In the early morning hours of 9 March 1916, Mexican rebel leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa led a band of Mexican Revolutionaries across the USA / Mexico border on an attack of Columbus, New Mexico.

The background intrigue is far more interesting than the actual battle battle between Villa and the US 13th Cavalry who were stationed nearby. US President Woodrow Wilson had tried to manipulate Mexican leaders by supporting opposition leaders and rebels. Wilson had supported opposition leader Venustiano Carranzo when dictator Victoriano Huerta was in power. However, when Carranzo took power, Wilson didn’t like him either, so he supported Villa and his “Villistas,” even though Villa was a known bandit and murderer. When Carranzo changed a bit and began to court Wilson’s administration for support, the US President switched again. Thereafter, Wilson allowed Carranzo to use US railways and jumping off points to fight Villa’s forces. This enraged Villa.

Pancho Villa Attacks Columbus, New Mexico

Villa decided to attack the town of Columbus, New Mexico, just across the Mexican border. The 13th US Cavalry was totally surprised by the attack, but responded quickly to the fire once heard by setting up two machine guns at key points in the town. The Villistas were hit hard with around 75 killed. 18 civilians were also killed in the business district of town.

This singular event has very little lasting military significance, but what happened next is what is remembered. Wilson appointed General John (Blackjack) Pershing to chase down Villa in Mexico with the limited approval from Carranzo. Two years later, Villa remained on the run, but the campaign limited his actions severely and he was never able to attack the US again. However, Villa was a popular hero in Mexico for “standing up to the man” and the Carranzo government eventually had to rescind the permission to chase Villa in Mexico.

Pershing went on to lead the American Expeditionary Force in France at the end of World War I.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Try this ride from El Paso, Texas along the Mexican border to Columbus, New Mexico then circle back to El Paso through southeastern New Mexico to get a feel for the area. You can check out the
Pancho Villa State Park at Columbus which is on the old site of Camp Furlong where the 13th Cavalry was based.

Image Credit:

By OSCAR (US Military Sources) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons