January 1, 1989
Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor
Border Fury: A Picture Postcard Record of Mexico’s Revolution and U. S. War Preparedness, 1910-1917.
By Paul J. Vanderwood and Frank N. Samponaro. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index.293 Pages. $27.50.
Reviewed by Richard Griswold del Castillo, Chair of the Mexican American Studies Department, San Diego State University, author of The Los Angeles Bario, 1859-1890: A Social History and La Familia: Chicano Families in the Urban Southwest 1848, to the Present.
Photographs of the Mexican Revolution hold a kind of macabre fascination. The pictures of mutilated corpses, assassinated leaders, and executions by firing squads are horrific-but they are only a partial view of one of the most important civil wars in our century. This book presents some of the requisite gore but much more depicting the daily lives of border citizens during the period. It mines a rich resource, more than 20,000 picture postcards produced during the first decade of the Mexican revolution, and illustrates themes that have received little or no attention from historians: the history of the picture postcard craze in the U.S.; the life and career of one of the most successful American photographers of the revolution, Walter Horne; and the development of America’s war technology as a result of Pershing expedition.
Border Fury is, however, far more than a collection of picture postcards. The authors have done original research into archives and have presented a lively text that informs the reader about the little known facts and events of the revolution: for example, the defeat of the American Army at Carrizal, the skirmishes surrounding El Plan de San Diego (Texas), and the development of motor transport just prior to World War I. The written portion of the book could stand alone as an informative introduction to the early years of the Mexican revolution.
Of course the book also has lots of photographs, all of them full size reproductions of post cards sold and sent during the conflict. They are interpreted by captions that go beyond the usual caption format of description. The authors give details about the history of the particular card and occasionally discuss its political or social meaning. A number of post cards, both in picture and written message, reveal some American’s anti-Mexican and anti-army sentiments.
There are a number of photo post cards documenting the battle of Tijuana (1911) taken from San Diego collectors and archives. There is even one of a group of Red Cross volunteers including Harry Wegeforth, founder of the San Diego Zoo.
Of particular interest to military buffs will be the photos showing the trucks, airplanes, armored cars, machine guns and other hardware that were tested in Mexico just prior to the United State’s entry into World War I.
The post cards are best when they detail the daily life of the soldiers and revolutionaries on the border. They are an invaluable source if only to under-cut overly-romantic notions of war and revolution. Border Fury, with its vivid prose and well documented photo post cards is a major contribution to our understanding of the history of the common man during Mexican Revolution.