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Seeds of change

2 February 2009

I didn’t realize this is the centennial of one of the great precursors of the Mexican Revolution.

Ray Acosta at the Yahoo Group MexRevResearchers has been diligently preparing a month-by-month calendar of the Mexican Revolution. February is the month that not only marks the birthday of the multi-faceted Álvaro Obregón Salido (19-Feb-1880), but February 1909 was the… uh… seed of Obregón’s brilliant military and political career. And the start of a revolution not just in Mexico, but in military strategy, and — incidentally helped save Europe from starvation, and — peripherally — led to a complete change in the economic and political structure of the United States.

Obregón was phenomenally gifted… an orphan from Alamos, Sonora, his photographic memory, keen eyesight and linguistic abilities had made him a valued and respected member of the Yaquí and Mayo communities while still a boy being raised by his schoolteacher older siblings. At thirteen, he’d started a small cigarette factory, and in his mid-teens, learned poker well enough to be a professional gambler. His poker playing skills were good enough that local businessmen paid him NOT to play — preferring he not take their workers for their paychecks at those back-room games.

With the “grants” from local businesses, he went into business as a shoe and sewing machine salesman, free-lance mechanic and farmer, buying a small piece of property he named — with ironic wit — “the poor farm”. He did quite well attending to his garbanzos.. then… in February 1909 … came the seminal event….

Obregón invented the mechanical garbanzo seeder 100 years ago this month

The garbanzo seeding revolution may not be such great shakes, but it made Obregón a very wealthy man overnight… allowing him to retire from less interesting activities than door-to-door Singer Sewing Machine sales, and concentrate on the things that interested him — politics, military history … and garbanzos.

By … 1910, he was a leading Sonoran businessman; exactly the sort of person Madero’s revolutionaries had in mind to run México. Obregón, however, took no part in the 1910 Revolution – his wife had died. He stayed home taken care of his children, writing bad poetry about death and – like Morelos a hundred years earlier – studying military histories and manuals.

As the richest man in Huatabampo, Sonora, Obregón was easily elected municipal president. By 1912, with a new wife to care for his children, he could finally put his military studies into practice. He recruited for hundred Mayo and Yaqui soldiers to put down a local anti-Madero revolt, then, putting his 4th Irregular Battalion into the services of Governor Maytorena, joined the Constitutionalist army.

(Gods, Gachupines and Gringos © 2008 )

Obregon (front left) and 4th Irregular Officers

Obregon (front left) and 4th Irregular Officers

For the rest of Obregón’s military and political career, I suggest you buy my book (preferably direct from the publisher, which gives me a bigger royalty than if you buy from a distributor or Amazon… though that’s good too).  But, I’d point out that as a result of those military studies made possible by the seeder business… and Obregón’s practical genius, three very important military innovations changed the way warfare is conducted.

Obregón was the first general in history to issue every soldier their own “entrenching tool” … he invented the foxhole.  With the pioneering aviator Alberto Salinas, who figured out how to fly planes at high altitudes (the forerunner of the jet engine),  Obregón became the first military officer ever to order a coordinated air strike.  Salinas, piloting his bi-plane, El Sonora, bombed federal naval ships shelling Topolobampo as Obregón led an infantry and artillery attack on the strategically important port city (14 April 1914).  A few weeks later, El Sonora made hemispheric history, making Mazatlán the first city in the Americas ever bombed from the air.

Less well documented, but also worthy of mention was a “kinder, gentler” side of warfare. Being mechanically minded, and having trains and trucks at his disposal, Obregón’s soldiers were the first to be treated in Mobile Army Surgical Units. Without a garbanzo seeder, Hawkeye and Hot Lips might never have saved so many lives.

hooverAs the military phase of the Revolution wound down, Obregón turned his attention back to his beloved garbanzos. As the world’s #1 garbanzo farmer, he was the obvious choice to negotiate bulk sales to the American Relief Administration, set up in the United States to prevent mass famine in Europe following the First World War. The program director of that organization, like Obregón was a shrewd country orphan, raised by schoolteacher relations among indigenous communities, who had become wealthy through his inventions (in his case, gold placers) and devoted his life to politics and problem solving. And — like Obregón — was a future president of his country (though a less successful one).

Herbert Clark Hogarbanzosover came to national prominence though the relief organization. Unlike Obregón, a self-made millionaire who accepted socialism and took a pragmatic approach to economics and national development, Hoover was bone-headedly doctrinaire in his response to the Great Depression… leading to the 1933 election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New Deal and the modern Keynesian-capitalist system of the United States.

And… thanks to Obregón, while we work our way out of the neo-Hooverian state of the economy, garbanzos are not only nutritious, they’re cheap. 1260 garbanzo recipes are here… that’s over 43 different ways to celebrate this important centennial every day this  month!


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