. And boy, were they right about the Revolution. Its early successes fooled us all; it didn't end the violence, it just switched up the players.

Down south, Emiliano Zapata and his peasant armies weren't buying Madero's promises. The Ayala Plan laid it out – for them, land reform was the core of the fight. Meanwhile, old Porfirio loyalists like Félix Díaz and General Mondragón lurked and schemed, aided by power players like Bernardo Reyes.

Things got wild. Pascual Orozco turned against Madero in Chihuahua, battles blazed, and in Veracruz, Díaz staged a desperate revolt. Those ten bloody days in Mexico City? We call them the “Tragic Ten,” and tragedy they were. They ended with gunshots in a palace and Madero and his Vice President Pino Suárez dead in the street.

So, did anyone win this Revolution? That's where those wise corridos offer something textbooks can't. They're not just records of who stabbed who in the back. See, these ballads mourn the ordinary folks caught in the crossfire, the ones tricked by flashy promises from power-hungry men.

History buffs like facts, and here's one – revolutions chew people up and spit them out. But if you really want to feel it, to get past those dry names like “Ayala Plan” or “Tragic Ten,” find a recording of a revolutionary corrido. The singers understood; they saw this wasn't about any leader, or fancy plans. They knew that, ultimately, the Mexican Revolution was a tragedy not of armies, but of ideals – a song of shattered dreams for a better Mexico.

A black and white photo of Francisco I. Madero, a small man with a mustache.
A black and white photo of Francisco I. Madero, a small man with a mustache. Credit: Parras

Don Francisco and the Shaky Start of a Revolution

He was the anti-reelectionist, the apostle of democracy, the unlikely powerhouse named Don Francisco I. Madero. And as this lightning-fast reformer took Ciudad Juárez, finally smashing the entrenched Porfirian dictatorship, he became the leader of a revolutionary chorus. Madero's victory was built on an unusual talent for bringing disparate revolutionaries together with his simple yet inspiring slogan: EFFECTIVE SUFFRAGE, NO RE-ELECTION.

On June 7, 1911, after a triumphant procession from north to south, this diminutive but determined figure entered Mexico City. The reception? Well, let's just say the city hadn't seen anything like it. Crowds surged, cheers boomed, balconies groaned under the weight of excited onlookers – everyone wanted a glimpse of the leader. Madero, haranguing from a balcony with revolutionary comrades like Pascual Orozco at his side, was an intoxicating sight for a public starved for change.

And wouldn't you know it, even the earth got in on the action! An earthquake shook the city on the morning of Madero's arrival. As though Mexico itself was heralding a seismic shift in power! Folks said, “Look at that – Madero's so mighty he caused a quake!” When elections finally came about on October 15, 1911, it was no surprise when Madero and José María Pino Suarez soared to victory, swept in on a wave of genuine public enthusiasm.

Francisco I. Madero, surrounded by supporters, triumphantly enters Mexico City in 1911.
Francisco I. Madero, surrounded by supporters, triumphantly enters Mexico City in 1911. Crowds line the streets, eager for change. Credit: Parras

Of course, history loves a good story, but we have to remember that beneath the cheers and earthquakes, Madero was far from an idealized hero. His presidency was turbulent, facing relentless rebellions and betrayals. History has often portrayed him as a tragic figure, out of his depth as the forces he unleashed turned against him.

But here's the thing: history's also about context. Madero ignited a revolution that fundamentally transformed Mexico. Was he a flawless leader? Absolutely not. Did he spark an earth-shaking change, forever breaking the hold of dictatorship? Undeniably. That's why Don Francisco's story still fascinates – and makes for a heck of an article.

lack and white portrait of Emiliano Zapata, a Mexican revolutionary with a mustache and determined expression, wearing a sombrero and traditional clothing.
Emiliano Zapata, a rebel with a song in his heart. Credit: SIAP

Uprisings and Corridos of the Mexican Revolution

Don Francisco Madero, bless his troubled soul, had some seriously rough years during his presidency. It's like they say, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown… especially in revolutionary Mexico. From 1911 to 1913, the man was juggling rebellions like flaming machetes – Zapatistas in the South, Orozco and his cronies in the North, and in the middle, those die-hard Porfirio loyalists itching for some old-school dictatorship. Now, while history books love their facts and figures, they don't capture the fever of the fight – and nothing quite does that like the corridos of the time.

In those arid southern states, Emiliano Zapata became a legend, and folk songs were his heralds. These weren't your mama's lullabies. Some painted Zapata as the Robin Hood of Morelos, fighting for the poor farmers kicked off their lands by greedy sugar barons. Others were pure action flicks in song – ambushes, shootouts, and Zapata somehow outsmarting his enemies at every turn. With catchy tunes and bloody verses, he became a hero sung around countless campfires.

Other rebellions weren't quite so beloved by the corrido composers. You have Bernardo Reyes, who kinda fizzled out before things got messy. Then there's the grudge-fueled Emilio Vazquez Gómez, barely earning a footnote in the folk songbook.

But Pascual Orozco? Now, there's a villain with a soundtrack! The corridos tell of his battlefield victories…at least at first. Think old Westerns, filled with daring raids and blazing six-shooters. But, spoiler alert, his rebellion ultimately gets stomped under the boot of General Victoriano Huerta, a rising star (who later would betray Madero with all the subtlety of a backstabbing rattlesnake).

Then, with everything already falling apart, we get Felix Diaz and his uprising — the last straw for Madero's troubled government. Finally, it all ends with the bang (quite literally) of gunshots in Mexico City during the Cuartelazo de la Ciudadela. Huerta turns traitor, playing like a maestro conducting a twisted finale of violence. In the end, President Madero and his VP bite the dust – and what does history get? Well, history books, yes…and somber corridos crooning of betrayal.

The beauty of these old songs is they don't just tell us WHAT happened, they sing to us HOW it felt. They're the revolution's raw energy, bottled and passed from singer to singer. Sure, maybe the corridos exaggerated a bit – what good folk song doesn't? But at their core, they pulse with the heartbeat of that violent age – of men on horseback, ideals worth dying for, and the constant smell of gunpowder and revolution in the air.

Vintage propaganda poster showing Emiliano Zapata holding gun, fighting against troops loyal to the Mexican government.
“Grenades against betrayal!” — A stylized poster depicts the clash between Zapata and government forces.

The Corrido That Couldn't Silence Zapata

History presents itself as a grand theatrical production, its stage littered with noble aspirations, tragic consequences, and just the right amount of absurdity. In the case of Emiliano Zapata, the fervent champion of Mexico's rural dispossessed, we get a full dose of all three. And hey, they even wrote a corrido (ballad) about it!

The corrido paints us a picture of young Zapata, simmering with righteous indignation against the injustices plaguing Mexico's countryside. Cue the heroic acts – towns raided, garrisons besieged, the mighty Porfirio Díaz himself sent packing. It's a burst of revolutionary valor! Well, until Francisco Madero strolls into the picture.

Poor Zapata, the corrido implies, never had a chance against Madero's fancy pedigree and promises of peace. It's those darned wealthy folks, you see, that just cannot abide by a simple land redistribution scheme. But wait… perhaps the issue is even deeper than class struggle. The plot unexpectedly unfolds.

In comes Madero, all smiles and flatteries, trying to lull Zapata into a disarmament scheme. Now, our Emiliano wasn't born yesterday. With a cunning worthy of a soap opera villain, he anticipates the plot. Instead of bowing before Madero's charms, he stockpiles grenades (naturally) and sends Madero's henchmen – and later, those pesky government troops – running with their tails between their legs.

Of course, this is only a fragment of a much larger saga of resistance, betrayal, and ultimately, tragedy. It’s a reminder that even with all the machinations, it's the sheer human element that often defines those grand shifts in history – personalities, suspicions, and that stubborn need to do what one believes to be right… even if it comes with a side of hand grenades.

A graphic depiction of the Puebla massacre, where revolutionary soldiers and their families were tragically killed.
A chaotic black and white illustration of soldiers firing into a crowd of unarmed civilians during a revolution.

Intrigue, Violence, and Shifting Alliances

History has a strange sense of humor, doesn't it? In Puebla, 1911, revolutionaries who toppled a dictator ended up victims of a massacre inside a bullring – perhaps the ultimate expression of irony. On those fateful July days, soldiers who'd fought for liberty instead fought for their lives against the ruthless Colonel Blanquet and his brutal machine guns. And it wasn't just soldiers – their families paid the price as well. Over three hundred men, women, and likely a few terrified children lost their lives.

As word of this barbarity reached Emiliano Zapata, the firebrand revolutionary, he vowed vengeance. But the President, Francisco Madero, instead offers congratulations to the butcher Blanquet. Now, dear reader, you might scratch your head and wonder if the stress of the revolution made Madero lose his moral compass. This inexplicable move was the tinderbox that ignited tensions between Zapata and Madero, throwing an already tumultuous situation deeper into chaos.

Zapata, ever the man of uncompromising conviction, paid Madero a visit to warn him against those who clung to the old power structures. Sadly, our hapless president Madero seemed oblivious to the political serpents writhing around him. The government's true colors bled through when Victoriano Huerta and his troops were unleashed against the Zapatistas, laying waste to towns and sending innocent people fleeing for their lives. Back in Mexico City, a protest demanded the bloodthirsty Huerta be withdrawn – clearly, not everyone drank the government's Kool-Aid.

The revolutionary drama ballooned to fever pitch as Zapata made bold moves in the Federal District, forcing several high-profile resignations within the government. Madero, bless his bewildered soul, finally becomes President in November, and non-reelection becomes law. That sounds like a win, right? Wrong!

Remember, in the frenzied drama of revolutions, where noble ideals turn into brutal power struggles, there are rarely “happily ever afters.” Blood begets blood, promises break like dry twigs, and heroes can quickly become villains. It's enough to make your head spin, isn't it?

You know what makes historical research such a delightful an enjoyable experience? Finding out folks even back then loved some juicy drama. Apparently, some members of the public were circulating unsubstantiated rumors of a secret love affair between the wife of Colonel Blanquet, the guy behind the Puebla massacre, and none other than President-to-be Madero. Talk about adding insult to injury! Scandalous, huh?

 Illustration of Zapatista soldiers on horseback, wearing sombreros and bandanas, with rifles slung across their backs.
A group of armed Zapatista rebels ride horses across a rugged Mexican landscape.

When Mexican Generals Became Folk Song Fodder

History gets downright catchy during Mexico's turbulent revolution. The Zapatista corridos weren't mere folksy tunes – they were chronicles of betrayal, bravery, and sometimes, hilarious missteps by those in power.

Take General Luis G. Cartón. This fellow, a henchman for the infamous Victoriano Huerta, got his comeuppance and then some! A rousing corrido describes his defeat by Encarnación Díaz and Cartón's ridiculous attempts to slither out of trouble. You might feel sorry for him… if he hadn't been terrorizing folks first.

And how about General Felipe Neri? Done in by Antonio Varona's treachery, if the “Bola Suriana” is to be believed (and really, why shouldn't we trust a catchy song?). It's like history set to a jaunty accordion beat.

Then there was General Bernardo Reyes, a man with a plan and zero luck. After getting his revolutionary supplies seized by those pesky Americans, he barely crossed the border when his so-called supporters ditched him like a soggy tortilla. Reyes ended up back in jail, but hey, no song for him – the people weren't impressed.

Emilio Vázquez Gómez tried his hand at rebellion too. It fizzled faster than a dropped firecracker, and Pascual Orozco – remember him? — was dispatched to mop things up. The only interesting result? Orozco rebelled himself a few months later, fueling a whole new round of corridos.

Of course, revolutions aren't all fun and games – just listen to those corridos closely. But occasionally, when history seems impossibly bleak, you need those irreverent ballads with their jaunty rhythms and mournful swirls to keep the story of survival alive. The next revolution might sound different, but you can bet someone will be there to sing about it when it comes.

“Corridos”, mournful folk songs narrating the latest victories or woes.
Revolutionaries didn't have Spotify. “Corridos”, mournful folk songs narrating the latest victories or woes, kept them entertained between battles.

Battles, Betrayal, and the Ballads of Defeat

History has a funny way of repeating itself, doesn't it? Revolutions that start with high hopes often end with heads rolling (sometimes literally). In Mexico, around the turn of the 20th century, one such head belonged to Secretary of War José González Salas. After leading a disastrous government charge against rebel forces, a little thing called defeat got the better of him. Salas decided life without victory wasn't worth living, opting for the highly dramatic 'brains blown out' farewell scene. Not one to give up easily, President Francisco I. Madero replaced Salas with General Victoriano Huerta. Surely, this guy would turn things around. Not so much.

It seemed the Orozquistas (those pesky rebels) held all the winning cards. Huerta couldn't catch a break! Battles ensued – Conejos, Rellano, Bachimba… names that sound less like historic clashes and more like rejected dishes from a questionable taco stand. Each loss piled on the next, culminating in a rebel invasion of Chihuahua. Now, where's the fun history angle in all this? Enter the corrido. Remember, kids, back then there was no Netflix. People turned life's tragicomedies into catchy folk songs! Imagine CNN breaking news as a mournful ballad instead – now that's entertainment.

After their inevitable Chihuahua collapse, the Orozquistas were on the run. Their fearless leader, Orozco, later served the equally unsuccessful rebel-turned-dictator Huerta. Karma's a funny thing, isn't it? Turns out Orozco's life ended rather abruptly… shot by American troops while crossing the Rio Grande. He went from top rebel dog to international target practice pretty quickly.

But we're not done yet. Another rebellious upstart, General Félix Díaz, took his shot at shaking up the existing state of affairs in Veracruz. The poor guy didn't last long. Captured, imprisoned, sentenced to death… but (twist!) our dear President Madero spared his life. A nice gesture, yes? Well, you'd think that would earn Madero some loyalty points, but history likes irony. It all culminated in the “Tragic Ten” – those fateful days when Madero was betrayed and ultimately met a cruel end. The coup de grâce – the very people who sparked the revolution turned on their once-beloved leader.

What's the Takeaway?

The takeaway isn't about battle tactics or political maneuvers. It's that behind every historical grand narrative are moments of wild absurdity, personal failings, surprising twists, and deep pathos. Mexican corridos captured it best – history isn't just dates and events. It's drama, song, and the wild beating heart of human ambition and folly. History soaked in battle sweat, betrayal, and enough story arcs for a whole season of a television show. And there's always that lingering soundtrack of mournful corridos humming in the background.

In-Text Citation: Mendoza, V. T. (1956). El corrido de la revolucion mexicana (pp. 37-62). Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de las Revoluciones de México (INEHRM).