The Worm in the Wheat

Rosalie Evans and Agrarian Struggle in the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley of Mexico, 1906-1927

The Worm in the Wheat

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 20 photographs, 2 maps, 2 tables Published: September 1998

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico

The Worm in the Wheat is a compelling tale of political intrigue, violence, shifting allegiances, extreme poverty, and the recalcitrance of one woman. Above all, it is a multileveled interpretation of the Mexican revolution and the ultimate failure of agrarian reform. Timothy J. Henderson recounts the story of Rosalie Evans, a woman who lost her life defending her Mexican hacienda in defiance of confiscation decrees. This dramatic narrative is populated with many diverse actors: Mexican, British, and American officials, soldiers, rebel leaders, bureaucrats, peasants, vigilantes, and the unforgettable figure of Evans herself.
In a world where power and wealth are distributed unevenly and where revolutionary ideas aiming to right the balance continue to proliferate, it is essential, Henderson claims, to understand the revolutionary process not as a philosophical abstraction but as intimate human drama. This book, by providing a detailed study of a single case, sheds invaluable light on this process and on the making of modern Mexico. Incorporating extensive primary research, Henderson describes the complexity of international, national, state, and local politics and the corresponding diverse responses to this historic attempt at agrarian reform.
The Worm in the Wheat will be informative reading for those interested in the modern history of Mexico, students of social movements and revolution, Latin Americanists, and scholars of agrarian history.


“[A] colorfully written, carefully researched, and often highly entertaining book. . . . Henderson displays an exceptionally fine-tuned sensitivity to the complexity of Rosalie Evans’s times. He skillfully leads his readers through the tangled web of agrarian politics in Puebla with all of its opportunistic and idealistic threads, while not losing sight of relevant contemporary events in Mexico City and abroad, so that even readers with little background in Mexican history can follow the narrative. . . . His purpose . . . is simply to tell Rosalie Evans’s story. He tells it faithfully and in a highly readable fashion, providing readers with a wealth of information leaving to use in drawing their own conclusions.” — Cheryl E. Martin , Labor History

“[T]his is a fascinating regional study of agrarian reform in revolutionary Mexico. It is an extensively researched contribution to the history of agrarian movements in Mexico generally, and in particular helps to explain why the land reform failed to deliver the results it promised. Specialists and nonspecialists alike will enjoy this well-crafted account.” — Alexander S. Dawson , Agricultural History

“An American widow’s six-year struggles to protect her hacienda, lands, and wheat crop from revolutionary agrarian reform is the centerpiece of this case study. . . . [Henderson] captures the chaotic power struggles, carefully analyzes the challenges faced by government and union leaders, and vividly portrays the frustrations of the ‘grass-roots’ actors—the peasants versus Mrs. Rosalie Evans.” — C. H. Briscoe, South Eastern Latin Americanist

“Henderson’s book is an account of Rosalie Evans’s effort to substantiate her legal claims to the family hacienda in the Puebla-Tlaxcala region between 1906 and 1927. . . . The bravery and tenacity with which she fought to hold the hacienda against formidable odds creates a fascinating story. Henderson carefully balances her admirable attributes with reminders that she also held elitist and racist views that allowed her to be blinded to advice that may have profited her struggle.” — , Choice

“This fine monograph should be read as a study of personalities involved in the politics of agrarian reform in a multileveled interpretation of the Mexican Revolution. It brilliantly elucidates the mentality of the foreign landed elites in decline and their inability to adapt to a changing Mexican reality.” — Heather Fowler-Salamini , American Historical Review

“Timothy J. Henderson’s painstaking research and rich, at times almost novelistic, treatment of Evans’s saga transforms it into much more than a dramatic story seasoned with memorable anecdotes. . . . Henderson brings a refreshing and balanced perspective to agrarian reform, rejecting its romanticization and emphasizing its ‘desperate murkiness’ . . . . [A] welcome reconsideration of the relationship between agrarian reform and revolution seen from an unsentimental view that manages to never forget the actors’ humanity. Its clear writing and inherent drama make it appropriate for introductory-level classes on Latin America, while the treatment of such themes as agrarian reform and the chaotic period of the early 1920s merits the attention of more advanced scholars. The marvelous illustrations and their lively captions will doubtlessly be appreciated by all.” — Ben Fallaw, Ethnohistory

"An original and compelling work that brings the human side to the ambiguous motives of the agrarian movements of the Mexican revolution." — British Bulletin of Publications on Latin America

"This collection will work very well as a primary textbook for survey courses on Mexican history, and it touches on so many key aspects of Mexican history and society (incorporating film, art, and music) that arguably it could suffice on its own. Students and professors alike will greatly appreciate the contestatory ways in which these documents speak to and about one another. At the same time, students will appreciate the coherent narrative thread sustained by the editor through their commentary." — Eric Zolov , Hispanic American Historical Review

“Henderson tells an exciting, assiduously researched story, populated by bizarre characters. The Worm in the Wheat combines liveliness and scholarship to an unusual degree.” — Alan Knight, St. Anthony’s College at Oxford University

“The importance of this book goes beyond a regional study and makes a large contribution to the crucial question of the agrarian movements during the Revolution. . . . It is also quite wonderfully written, as engrossing as a novel.” — Linda B. Hall, University of New Mexico


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Timothy J. Henderson is Assistant Professor of History at Auburn University at Montgomery.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2216-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2200-9
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