Born a peasant, Zapata was forced into the Mexican army in 1908 following his attempt to recover village lands taken over by a rancher. After the revolution began in 1910, he raised an army of peasants in the southern state of Morelos under the slogan “Land and Liberty.” Demanding simple agrarian reforms, Zapata and his guerrilla farmers opposed the central Mexican government under Francisco Madero, later under Victoriano Huerta, and finally under Venustiano Carranza. Zapata and his followers never gained control of the central Mexican government, but they redistributed land and aided poor farmers within the territory under their control. On April 10, 1919, Zapata was ambushed and shot to death in Morelos by government forces.
Zapata’s influence has endured long after his death, and his agrarian reform movement, known as zapatismo, remains important to many Mexicans today. In 1994, a guerrilla group calling itself the Zapata Army of National Liberation launched a peasant uprising in the southern state of Chiapas.