Click either image for much larger (and prettier) versions. Photos taken with iPhone 5s, Sunday, March 23, 2014.
. . . and his forces attacked Columbus, New Mexico, 99 years ago today (March 9, 1916).
Why Columbus? Why then?
The U.S. had taken sides against Villa — and for Venustiano Carranza — in the continuing Mexican revolutions. Columbus had a garrison of about 600 U.S. soldiers. Villa had been sold blank ammunition by an arms dealer in the town. And 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 American 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 December 1, 1917; in San Bernardino Canyon, Mexico, on December 26, 1917; near La Grulla, Texas, on January 8-9, 1918; at Pilares, Mexico, about March 28, 1918; at Nogales, Arizona, on August 27, 1918; and near El Paso, Texas, on June 15-16, 1919.
Villa, born Doroteo Arango, surrendered to the Mexican Government in 1920 and retired on a general’s pay. He was assassinated in 1923.