The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1972, Volume 18, Number 3
James E Moss, Editor

By Margaret A. Secor

Images from the Article

“Revolutionary Movement in Mexico Nipped in the Bud.” Through this headline, careful readers of San Diego’s largest newspaper, the San Diego Union, first learned on November 17, 1910, that something was astir in Mexico. In an equally diminuitive but more optimistic article the San Diego Sun informed its patrons that Francisco I. Madero was planning an uprising in Mexico. Five days later everybody who saw a newspaper learned that a revolution was shaking that country. Headlines blazed: “Revolution Breaks Out Full Blast”; “Revolution Is Raging in Mexico.”1 From then on San Diego papers covered thoroughly the events taking place in the neighbor to the south. How did their readers react to the turmoil racking Mexico? More specifically, what were their feelings toward Francisco Madero and his attempts to bring a more responsive government to his people?

A concurrent, but separate, revolution in Baja California complicates the search for an answer. The Mexican president and dictator, Porfirio Díaz, in late 1903 had driven into exile the leaders of the Mexican Liberal party. They sought refuge in the United States, where they allied themselves with American left wing parties and fomented uprisings in their homeland. Harassed in San Antonio, St. Louis and Toronto by Díaz’ agents, Pinkerton detectives and bribed American officials, the Junta regrouped in Los Angeles in 1910 under the leadership of Ricardo Flores Magón. The name of the Liberal party was a misnomer: it was a cover-up designed to attract more followers — for Anarchist party. Anxious to destroy all private property and organized government, Flores Magón’s goals were far different from those of Madero, who sought “Effective Suffrage and No Reelection” and socio-economic reform through legislation. Madero had run for the presidency in September of 1910; out of the thousands of votes cast, Díaz had allotted him only 196. Convinced that only a revolution would remove the old tyrant, Madero issued the Plan of San Luis Potosí calling for a general insurrection to begin on November 20. A tenuous, informal modus vivendi between the Maderistas and the Magonistas represented nothing more than their common opposition to Díaz.2 While Anti-reelection forces in early 1911 operated in northern central Mexico, Liberal troops moved from east to west along the border of Baja California.3 This proximity of the Liberal action caused it to overshadow other coverage of foreign affairs in southern California newspapers. American reporters further complicated efforts to distinguish the two movements by labelling all revolutionaries insurrectos, usually giving no indication of their party affiliations or ideologies.

The people of San Diego nevertheless did receive enough information to form an opinion of Madero, if they had so desired. In 1910-1911 San Diego had three daily newspapers. Edward Wyllis Scripps owned one, the San Diego Sun.4 Although a wealthy man, Scripps claimed to think like a “left labor galoot” and gave his editors a free rein, with the result that the Sun followed an independent line in politics.5 John D. Spreckels owned the San Diego Union, a morning paper, and the San Diego Tribune, its evening counterpart. Spreckels and his newspapers followed a conservative Republican line.6 (Since the Union and the Tribune reflect the same viewpoint, only the Union will be considered in this article.) Within a city population of 39,578 the Sun claimed 8,500 subscribers; the Union “guaranteed a much larger circulation than any other paper in San Diego.”7

In headlines, editorials and articles both newspapers pursued their respective courses in reporting the events of the Maderista revolution. As early as September 21, 1910, the Sun published an article by John Kenneth Turner stating that an eighteenth century government required an eighteenth century method of overthrowing it.8 On November 22, five days after the Union had announced that the revolution had been “nipped in the bud,” the Sun said that Madero had a chance of winning.9 On March 11, 1911, the Sun printed its first editorial about the rebellion, titled “Liberty Hurting Business,” in which it compared the Mexican Revolution to the American Revolution and asked the question: What if the French had sent us a J. Pierpont Morgan instead of LaFayette?10 The Union, on the other hand, in its first editorial on the subject, on February 19, quoted the Boston Monitor‘s comment that “stable government [in Mexico] has a meaning” for the United States and implied that the United States should help Díaz.11 The Sun retaliated two months later: Let Guggenheim, et al, defend their interests themselves.12 As Díaz’ chances waned, the Union‘s editorials waxed stronger: “The worst calamity that could befall Mexico would be the overthrow of the Díaz government”; Madero has not “yet given the slightest evidence of fitness for the presidency”; “Madero the Little” is too weak to replace Díaz; and finally on May 26, “Díaz Goes — Anarchy Looms Up.”13

Bias also showed itself in the selection of articles printed. Those from Sun correspondents usually portrayed Díaz and his army as evil incarnate; Federales drank all the time, herded women as if they were cattle and “exterminated” their opponents. Maderistas, on the other hand, were considerate and did not loot.14 The Union was concerned with American investments in Mexico and supported Díaz because he protected those investments. On April 11 it devoted half a page to American interests in Mexico and to the qualities of Díaz. A series of four articles by Fred J. Haskin, “The Mexican Republic,” ostensibly a review of the political situation, also emphasized the good that Díaz had done and the high value of United States investments in that country.15 The Sun ran two series of articles: one in March on early Mexican history and legends, and one in April that deprecated Díaz, explained Madero’s role in the revolution and exhorted the United States to keep out of the fray.16 Even headlines about the same event revealed the difference of opinion between the two papers. When Díaz offered $40,000,000.00 to purchase land for distribution to the landless, the Sun called it “Díaz Sop to Rebels.” The Union said, “Measure Provides for Land Reform in Mexico.”17 Although occasionally granting a grudging acknowledgement of some good in their respective “villains’,” the two newspapers were as far apart in May as they had been in November. When Díaz finally resigned from the presidency on May 25, 1911, the subheadlines were: “No Cheers for Dictator as He Quits Office” and “Reading of Brief, Tragic Letter of Aged President Strikes Awe into Listeners.”18

Some San Diegans reacted strongly to what they read. Mexicans flocked to sporting goods stores to buy guns and knives. They then crossed the border, where some chose to remain in Baja California, while others went on to mainland Mexico.19 Some Mexicans were intercepted by U.S. police and never made it to the border. At least one San Diego citizen protested these arrests. Rufus Edwards told the city council that “his ancestors were rebels . . . that he sympathized with the Mexican revolutionists” and that he thought the San Diego police should stop disarming the Mexicans who were “trying to get nothing more than their rights and justice.”20 A U.S. doctor actually volunteered for duty with the rebels. Oliver N. Nelson joined Madero’s army as a “Major and Surgeon.” His motives, however, are not clear. He did not tell anybody where he was going, and when he did announce his whereabouts by means of a letter to the Union, a divorce suit and a lawsuit for $1,230.00 were promptly filed against him.21 The leftist radicals of San Diego formed an Anti-Interference League early in 1911 and promptly abetted the efforts of Rufus Edwards: it protested to President William Howard Taft.22 The League, however, was probably anti-Madero. Its leadership, activities and the strong anti-capitalistic language expressed in the telegram to Taft indicated that it was closely associated with Flores Magón and the Liberal Junta in Los Angeles.23 The Liberals had abrogated the modus vivendi with the Maderistas in January, 1911, and in February Flores Magón launched a scathing verbal attack on Madero and his moderate program for socio-economic reform.24 As 800 people signed one of the telegrams to Taft, there must have been a large number of San Diegans who hoped for a Magonista government in Mexico.25

Some San Diegans were affected by the Mexican revolution irrespective of any views they may have held toward it. Quail hunters discovered that sometimes customs agents would not allow them to take their guns into Mexico.26 Work on Spreckels’ railroad line east of Tijuana slowed down when Mexican laborers ran away to join the revolt.27 Chinese aliens, potential San Diegans who were trying to enter the city illegally, were left stranded on the Baja California shore when their Mexican smugglers deserted them to take up arms. San Diego policemen became unofficial border guards.28 Other citizens profited from the insurrections. Sporting goods dealers did a booming business and, apparently, so did some of their less honest fellow citizens who, without bothering to acquire a license, sold liquor to the American troops quartered in town.29

The majority of San Diegans, however, appear to have had little interest in the Maderista revolution. The newspapers give no evidence of any lectures or speeches on the subject; they report no group efforts toward support for Madero; and they contain few letters from their readers that even mention Mexico. Mainland Mexico was apparently considered to be a foreign land, far away. Just reading about it confused the average person: “One thing that handicaps one in trying to find out just what is happening down in Mexico is the difficulty of telling which are the names of the generals and which are the names of the towns.”30 San Diegans in 1910-1911 had other concerns.31 They sought progress and growth for their city.32 They smarted with indignation when Angelenos called their home the “City of Blighted Hopes” with “Bay and Climate” its only capital assets.33 They were determined to prove to the citizens of Los Angeles and San Francisco which California city was the most progressive. John Spreckels was building a railroad that would connect San Diego directly to the East. Glenn Curtiss and his airplanes were proving that the climate was indeed a capital asset.34 George Marston was building a larger, more modern department store. Farsighted citizens were making plans for the Panama-California Exposition to be held in
Balboa Park in 1915.35 And now the movement of federal troops and ships to San Diego during the border crisis caused by the Mexican revolution, proved that San Diego was “an acknowledged military and naval base, and the strategic point of Southern California.”36 Despite the excellent coverage by the press, San Diegans simply did not concern themselves with Madero’s struggles in Mexico. “Mexico is a land of revolutions, and Madero a pipe dreamer,” was the attitude that prevailed among busy San Diegans toward the violent upheaval below the border. But they had a solution to Mexico’s problems: “Let them fight it out among themselves.”37


1. San Diego Union, Nov. 22, 1910, p. 1; San Diego Sun, Nov. 22, 1910, p. 1.

2. James D. Cockcroft, Intellectual Precursors of the Mexican Revolution: 1900-1913 (Austin: University of Texas Press for the Institute of Latin American Studies, 1968), pp. 114-79, passim; Lowell L. Blaisdell, The Desert Revolution: Baja California: 1911 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962), pp. 5-9, passim; Henry Bamford Parkes, A History of Mexico (3rd ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1966), p. 318.

3. Blaisdell, Desert Revolution, pp. 39, 77, 119; Union, Jan.-May, 1911, passim; Sun, Jan.-May, 1911, passim.

4. Blaisdell, Desert Revolution, p. 26.

5. Damned Old Crank: A Self-Portrait of E. W. Scripps, ed. by Charles R. McCabe (New York: Harper Bros., 1951), p. xi; Clarence Alan McGrew, City of San Diego and San Diego County (2 vols.; Chicago: The American Historical Society, 1922), 1, 289.

6. Blaisdell, Desert Revolution, p. 26; Richard F. Pourade, Gold in the Sun (San Diego: The Union-Tribune Publishing Co., 1965), V. 116.

7. Oscar W. Cotton, The Good Old Days (New York: Exposition Press, 1962), p. 144; San Diego Sun, Apr. 26, 1911, p. 3; San Diego Union, Nov. 1910-May, 1911, p. 4, masthead. I could not find any figures for the circulation of the San Diego Union.

8. Sept. 21, 1911, p. 7.

9. Nov. 22, 1911, p. 1.

10. Mar. 11, 1911, p. 4.

11. Feb. 19, 1911, p. 4.

12. Editorial, Apr. 21, 1911, p. 4.

13. Editorials, Mar. 27, Apr. 25, May 14, May 16, 1911, p. 4.

14. Federales, Feb. 23, 1911, p. 1; Apr. 5, 1911, p. 1; Maderistas, Dec. 27, 1910, p. 12; Feb. 17, 1911, p. 13.

15. Mar. 15-16, 1911, p. 4.

16. Mar., 1911, p. 4; Apr. 10-14, 1911, p. 4.

17. Sun, Mar. 27, 1911, p. 2; Union, May 15, 1911, p. 3.

18. Sun, May 26, 1911, p. 1; Union, May 26, 1911, p. 1.

19. Union, Feb. 17, 1911, p. 9; Mar. 4, 1911, p. 8; Sun, Nov. 23, 1910, p. 3; Nov. 29, 1910, p. 2.

20. Sun, Jan. 3, 1911, p. 3.

21. Union, May 27, 1911, p. 5.

22. Sun, Mar. 14, 1911, p. 8; Mar. 27, 1911, p. 7.

23. Sun, Feb.-May, 1911, passim; Union, Apr.-May, 1911, passim; Blaisdell, Desert Revolution, pp. 46-47, p. 123.

24. Blaisdell, Desert Revolution, p. 72; Cockcroft, Intellectual Precursors. P. 183.

25. I could find no information on the membership of the League. Therefore, there seems to be no way of knowing exactly how many of the 800 signers were members or how many of them espoused the radical political views of the League’s leaders.

26. Sun, Dec. 3, 1910, p. 7.

27. Sun, Feb. 21, 1911, p. 1; Mar. 27, 1911, p. 7.

28. Sun, Feb. 24, 1911, p. 8; Jan. 3, 1911, p. 3; Jan. 7, 1911, p. 12.

29. Sun, Nov. 23, 1910, p. 3; Mar. 15, 1911, p. 2.

30. Boston Evening Transcript, quoted in the Union, May 22, 1911, p. 4.

31. Oscar W. Cotton, private interview, San Diego, Calif., May 14, 1971; Charles H. Forward, private interview, San Diego, Calif., May 15, 1971; Mary G. Marston, private interview, San Diego, Calif., May 14, 1971. Mr. Cotton, Mr. Forward and Miss Marston were residents of San Diego in 1910-1911.

32. Pourade, Gold in the Sun, passim.

33. Cotton, The Good Old Days, p. 144.

34. Blaisdell, Desert Revolution, p. 36; Pourade, Gold in the Sun, pp. 121-24.

35. Marston interview; Pourade, Gold in the Sun, pp. 113-14, 165.

36. Editorial, Union, Mar. 11, 1911, p. 4.

37. Forward interview.


San Diego Sun, Sept. 1, 1910-May 30, 1911.
San Diego Union, Nov. 1, 1910-May 30, 1911.

Oscar W. Cotton. San Diego, Calif. May 14, 1971.
Charles H. Forward. San Diego, Calif. May 15, 1971.
Mary G. Marston. San Diego, Calif. May 14, 1971.

Blaisdell, Lowell L. The Desert Revolution: Baja California: 1911. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962.
Cockcroft, James D. Intellectual Precursors of the Mexican Revolution: 1900-1913. Austin: University of Texas Press for the Institute of Latin American Studies, 1968.
Cotton, Oscar W. The Good Old Days. New York: Exposition Press. 1962.
McCabe, Charles R., ed. Damned Old Crank: A Self-Portrait of E. W. Scripps. New York: Harper Bros., 1951.
McGrew, Clarence Alan. City of San Diego and San Diego County. Vol. 1. Chicago: American Historical Society. 1922.
Martinez, Pablo, ed. El Magonirmo en Baja California: Documentos. Mexico, D. F.: Editorial Baja California, 1958.
Parkes, Henry Bamford. A History of Mexico. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1966.
Pourade, Richard F. Gold in the Sun. San Diego: The Union-Tribune Publishing Co., 1965.
Taracena, Alfonso. La Verdadera Revolution Mexicana. Vol. 1. 17 vols. Mexico, D. F.: Editorial Jus. 1960.

Margaret Secor attended San Jose State College, the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, and received an A.B. degree in history from California State University, San Diego. Mrs. Secor lives in Coronado, is employed at the Veterans Administration as a medical receptionist, and continues her study of the history of San Diego and Mexico. Her article published here won an award at the San Diego History Center’s 1971 Institute of History.