Military Wiki
Pancho Villa
Pancho Villa
Birth name José Doroteo Arango Arámbula
Nickname Francisco Villa
Pancho Villa
El Centauro del Norte (The Centaur of the North)
Born (1878-06-05)5 June 1878
Died 20 July 1923(1923-07-20) (aged 45)
Place of birth La Coyotada, San Juan del Río, Durango, Mexico
Place of death Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico
Allegiance Mexico (antireeleccionista revolutionary forces)
Rank General
Commands held División del Norte

José Doroteo Arango Arámbula (5 June 1878 – 20 July 1923) – better known by his pseudonym Francisco Villa or his nickname Pancho Villa – was one of the most prominent Mexican Revolutionary generals.

As commander of the División del Norte (Division of the North), he was the veritable caudillo of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, which, given its size, mineral wealth and proximity to the United States of America, provided him with extensive resources. Villa was also provisional Governor of Chihuahua in 1913 and 1914. Although he was prevented from being accepted into the "panteón" of national heroes until some 20 years after his death, today his memory is honored by Mexicans. In addition, numerous streets and neighborhoods in Mexico are named in his honor.

Villa and his supporters seized hacienda land for distribution to peasants and soldiers. He robbed and commandeered trains and, like other revolutionary generals, printed fiat money to pay for his cause. Villa's men and supporters became known as Villistas during the revolution from 1910 to roughly 1920.

Villa's dominance in northern Mexico was broken in 1915 by a series of defeats he suffered at Celaya and Agua Prieta at the hands of Gen. Álvaro Obregón and Gen. Plutarco Elías Calles. After Villa's famous raid on Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916, U.S. Army Gen. John J. Pershing tried unsuccessfully to capture Villa in a nine-month pursuit that ended when the US entered World War I and Pershing was called back. Villa retired in 1920 and was given a large estate, which he turned into a "military colony" for his former soldiers. In 1923 he decided to again get involved in Mexican politics, and as a result was assassinated, most likely on the orders of Obregón.

Early life

Hipólito Villa, son of Francisco (Pancho) Villa

Villa was born on June 5, 1878, as José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, the son of poor peasants Agustín Arango and Micaela Arámbula whose residence, the present-day Casa de Pancho Villa historic house museum, was at the Rancho de la Coyotada,[1] which was located in San Juan del Río and was one of the largest haciendas in the state of Durango. Doroteo was the oldest of five children, and as such helped his mother care for his siblings after Agustín died.[2] As a child he received some education from a local church-run school,[3] but quit and became a sharecropper after his father died.[3]

According to his own later statements, at the age of 16 he moved to Chihuahua but swiftly returned to Durango to track down a hacienda owner named Agustín Lopez Negrete,[3] who had raped Doroteo's sister. [3] However, historians have questioned the veracity of this story.[2] After he shot and killed Negrete,[3] Doroteo stole a horse and fled to the Sierra Madre Occidental region in Durango, where he roamed the hills as a bandit.[3] Eventually he became a member of an outlaw "super group" headed by Ignacio Parra, one of the most famous bandits in Durango at the time.[2] As a bandit Doroteo went by the name "Arango."[4]

In 1902 Arango was arrested for stealing mules and assault. While he was spared the death sentence from the rurales owing to his connections to the powerful Pablo Valenzuela (to whom Villa would sell the stolen goods), he was forced to join the federal army. Several months later he deserted and fled to the neighboring state of Chihuahua.[2] In 1903, after killing an army officer and stealing his horse,[4] he was no longer known as Arango but Francisco "Pancho" Villa[4] after his paternal grandfather, Jesus Villa.[2] He was also known to his friends as La Cucaracha ("the cockroach").[4]

According to Frank McLynn, until 1910 Villa would alternate episodes of banditry with more legitimate pursuits.[2] His outlook on banditry would change after he met Abraham Gonzalez.[3] The local representative for Francisco Madero,[3] a politician who was opposed to the rule of dictator Porfirio Díaz, González convinced Villa that through his banditry he could fight for the people and hurt the hacienda owners.[3]

Beginnings of the Mexican Revolution

Villa as he appeared in the United States press during the Revolution.

In 1910 the Mexican Revolution began, with Madero's pro-democracy, anti-reeleccionista volunteers confronting Díaz's federal troops.[3] As the revolution spread, Villa joined with Madero's forces and aided in winning the first Battle of Ciudad Juárez in 1911.[3] All across Mexico Madero's volunteers won victories, driving Díaz into exile.[3] Villa, however, strongly disapproved of Madero's decision to name Venustiano Carranza (who had previously been a staunch supporter of Diaz until he refused to appoint Carranza Governor of Coahuila in 1909[5]) as his Minister of War.[5]

When one of Madero's military commanders, Gen. Pascual Orozco, started a counterrebellion against Madero, Villa gathered his mounted cavalry troops and fought alongside Gen. Victoriano Huerta to support Madero.[3] However, Huerta viewed Villa as an ambitious competitor[3] and later accused him of stealing a horse and insubordination; he then had Villa sentenced to execution in an attempt to dispose of him. Reportedly Villa was in front of a firing squad waiting to be shot when a telegram from Madero was delivered, commuting his sentence to imprisonment, from which Villa later escaped after serving only a brief period in jail.[3] During his imprisonment Gildardo Magaña Cerda, a Zapatista who was in prison at the time, provided the chance meeting that would help Villa improve his poor reading and writing skills, which would serve him well in the future during his service as provisional governor of the state of Chihuahua.

Fight against Huerta's usurpation

Pancho Villa in the center

In the second part of the Mexican Revolution, President Francisco I. Madero was betrayed and assassinated.[6] After crushing the Orozco rebellion, Victoriano Huerta, with the federal army he commanded, held the majority of military power in Mexico. Huerta saw an opportunity to make himself the dictator of Mexico, and he began to conspire with men such as Bernardo Reyes, Félix Díaz (nephew of Porfirio Díaz), and the American ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, which resulted in La decena trágica (the "Ten Tragic Days") and the assassination of President Madero.[7]

After Madero's murder, Huerta declared himself provisional president. Venustiano Carranza then proclaimed the Plan of Guadalupe to oust Huerta as an unconstitutional usurper. Despite his strong dislike of Carranza, Villa aligned with him to overthrow Huerta.[3] Between Huerta and Carranza, Villa regarded Carranza merely the lesser of two evils, and Carranza—whose nickname was "Don Venus"—would also be regarded as the butt of Villa's jokes and pranks.[5] The politicians and generals (who included Pablo González, Álvaro Obregón, Emiliano Zapata and Villa) who supported Carranza's plan were collectively styled the Ejército Constitucionalista de México (Constitutionalist Army of Mexico), the constitucionalista adjective was added to stress the point that Huerta had not obtained power through methods prescribed by Mexico's Constitution of 1857.

10 centavo paper fiat money note issued by the Chihuahua state government during the anti-Huerta Constitutionalist rebellion in 1913.

Working in conjunction with Carranza's Constitutionalist Army of Mexico,[3] Villa operated in the northern provinces.[3] His hatred of Huerta became more personal and intense after 7 March 1913, when Huerta ordered the murder of Villa's dear friend and political mentor Abraham González,[3] who had worked with Madero and Villa since 1910. González, one of Madero's political advisors, had recruited Villa in 1910 to support Madero with the Plan de San Luis, which started the first part of the Mexican Revolution with the armed movement of 20 November 1910. The Plan de San Luis was conceived to force dictator Porfirio Díaz (Mexican president for 33 years) to leave the presidency and allow for a Mexican democracy.[6] Villa later recovered González's remains and gave his friend a proper funeral in Chihuahua.

Villa joined the rebellion against Huerta, entering the valley of the Río Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande) into Ciudad Juárez initially with a mere eight men, two pounds of coffee, two pounds of sugar and 500 rounds of rifle ammunition. The new US president, Woodrow Wilson, dismissed Ambassador Wilson and began to support Carranza's cause. Villa's remarkable generalship and recruiting appeal, combined with ingenious fundraising methods to support his rebellion, were a key factor in forcing Huerta from office a little over a year later, on 15 July 1914.

Pancho Villa (left) "commander of the División del Norte (North Division)", and Emiliano Zapata "Ejército Libertador del Sur (Liberation Army of the South)". Villa is sitting in the presidential throne in the Palacio Nacional

This was the time of Villa's greatest fame and success. He recruited soldiers and able subordinates (both Mexican and mercenary)[3] such as Felipe Ángeles, Manuel Chao, Sam Dreben, Felix A. Sommerfeld and Ivor Thord-Gray, and raised money using methods such as forced assessments on hostile hacienda owners and train robberies. In one notable escapade he held 122 bars of silver from a train robbery (and a Wells Fargo employee) hostage and forced Wells Fargo to help him sell the bars for cash.[8] A rapid, hard-fought series of victories at Ciudad Juárez, Tierra Blanca, Chihuahua and Ojinaga followed.[3] Well-known American journalist and fiction writer Ambrose Bierce, then in his 70s, accompanied Villa's army during this period and witnessed the battle of Tierra Blanca. Bierce vanished while still with Villa's army in or after December 1913. Oral accounts of his execution by firing squad were never verified. The American Chief of the Army Hugh L. Scott charged Sommerfeld with finding out what happened, but the only result of Sommerfeld's inquiry was the finding that Bierce most likely survived after Ojinaga and died in Durango.[9]

Governor of Chihuahua

José Doroteo Arango Arámbula
Governor of Chihuahua

In office
Preceded by Salvador R. Mercado
Succeeded by Manuel Chao

Against the wishes of Carranza, who wanted to name Manuel Chao the provisional governor of Chihuahua,[10] Villa was named the provisional governor of the state in 1913,[3] after local military commanders elected him.[11] As Governor of Chihuahua Villa recruited more experienced generals, such as Toribio Ortega,[11] Porfirio Talamantes[11] and Calixto Contreras,[11] to his military staff and achieved more success than ever. Following Villa's appointment as governor of Chihuahua, his secretary Perez Rul divided his army into two groups, one led by Ortega[12] Contreras[12] and Orestes Pereira[12] and the other led by Talamantes'[13] and Contreras' deputy Severianco Ceniceros.[13]

According to some references, Villa considered Tierra Blanca his most spectacular victory,[14] though Talamantes died while fighting in it.[15] Villa's war tactics were studied by the United States Army and a contract with a Hollywood studio was made whereby the studio would be allowed to film Villa's movements and 50% of the profits would be paid to Villa to support the Revolution.[6]

Francisco Villa (left), Eulalio Gutiérrez (center), and Emiliano Zapata (right) at the Mexican National Palace (1914).

As governor of Chihuahua, Villa raised additional money for a drive to the south by printing his own currency. He decreed his paper money to be traded and accepted at par with gold Mexican pesos, then forced the wealthy to give loans that would allow him to pay salaries as well as provide food and clothes to the army. He also took some of the land owned by the hacendados (owners of the haciendas) to give to the widows and families of dead revolutionaries. The forced loans would also support the war machinery of the Mexican Revolution.[6] Villa also confiscated gold from specific banks, in one case that of the Banco Minero, by holding hostage a member of the family that owned the bank, the extremely wealthy Terrazas clan, until the location of the bank's hidden gold was revealed.

Villa's political stature at that time was so high that banks in El Paso, TX, accepted his paper pesos at face value. His generalship drew enough admiration from the US military that he and Álvaro Obregón were invited to Fort Bliss to meet Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing.[3] Returning to Mexico,[3] Villa gathered supplies for a drive to the south.[3]

The new pile of money was used to purchase draft animals, cavalry horses, arms, ammunition, mobile hospital facilities (railroad cars and horse ambulances staffed with Mexican and foreign volunteer doctors, known as Servicio sanitario) and food, as well as to rebuild the railroad south of Chihuahua City. As governor he also recruited fighters from Chihuahua and Durango and became leader of a large army known as the Division del Norte (Division of the North),[16] the most powerful and feared military unit in all of Mexico.[17] The rebuilt railroad transported Villa's troops and artillery south,[3] where he defeated federal forces at Gómez Palacio,[3] Torreón[3] and eventually struck at and captured the heart of Huerta's regime in Zacatecas.[18] Of all of Villa's generals, Felipe Angeles was considered to be his best.

Carranza tries to halt the Villa advance, the fall of Zacatecas

Generals Obregon, Villa and Pershing pose after meeting at Ft Bliss, Texas (Immediately behind Gen Pershing is his aide, 1stLt George S. Patton, Jr.).

After Villa successfully captured Torreón,[3] Carranza issued a puzzling order for him to break off action south of Torreón and instead divert to attack Saltillo,[3] and he threatened to cut off Villa's coal supply if he did not comply.[3] Coal was needed for railroad locomotives to pull trains transporting soldiers and supplies. This was widely seen as an attempt by Carranza to divert Villa from a direct assault on Mexico City in order to allow Carranza's forces under Álvaro Obregón, driving in from the west via Guadalajara, to take the capital first.[3] This was an expensive and disruptive diversion for the División del Norte, since Villa's enlisted men were paid the then enormous sum of a peso per day, and each day of delay cost thousands of pesos.

Villa taking Zacatecas

Villa, disgusted by what he saw as egoism, complied with Carranza's order to divert his attacks towards Saltillo[3] but then offered his resignation after capturing the city.[3] Felipe Ángeles and the rest of Villa's staff officers argued for Villa to withdraw his resignation,[3] defy Carranza's orders[3] and proceed to attack Zacatecas, a strategic mountainous city that was strongly defended by federal troops and considered nearly impregnable.[3] Zacatecas was the source of much of Mexico's silver,[3] and thus a supply of funds for whoever held it. Victory in Zacatecas would mean that Huerta's chances of holding the remainder of the country would be slim. Villa accepted his staff's advice[3] and cancelled his resignation,[3] and the División del Norte defied Carranza[3] and struck Zacatecas.[3] Attacking up steep slopes,[3] the División del Norte defeated the federals[3] in the Toma de Zacatecas (Taking of Zacatecas), the single bloodiest battle of the Revolution, with approximately 7,000 dead, 5,000 wounded[3] and an unknown number of civilian casualties (a memorial to and museum of the Toma de Zacatecas is on the Cerro de la Bufa, one of the key defense points in the battle of Zacatecas. Tourists use a teleférico (aerial tramway) to reach it, owing to the steep approaches. From the top, tourists may appreciate the difficulties Villa's men had trying to dislodge federal troops from the peak). The loss of Zacatecas in June 1914 broke the back of the Huerta regime,[3] and Huerta left for exile on 14 July 1914.

However, in August 1914 Carranza and his army entered Mexico City ahead of Villa.[3] Villa despised Carranza and saw him as another Porfirio Díaz-like dictator. Nevertheless Villa, who did not want to be named President of Mexico, accepted Carranza as the Chief of the Revolution. The revolutionary caudillos convened a National Convention and conducted a series of meetings in Aguascalientes. This National Convention set rules for Mexico's path towards democracy. None of the armed revolutionaries were allowed to be nominated for government positions. Instead, an interim president, Eulalio Gutierrez, was appointed. Emiliano Zapata, a general from southern Mexico,[3] and Villa met at the convention. Zapata was sympathetic to Villa's views of Carranza and told him he feared Carranza's intentions were those of a dictator and not of a democratic president. True to Zapata's prediction, Carranza decided to oppose the agreements of the National Convention, setting off a civil war.[6] Fearing that Carranza was imposing a dictatorship, Villa and Zapata broke with him.[3]

Battling Carranza

Pancho Villa is on the left

Following the Convention, Carranza was deposed as President and fled to Veracruz.[3] After Carranza's departure Villa and Zapata occupied Mexico City.[3] Although Villa had a more formidable army, Carranza's general Álvaro Obregón was a better tactician.[5] With Obregón's help, Carranza was able to use the Mexican press to portray Villa as a sociopathic bandit.[5] In another blow to Villa, in late 1914 one of his top generals, Toribio Ortega, died of typhus.[15]

Although he fled Mexico City, Carranza still maintained control over two Mexican states, Veracruz and Tamaulipas. These states, however, contained Mexico's two largest ports and Carranza was therefore collecting more revenue than Villa.[5] In 1915 Villa was forced to abandon the capital after a number of incidents involving his troops.[3] This helped pave the way for the return of Carranza and his followers.[3]

To fight Villa, Carranza sent his ablest general, Álvaro Obregón, north.[3] The two sides clashed at the Battle of Celaya, fought from April 6–15, 1915, and Villa was badly defeated, suffering 4,000 killed and 6,000 captured.[3] Obregón would encounter Villa again at the Battle of Trinidad, which was fought between April 29-une 5, and Villa suffered another huge loss. In October 1915 he crossed into Sonora, the main stronghold of Obregón and Carranza's armies, where he hoped to crush Carranza's regime. Carranza had reinforced Sonora, however, and Villa was badly defeated once again. Rodolfo Fierro, his most loyal officer and a vicious killer who personally executed hundreds of prisoners, was killed while Villa's army was crossing into Sonora.

The Battle of Agua Prieta in Sonora was yet another stunning defeat for Villa; a huge number of his men were killed and the surviving 1500 members of his famed Division del Norte turned on Villa and accepted an amnesty offer from Carranza.[19] In November 1915[20] Carranza's forces captured and executed Contreras,[13] Pereyra[13] and Pereyra's son.[13] Severianco Ceniceros also accepted amnesty from Carranza and turned on Villa as well.[13] Although Villa's secretary Perez Rul also broke with Villa,[21] he refused to become a supporter of Carranza.[21]

Only 200 men in Villa's army would remain loyal to him, and he was soon forced to retreat back into the mountains of Chihuahua. However, he and his men were determined to keep fighting Carranza's forces. Villa's position was further weakened by the US' refusal to sell him weapons.[3] By the end of 1915 Villa was on the run and the US government recognized Carranza as the official leader of Mexico.[5]

Split with the United States and the Pancho Villa Expedition

Villa wearing bandoliers in front of an insurgent camp

After years of public and documented support for Villa's fight, the US, following the diplomatic policies of Woodrow Wilson who believed that supporting Carranza was the best way to expedite establishment of a stable Mexican government, refused to allow more arms to be supplied to Villa's army and allowed Carranza's troops to be transported over U.S. railroads across American territory in order to attack Villa[3] Villa felt betrayed by the Americans.[3] He was further enraged by Obregón's use of searchlights, powered by American electricity, to help repel a Villista night attack on the border town of Agua Prieta, Sonora, on 1 November 1915. In January 1916 a group of Villistas attacked a train on the Mexico North Western Railway, near Santa Isabel, Chihuahua, and killed several American employees of the ASARCO company. The passengers included 18 Americans, 15 of whom worked for American Smelting and Refining Co. There was only one survivor, who gave the details to the press. Villa admitted to ordering the attack but denied that he had authorized the shedding of American blood.[22]

After meeting with a Mexican mayor named Juan Muñoz,[23] Villa recruited more men into his guerrilla militia and now had 400 troops under his command.[23] He then met with his lieutenants Martin Lopez, Pablo Lopez, Francisco Beltran and Candelario Cervantes and transferred an additional 100 men to the command of Joaquin Alvarez, Bernabe Cifuentes and Ernesto Rios;[23] Pablo Lopez and Cervantes were killed in the early part of 1916.[24] Villa and his 500 guerrillas then started planning an attack on US soil.[23]

Attack on New Mexico

Ruins of Columbus, New Mexico after being raided by Pancho Villa

On 9 March 1916, Villa ordered nearly 100 members of his revolutionary group to make a cross-border attack against Columbus, New Mexico. While some believed the raid was conducted because of the US government's official recognition of the Carranza regime and for the deaths in battle of some of his soldiers due to defective cartridges purchased from the US,[25] it was accepted from a military standpoint that Villa carried out the raid because he needed more military equipment and supplies in order to continue his fight against Carranza.[25] They attacked a detachment of the 13th Cavalry Regiment (United States), burned the town[3] and seized 100 horses and mules and other military supplies.[3] Eighteen Americans and about 80 Villistas were killed.[26][27] Other attacks in US territory have been said to have been made by Villa; however, none of these attacks was ever confirmed to have been performed by Villistas. These unconfirmed attacks are:[28]

  • 1) On 15 May, it is claimed that they attacked Glenn Springs, Texas, killing a civilian and wounding three American soldiers. Two Mexicans were also believed to have been killed.
  • 2) On 15 June bandits killed four soldiers at San Ygnacio, Texas, and wounded five; six Mexicans werekilled.
  • 3) On 31 July one American soldier and a US customs inspector were killed at Fort Hancock Texas.[29] One American was wounded and three Mexicans were reported killed, plus three Mexicans were captured by Mexican government troops {the two dead Americans included a soldier from the 8th US Cavalry and Customs Inspector Robert Wood}.[30]

Pancho Villa Expedition

In response to Villa's raid on Columbus, President Wilson sent 5,000 troops under Gen. John Pershing into Mexico to capture Villa. Employing aircraft and trucks for the first time in US Army history, Pershing's force chased Villa until February 1917.[31] The search for Villa was unsuccessful.[3] However, some of Villa's senior commanders (Col. Candelario Cervantes, Gen. Francisco Beltrán, Beltrán's son and Villa's second-in-command Julio Cárdenas) and a total of 190 of his men were killed during the expedition.[citation needed]

The Mexican population was against US troops in Mexican territories. There were several demonstrations of their opposition to the Punitive Expedition and they contributed to its failure. During the expedition Carranza's forces captured one of Villa's top generals, Pablo Lopez; he was executed on June 13, 1916.[32]

Villa's battles and military actions

General Pancho Villa in the entrance of Ojinaga

German involvement in Villa's later campaigns

Before the Villa-Carranza irregular forces had left to the mountains in 1915, there is no credible evidence that Villa cooperated with or accepted any help from the German government or agents. Villa was supplied arms from the US, employed international (Americans included) mercenaries and doctors, was portrayed as a hero in the US media, made business arrangements with Hollywood and did not object to the 1914 US naval occupation of Veracruz; his observation was that the occupation merely hurt Huerta. Villa opposed the armed participation of the US in Mexico, but he did not act against the Veracruz occupation so he could maintain the connections in the US necessary to buy cartridges and other supplies. The German consul in Torreón did make entreaties to Villa, offering him arms and money to occupy the port and oil fields of Tampico to enable German ships to dock there, but Villa rejected the offer.

German agents did attempt to interfere, unsuccessfully, in the Mexican Revolution. Germans attempted to plot with Victoriano Huerta to assist him in retaking the country and, in the infamous Zimmermann Telegram to the Mexican government, proposed an alliance with the government of Venustiano Carranza.

There were documented contacts between Villa and the Germans after Villa's split with the Constitutionalists. Principally this was in the person of Felix A. Sommerfeld (noted in Katz's book) who allegedly, in 1915, funneled $340,000 of German money to the Western Cartridge Co. to purchase ammunition. Sommerfeld had been Villa's representative in the US since 1914 and had close contact with the German naval attaché in Washington, Karl Boy-Ed, as well as other German agents in the US such as Franz von Rintelen and Horst von der Goltz.[34] In May 1914 Sommerfeld formally entered the employ of Boy-Ed and the German secret service in the US.[35] However, Villa's actions were hardly that of a German catspaw; rather, it appears that Villa only resorted to German assistance after other sources of money and arms were cut off.[36]

At the time of Villa's attack on Columbus in 1916, his military power had been marginalized (he was driven out of Columbus by a small cavalry detachment and local civilians, albeit after doing a lot of damage), his theater of operations was mainly limited to western Chihuahua, he was persona non grata with Mexico's ruling Carranza constitutionalists and the subject of an embargo by the US; so communication or further shipments of arms between the Germans and Villa would have been difficult.

A plausible explanation of any Villa-German contacts after 1915 would be that they were a futile extension of increasingly desperate German diplomatic efforts and Villista dreams of victory as the progress of their respective wars bogged down. Villa actually did not have anything useful to offer in exchange for German help at that point. When weighing claims of Villa conspiring with Germans, one should take into account that at the time, portraying Villa as a German sympathizer served the propaganda ends of both Carranza and Wilson.

The use of Mauser rifles and carbines by Villa's forces does not necessarily indicate any German connection. These weapons were widely used by all parties in the Mexican Revolution, Mauser longarms being enormously popular. They were standard issue in the Mexican Army, which had begun adopting 7mm Mauser system arms as early as 1895.[37]

Personal life

On May 29, 1911, Villa married María Luz Corral,[3] a woman whom he met when he and his army rode into San Andres and asked for monetary contributions.[38] Together Villa and his wife had only one child, a daughter who died within a few years after birth.[38] An alleged son of Pancho Villa, Lt. Col. Octavio Villa Coss,[39] was reportedly killed by Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, a legendary drug lord from the Gulf Cartel, in 1960.[40] While Villa had engaged in several marriage ceremonies with many of his mistresses,[38] Corral was his only legal wife.[38] She would also take care of the children Villa fathered through his various extramarital affairs.[38] At the time of his death Corral and five different women each claimed to be his widow.[4]

Last years

Dodge automobile in which Pancho Villa was assassinated, Historical Museum of the Mexican Revolution.

Following his unsuccessful military campaign at Celaya and the American incursion, Villa's influence began to wane.[3] While he still remained active, Carranza had shifted his focus to deal with the more dangerous threat posed by Emiliano Zapata in the south.[3] By the end of 1915 Villa no longer had an army and had gone back to being a guerrilla leader in the mountains of Chihuahua.[12] His last major military action would be a raid against Ciudad Juárez in 1919.[3] Following the raid Villa would suffer yet another major blow after Felipe Angeles, who had returned to Mexico in 1918 after living in exile for three years as a dairy farmer in Texas,[41][42] left Villa and his now small militia. Angeles was later captured by Carranza's forces and executed on November 26, 1919.

After losing his final battle at Ciudad Juárez, Villa agreed that he would cease fighting if it were made worth his while.[4] He still continued fighting and conducted a small siege in Ascencion, Durango, after his failed raid in Juarez.[43] However, the siege also failed and Villa's new second-in-command, his longtime lieutenant Martín López, was killed during the fighting.[43]

On May 21, 1920, a break for Villa came when Carranza, along with his top advisors and supporters,[5] was assassinated by supporters of Álvaro Obregón.[5] With his arch-nemesis dead, Villa was now ready to negotiate a peace settlement and retire. On July 22, 1920, he was finally able to send a telegram to Mexican interim President Adolfo de la Huerta, which stated that he recognized Huerta's presidency and requested amnesty.[44] Six days later,[45] de la Huerta met with Villa and successfully negotiated a peace settlement.[3]

In exchange for his retirement, Villa was given a 25,000-acre[46] hacienda in Canutillo,[47] just outside of Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua, by the national government.[3] This was in addition to the Quinta Luz estate that he owned with his wife, María Luz Corral de Villa, in Chihuahua. The last remaining 200 guerrillas and veterans of Villa's militia who still maintained a loyalty to him[46] would reside with him in his new hacienda as well[46] and the Mexican government granted them a pension that totaled 500,000 gold pesos.[46] The 50 guerrillas who still remained in Villa's small cavalry would be allowed to serve as Villa's personal bodyguards.[48]

Death and gravesite

On Friday, 20 July 1923, Villa was killed while visiting Parral.[3] Usually accompanied by his entourage of Dorados (his bodyguards) he frequently made trips from his ranch to Parral for banking and other errands. This day, however, Villa had gone into the town without them, taking only a few associates. He went to pick up a consignment of gold from the local bank with which to pay his Canutillo ranch staff. While driving back through the city in his black 1919 Dodge roadster, he passed by a school and a pumpkin-seed vendor ran toward his car and shouted "Viva Villa!"[46] a signal for a group of seven riflemen, who then appeared in the middle of the road and fired over 40 shots into the automobile.[49] In the fusillade nine Dumdum bullets hit Villa in the head and upper chest, killing him instantly.[50]

One of Villa's bodyguards, Ramon Contreras, was also badly wounded but managed to kill at least one of the assassins before he escaped;[47] he would be the only person who accompanied Villa during this assassination who survived.[47] Two other bodyguards,[47] Claro Huertado and Villa's main personal bodyguard Rafael Madreno, also died,[4][49] as did his personal secretary Daniel Tamayo and Col. Miguel Trillo,[51] who served as his chauffeur.[4][47][49] Villa is sometimes reported to have died saying, "Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something."[52] However, there is no contemporary evidence he survived his shooting even momentarily, and his biographer, Katz, confirms that Villa died instantly;[50] Time Magazine also reported in 1951 that both Villa and his aide Tamayo were killed instantly.[46] The next day Villa's funeral was held and thousands of grieving supporters in Parral followed his casket to the burial site[47] while Villa's men and his closest friends remained at the hacienda in the Canitullo, armed and ready for an attack by government troops.[47] The six surviving assassins hid out in the desert and were soon captured,[4] but only two of them served a few months in jail; the rest were commissioned into the military.[53]

Shortly after Villa's death, two theories emerged about why he was killed.[4] One was as an act of family revenge by Jesus Herrera,[4] the last surviving son of Villa's former general Jose de la Luz Herrera.[54] In 1914 Jose de la Luz Herrera and his family betrayed Villa and joined Carranza.[55] Villa then made it his goal to exterminate the Herrera clan.[54]

In 1915 Herrera's son Maclovio was accidentally killed by friendly fire while fighting Villa on the outskirts of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.[55] Another pf Herrera's sons, Gen. Luis Herrera, was captured in a hotel by Villa's soldiers after the Battle of Torreón in 1916 and executed.[55] In 1919 Jose de la Luz Herrera and his two sons Zeferino and Melchor, along with a number of men in their militia, were captured by Villa's soldiers after an unsuccessful attack on Villa's base in Parral;[55] Villa executed the captured men, including Zeferino, Melchor and their father. After Villa retired, Jesus Herrera was determined to use his family's wealth to seek revenge on Villa.[55] In 1922 a secret war began between Herrera and Villa and lasted over a year.[55] According to Villa, Herrera had bribed a number of men, including some of Villa's own former generals,[55] to kill him but was unsuccessful.[55]

The other theory that emerged was that Villa was killed for political reasons.[4] At the time of his death, Villa had taken an interest in running for President of Mexico and would have presented a significant challenge to his rival potential candidate Plutarco Elías Calles.[4]

While it has never been completely proven who was responsible for the assassination,[56] most historians attribute Villa's death to a well planned conspiracy, most likely initiated by Plutarco Elías Calles and Joaquin Amaro with at least tacit approval of the then president of Mexico, Obregon.[49] At the time a state legislator from Durango, Jesus Salas Barraza, whom Villa once whipped during a quarrel over a woman,[46] claimed sole responsibility for the plot.[46] Barraza admitted that he told his friend Gabriel Chavez, who worked as a dealer for General Motors,[46] that he would kill Villa if he were paid 50,000 pesos.[46] Chavez, who wasn't wealthy and didn't have 50,000 pesos on hand,[46] then collected money from enemies of Villa and managed to amass a total of 100,000 pesos for Barraza and his other co-conspirators.[46] Barraza also admitted that he and his co-conspirators watched Villa's daily car rides and paid the pumpkin-seed vendor at the scene of Villa's assassination to shout "Viva Villa!" once if Villa was sitting in the front part of the car or twice if he was sitting in the back.[46]

Despite the fact that he did not want to have a sitting politician arrested, Obregon gave into the people's demands and had Barraza taken into custody. He was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison,[46] The following month,[46] however, hissentence was commuted to three months by the Governor of Chihuahua; Barraza eventually became a colonel in the Mexican army.[46] In a letter to the governor of Durango, Jesus Castro, Barraza agreed to be the "fall guy" and the same arrangement is mentioned in letters exchanged between Castro and Amaro. Others involved in the conspiracy were Felix Lara, the commander of federal troops in Parral, who was paid 50,000 pesos by Calles to remove his soldiers and police from the town on the day of the assassination, and Meliton Lozoya, the former owner of Villa's hacienda who had been ordered by Villa to pay back funds he had embezzled. It was Lozoya who planned the details of the assassination and found the men who carried it out.[49] It was reported that before Barraza died of a stroke in his Mexico City home in 1951, his last words were, "I'm not a murderer. I rid humanity of a monster."[46]

Villa's purported death mask was hidden at the Radford School in El Paso, TX, until the 1970s when it was sent to the Historical Museum of the Mexican Revolution in Chihuahua; other museums have ceramic and bronze representations that do not match this mask.[57]

Villa was buried in the city cemetery of Parral, Chihuahua,[58][59] Tombs for him exist in Chihuahua and Mexico City. The Francisco Villa Museum is dedicated to Villam, and is located at the site of his assassination in Parral.

Period newsreels showing views of the assassination location in Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua, news reporters at the scene, and Villa's bullet-riddled corpse and auto still exist to this day. Villa's skull was stolen from his grave in 1926.[60]

Villa's last living son, Ernesto Nava, died in Castro Valley, CA, at the age of 94, on 31 December 2009.[61] Nava appeared yearly in festival events in his hometown of Durango, Mexico, enjoying celebrity status until he became too weak to attend.

Popular legend

Image of Francisco Villa

Villa was famous during the Revolution and has remained so, holding a fairly mythical reputation in Mexican consciousness.[62] As the Centaur from the North he was considered a threat to property and order on both sides of the border—feared, and revered, as a modern Robin Hood. In Mariano Azuela's novel The Underdogs, anti-federal soldiers talk about him as an archetype of an anti-authoritarian bandit: "Villa, indomitable lord of the sierra, the eternal victim of all governments . . . Villa tracked, hunted down like a wild beast . . . Villa the reincarnation of the old legend; Villa as Providence, the bandit, that passes through the world armed with the blazing torch of an ideal: to rob the rich and give to the poor. It was the poor who built up and imposed a legend about him which Time itself was to increase and embellish as a shining example from generation to generation."[63] However, a little later one character distrusts the rumors: "Anastasio Montañéz questioned the speaker more particularly. It was not long before he realized that all this high praise was hearsay and that not a single man in Natera's army had ever laid eyes on Villa." But whatever the reality behind the legends, even after his defeat Villa remained a powerful character lurking in the Mexican mind; in 1950 Octavio Paz wrote, in his morose but thoughtful book on the Mexican soul, The Labyrinth of Solitude, "The brutality and uncouthness of many of the revolutionary leaders has not prevented them from becoming popular myths. Villa still gallops through the north, in songs and ballads; Zapata dies at every popular fair . . . It is the Revolution, the magical word, the word that is going to change everything, that is going to bring us immense delight and a quick death."

In films, video, and television

Monument to Pancho Villa in Bufa Zacatecas mountain range

Equestrian bronze of Villa in Chihuahua, Chihuahua

Villa appeared as himself in films in 1912, 1913, 1914 and 1916:

  • Life of Villa (1912)
  • With General Pancho Villa in Mexico (1913, unconfirmed)
  • The Life of General Villa (1914)
  • Following the Flag in Mexico (1916)

The 1934 biopic Viva Villa! was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Actors that have portrayed Villa include:

  • Raoul Walsh (1912, 1914) The Life of General Villa
  • Wallace Beery (1917) Patria
  • George Humbert (1918) Why America Will Win
  • Wallace Beery (1934) Viva Villa!, with Phillip Cooper (Pancho Villa as a boy)
  • Juan F. Triana (1935) El Tesoro de Pancho Villa
  • Domingo Soler (1936) Vámonos con Pancho Villa
  • Maurice Black (1937) Under Strange Flags
  • Leo Carrillo (1949) Pancho Villa Returns
  • Pedro Armendáriz (1950, 1957, 1960 twice)
  • Alan Reed (1952) Viva Zapata!
  • Victor Alcocer (1955) El siete leguas
  • Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr. (1958) Villa!!
  • Rafael Campos (1959) Have Gun Will Travel, Season 3-Episode 6 (Pancho)
  • José Elías Moreno (1967) El Centauro Pancho Villa
  • Ricardo Palacios (1967) Los Siete de Pancho Villa
  • Yul Brynner (1968) Villa Rides
  • Telly Savalas (1972) Pancho Villa!
  • Heraclio Zepeda (1973) Reed, México insurgente
  • Antonio Aguilar (1974) La Muerte de Pancho Villa
  • Héctor Elizondo (1976) Wanted: The Sundance Woman (TV)
  • Freddy Fender (1977) She Came to the Valley
  • José Villamor (1980) Viva México (TV)
  • Jorge Reynoso (1982) Red Bells: Mexico in Flames
  • Gaithor Brownne (1985) Blood Church
  • Guillermo Gil (1987) Senda de Gloria (TV series)
  • Pedro Armendáriz, Jr. (1989) Old Gringo
  • Mike Moroff (1992) The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Young Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jackal, "Mexico, March 1916", The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Spring Break Adventure
  • Antonio Aguilar (1993) La sangre de un valiente
  • Alonso Echánove (1993) By Our Own Correspondent
  • Jesús Ochoa (1995) Entre Pancho Villa y una mujer desnuda
  • Carlos Roberto Majul (1999) Ah! Silenciosa
  • Peter Butler (2000) From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter
  • Antonio Banderas (2003) And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself
  • Alejandro Calva (2009) Chico Grande
  • Deadliest Warrior, Spike TV's hit show, featured Pancho Villa in a match-up against Chief Crazy Horse.
  • Wild Roses, Tender Roses (2012), based on the novel The Friends of Pancho Villa, by James Carlos Blake


  1. Katz, Friedrich. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa, Stanford University Press, 1998, p. 64
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Frank McLynn, "Villa and Zapata", Basic Books, 2000, pg. 58
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 3.30 3.31 3.32 3.33 3.34 3.35 3.36 3.37 3.38 3.39 3.40 3.41 3.42 3.43 3.44 3.45 3.46 3.47 3.48 3.49 3.50 3.51 3.52 3.53 3.54 3.55 3.56 3.57 3.58 3.59 3.60 3.61 3.62 3.63 3.64 3.65 3.66 3.67 Pancho Villa - Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa - Francisco Villa in Mexico
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 "Foreign News: The Cockroach". Time. 30 July 1923.,9171,727220,00.html. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Profile of Venustiano Carranza - Venustiano Carranza Biography
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Paco Ignacio Taibo II, "Pancho Villa: Una Biografia Narrativa", Planeta (30 August 2006).
  7. Usurper: The Dark Shadow of Victoriano Huerta by Jim Tuck ©1999.
  8. Burress, Charles (5 May 1999). "Wells Fargo's Hush-Hush Deal With Pancho Villa". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  9. University of California at Los Angeles, Papers of Carey McWilliams, Box 1, Ambrose Bierce Correspondence, Scott to Sommerfeld, September 9, 1914; also von Feilitzsch, Heribert, In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914, pp. 314-316.
  10. The life and times of Pancho Villa, Friedrich Katz pg. 263
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 The life and times of Pancho Villa, Friedrich Katz pg. 253
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 The life and times of Pancho Villa, Friedrich Katz, pg. 261
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 The life and times of Pancho Villa, Friedrich Katz, pg. 262
  14. Eisenhower, John S. D. Intervention: The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913–1917 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993) p. 58
  15. 15.0 15.1 Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution, Frank McLynn, pg. 273
  16. The life and times of Pancho Villa, Friedrich Katz pg. 287
  17. Biography of Pancho Villa - Pancho Villa Profile
  18. Map of Constitutionalist Army Battles
  19. René De La Pedraja Tomán, "Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941", McFarland, 2006, pg. 253, [1]
  20. NARANJO, Francisco (1935). Diccionario biográfico Revolucionario (Imprenta Editorial "Cosmos" edición). México.
  21. 21.0 21.1 The life and times of Pancho Villa, Friedrich Katz, pg. 832
  22. UTB/TSC Home Page. Retrieved on 23 February 2011.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 Pancho Villa’s Impact in USA and Mexican Border
  24. Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution, Frank McLynn, pg. 364
  25. 25.0 25.1 Huachuca Illustrated, vol 1, 1993: Villa's Raid on Columbus! New Mexico
  26. "Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca: Villa's Raid on Columbus, New Mexico". 1993. Retrieved 12 January 2009. 
  27. Annual reports of the Secretary of War .p.278 reports that 7 soldiers and 8 Civilians were killed and 7 soldiers and 2 civilians were wounded. 67 Mexicans were killed and 7 captured while an additional 70 to 100 Mexicans were estimated killed in a running fight to the Border
  28. Annual Reports of the Secretary of War .p.280
  29. Prologue: Selected Articles. Retrieved on 23 February 2011.
  30. The Tacoma Times July 31, 1916 .p.1
  31. Welsome, Eileen (2006). The General and the Jaguar: Pershing's Hunt for Pancho Villa. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 177. 
  32. "". National Autonomous University of Mexico. [dead link]
  33. The Battle of Ojinaga
  34. von Feilitzsch, Heribert, In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914, Henselstone Verlag LLC, Amissville, Virginia, 2012, p. 381.
  35. Auswaertiges Amt, Mexiko V, Paket 33, Boy-Ed to Auswaertiges Amt, Marinebericht Nr. 88, May 27, 1914
  36. Pancho Villa as a German Agent?
  37. Mexican Secretary Of Defense – Armies of the Revolution
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 Copper Canyon Mexico Tours: Mrs. Pancho Villa
  39. "Guadalupe Villa Guerrero coordinará nuevo libro de Grupo Editorial Milenio". 16 November 2008. Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  40. Schiller, Dane (26 January 1996). "Destiny made Juan N. Guerra rich, powerful". Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  41. Matthew Slattery, pgs 159-160
  42. Byron Jackson, pg 316
  43. 43.0 43.1 Timeline of the Mexican Revolution 1919
  44. Mexican Revolution Timeline
  45. Pancho Villa American Studies essay
  46. 46.00 46.01 46.02 46.03 46.04 46.05 46.06 46.07 46.08 46.09 46.10 46.11 46.12 46.13 46.14 46.15 46.16 "MEXICO: The Man Who Killed Villa". Time. 4 June 1951.,9171,858085,00.html. 
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 47.3 47.4 47.5 47.6 The Assassination
  48. La muerto de Pancho Villa (Death of Pancho Villa) (1974)
  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 49.3 49.4 Frank McLynn, "Villa and Zapata", Basic Books, 2000, pg. 393
  50. 50.0 50.1 Katz, Friedrich. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa, Stanford University Press, 1998, p. 766
  52. Guthke, Karl Siegfried. Last Words: Variations on a Theme in Cultural History, Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 10
  53.[dead link]
  54. 54.0 54.1 Katz, Friedrich. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa, Stanford University Press, 1998, p. 762
  55. 55.0 55.1 55.2 55.3 55.4 55.5 55.6 55.7 Writing Pancho Villa's revolution: rebels in the literary imagination of Mexico, Max Parra, pg. 131
  56. In Pursuit of Pancho Villa 1916–1917. Retrieved on 23 February 2011.
  57. Questions Begin to Arise Over Death Mask of Pancho Villa.
  58. Katz, Friedrich. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa, Stanford University Press, 1998, p. 767
  59. Pancho Villa (1878–1923) – Find A Grave Memorial.
  60. Manuel Plana, "Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution", Interlink Illustrated Histories, 2002, pg. 117
  61. Kurhi, Eric. Last son of Pancho Villa dies in Hayward. The Oakland Tribune. Posted: 01/08/2010
  62. Sherman, Scott (Winter 2000). "La Vida Grande". Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  63. Azuela, Mariano (1915). "Chapter XX". Los de Abajo. 

Further reading

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Salvador R. Mercado
Governor of Chihuahua
Succeeded by
Manuel Chao

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).