Pancho Villa…

and his forces attacked Columbus, New Mexico, on this date in 1916.

Why? Columbus had a garrison of about 600 U.S. soldiers. Villa had been sold blank ammunition by an arms dealer in the town. The United States was supporting Carranza in the continuing Mexican revolution. A few days earlier 10 Mexicans had been “accidentally” burned to death while in custody in El Paso during a “routine” delousing with gasoline.

The attack at dawn lasted about three hours before American troops chased Villa’s forces into Mexico. The town was burned and 17 Americans, mostly private citizens, were killed. About 100 of Villa’s troops were reportedly killed. The arms dealer was absent from Columbus that morning. He had a dental appointment in El Paso.

The next day President Wilson ordered General Jack Pershing and 5,000 America troops into Mexico to capture Villa. This “Punitive Expedition” was often mis-directed by Mexican citizens and Villa allegedly hid in the dust thrown up by Pershing’s vehicles. (The American Army used aircraft for reconnaissance for the first time. This is considered the beginning of the Army Air Corps.)

Unsuccessful in the hunt, by February 1917 the United States and Pershing turned their attention to the war in Europe. Minor clashes with Mexican irregulars continued to disturb the border from 1917 to 1919. Engagements took place near Buena Vista, Mexico on 1 December 1917; in San Bernardino Canyon, Mexico on 26 December 1917; near La Grulla, Texas on 8-9 January 1918; at Pilares, Mexico about 28 March 1918; at Nogales, Arizona on 27 August 1918; and near El Paso, Texas on 15-16 June 1919.

NewMexiKen’s very own grandfather served in Columbus during World War I, making him the first NewMexiKen.

Villa surrendered to the Mexican Government in 1920 and retired on a general’s pay. He was assassinated in 1923.