Skip to comments.In Pursuit of Pancho Villa 1916-1917 (An Almost Forgotten Episode of Terrorism on American Soil)
Posted on 09/26/2001 7:33:47 AM PDT by buaya
Doroteo Arango, alias Francisco Pancho Villa, was born in 1877 (1879 according to some sources) in San Juan del Rio, State of Durango, Mexico. During his lifetime, he was a ruthless killer (killing his first man at age sixteen), a notorious bandit (including cattle rustling and bank robbery), a revolutionary (a general commanding a division in the resistance against the 1913-14 Victoriano Huerta dictatorship), and despite his bloodthirsty nature, an enduring hero to the poor people of Mexico. In their minds, Villa was afraid of no one, not the Mexican government or the gringos from the United States. He was their one true friend and avenger for decades of Yankee oppression.
In late 1915 Pancho Villa had counted on American support to obtain the presidency of Mexico. Instead the U.S. Government recognized the new government of Venustiano Carranza. An irate Villa swore revenge against the United States.and began by murdering Americans in hopes of provoking President Woodrow Wilsons intervention into Mexico. Villa believed that American interevention would discredit the Carranza government with the people of Mexico and reaffirm his own popularity.
Villa and his pistoleros launched raids along the U.S.- Mexico boundary to frighten the Americans living in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona border towns. Concerned for the safety of Americans, President Wilson ordered the War Department to begin deploying troops to Texas and New Mexico. In April, 1915, Brigadier General John J. Pershing and his 8th Infantry Brigade were sent to Fort Bliss, Texas with the mission of guarding the U.S.- Mexico border from Arizona to a bleak outpost in the Sierra Blanca mountains ninety miles southeast of El Paso.
While the presence of American troops served to deter Villa on the north of the Rio Grande, the murder of U.S. citizens in Mexico continued. One of the most heinous atrocities occurred January 11, 1916, when Villas bandits stopped a train at Santa Ysabel. The bandits removed a group of 17 Texas business men (mining engineers) invited by the Mexican government to reopen the Cusihuiriachic mines below Chihuahua City and executed them in cold blood. However, one of those shot feined death and rolled down the side of the embankment and, crawling away into a patch of brown mesquite bushes, escaped. The train moved on, leaving the corpses at the mercy of the slayers, who stripped and mutilated them. After the escapee arrived back at Chihuahua City, a special train sped to Santa Ysabel to reclaim the bodies. When the people of El Paso heard of the massacre, they went wild with anger. El Paso was immediately placed under martial law to prevent irate Texans from crossing into Mexico at Juarez to wreak vengeance on innocent Mexicans.
Despite outrage in the United States and Washington over the Santa Ysabel massacre, President Wilson refused to intervene and send troops into Mexico. Two months later, Villa decided to strike again. This time he would invade the United States. At 2:30 a.m., on the morning of March 9, 1916, he and 500 Villistas attacked the 13th U.S. Cavalry at Camp Furlong near Columbus, New Mexico. Despite prior knowledge that Villa and his men were pillaging, raping, and murdering their way toward the border, the cavalry was caught completely by surprise. One reason for the cavalrys sluggishness was because some of the troops had been drinking, but perhaps more importantly, all of the troops rifles were chained and locked in gun racks. Still, the cavalry managed to get organized and fought off the Villistas killing many of them in the process.
During their retreat, however, the Villistas stopped at Columbus, New Mexico for a looting and window-shooting spree that left several U.S. civilians dead. For three hours, bullets struck houses and shouts of Viva Villa! Viva Mexico! Muerte a los Americanos! (death to americans) were heard in the streets. The town was set afire, though Villas men realized nothing beyond a few dollars and perhaps some merchandise from the burntout stores. The terror continued until about 7 a.m., and when Villa finally rode off, the smoke-filled streets of Columbus were littered with the dead and wounded. Fourteen American soldiers and ten civilians were killed in the raid.
Although Villas losses from from his American incursion were high, he had achieved his aim of arousing the United States. Now, he and his men headed due south from Palomas seeking the safety of the mountains of the Sierra Madre. However, the 13th U.S. Cavalry was now in hot pursuit. Colonel Frank Tompkins had managed to gather 32 cavalrymen and was nipping at the heels of the fleeing Mexicans. His troops sighted Villas rear guard and killed over thirty men and horses. Colonel Tompkins kept up the chase for eight hours and killed a number of stragglers as well as more of Villas rear guard. Lacking supplies, Tompkins and his cavalrymen were forced to return to Camp Furlong. On their way back, they counted 75 to 100 Villistas killed during their hastily organized pursuit.
The populace of Columbus was in a state of hysteria. The American cavalry troops collected the bodies of the Villistas that had been shot in the streets and on the outskirts of town and piled them on funeral pyres and cremated them. For a day or more the fires smoldered and the odor of burning flesh permeated the air. Columbus lay virtually demolished, so completely burned and pillaged that it never recovered its former vitality.
To prevent repetitions of the Columbus outrage, President Wilson called out 15,000 militia and stationed them along the U.S. - Mexico border. Wilson also informed President Carranza that he intended to send a military expedition into northern Mexico to capture Pancho Villa, and Carranza reluctantly agreed. President Wilson then appointed Brigadier General John J. Pershing to lead 4,800 troops (mostly cavalry), supported by aircraft and motorized military vehicles (the first time either were used in U.S. warfare) on a punitive expedition into Mexico to capture Villa.
The rest of the article (which includes some interesting photos and maps) can be found here.
There are some interesting parallels. I believe that bin Laden - like Pancho Villa - wants to provoke a war with the United States in order to achieve a greater political goal. The difficulties that Pershing's troops experienced in the deserts and mountains of northern Mexico, and their inability to catch Poncho Villa, illustrate the daunting task facing us. And nevertheless, Pancho Villa did finally meet the grisly death he so richly deserved (although not by the hands of American forces).
Said pilot was one of the earliest and youngest trained by the Wright Brothers at their aviation school above Huffman Plains, outside of Dayton, OH, now the sight of Patterson Field of the Wright Patterson AFB complex.
The film was made by Sam Peckinpah(sp?), Martin Scorsese(sp?), or Peter Bogdanovich(sp?). I think. It was aways back.
Interestingly, at a U.S. Air Force Association convention (Dallas, TX or New Orleans in the very early 1960s), my folks met up with Gen. Benjamin Foulois(sp?) who was the commander (Capt.? at the time of Villa's Ride) of the aero "squadron" ordered to Columbus, NM and thereabouts, to assist the Pershing Expedition.
Can't say I ever saw the movie. But some folks in New Mexico still speak of the attack.
Right or wrong, many consider the "mainland" to be the contiguous 48 states (my apologies to freepers in Alaska and Hawaii!)
Also, I vaguely remember hearing or reading about a German U-boat firing on an oil refinery (or fuel depot) somewhere on the East Coast.
Germanm U-boats sunk dozens of American merchant ships between Dec 10, 1941 and late spring of 1942. They did it just off the coast of florida cities using two or three U-Boats. They used the lights of cities such as Daytona to see the outline of the ships at night. Even today many divers go down to examine the hulls of these old merchant ships sunk by the U-Boats. There were dozens.
Our media was put under strict government controls in WW-II. All reports on war efforts including losses, victories, production, training or movement of men or material was strickly controlled. All news reports and broadcast scripts had to be approved by the war department of our government.
The loss of these ships and crews were not reported at the time. In retrospect many have argued that we should have had black outs of those cities at night starting on Dec 8, 1941. But public knowledge of Germam U-Boats just off our coast that close after Pearl Harbor was deemed too scary for our people to know. They were afraid of civilian panic. So we were not told and the lights stayed on.
Donitz, the German U-Boat Commander, had told Hitler that if he had 250 U-Boats when the war with us broke out he could guarantee our defeat. He had fewer than 50 operational U-boats at the ime. If he had had 250 operational U-Boats, we might very well have lost the war. Most military historians beleive that we could not have supplied England with the Losses caused by 250 U-Boats. As a result an attack on England by Hitler would have been successful. If it had been we could not have launched D day at all. That would have assured that Hitler had atomic weapons before we did. Only our destruction of his heavy water plant kept him from having his 'secret weapon'. Without English air bases ot bomb Germany, we could not have kept Hitler from having nukes. Hitler with Nukes would have likely won WWII.
Democrat Presidents all think alike, don't they?
The British played on our concerns about protecting our Southern flank while entangled in the war in Europe. The "Zimmerman Note," purportedly a secret German proposal to help Mexico recover the Southwest in the event of a war with America, is generally regarded as a forgery that was produced by the British.
One of the most interesting pieces is the valuable experience gained by pilots and intelligent military planners regarding the value of air power.
This excursion kept the US from being woefully unprepared for the aerial aspects of WWI.
Similar to Bismarck's telegram in the Franco-Prussian war
I still have his diary relating the evening's events, for which he had prepared well in advance with two rifles, two handguns and a shotgun, which turned out not to be overdoing it one bit: the Army's machineguns repeatedly jammed, as the untrained gunners had improperly loaded it in the darkness. His brief diary entry includes the notation *Need to replace the double-barrel with a repeater....* He did, and I still have it, and if needed, it will do the job as well now as it did then.
He went on to serve in the US Navy during WWI, receiving the Navy Cross and a government Homestead Act land plot in Wyoming which is also still in the family. During the Second World War, the Navy thought him unfit for sea service, and he was instead directly commissioned as an officer in the Army Signal Corps and sent sent to a nice backwater assignment where his technical abilities could be put to use: the Aleutin Islands, which were subsequently attacked and invaded by the Japanese.
Following WWII, he was elected as the VFW state commander for his home state of New Jersey. But I think he really missed his days in the American West, and I'm partial to life out that way myself. But Villa's raid was one interesting welcome for a new Easterner, I'd reckon.
Interestingly, a lot of the streets in the town of Columbus are named for eastern states. I've always theorized, but couldn't verify, that they were named for those states from which State Militia and/or National Guard units had been sent to augment Pershing's Regular Army troops.
At the time of the Villa raid, the town of less than 2000 population was said to have become the largest population center in the state, if the numbers of troops were included, for which they had to be for purposes of hauling water to the area via the railroad's 8000 gallon water cars.
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