Pancho Villa

Pancho Villa

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Pancho Villa (1878-1923) was a famed Mexican revolutionary and guerilla leader. He joined Francisco Madero’s uprising against Mexican President Porfirio Díaz in 1909, and later became leader of the División del Norte cavalry and governor of Chihuahua. After clashing with former revolutionary ally Venustiano Carranza, Villa killed more than 30 Americans in a pair of attacks in 1916. That drew the deployment of a U.S. military expedition into Mexico, but Villa eluded capture during the 11-month manhunt. Pardoned by Mexican President Adolfo de la Huerta in 1920, Villa retired to a quiet life at his ranch until his assassination.

Born Doroteo Arango on June 5, 1878, in Río Grande, Mexico. Villa helped out on his parents’ farm. After his father’s death, he became head of the household and shot a man who was harassing one of his sisters. He fled, but was caught and imprisoned. Villa escaped again and later became a bandit.

While living as a fugitive, Villa joined Francisco Madero’s successful uprising against the Mexican dictator, Porfirio Díaz. Because of his skills as a fighter and a leader he was made a colonel. Another rebellion removed Madero from power in 1912 and Villa was almost executed for his efforts to defend the former government. He fled to the United States for a time, but he later returned to Mexico and formed his own military force known as Division del Norte (Division of the North). He joined forces with other revolutionaries Venustiano Carranza and Emiliano Zapata to overthrow Victoriano Huerta. The different forces were not wholly successful at working together, and Villa and Carranza became rivals. For a number of years, he was involved in a series of clashes with other Mexican military groups and even fought with U.S. troops from 1916 to 1917. In 1920, Villa reached an agreement with Adolfo de la Huerta, the Mexican leader, which pardoned him for his actions in return for Villa putting an end to his independent military activities. Three years later, he was assassinated on June 20, 1923.

Biography courtesy of

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Marijuana and Pancho Villa

Racism had much to do with the process of illegalization in the US. After the Pancho Villa revolution, many citizens from Mexico had to move to the north and reach the US in order to survive and/or to get a better life. It is very odd to see how much the use of the term “marijuana” influenced the public opinion. For US citizens, the plant was known as hemp, weed, pot and so on. But, for whatever reason, the word marijuana sounded horrible for the Americans. And, believe or not, the cockroaches had an important role in this madness.

The US’s position on revolutionaries was complicated they themselves overthrew a colonial European power and helped other countries to do the same. They helped Cuba to get rid of Spain. But when Fidel Castro got rid of Batista, Americans got mad. Why? Batista was pro USA. Castro wasn’t.

In Mexico happened the same. They appreciated Mexico gaining independence from Spain, but didn’t so much like Zapata and Villa for over-throwing Diaz first, or his successor’s appointee Caranza next.


Between 1912 and 1916 Hollywood made a few films starring Pancho Villa. The Hollywood connection goes further, with no less than thirty six films about Pancho Villa over the last hundred years, starring such actors as Yul Brynner, Telly Savalas, and Antonio Banderas. Villa always seemed to be a hero who fought for freedom. Who doesn’t remember Yul Brynner and Robert Mitchum movie about the adventures of Pancho Villa? It was a great film that contributed to the popularity of this military.

Marijuana prohibition

Unfortunately for Villa, he became for famous for his role in the history of cannabis prohibition. Pancho Villa was a political revolutionary and a visionary. He knew from the the very beginning that Hollywood was going to support him with all kind of ítems: Money, weapons and so on. He saw and acted globally in a way that had never really been done before. He was a man who, among many other things, delayed an attack on Juarez city just to avoid a conflict in the news cycle with the World Series thirty years before television. He knew the influence of the media on the conflict. With the Hollywood movies is was gaining weapons, booths, cloths, money and, more important, sympathies towards his cause from all over the world. A very important Hollywood studio gave him twenty five thousand dollars US, and fifty percent of the profits. Hollywood simply loved him!

But a change in US government led to a change in this policy and began to attack Villa and his followers. In a very short period of time the US Gov began to send troops to Mexico.

But what has this change in the US policy with cannabis? Villa was admired in films, but in songs too. And the most famous was known as “The cucaracha (the cockroach)”.

The most known song said the words:

“the cockroach, the cockroach,

When the US Gov began to fight against Villa, he didn’t know how badly these words were to influence against his popularity.

It all came together: Thousands of Mexicans coming to the USA. It became a big migration problem. This fact plus the change in the US policy towards Mexico and the beginning of cannabis illegalization, ended with the reputation of Villa, his Hollywood support and the demonization of cannabis.

9 Surprising Facts About Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa

He's known around the world as a Mexican revolutionary and guerrilla leader, but there's a lot more to the mysterious Pancho Villa than many of us learned in school. Some have called him a modern-day hero and others consider him a bloodthirsty killer.

"His whole origin myth varies hugely depending on who is doing the talking," Paul Gillingham, associate professor of history and associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University, says via email. "The Robin Hood version is that he is a poor sharecropper child who becomes an outlaw after defending his sister's honor against the local hacendado. The critical one is that he was a psychopathic career criminal. We don't have the information to know."

Despite the mystique that surrounds his legacy, what actually is known about the controversial figure who helped lead the Mexican Revolution and how did his efforts result in the end of Porfirio Díaz's reign and the creation of a new Mexican government? Here are nine facts you need to know about Pancho Villa.

1. His Real Name Wasn't Pancho Villa

Born Doroteo Arango, on June 5, 1878, the Mexican native adopted the name Pancho Villa sometime around the turn of the century when he teamed up with bandits to become what some saw as a modern day Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. "His name is taken from Saint Francis of Assisi and was given to him by his neighbors," John Mason Hart, Moores professor of history at the University of Houston and one of the nation's foremost scholars of Mexico, says via email. "It means defender of the village." He was known to his friends as La Cucaracha or "the cockroach."

2. His Life on the Run Started Early

Villa's father died when he was just 15 years old, leaving him to become the head of the household. When a man began harassing one of his sisters, Villa shot him and was arrested. He managed to escape imprisonment but began life as a bandit.

3. He Was a Born Fighter

Villa joined Francisco Madero's uprising against Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, and was made a colonel for his fighting skills and abilities as a leader. In 1912, another rebellion removed Madero from power and Villa narrowly escaped execution. During that time, he fled to the United States but later returned to Mexico and formed his own military force, Division del Norte (Division of the North). After forming Division del Norte, Villa teamed up with fellow revolutionaries Venustiano Carranza and Emiliano Zapata in an effort to overthrow Mexican president Victoriano Huerta, who had come into power following the fall of Madero. Tensions rose and over time and Villa and Carranza became his enemies.

4. He Had a Remarkably Loyal Following

"The most important discovery was the continuity between him and the people who chose to call themselves Villistas," Hart says. "They were the citizens of the pueblos of the north from Eastern Sonora to the Gulf of Mexico. They wanted the preservation of their pueblos which in many cases had more than 500 years of self-government, lands which they worshipped because of their spiritualism and adoration of heroic ancestors, places where Christ and the Virgin had been seen on their properties and which were therefore sacred."

Gillingham believes one of the most fascinating parts of Villa's legend is the number of people who loyally followed him. "Villa expressed very well what you might call the discontents of globalization version 1.1, i.e., an economic boom that favored very few, dispossessed very many, and left everyday people feeling that they had lost some form of freedom," he says.

5. He Wasn't Any More Violent Than His Contemporaries

According to Alejandro Quintana, associate professor of history at St. John's University in Queens, New York, one majorly misreported fact about Villa is the ruthlessness of his character. "The level of his being a bloodthirsty criminal I believe is inaccurate," he says. "This view is also afflicted by politics that benefit by showing the violent face of Villa. Many other leaders (Carranza and Obregon, just to mention the most obvious ones), were as violent as he had ever been but never branded violent. Among all the revolutionaries, Villa is considered the most ruthless and bloodthirsty executing his enemies without hesitation (while practically everybody did just that).

"There is ample evidence of heinous crimes committed by Villa. However, he was not a brute who only understood violence. The revolution forced everybody to act violently and Villa was great at speaking violence, especially when he was vulnerable. I interpret this to be a survival instinct. I believe that a person's true nature shows best when s/he is in power. Thus, Villa was among the most benevolent and merciful revolutionary leaders when he was in full control of a situation. After occupying a city, Villa generally controlled his armies to avoid looting, vendettas or even for getting drunk. For this, he managed to gain the approval of lower and middle classes wherever he ruled," says Quintana.

6. He Did Not Have a Formal Education

Quintana says there are many things about Villa's legacy that make him a fascinating subject, but one particularly striking detail is his lack of education and the role it played in his ultimate fall. "Villa had a tremendous instinct," Quintana says. "That allowed him to become the most powerful man in Mexico, successfully creating and leading the largest army in the country. In 1914 and 1915, he was the most popular, charismatic and powerful man in the country. Yet, in 1916, he was a man on the run. I believe education was a big part of his problem. As incredible as this may sound, Villa was a self-conscious man, always feeling intimidated by educated people. Besides, the lack of education limited his capacity to see the big picture and fail to grasp how to turn his regional power into a truly national movement."

Quintana says José Venustiano Carranza de la Garza, one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution, who ultimately became president of Mexico, was the opposite. "He was in a much weaker situation, but his understanding of geopolitics allowed him to get the best out of his meager situation and defeat Villa," he says. Despite his lack of formal education, Villa surrounded himself with highly educated colleagues. "One of the more surprising facts is his warm relationships with bookish types like revolutionary president Francisco Madero, to whom he was extremely loyal, or Felipe Angeles — who deserves a film all to himself — his academic military adviser," Gillingham says.

7. His Feelings Toward Americans Were Complicated

In January 1916, Villa executed 17 U.S. citizens at Santa Isabel, Chihuahua, and two months later attacked Columbus, New Mexico, killing another 17 Americans, all in an effort to demonstrate that Carranza did not control northern Mexico. But according to Gillingham, one commonly misreported fact about Villa revolves around his personal feelings toward those in the United States. "He liked Americans perfectly well, and did a lot of business with them — until he briefly invaded the U.S. in 1916 in the Columbus Raid, at which point things went south," he says. "In the aftermath, the U.S. Bureau of Investigation — the FBI forerunner — sent two Japanese agents to poison his coffee. They did, but the poison didn't work."

8. He Had a Dream For a Different Kind of Mexico

"There is an aspect of Villa that is little known and that is his vision for a post-revolutionary Mexico," Quintana says. "He envisioned a new social order in which workers could organize in communes to be in charge of the economy, eliminating the need for the upper class. There would be no military, but workers would receive military training that would help them protect themselves and acquire the required discipline to succeed. This was not communism, but a utopian [way] of life in the frontier — the same way frontier military colonies organized at the time."

9. The Events of His Later Years Are Unclear

In 1920, Mexican leader Adolfo de la Huerta pardoned Villa for his actions as long as the revolutionary agreed to end his independent military activities. "He is misreported to have retired on a large hacienda," Hart says. "In fact, he lived with seventy companeros and their families in a collective building full of screaming kids and ate his meals with them in a common dining room." He was assassinated while driving in a car on June 20, 1923 at the rather young age of 45 and buried in the city cemetery in Parral, Chihuahua. While there are many theories about who killed him and it was clear that his assassination was an organized hit, Villa's killers were never brought to justice.

"One of the more lurid [facts about him] is that his skull was stolen from his grave in Parral and one rumor has it ended up with Yale's secret society Skull and Bones," Gillingham says. For many years, it was even rumored that Prescott Bush, father of George W. Bush, took the skull to display at the society's Connecticut headquarters.


After the 1915 Battle of Celaya during the Mexican Revolution, where Villa sustained his greatest defeat, the Division of the North was in a disorganised condition, wandering around northern Mexico foraging for supplies. Lacking the military supplies, money, and munitions he needed in order to pursue his war against Mexican President Venustiano Carranza, [5] Villa planned the raid and camped his army of an estimated 1,500 horsemen outside of Palomas on the border three miles south of Columbus, which was populated by about 300 Americans and about as many Mexicans that had fled north from the advancing Villistas. [6] The reasons for the raid have never been established with any certainty. An American kidnap victim travelling with the raiding party, Maude Hauke Wright, said that Villa came with 1,500 men but only attacked with about 600 because there was not enough ammunition for more raiders. [7]

At their camp, Villa sent spies into the town to assess the presence of U.S. military personnel. When the returning spies told him that only about thirty soldiers garrisoned Columbus (a significant error), Villa moved north and crossed the border about midnight. The garrison came from the 13th Cavalry Regiment usually stationed at Calvary Camp Columbus, which was located immediately south of downtown and consisted of the headquarters troop, machine gun troop, and four of the seven rifle troops deployed to patrol the border, totaling in all 12 officers and 341 men, of which approximately 270 were combat troops. On this night, half were out of camp on patrol or other assignments [3]

Villa divided his force into two columns, most of which approached the town on foot, and launched a two-pronged attack on the town in the dark at 4:15 am on March 9. The town's population was asleep, along with most of the garrison, when they entered Columbus from the west and southeast shouting "Viva Villa! Viva Mexico!" and other phrases. The townspeople awoke to an army of Villistas burning their settlement and looting their homes. The commander of the 13th Cavalry was Colonel Herbert Jermain Slocum. [8] He had been advised the day before, from three conflicting reports from Mexican sources, that Villa and his soldiers were on the move, possibly against Columbus. One warning was given by Juan Favela, the foreman of a ranch near Palomas (three miles south in Mexico), who had seen them headed north the day before the attack. Amidst many such reports that had proved false, the warning was ignored as unreliable, although the troop at the Border Gate was reinforced and all three troops in the field were ordered to step up patrolling of the 65-mile long border. However, U.S. soldiers were forbidden to reconnoiter inside Mexico and thus unable to check reports of Villa's whereabouts.

Despite being taken by surprise, the Americans quickly recovered. Soon after the attack began, 2nd Lt. John P. Lucas, commanding the 13th Cavalry's machine gun troop, made his way barefooted from his quarters to the camp's barracks. He organized a hasty defense around the camp's guard tent, where his troop's machine guns were kept under lock, with two men and a Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié machine gun. He was soon joined by the remainder of his unit and 30 troopers armed with M1903 Springfield rifles led by 2nd Lt. Horace Stringfellow, Jr. The troop's four machine guns fired more than 5,000 rounds apiece during a 90-minute fight, their targets illuminated by fires of burning buildings. [9] In addition, many of the townspeople were armed with rifles and shotguns.

Villa's men looted and burned several houses and commercial buildings, fighting civilians that were defending their homes. It is not known if Villa was with the raiding party at any time. However, it is known that during most of the battle, Villa, his commanders, and about two dozen other men took up position on Cootes Hill overlooking Columbus where they could observe the action and where some of Villa's men acted as sharpshooters to fire upon the town. The Villistas fought the pursuing American troops and civilians until a bugler sounded the order to retreat. Major Frank Tompkins, commanding the regiment's 3rd Squadron and acting as its executive officer, asked and received permission from Slocum to pursue the withdrawing Mexicans. Disregarding the rules of engagement, he led two troops 15 miles into Mexico in pursuit of a force approximately six times the size of his, engaged Villa's rearguard four times, and inflicted some losses on them before withdrawing back across the border after running low on ammunition and water. Tompkins was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Service Cross in 1918 for this action. [10]

Uncovering the Truth Behind the Myth of Pancho Villa, Movie Star

Pancho Villa, seen here in a still taken from Mutual’s exclusive 1914 film footage. But did the Mexican rebel really sign a contract agreeing to fight his battles according to the ideas of a Hollywood director?

The first casualty of war is truth, they say, and nowhere was that  more true than in Mexico during the revolutionary period between 1910 and 1920. In all the blood and chaos that followed the overthrow of Porfirio Diaz, who had been dictator of Mexico since 1876, what was left of the central government in Mexico City found itself fighting several contending rebel forces—most notably the Liberation Army of the South, commanded by Emiliano Zapata, and the Chihuahua-based División del Norte, led by the even more celebrated bandit-rebel Pancho Villa–and the three-cornered civil war that followed was notable for its unrelenting savagery, its unending confusion and (north of the Rio Grande, at least) its unusual film deals. Specifically, it is remembered for the contract Villa was supposed to have signed with a leading American newsreel company in January 1914. Under the terms of this agreement, it is said, the rebels undertook to fight their revolution for the benefit of the movie cameras in exchange for a large advance, payable in gold.

Even at this early date, there was nothing especially surprising about Pancho Villa (or anyone else) inking a deal that allowed cameras access to the areas that they controlled. Newsreels were a coming force. Cinema was growing rapidly in popularity attendance at nickelodeons had doubled since 1908, and an estimated㺱 million tickets were sold each week in the U.S. by 1914. Those customers expected to see some news alongside the melodramas and comedy shorts that were the staples of early cinema. And there were obvious advantages in controlling the way in which the newsreel men chose to portray the Revolution, particularly for Villa, whose main bases were close to the U.S. border.

What made Villa’s contract so odd, though, was its terms, or at least the terms it was said to have contained. Here’s how the agreement he reached with the Mutual Film Company is usually described:

In 1914, a Hollywood motion picture company signed a contract with Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa in which he agreed to fight his revolution according to the studio’s scenario in return for $25,000. The Hollywood crew went down to Mexico and joined Villa’s guerrilla force. The director told Pancho Villa where and how to fight his battles. The cameraman, since he could only shoot in daylight, made Pancho Villa start fighting every day at 9:00 a.m. and stop at 4:00 p.m.—sometimes forcing Villa to cease his real warring until the cameras could be moved to a new angle.

It sounds outlandish—not to say impractical. But the story quickly became common currency, and indeed, the tale of Pancho Villa’s brief Hollywood career has been turned into a movie of its own. Accounts sometimes include elaborations it is said that Villa agreed that no other film company would be permitted to send representatives to the battlefield, and that, if the cameraman did not secure the shots he needed, the División del Norte would re-enact its battles later. And while the idea that there was a strict ban on fighting outside daylight hours is always mentioned in these secondary accounts, that prohibition is sometimes extended in another, semi-fictional, re-imagining, recounted by Leslie Bethel, Villa tells Raoul Walsh, the early Hollywood director: “Don’t worry, Don Raúl. If you say the light at four in the morning is not right for your little machine, well, no problem. The executions will take place at six. But no later. Afterward we march and fight. Understand?”

Whatever the variations in accounts of Pancho’s film deal, though, it ends the same way. There’s always this sting in the tale:

When the completed film was brought back to Hollywood, it was found too unbelievable to be released—and most of it had to be reshot on the studio lot.

There was plenty of bias: A contemporary cartoon from the New York Times. Click to view in higher resolution.

Today’s post is an attempt to uncover the truth about this little-known incident–and, as it turns out, it’s a story that is well worth telling, not least because, researching it, I found that tale of Villa and his movie contract informs the broader question how just how accurate other early newsreels were. So this is also a post about the borderlands where truth meets fiction, and the problematic lure of the entertaining story. Finally, it deals in passing with the odd way that fictions can become real, if they are rooted in the truth and enough people believe them.

We should begin by noting that the Mexican Revolution was an early example of a 20th-century “media war”: a conflict in which opposing generals duked it out not only on the battlefield, but also in the newspapers and in cinema “scenarios.” At stake were the hearts and minds of the government and people of the United States—who could, if they wished, intervene decisively on one side or another. Because of this, the Revolution saw propaganda evolve from the crude publication of rival “official” claims into more subtle attempts to control the views of the journalists and cameramen who flooded into Mexico. Most of them were inexperienced, monoglot Americans, and almost all were as interested in making a name for themselves as they were in untangling the half-baked policies and shifting allegiances that distinguished the Federales from the Villistas from the Zapatistas. The result was a rich stew of truth, falsity and reconstruction.

There was plenty of bias, most of it in the form of prejudice against Mexican “greasers.” There were conflicts of interest as well. Several American media owners had extensive commercial interests in Mexico William Randolph Hearst, who controlled vast tracts in northern Mexico, wasted no time in pressing for U.S. intervention when Villa plundered his estates, appropriating 60,000 head of cattle. And there was eagerness to file ticket-selling, circulation-boosting sensation, too Villa himself was frequently portrayed as “a monster of brutality and cruelty,” particularly later in the war, when he crossed the border and raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico.

Much was exaggerated. The Literary Digest noted, with a jaundiced eye:

“Battles” innumerable have been fought, scores of armies have been annihilated, wiped out, blown up, massacred and wholly destroyed according to the glowing reports of commanders on either side, but the supply of cannon fodder does not appear to have diminished appreciably…. Never was there a war in which more gunpowder went off with less harm to the opposing forces.

Pancho Villa (seated, in the presidential chair) and Emiliano Zapata (seated, right, behind sombrero) in the national palace in Mexico City, November 1914.

What is certain is that fierce competition for “news” produced a situation ripe for exploitation. All three of the principal leaders of the period—Villa, Zapata and the Federal generalissimo Victoriano Huerta—sold access and eventually themselves to U.S. newsmen, trading inconvenience for the chance to position themselves as worthy recipients of foreign aid.

Huerta got things off and running, compelling the cameramen who filmed his campaigns to screen their footage for him so he could censor it. But Villa was the one who maximized his opportunities. The upshot, four years into the war, was the rebel general’s acceptance of the Mutual Film contract.

The New York Times broke the news on January 7, 1914:

Pancho Villa, General in Command of the Constitutionalist Army in Northern Mexico, will in future carry on his warfare against President Huerta as a full partner in a moving-picture venture with Harry E. Aitken…. The business of Gen. Villa will be to provide moving picture thrillers in any way that is consistent with his plans to depose and drive Huerta out of Mexico, and the business of Mr. Aitken, the other partner, will be to distribute the resulting films throughout the peaceable sections of Mexico and to the United States and Canada.

Pancho Villa wearing the special general’s uniform provided for him by Mutual Films.

Nothing in this first report suggests that the contract was anything more than a broad agreement guaranteeing privileged access for Mutual’s cameramen. A few weeks later, though, came word of the Battle of Ojinaga, a northern town defended by a force of 5,000 Federales, and for the first time there were hints that the contract included special clauses. Several newspapers reported that Villa had captured Ojinaga only after a short delay while Mutual’s cameramen moved into position.

The rebel was certainly willing to accommodate Mutual in unusual ways. The New York Times reported that, at the film company’s request, he had replaced  his casual battle dress with a custom-made comic opera general’s uniform to make him look more imposing. (The uniform remained the property of Mutual, and Villa was forbidden to wear it in front of any other cameramen.) There is also decent evidence that elements of the División del Norte were pressed into service to stage re-enactments for the cameras. Raoul Walsh recalled Villa gamely doing take after take of a scene “of him coming towards the camera. We’d set up at the head of the street, and he’d hit that horse with a whip and his spurs and go by at ninety miles an hour. I don’t know how many times we said ‘Despacio, despacio,‘—Slow, señor, please!’

But the contract between the rebel leader and Mutual Films proves to have been a good deal less proscriptive than popularly supposed. The only surviving copy, unearthed in a Mexico City archive by Villa’s biographer Friedrich Katz, lacks all the eye-opening clauses that have made it famous: “There was absolutely no mention of reenactment of battle scenes or of Villa providing good lighting,” Katz explained. “What the contract did specify was that the Mutual Film Company was granted exclusive rights to film Villa’s troops in battle, and that Villa would receive 20% of all revenues that the films produced.”

A contemporary newspaper speculates on the likely consequences of the appearance of newsreel cameras at the front. New York Times, January 11, 1914. Click to view in higher resolution.

The notion of a contract that called for war to be fought Hollywood-style, in short, is myth–though the did not stop the New York Times from hazarding, on January 8, 1914, that “if Villa wants to be a good business partner… he will have to make a great effort so that the cameramen can carry out their work successfully. He will have to make sure that the interesting attacks take place when the light is good and the killings are in good focus. This might interfere with military operations that, in theory, have other objectives.”

No such compromises seem to have occurred in practice, and the Mutual contract seems to have outlived its usefulness for both parties within weeks. But what followed suggests other ways in which the facts on the ground were subsumed by the demands of the cinema: As early as the end of February, Mutual switched its attentions from shooting documentary footage to creating a fictional movie about Villa that would incorporate stock shots obtained by the newsreel men. The production of this movie, The Life of General Villa, probably explains how those rumors that Mutual’s newsreel footage “had to be reshot in the studio lot” got started. It premiered in New York in May 1914 and turned out to be a typical melodrama of the period. Villa was given an “acceptable” background for a hero—in real life he and his family had been sharecroppers, but in the Life they were middle-class farmers—and the drama revolved around his quest for revenge on a pair of Federales who had raped his sister, which bore at least some semblance to real events in Villa’s life. The point was that it also came closer to conforming to what its target audience demanded from a movie: close ups, action and a story.

Contemporary sources make it easy to understand why Mutual had this sudden change of heart. Villa had kept his side of the bargain the company’s cameramen had secured the promised exclusive footage of the Battle of Ojinaga. But when the results of these initial efforts reached New York on January 22, they proved disappointing. The footage was no more dramatic than that filmed earlier in the war without the benefit of any contract. As Moving Picture World reported on January 24:

The pictures do not portray a battle they show among other things the conditions in and around Ojinaga after the battle which was fought in and about the town…. There was a good view of the police station of Ojinaga and the little Plaza of the stricken town…. Other things shown on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande were the train of captured guns and ammunition wagons, the review of the ‘army’ before General Villa, the captured Federal prisoners, the wretched refugees on their way to the American side.

American filmmaker L.M. Burrud poses for a publicity shot allegedly showing him “filming in action.”

The Mutual contract, in short, had merely served to highlight the limitations of the early filmmakers. Previously, newsreel cameramen had fallen explained their inability to secure sensational action footage by citing specific local difficulties, not least the problem of gaining access to the battlefield. At Ojinaga, granted the best possible conditions to shoot and the active support of one of the commanders, they had failed again, and the reason is obvious. For all Mutual’s boasts, contemporary movie cameras were heavy, clumsy things that could be operated only by setting them up on a tripod and hand cranking the film. Using them anywhere near a real battle would be suicidal. A publicity still purporting to show rival filmmaker L.M. Burrud “filming in action,” protected by two Indian bodyguards armed with rifles and stripped to their loincloths, was as fraudulent as much of the moving footage brought out of Mexico. The only “action” that could safely be obtained consisted of long shots of artillery bombardments and the mass maneuvering of men on distant horizons.

Newsreel men and their bosses in the United States responded to this problem in various ways. Pressure to deliver “hot” footage remained as high as ever, which meant there were really only two possible solutions. Tracy Matthewson, representing Hearst-Vitagraph with an American “punitive expedition” sent to punish Villa’s border raids two years later, returned home to find that publicists had concocted a thrilling tale describing how he had found himself in the middle of a battle, and bravely

turned the handle and began the greatest picture ever filmed.

One of my tripod bearers smiled at my shouting, and as he smiled, he clutched his hands to his abdomen and fell forward, kicking…. “Action,” I cried. “This is what I’ve wanted. Give ‘em hell boys. Wipe out the blinkety blank dashed greasers!

…Then somewhere out of that tangle of guns a bullet cuts its way. “Za-zing!” I heard it whistle. The splinters cut my face as it hit the camera. It ripped the side open and smashed the little wooden magazine. I sprang crazily to stop it with my hands. But out of the box coiled the precious film. Stretching and glistening in the sun, it fell and died.

This “dog ate my homework” excuse could be used only once, however, so for the most part newsmen supplied an altogether neater solution of their own for most a trip to Mexico meant contenting themselves with creating their own dramatic footage to meet the insatiable demand of audiences at home. Which is to say they carefully “reconstructed” action scenes that they or someone else had witnessed—if they were moderately scrupulous—or simply made scenarios up from scratch, if they were not.

While the practice of faking footage was widespread throughout the Mexican war, and many of the pioneer filmmakers were remarkably open about it in their memoirs, little mention was made of it at the time. Indeed, those who flocked to the cinema to see newsreels of the Mexican war (which the evidence suggests were among the most popular films of the period) were encouraged to believe they were seeing the real thing—the film companies competed vigorously to advertise their latest reels as unprecedentedly realistic. To take only one example, Frank Jones’s early War with Huerta was billed in Moving Picture World as “positively the greatest MEXICAN WAR PICTURE ever made…. Do you realize that it is not a Posed Picture, but taken on the FIELD OF ACTION?”

The reality of the situation was exposed a few months later by Jones’s rival Fritz Arno Wagner, who traveled to Mexico for Pathé and later enjoyed a distinguished film career in Europe:

I have seen four big battles. On each occasion I was threatened with arrest from the Federal general if I took any pictures. He also threatened on one occasion when he saw me turning the crank to smash the camera. He would have done so, too, but for the fact that the rebels came pretty close just then and he had to take it on the run to save his hide.

A tiny handful of cameramen were luckier, and, given precisely the right circumstances, could obtain useful action footage. Another newsreel man who filmed the early stages of the revolution told the film historian Robert Wagner that

street fighting is the easiest to film, for if you can get to a good location on a side street, you have the protection of all the intervening buildings from artillery and rifle fire, while you occasionally get the chance to shoot a few feet of swell film. I got some great stuff in Mexico City, a few days before Madero was killed. One fellow, not twenty feet from my camera, had his head shot off.

Even then, however, the resultant footage—although suitably dramatic—never made it to the screen. “The darn censors would never let us show the picture in the United States,” the newsreel man said. “What do you suppose they sent us to war for?”

The best solution, as more than one film unit discovered, was to wait for the fighting to die down and then enlist any nearby soldiers to produce a lively but sanitized “reconstruction.” There were sometimes hidden dangers in this, too—one cameraman, who persuaded a group of soldiers to “fight” some invading Americans, only narrowly escaped with his life when the Mexicans realized they were being portrayed as cowards being soundly thrashed by the upstanding Yankees. Feeling “that the honor of their nation was being besmirched,” the historian Margarita De Orellana says, “ decided to change the story and defend themselves, firing off a volley of bullets. A real fight then ensued.”

A still from Victor Milner’s wildly successful reconstruction of the U.S. Marines’ assault on the post office at Vera Cruz, April 1914.

Thankfully, there were safer ways of completing an assignment. Victor Milner, a cameraman attached to the U.S. Marine force sent to occupy the Mexican port of Vera Cruz early in the war for reasons too complicated to recount in detail here, made it ashore to discover that the troops had already secured their objectives. Soon afterward, however, he had the luck to run into a friend who, in civilian life, had been “in the public relations business and was anxious to get some good publicity for the Navy and Marines.”

He got together with the local commanders and they staged the greatest replay of the storming of the Post Office that you can imagine. I am sure it was far better than the real thing… The pictures were a newsreel sensation and were shown as a scoop in all the theaters before any of us got back to the States. To this day, I don’t think anyone in the States was aware that they were a replay, and the shots were staged.

Leslie Bethell (ed.). The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 10. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995 Kevin Brownlow. The Parade’s Gone By… Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968 Kevin Brownlow. The War, the West and the Wilderness. London: Secker & Warburg, 1979 James Chapman. War and Film. London: Reaktion Books, 2008 Aurelio De Los Reyes. With Villa in Mexico on Location. Washington DC: Library of Congress, 1986 Margarita De Orellana. Filming Pancho: How Hollywood Shaped the Mexican Revolution. London: Verso, 2009 Friedrich Katz. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998 Zuzana Pick. Constructing the Image of the Mexican Revolution. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010 Gregorio Rocha. “And starring Pancho Villa as himself.” The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivistsن:1 (Spring 2006).

Photo Gallery

—The New York Times, in a December 14, 1913, article painting villa (shown center) as a murderer whose cruelty made the other presidential possibility, Victoriano Huerta, appear to be “mild and innocent.”

– All images True West Archives –

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In this New Mexico town, you can see where Pancho Villa turned history on its head

In the Cabalgata Binacional, riders from Mexico and the U.S. gather at the border and ride three miles together into Columbus, N.M.

Narciso Martinez Alvarado held a wood-carving of Pancho Villa. Not everybody in Columbus, N.M., believes a fiesta is the proper way to commemorate an act of war.

Gen. Francisco Villa, also known as Pancho Villa (1877-1923).

A demonstration U.S. Army camp at Pancho Villa State Park.

Pancho Villa, left, and Pancho Villa’s great-great- grandson, Francisco Antonio Villa Alcazar.

(Unknown (left) Catherine Watson (right))

Honor guard from the 13th Cavalry at the closing ceremony, left, and reenactors depict camp life of the U.S. military in Columbus, N.M., at the time of the attack.

The closing centennial commemoration in front of Coote’s Hill.

COLUMBUS, N.M. — As you drive into this dusty little village just three miles north of the Mexican border, you wouldn’t guess that a bloody event here would have affected a world war and kept the town’s name in the history books for more than a hundred years.

Just before dawn on March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa ordered his troops to attack the sleeping town. It was a mistake Villa was defeated in less than two hours.

But the U.S. military’s quick response made Columbus the first test of the fledgling American air force and contributed to Germany’s defeat in World War I.

“This is the last time the United States was attacked by a foreign power — with boots on the ground,” said Annette Schneider, a volunteer at the Columbus Historical Society’s museum in the old railroad depot, one of the few buildings that remains from the time of the raid.

The raid’s centennial — and my curiosity — drew me to Columbus in March. I went because I wanted to know more about Pancho Villa, a general in Mexico’s Revolution. Until I arrived here, though, I had no idea how the Columbus raid had influenced America’s future.

About 1,650 people live in Columbus now, but it feels much smaller, with buildings widely spaced along streets where horses look more at home than cars.

In 1916, though, Columbus “was a going place,” Schneider told me: a town of about 600 on the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad with three hotels, a bank, half a dozen stores, a lumberyard, a Ford dealership, a Coca-Cola bottling plant and its own newspaper.

It also had an encampment of about 400 soldiers from the 13th U.S. Cavalry stationed at Columbus to help protect the border during Mexico’s revolution. Villa had expected a much smaller American force.

“He got bad intel,” said John Read√, superintendent of Pancho Villa State Park, which adjoins the town.

By 1916 Villa’s army had shrunk from 20,000 to only about 450 men, and the United States — his onetime ally — had switched its support to a rival revolutionary.

“Pancho Villa felt betrayed,” Read said. “Would Pancho Villa have raided Columbus if we hadn’t gone against him? No.”

Now the ragtag remainder of Villa’s army “needed everything,” he said. Villa figured “we can hit this little military camp, and we can get horses and blankets and food and money” — and some revenge on America too.

“It was 4 a.m. — pitch-dark,” Schneider said, sounding as if she’d seen it happen. Villa’s raiders stormed into town from different directions, shooting, looting stores and starting fires. Terrified townspeople hid or fled.

One family managed to drive 30 miles north to Deming, N.M., even though the father was bleeding so badly from gunshot wounds that his wife had to take the wheel. They made it to a hospital in time to save him, and their bullet-riddled Dodge is on display in the state park’s handsome exhibit hall.

“The Villistas took it on the chin,” Read said. “The 13th Cavalry were really highly trained soldiers.” Even the cooks, already up and working on breakfast for the troops, fought back, throwing boiling water at the attackers.

The raid left 18 Americans dead — 10 townsfolk, eight soldiers. But close to 90 of Villa’s men were killed, largely by the cavalry’s four machine guns. The guns fired 20,000 rounds during the hour-and-a-half fight.

American military response was blindingly swift. Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing dispatched 10,000 troops by train from Ft. Bliss at El Paso to Camp Furlong at Columbus, making it temporarily the largest town in New Mexico.

The entire United States air force — all eight Curtiss JN-3 biplanes, nicknamed “Jennies” — was also sent to Columbus and began flying reconnaissance missions over Mexico.

All the planes were out of commission by the end of April but their presence made history: This was the first time the U.S. military had used airplanes in battle.

That makes Columbus “the cradle of American air power,” U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) told a cheering crowd this spring at the centennial commemoration of the raid.

Columbus is also “where Germany lost World War I,” historian Heribert von Feilitzsch said in a lecture later that day.

Germany had supplied Villa with money and ammunition in hopes of provoking a war between the U.S. and Mexico, Von Feilitzsch said. The idea was to distract America and prevent it from entering the war in Europe.

The plan not only didn’t work, it gave the U.S. Army a real-world chance to train for World War I. It even changed how wars would be fought, Read said: This was the last true mounted cavalry action by the U.S. Army and the first U.S. military operation that used mechanized vehicles.

Gen. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition chased Villa around northern Mexico for the next 11 months but never caught him. Then the U.S. entered World War I, and troops were pulled from the border and sent to Europe. Villa survived until his assassination in Mexico in 1923.

I’d read that there would be reenactors at the centennial, so I came to Columbus expecting to see a battle reenactment — the kind of thing that Civil War buffs stage at Gettysburg, Pa., and Antietam, Md.

There were enough soldiers in town that day —100 real ones in fatigues and black Stetsons from the 13th Cavalry, still stationed at Ft. Bliss, as well as hobbyists, military collectors and history buffs dressed in the 1916-style uniforms of the U.S. and Mexico.

But instead of a reenactment, what I saw was a recommitment to friendship across the border — something the town has done on
the second Saturday in March for the last 17 years and will again next year, said Norma Gomez, secretary of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

It’s called the Fiesta de Amistad — a celebration of friendship — and its centerpiece is the arrival of the Cabalgata Binacional, when horsemen from Mexico and the U.S. gather at the border and ride the last three miles together into the heart of Columbus, carrying the flags of both nations.

It was as showy as any battle reenactment I’ve ever seen — and a whole lot happier.

Some of the Mexican riders had dressed like Villa’s men, with sidearms, wide sombreros and bandoliers crisscrossed over their chests. A few shouted “¡Viva Villa!” and “¡Viva Mexico!” echoing the raiders in 1916.

But everybody smiled, and the crowd lining the highway into town welcomed the horsemen with cheers, applause, waves and a few fist-bumps.

Even one of Villa’s descendants was in town for the centennial. It was the first time anyone from his family had come, said Antonio Villa, who lives in Juárez, Mexico. How do they feel about Pancho Villa now, I wondered.

The young man smiled. “We are very proud of him,” he said. “He was a big part of history.”

Later that day, there were speeches, lectures on border history, rousing band music, Mexican folk dancers and homemade Mexican food dished up by local ladies in the town’s small, park-like plaza.

Not everyone in town thinks a fiesta is appropriate to commemorate an act of war, however, even if it’s a fiesta of friendship. Richard Dean, president of the Columbus Historical Society, is one of the most vocal — and with reason: His great-grandfather, a shopkeeper, was killed in the raid.

Dean’s organization holds a separate memorial service on the March 9 anniversary of the raid. Attendees this year included descendants of victims as well as Helen Patton, whose grandfather, Gen. George Patton, first saw military action as part of the Punitive Expedition.

This is why organizers of the Fiesta de Amistad are careful not to say they’re “celebrating” the raid. “We’re just trying to make things better for everyone,” said Gomez, who was one of the fiesta’s founders.

Opinions also differ about the state park’s name. Dean objects to its being named after Pancho Villa. It’s disrespectful, he said, akin to having “a Bin Laden Park in Lower Manhattan.’’

Read, the park superintendent, takes a different view. “The name does actually benefit both countries,” he said. “It helps reconcile a disaster for both sides.”

Pancho Villa

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Pancho Villa, original name Francisco Guilledo, (born Aug. 1, 1901, Iloilo, Phil.—died July 14, 1925, San Francisco, Calif., U.S.), Filipino professional boxer, world flyweight (112 pounds) champion.

Villa began his boxing career in 1919, winning various titles in the Philippines. Within a few months of his arrival in the United States, he knocked out the American flyweight champion, Johnny Buff (John Lesky), in the 11th round of a nontitle fight on Sept. 15, 1922. Villa won the world flyweight championship by knocking out Jimmy (“Mighty Atom”) Wilde of Wales in the seventh round on June 18, 1923. He made several title defenses before his last fight, a nontitle bout on July 4, 1925, when he lost a 10-round decision (a fight whose outcome is determined by judges’ scoring) to Irish-born Canadian Jimmy McLarnin. Ten days later, Villa died from blood poisoning caused by an infected gum where one of his wisdom teeth had been removed just before the fight. He had a record of 73 wins (22 by knockouts), 5 losses, 4 draws, and 23 no decisions (a common result in boxing’s early days). Villa was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.


Trouble between the United States and Pancho Villa had been growing since October 1915, when the United States government officially recognized Villa's rival and former ally Venustiano Carranza as head of the government of Mexico. The U.S. also provided rail transportation through the United States, from Eagle Pass, Texas to Douglas, Arizona, for the movement of more than 5,000 Carrancista forces to fight Villa at the Battle of Agua Prieta Villa's seasoned División del Norte was smashed. [9] Feeling betrayed, Villa began attacking U.S. nationals and their property in northern Mexico. [10] On November 26, 1915, Villa sent a force to attack the city of Nogales and in the course of the ensuing battle, engaged with American forces before withdrawing.

On January 11, 1916, sixteen American employees of the American Smelting and Refining Company were removed from a train near Santa Isabel, Chihuahua, and summarily stripped and executed. Brigadier General John J. Pershing, commanding the district headquartered at Fort Bliss, Texas, received information that Villa with a new force was on the border and about to make an attack that would force the United States to intervene, embarrassing the Carranza government. [11] [n 2] Raids were so commonplace, however, that the rumor was not seen as credible. [10]

However, at about 4:00 am on March 9, 1916, Villa's troops attacked Columbus, New Mexico, and Camp Furlong, the U.S. Army post there, where four troops (about 240 soldiers) of the 13th Cavalry Regiment had been stationed since September 1912. Ten civilians and eight soldiers were killed in the attack, and two civilians and six soldiers wounded. [12] The raiders burned the town, stole horses and mules, and seized machine guns, ammunition and merchandise, before fleeing back to Mexico. [10]

However, Villa's soldiers had suffered considerable losses, with at least sixty-seven dead and dozens more wounded. Many of the casualties were inflicted when the machine gun troop of the 13th Cavalry led by 2nd Lt. John P. Lucas set up its Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié machine guns under fire along the north boundary of Camp Furlong, firing over 5,000 rounds apiece using the glow of burning buildings to illuminate targets. [13] [n 3] About thirteen of Villa's wounded later died of their wounds, and five wounded Villistas taken prisoner by the Americans were tried and hanged for murder. Local lore in Columbus holds that the attack may have been caused by a merchant in Columbus who supplied Villa with arms and ammunition. Villa is said to have paid several thousand dollars in cash for the weapons, but the merchant refused to deliver them unless he was paid in gold, giving "cause" for the raid. [10] [14]

The next day, acting on the recommendations of the commanders of his cavalry regiments, Southern Department commanding general Frederick Funston recommended an immediate pursuit in force into Mexico. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson concurred, designating Pershing to command the force and releasing a statement to the press:

An adequate force will be sent at once in pursuit of Villa with the single object of capturing him and putting a stop to his forays. This can and will be done in entirely friendly aid to the constituted authorities in Mexico and with scrupulous respect for the sovereignty of that Republic. [15]

Pursuit phase Edit

Pershing assembled an expeditionary force consisting primarily of cavalry and horse artillery, the cavalry units armed with M1909 machine guns, M1903 Springfield rifles, and M1911 semi-automatic pistols. On March 15, 1916, [16] organized into a provisional division of three brigades (four regiments of cavalry, [n 4] two of infantry, and 6,600 men), the expedition crossed the border into Mexico to search for Villa, marching in two columns from Columbus and Culberson's Ranch. [n 5]

The 2nd Provisional Cavalry Brigade reached Colonia Dublán after dark on March 17, where Pershing established the main base of operations for the campaign. The 1st Aero Squadron, included in the expedition for liaison duties and aerial reconnaissance on the orders of United States Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, departed San Antonio, Texas, on March 13 by rail with eight Curtiss JN3 airplanes and flew the first aerial reconnaissance of the area from Columbus on March 16, the day after it arrived. The entire squadron flew to the advanced camp at Colonia Dublán on March 19–20, losing two aircraft in the process. [17] [n 6]

Pershing immediately sent the 7th Cavalry (seven troops in two squadrons) south just after midnight on March 18 to begin the pursuit, followed by the 10th Cavalry moving by rail two days later. [18] From March 20 to March 30, as the 11th Cavalry arrived in Columbus by train from Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and then forced marched into Mexico, Pershing dispatched four additional "flying columns" through the mountainous territory into the gaps between the original three columns. [19] [n 7] Persistent winter weather through early April, particularly bitterly cold nights at high altitude, made both pursuit and logistics more difficult. An additional regiment of cavalry and two of infantry were added to the expedition in late April, [n 8] bringing its total size to 4,800 men. Ultimately more than 10,000 men—virtually every available unit of the Regular Army and additional National Guard troops—were committed to the expedition either in Mexico or its supporting units at Columbus.

Because of disputes with the Carranza administration over the use of the Mexico North Western Railway to supply Pershing's troops, the United States Army employed trucks to convoy supplies to the encampment where the Signal Corps also set up wireless telegraph service from the border to Pershing's headquarters. This was the first use of truck convoys in a U.S. military operation and provided useful experience for World War I. [20] [n 9] During this phase of the campaign Pershing maintained a small mobile headquarters of 30 men using a Dodge touring car for personal transportation, to keep abreast of the moving columns and control their movements, employing aircraft of the 1st Aero Squadron as messengers. His headquarters advanced as far as the 1st Aero Squadron's field at Satevó, southeast of Chihuahua City, before falling back at the end of April. [21]

Villa had a six-day head start on the pursuit, all but ensuring that his forces would successfully break up into smaller bands and he would be able to hide in the trackless mountains. Nevertheless, he was nearly caught by the forced marches of the pursuing cavalry columns when he recklessly paused in his retreat to attack a Carrancista garrison. The Battle of Guerrero was fought on March 29, 1916, after a 55-mile night march through the snowy Sierra Madre by Colonel George A. Dodd and 370 men of the 7th Cavalry. 360 Villistas had remained in Guerrero celebrating the victory won over the Carrancista garrison [n 10] and 160 more were in the next valley in nearby San Ysidro.

Dodd's force was unexpected by the Villistas, who hastily dispersed when the U.S. troops appeared on the steep eastern bluffs overlooking the town. Dodd immediately attacked, sending one squadron west around the town to block escape routes and advancing with the other. A planned charge was thwarted when the fatigued horses were unable to attain the proper gait. [n 11] During a five-hour pursuit of fleeing Villista elements, over 75 of Villa's men were killed or wounded and he was forced to retreat into the mountains. Only five of the Americans were hurt, none of them fatally. [22] The battle is considered the single most successful engagement of the expedition and possibly the closest Pershing's men came to capturing Villa. [23] [24] [25] [26] [n 12]

After advancing from Namiquipa on March 24 to San Diego del Monte, [18] the 10th Cavalry became isolated from Pershing's headquarters by a fierce snow storm on March 31. A squadron of the 10th marched toward Guerrero after receiving reports of the action there and at midday April 1 a meeting engagement resulted with one of the retreating Villista groups, 150 strong, under Francisco Beltran at a ranch near Agua Caliente. Breaking up into even smaller groups and retreating over a wooded ridge, some of the Villistas attempted to defend themselves behind a stone wall, resulting in what was purported to be the first mounted cavalry charge by U.S. troops since 1898, led by Major Charles Young. The pursuit lasted until darkness and the Buffalo Soldiers killed at least two Villistas left on the field and routed the remainder, without loss. [27] The action also was the first time the U.S. Army used plunging fire by machine guns to support an attack. [28]

The columns pushed deeper into Mexico, increasing tensions between the United States and the Carranza government. On April 12, 1916, Major Frank Tompkins and Troops K and M, 13th Cavalry, numbering 128 men, were attacked by an estimated 500 Mexican troops as they were leaving the town of Parral, 513 miles into Mexico and almost to the state of Durango, following violent protests by the civilian populace. [n 13] Tompkins had been personally ordered to avoid a straight-up engagement with de facto government troops to prevent war between the countries [29] and so used a rear guard to keep the Carrancistas at a distance during a retreat to his starting point, the fortified village of Santa Cruz de Villegas. Two Americans were killed in the skirmishing, one was missing from the rear guard, and another six were wounded, while the Carrancistas lost between fourteen and seventy men, according to conflicting accounts. [30] [31] [32]

The battle marked a turning point in the campaign. Military opposition by Carranza forced a halt in further pursuit while diplomatic conversations took place by both nations to avoid war. Only four days earlier, on April 8, Army Chief of Staff General Hugh L. Scott had expressed to Secretary of War Baker that Pershing had virtually accomplished his mission and that it was "not dignified for the United States to be hunting one man in a foreign country". Baker concurred and so advised Wilson, but following the fight at Parral the administration refused to withdraw the expedition, not wanting to be seen as caving in to Mexican pressure during an election year. [33] Instead, on April 21 Pershing ordered the four columns that had converged near Parral to withdraw to San Antonio de Los Arenales. A week later he assigned the cavalry regiments, including the newly arrived 5th Cavalry, to five districts created in central Chihuahua in which to patrol and seek out the smaller bands. [34] [n 14]

While executing the withdrawal order, Dodd and a portion of the 7th Cavalry fought an engagement on April 22 with about 200 Villistas under Candelaro Cervantes at the small village of Tomochic. As the Americans entered the village, the Mexicans opened fire from the surrounding hills. Dodd first sent patrols out to engage the Villistas' rear guard, to the east of Tomochic, and after these were "scattered", located the main body on a plain to the north and brought it into action. Skirmishing continued, but after dark the Villistas retreated and the Americans moved into Tomochic. The 7th Cavalry lost two men killed and four wounded, while Dodd reported his men had killed at least thirty Villistas. [35]

Patrol district actions Edit

The five districts that Pershing established west of the Mexican Central Railway on April 29, 1916, were:

  • Namiquipa District (10th Cavalry) south of the 30th parallel to Namiquipa
  • Bustillos District (13th Cavalry), below the eastern part of Namiquipa District around Laguna Bustillos to San Antonio de Los Arenales and Chihuahua City District (7th Cavalry), below the western part of Namiquipa District and west of the Bustillos and San Borja Districts District (11th Cavalry), south of Bustillos District between the Guerrero and Satevó Districts to Parral and
  • Satevó District (5th Cavalry), southeast of the Bustillos District and east of the San Borja District, south to Jimenez. [34]

The next significant engagement took place on May 5. A small Carrancista garrison at the silver mining town of Cusihuiriachic was attacked by Villa's forces on May 4, prompting the garrison commander to request help from U.S. forces at nearby San Antonio. Six troops of the 11th Cavalry, [n 15] its machine gun platoon, and a detachment of Apache Scouts under 1st Lt. James A. Shannon, totaling 14 officers and 319 men, began a night march under Major Robert L. Howze. Arriving at Cusihuirischic, Howze found that 140 Villistas under Julio Acosta had pulled back into the mountains to the west to a ranch at Ojos Azules, and that the garrison commander had received orders not to cooperate with the Americans. Howze was delayed three hours in finding a guide and by the time he located the ranch and was deploying to attack, day had broken. When Acosta's guards and Howze's advance guard exchanged fire, Howze with Troop A immediately ordered a charge with pistols through the hacienda. Unable to deploy on line, the charge was made in column of fours and closed with the fleeing elements of Villistas. The other troops deployed to either side of the hacienda attempting to block escape and were supported by plunging fire from the machine gun troop. Friedrich Katz called the action the "greatest victory that the Punitive Expedition would achieve." Without a single casualty, the Americans killed forty-four Villistas and wounded many more. The survivors, including Acosta, were dispersed. [36] [37] [38]

Also on May 5, several hundred Mexican raiders, under a Villista officer, attacked the geographically isolated towns of Glenn Springs and Boquillas in the Big Bend region of Texas. At Glenn Springs the Mexicans overwhelmed a squad of just nine 14th Cavalry troopers guarding the town, set fire to it, then rode on to Boquillas where they killed a boy, looted the town and took two captives. Local commanders pursued the Mexicans 100 miles into the state of Coahuila to free the captives and regain the stolen property. On May 12, Major George T. Langhorne and two troops of the 8th Cavalry from Fort Bliss, Texas, reinforced by Colonel Frederick Sibley and Troops H and K of the 14th Cavalry from Fort Clark, rescued the captives at El Pino without a fight. Three days later a small detachment of cavalry encountered the raiders at Castillon, killing five of the Villistas and wounding two the Americans had no casualties. The cavalry force returned to the United States May 21 after ten days in Mexico. [39] [40] [41] [42]

On May 14, 2nd Lt. George S. Patton raided the San Miguelito Ranch, near Rubio, Chihuahua. Patton, a Pershing aide and a future World War II general, was out looking to buy some corn from the Mexicans when he came across the ranch of Julio Cárdenas, an important leader in the Villista military organization. With fifteen men and three Dodge touring cars, Patton led America's first motorised military action, in which Cárdenas and two other men were shot dead. The young lieutenant then had the three Mexicans strapped to the hood of the cars and driven back to General Pershing's headquarters. Patton is said to have carved three notches into the twin Colt Peacemakers he carried, representing the men he claimed to have killed that day. General Pershing nicknamed him the "Bandito". [43] [44] [45] [46]

The Villistas launched an attack of their own on May 25. This time a small force of ten men from the 7th Cavalry were out looking for stray cattle and correcting maps when they were ambushed by twenty rebels just south of Cruces. One American corporal was killed and two other men were wounded, though they killed two of the "bandit leaders" and drove off the rest. [47] [48]

On June 2, Shannon and twenty Apache scouts fought a small skirmish with some of Candelaro Cervantes' men who had stolen a few horses from the 5th Cavalry. Shannon and the Apaches found the rebels' trail, which was a week old by then, and followed it for some time until finally catching up with the Mexicans near Las Varas Pass, about forty miles south of Namiquipa. Using the cover of darkness, Shannon and his scouts attacked the Villistas' hideout, killing one of them and wounding another without losses to themselves. The Villista who died was thought to be the leader as he carried a sword during the fight. [49] [n 16]

Another skirmish was fought on June 9, north of Pershing's headquarters and the city of Chihuahua. Twenty men from the 13th Cavalry encountered an equally small force of Villistas and chased them through Santa Clara Canyon. Three of the Mexicans were killed and the rest escaped. There were no American casualties. [47]

End of active operations Edit

On May 9, at a face-to-face meeting in El Paso, Texas, Carranza's Secretary of War and Navy, General Álvaro Obregón, threatened to send a massive force against the expedition's supply lines and forcibly drive it out of Mexico. Funston reacted by ordering Pershing to withdraw all his troops from San Antonio de Los Arenales to Colonia Dublán. [50] Although the order was rescinded on the evening of May 11 when no evidence of Carrancista troop movements was found, the southernmost supply depots had been closed and materiel sent north that could not easily be turned around. [51] Pershing was ordered to halt in place at Namiquipa, making tactical dispositions of his forces there and on El Valle to the north. [52] The movements began a gradual withdrawal of the expedition to Dublán. On May 19 units of the 10th and 11th Cavalry returned to the base to guard the supply lines with Columbus and conduct reconnaissance in the absence of the temporarily grounded 1st Aero Squadron. As the threat of war with the de facto government increased, the northward movement continued. Pershing's headquarters left Namiquipa on June 21, setting up again in Dublán, after which the advanced supply depot at Namiquipa closed June 23. [53] June 29 found the expedition concentrated on the main base and a forward camp at El Valle 60 miles to the south. [54] [n 17]

The last and most costly engagement of the Mexican Expedition was fought on June 21 when 3 officers and 87 men of Troops C and K of the 10th Cavalry, sent separately to scout Carrancista dispositions reported along the Mexican Central Railway, combined into a single column and encountered a blocking force of 300 soldiers. They were soundly defeated at the Battle of Carrizal, with Captain Charles T. Boyd, 1st Lt. Henry R. Adair, and ten enlisted men killed, [n 18] ten wounded and another 24 (23 soldiers and 1 civilian guide) taken prisoner. The remainder, including the sole surviving officer, Capt. Lewis S. Morey, were rescued four days later by a relief squadron of the 11th Cavalry. The Mexicans did not do much better they reported the loss of 24 men killed and 43 wounded, including their commander, General Félix Uresti Gómez, while Pershing listed 42 Carrancistas killed and 51 wounded. [2] When General Pershing learned of the battle he was furious and asked for permission to attack the Carrancista garrison of Chihuahua City. President Wilson refused, knowing that it would certainly start a war. [6] [32] [55] [56]

The action at Parral in April had made the destruction of Villa and his troops secondary to the objective of preventing further attacks on U.S. forces by Carrancistas. [8] The battle at Carrizal brought the countries to the brink of war and forced both governments to make immediate overt gestures clearly showing their intent to avoid it. Although the United States deployed 100,000 troops on the border, by July 4 the major crisis had passed. [57] The Punitive Expedition, U.S. Army remained at Colonia Dublán indefinitely as a fixed-base operation to be a negative incentive to the Carranza government to take seriously its obligation to catch Villa. [58] The Carranza government proved unequal to the task but nevertheless U.S. operations inside Mexico virtually ceased over the next six months. [59]

A Joint High Commission for negotiations with the Carranza government was agreed upon in July, and the first of 52 sessions met on September 6 in New London, Connecticut. [60] Although the commission reached accord on all issues, the negotiations failed to result in a formal agreement for withdrawal of U.S. forces signed by the Mexican government. Despite this, Pershing was ordered on January 18, 1917 to prepare the expedition for return to the United States, which was executed between January 28 and February 5. [61] While the expedition made a dozen successful contacts with Villista groups in the first two months of the campaign, killing many of his important subordinates and 169 of his men, all of whom had participated in the attack on Columbus, [62] it failed in its other major objective of capturing Villa. However, between the date of the American withdrawal and Villa's retirement in 1920, Villa's troops did not again successfully raid the United States.

Between June 1915 and June 1916 raiders from Mexico attacked people on U.S. soil 38 times, resulting in the deaths of 26 soldiers and 11 civilians. [10] Reacting to the Glenn Springs raid, the Army transferred three regiments of regulars [n 19] to the border and also called up state militia units from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico on May 8. [50] [63] On June 15, 1916, another attempted raid by Mexican border-crossers, this at San Ygnacio, Texas, 30 miles downstream from Laredo, was repulsed by soldiers with casualties to both sides. [64] As a result, using powers granted by passage of the National Defense Act of 1916, Wilson on June 18 fully mobilized Guard units from the remainder of the states and the District of Columbia for duty on the border. [65] More than 140,000 National Guard troops were called up, [66] but only two regiments, the 1st New Mexico Infantry and the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, were actually assigned to the Mexican Expedition, and those to guard the base at Columbus. [67] Historian Clarence C. Clendenen asserts that although no Guard units officially crossed into Mexico at any time, soldiers from the two regiments at Columbus did enter Mexico to perform various tasks. [68]

Wide differences in proficiency existed between various guard units in training, leadership and equipment, so that for the most part units came to the border with only basic drilling as experience. [69] Units were initially assigned as static guards for railroad bridges and border crossing points, but as training made them more proficient, they were assigned an increasing responsibility for the patrolling the border that resulted in encounters with smugglers and bandits who still posed an occasional threat. Records of the Utah National Guard indicate that it participated in three skirmishes after it arrived at Camp Stephen J. Little on the Arizona border in July 1916. The final action of the three, occurring January 26, 1917, resulted in an all-day border skirmish between Utah cavalrymen and Mexicans in which the guardsmen were reinforced and ten Mexicans were killed or wounded. [70] [n 20] While incapable of conducting organized combat operations with other units, the border security mission proved a training environment for the officers and men of the National Guard, who were again inducted into federal service after the United States declared war on the German Empire in April 1917. Many National Guard leaders in both World Wars traced their first federal service to the Mexican Expedition. In their history of the call-up, Charles Harris and Louis Sadler reveal its significance:

Between June 1916 and April 1917 the guard received intensive field training. Units from different states were sometimes grouped into large provisional units. Not only did the men become more proficient, but many officers gained invaluable experience commanding large formations. At the same time the guard was receiving badly needed equipment and supplies. The great call-up transformed the national guard into a much more effective fighting force, for it was as close as the United States came to the large-scale military maneuvers in which European armies traditionally engaged. [71]

After U.S. forces were withdrawn in January 1917, Pershing publicly claimed the expedition to be a success, which in light of the public declarations by President Wilson was clearly not the case since Villa eluded capture by the U.S. Army. Pershing complained privately to his family that Wilson had imposed too many restrictions, which made it impossible for him to fulfill that portion of his mission. [45] In the sting of the moment, having been compelled to withdraw out of political considerations and before much larger events in Europe put the episode behind him, he wrote that "Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turned back at the first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover, like a whipped curr with its tail between its legs." [72] Referring to the massive rules of political restrictions put on him by President Wilson. During the three months of active operations, American forces killed or captured 292 Villistas and captured 605 rifles, 5 pistols, 14 machine guns, and 139 horses and mules from the Villistas. Most of the horses and mules were returned to local residents and the pistols kept as souvenirs. [73]

Pershing was permitted to bring into New Mexico 527 Chinese refugees who had assisted him during the expedition, despite the ban on Chinese immigration at that time under the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese refugees, known as "Pershing's Chinese", were allowed to remain in the U.S. if they worked under the supervision of the military as cooks and servants on bases. In 1921, Congress passed Public Resolution 29, which allowed them to remain in the country permanently under the conditions of the 1892 Geary Act. Most of them settled in San Antonio, Texas. [74]

Soldiers who took part in the Villa campaign were awarded the Mexican Service Medal. [75]

The chase after Villa was a small military episode, but it had important long-term implications. It enabled Carranza to mobilize popular anger, strengthen his political position, and permanently escalate anti-American sentiment in Mexico. [76] On the American side, it made Pershing a national figure and, when Funston died of a heart attack shortly after the expedition returned to the United States, an obvious choice to lead the American forces in France in 1917. It gave the American army some needed experience in dealing with training, logistics, and command using national guardsmen. It gave the American public a way to work out its frustrations over the European stalemate and it showed that the United States was willing to defend its borders while keeping that demonstration on a small scale. [77]

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