This article narrates the struggle of one cross-border company, Henry Workman Keller’s Compañía del Rancho de San Isidro (CRSI), to reconcile moral and legal ownership of its lands in Baja California after 1911. Decades of Keller’s correspondence and other archival collections in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, together with documents from the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California in Tijuana, afford a rare behind-the-scenes examination of U.S. capitalist expansion in revolutionary Mexico. While historians have characterized the American presence south of the border as an “empire,” this term occludes historical contingencies and overlooks the variegated power of borderland enterprises. CRSI records challenge such a generalization, and the company’s history presents a case study in fragility. It shows how peasants with modest means could frustrate businessmen with vast networks, thereby exposing the uncertain nature of American capital. Far from an omnipotent, ubiquitous empire, U.S. economic expansion into Mexico depended on the particular venture, owner, and location. Title to acres did not necessarily correspond to power on the ground.

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