Pancho was a bandit boy, his horse was fast as polished steel
He wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel
- Willie Nelson, "Pancho and Lefty"
We drove 100 miles deeper into the vast Chihuahua desert today to see the Pancho Villa museum on the Mexican border in Columbus, New Mexico.
Pancho and 500 of his "poorly-dressed, but well-armed" men crossed the border in July, 1916 at 4:30 AM for reasons that are still not precisely known. This was the last invasion of the continental US by a foreign army. It is believed that Pancho thought of the US as a friend and was outraged that the US allowed a train of Mexican Federal forces to pass though Columbus and deliver a stinging defeat to his rebel forces. The government was busy making friends even back then.
The Mexicans came into the small, dusty border-town of Columbus shooting and burning buildings. They asked for a local storekeeper who was away in El Paso. One theory is that the shopkeeper accepted money from the rebels for ammunition, but never delivered.
The nearby army outpost had 340 soldiers. The soldiers had to break into their own armory to mount a defense. The armory contained a number of French 30-round machine guns which were prone to jam when incorrectly loaded. Eventually, after getting the guns working, the invaders were beaten back. Ten US civilians, 8 American soldiers and 90 Mexican rebels were killed in the melee. The dead Mexicans were stacked in the desert and burned. Those captured were hanged.
Within a week "Blackjack" Pershing and 10,000 soldiers arrived by train to avenge this outrage. "Blackjack" was accompanied by Lieutenant George Patton, a number of "Jenny" biplanes, modern armored vehicles, horses, mules and a number of new "Four Wheel Drive" trucks.
The chase down into the Mexican desert and mountains lasted a year and penetrated 500 miles South into Mexico. The Army never made contact with Pancho's forces and eventually returned to Columbus almost a year later..
One Army Veteran said, "It was like hunting a bear, we hoped we'd never catch it. The Mexicans would jump on their horses and ride all night, eating jerky. We had to form up our army and lumber along 10 or 15 miles a day in slow pursuit".
After visiting the museum we had some really good tacos and enchiladas at the "Pancho Villa Restaurant". Looking at the wall decorations, I could tell their sympathies, like mine, were with Pancho, who was never caught.