A Brief Historical Context
by Jaime Nicolopulos
Benjamín Argumedo and his desperately loyal band of horsemen, perhaps haunted by the odor of villista blood still clinging to their hands from the battles of the year before between orozquistas and maderistas, lost no time in enrolling as irregular cavalry with General Huerta's federales. When Villa's suddenly awesome División del Norte rolled down the railroad line towards Torreón in 1913, it was Argumedo's cavalry, fighting a cruel and seemingly interminable rear guard action, that repeatedly threw back the advancing villistas with incredibly fierce and abandoned charges. "El Tigre de la Laguna" and his valientes seemingly relished the chance to throw themselves against their recent adversaries--and former comrades in arms--, Villa's own most hardened horsemen under the command of his old compadre from back in his pre-revolutionary days as cattle rustler and "road agent" specializing in "liberating" well-guarded mine payrolls: Tomás Urbina. The corridistas celebrated these bloody cavalry skirmishes in typical fashion, reducing a great deal of narrative material into what John H. McDowell ("The Mexican Corrido" 216-19) calls a "speech event" or "verbal exchange"--one of the major oral formulaic themes characteristic of the corrido genre. Thus, in a stanza that occurs in a version of the corrido "La toma de Torreón" alluding to these same events of 1913-14, we find:
Despite Argumedo's bravery, Villa was finally able to capture Torreón, although only after paying an inordinately high "butcher's bill." Huerta reconcentrated the best of his forces, including Argumedo's colorados, in the city of Zacatecas some four hundred kilometers to the south along one of the main rail lines leading to Mexico City. Both due to its natural situation and the caliber of the federal defenders, Zacatecas was now the "military heart of the nation" (Aguilar Camín, La frontera nómada 399-400).
Villa's rapid success in the center of the country was disturbing to his erstwhile commander-in-chief, Venustiano Carranza. Carranza refused to make promises of land reform or expropriate large haciendas and so was quickly defeated in his home state of Coahuila. He was able to flee to Sonora, and by devious politicking, make himself the "Supreme Chief" of the Constitutionalist coalition, where he used his power as much to hinder Villa as to defeat Huerta. The localconstitucionalistas under Pánfilo Natera were unable to take the formidable city of Zacatecas by themselves, where their first attacks were resoundingly repulsed by the federal defenders and their colorado auxiliaries. In order to deflect Villa's progress, and perhaps hoping that Villa's penchant for frontal assault combined with the sophisticated defenses would sufficiently cripple the División del norte to allow the armies of Sonora to beat the villistas to Mexico City, Carranza ordered Villa to attack Zacatecas in June of 1914 (Aguilar Camín, La frontera nómada 399-400).
This stanza, also of the "speech event" type, was clearly composed from a villista point of view, and Argumedo's reputation for bravery is used satirically to taunt him for having fled from Villa's troops in Zacatecas. Although it does not appear in the version of "La toma de Zacatecas" that the Zacatecan scholar Cuauhtémoc Esparza Sánchez considers to be the "original" of this famous revolutionary corrido, it can be found in both of the immediately derived versions. It is quite possible that it was composed by the veteran villista Arturo Almanza (Esparza Sánchez, El corrido zacatecano 77). The same stanza turns up in a number of other corridos. Américo Paredes, for instance, mentions it as occurring in "some versions" of "La toma de Torreón" (Paredes, "La médula emotiva" 145).
The fall of Zacatecas proved to be a decisive moment in the Constitutionalist phase of the revolution, and within a few weeks, the usurper Huerta followed his former boss, Porfirio Díaz, into foreign exile. The battle was celebrated in literature as well as popular poetry, and Mariano Azuela, the pioneering novelist of the revolution, devotes chapters 18-21 of the Primera parte of his Los de abajo to an eye-witness account of these events, fictionalized only in the names of some of the protagonists.
Aguilar Camín, Héctor. La frontera nómada: Sonora y la revolución mexicana. México: Colegio de México, 1977.
Azuela, Mariano. Los de abajo. México: FCE, 1960.
Esparza Sánchez, Cuauhtémoc. El corrido zacatecano. Colección científica: historia 46. México: SEP, Insituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1976.
McDowell, John Holmes. "The Mexican Corrido: Formula and Theme in a Ballad Tradition." Journal of American Folklore 85.337 (1972): 205-20.
Paredes, Américo. "El concepto de la 'médula emotiva' aplicado al corrido mexicano 'Benjamín Argumedo'." Folklore americano 19-20 (1971-72): 139-76.
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