Pancho Villa's Raid on Columbus essay

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"He saw the attacks as a strategy to embroil the U.S. with the Carranza government and therefore force his downfall."

The American president took a great interest in the stories emerged about Villa and even sent special agents to investigate the matter. Delegate John Lind was part of this mission and his conclusions were that while Villa was an individual of high morals, "physical and mental efficiency," he was "cruel and avaricious." These characteristics could not be possessed by a man who would rule Mexico and Lind argued that Carranza was the sole Mexican leader that the United States could accept. This state of events could well have led Villa to consider the existence of a conspiracy between Wilson and Carranza.

Another reason that could have alimented such a belief is based on the relationship with George Carothers, another special agent sent to Mexico to investigate Villa. His conclusions were that Villa was an honest man and it is often believed that the American agent influenced and, at times even forwarded, Villa's actions and statements to the American authorities and press. Villa could have seen in Carothers an ally and a representative of the American power, but might have been frustrated when Carothers was repeatedly unable to communicate with the U.S. President. "Later, when he testified for the Fall Committee, he (Carothers) told his questioners that the Secretary of State always seemed anxious to get rid of him, that he never could get in to see the President, and that he felt he was operating totally on his own in Mexico." Villa might have believed that the distant treatment received by Carothers could have been due to the fact that the American administration was in fact uninterested in his agenda and ideas, but simply had a man to follow him and report back to the U.S. authorities. It is easy to believe then that this situation could have constituted yet another argument for the existence of a conspiracy between Wilson and Carranza.

All culminated in 1915, when Wilson recognized Carranza as the legitimate president of Mexico. After that date, the American press, which had looked at him with favor, began telling the stories of banditry and the ruthless and violent behavior of Villa. He was forgotten by 1917 and the next time the American press would write about him would be the event of his assassination in July 1923, when the obituary in the Times stated that Pancho Villa had been "a ruthless bandit [whose] record of violence made him dangerous."

On the 20th of December 1915, Villa left the state of Chihuahua accompanied by 800 men, for an undisclosed destination. They reached San Ysable on the 10th of January 1916 and the event was described as a massacre by the single American survivor. The Mexican government declared Pancho Villa, Rafael Castro and Pablo Lopez outlaws and allowed any Mexican to execute them on sight. The United States increased the numbers of troops in the region, with the aim of "offer[ing] sufficient protection to American citizens in Mexico [and] prevent[ing] any repetition of such outrage."

Given that he was already defeated in the fight for Mexico's presidency, an outlaw and with few sources of food, arms, money, ammunition or other supplies, the sole solution was that of moving up north, towards the United States. Some historians even believe the attack on Columbus to have been fueled by a need for these supplies.

Colonel Herbert J. Slocum, Commander of the 13th U.S. Cavalry at Columbus described the raid as follows: "The bandits crossed the International Boundary Line at a point between two and three miles west of Border Gate, proceeded towards camp in a northeastern direction, when about one mile from camp broke into two attacking columns. First column moved south of camp to the east and attacked there the stables from a southeasterly direction. The second column crossed the drainage ditch parallel Deming-Columbus road (running immediately west of camp) at the Customs House, where they divided. The first half attacking camp from the west and the second half moving into town of Columbus where they proceed to loot, murder citizens and burn buildings... Casualties, Mexican bandits, killed in town, camp and to the border line, 67, Mexicans wounded and captured, 7. Total casualties of our command, 7 killed and 5 wounded. One wounded man has died since being sent to Military Hospital at Fort Bliss, Texas... Total men in camp at time of attack, 345. Of these 79 noncombatants."

The report is rather elusive and fails to offer information on the number of the Mexican combatants. Contemporaneous scholars seem however to agree that there would have been between 400 and 500 rebels. Another question that remains unanswered to today is the actual participation of Villa in the raid. The opinions vary, and while some argue that he was in fact present, others state the contrary. Opinions have even been forwarded according to which the attack had been planned by Carranza in order to destroy Villa's reputation in the eyes of the United States. The compromise made by scholars is that Villa was in Columbus at the time of the raid, but it is unclear whether he actually participated in the attack or not.

The attack was crushed by the American troops, but much damage had already been done, including the loss of lives and the burning of a significant part of the town. Assessing the effects of the raid, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations decided to support President' Wilson's agenda of increasing the number of soldiers in Mexico and the full commitment to the apprehension of Pancho Villa. The situation created in Mexico influenced much of the international affairs of the United States. It is even said that as a direct result, the U.S. government chose to interfere quicker and more often to resolve issues affecting regions such as Vietnam or the Philippines.

Following the raids in Chihuahua and Columbus, the United States government grew impatient with the agenda employed by President Carranza and manifested their desire to resolve the conflicts by sending troops to the region. The Mexican president opposed this agenda as he wanted to capture Pancho Villa on his own, without American interference. The reply was that the U.S. forces were reluctant in allowing the demands of the Mexican president, even more so as he had, up to that point, proven unable to cease the rebellion in the country.

In spite of his failure, Pancho Villa is still perceived by most Mexicans as a representative figure of the Mexican Revolution. He is often assimilated with the image of Robin Hood, the man searching for freedom, justice and better living conditions for the masses. By others however, he is perceived as nothing short of a criminal, a bandit whose actions were driven by greed and a violent nature. Jeff Howell seeks to identify the reasons for this dual perception of the same character and finds that the main cause is given by the complex and even conflicting style of his life. Villa fought to ensure peace and freedom for the masses, yet his approach was an autocratic one and he was perceived as the ultimate leader of his faction. Then, he believed education to be the foundation of society, the most adequate means to end and the proper way to resolve the problems in Mexico, yet, his battles were fought on the field with weapons, rather that arguments and discussions. Third, he is said to have been extremely found of life and children, but he could kill an enemy without as much as a blink of an eye. Finally, Villa was adored by his followers, but he did not trust any of the individuals surrounding him.


Brandt, Nancy. October 1964. Pancho Villa: The Making of a Modern Legend. The Americans, Vol. 21, No. 2. pp.146-162.

Haley, Edward. 1970. Revolution and Intervention: The Diplomacy of Taft and Wilson in Mexico. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Howell, Jeff. Evaluating the Many Faces of Pancho Villa, Outlaw, Hero, Patriot, Cutthroat. Historical Text Archive. On the internet at

Sandos, James. 1970. German Involvement in Northern Mexico, 1915-1916: A New Look at the Columbus Raid. The Hispanic-American Historical Review

Sandos, James. 1981. Pancho Villa and American Security: Woodrow Wilson's Mexican Diplomacy Reconsidered. Journal of Latin American Studies. 13, 2, 293-311.

Stephenson, George, M. 1935. John Lind of Minnesota. Minneapolis. pp.246-247.

White, Bruce. E., Villa, Francisco. 1975. The Muddied Waters of Columbus, New Mexico. The Americans. Vol. 32, No. 1, pp.72-98.

Williamson, Edwin. 1992. The Penguin History of Latin America. Cambridge. University Press.

January 14, 1916. Texas Warns House of Anger on Border. The New York Times.

Records of the Department of State Relating to Internal Affairs of Mexico, 1910-1929. U.S. National Archives Microfilm Publication. micro-copy…[continue]

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