Monday, March 9, 2015


Image result for columbus new mexico raid
Columbus, New Mexico

3/9/1916 - Looking for supplies and weapons (money, munitions, and grub ... the whole enchilada), and a moral booster after his bad defeat against government forces at the Mexican Civil War Battle of Celaya in 1915 (over 4,000 men killed and another 8,000 captured in a massacre of cavalry charging machine guns in the sixth year of the contest for control of the country), General Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula turns north, away from the forces of President Venustiano Carranza, to go after what he believes he has identified as a plum ripe ready for the plucking ... the sleepy little border American town of Columbus, New Mexico, a community of a couple hundred citizens thought to be protected by only 30 soldiers of the U.S. Army.  A feast for a bandit king, for that is what General Arambula really is, and why he is known throughout the southwest by his more familiar other name ... Pancho Villa!

General Arambula - Center
Portrait of Venustiano Carranza.jpg
Pancho villa horseback.jpg

An error in information, Columbus is actually garrisoned by some of the best troops in the country (their quarters known as Camp Furlong), over 300 men of 13th Cavalry, veterans of fighting in the Philippines, under the command of Colonel Herbert Jermain Slocum (though he is over 30 miles away, at the town of Deming to catch the train to El Paso for an "officers call" there) ... and its citizens are the Wild West types that know how to use hand guns and rifles when put upon.
Colonel Slocum, commander of the small garrison encamped in Columbus at the time of the Villista Raid. (Pancho Villa State Park)

Rumors running rampant for days of large bands of armed men moving about the border, moon down (and the city is without electricity and has no street lamps), in the darkness of 4:00 in the morning the gossip turns real when Villa, and a raiding party of 500 soldiers, attack the town.  

On guard duty, Private Fred Griffin of K Troop calls out, "Halt!  Who goes there?" as footsteps approach his station.  His last words as he is mortally wounded by a rifle shot the punctures his belly ... dead, but not quite yet ... the wounded sentry empties his weapon before leaving, taking out three Villistas and alerting the rest of the town that an attack is underway.  Hearing the shots, Lt. James P. Castleman, the officer of the day, dashes out of the guard shack, kills a passing Villista with his .45 automatic, and then reasoning that the raiders might be after the assets in the town bank, heads toward the center of day, gathering just waking soldiers as he heads towards his destination on Main Street ... a 500-yard run that is stopped five times for Castleman and his men to put down Mexican assaults.  At the same time, First Lt. John B. Lucas, just returned from nearby Fort Bliss where he'd been playing polo, barefoot, grabs his pistol and races for the guard shack that contains the troop's four Benet-Mercie Machine rifles, an early form of machine gun weighing 27 pounds firing steel clips of 9, 14, or 30 rounds.  Throughout the ensuing clash, at least two of the weapons are firing at all times, spitting out bullets at a rate of 10 per second, firing over 20,000 rounds in holding back the raiders.  

On March 9, 1916 when Pancho Villa attacked from Mexico this hotel was the center of some of the heaviest fighting. William Christopher Hoover owned the hotel and was the Mayor of Columbus at the time of the raid. (AdeQ Historical Archives/author)
Hotel & Bank

Kept at bay for the most part (one band that goes after food supplies is stopped by Army cooks using Winchester Model 97 12-gauge pump shotguns ... weapons the service has provided them with to hunt for fresh meat for the command), where they find no resistance, the Villistas steal anything they can carry away on their horses, fire at any window that shows light, and burn down a hefty portion of the town.  A bad night and morning for the hamlet, in the attack 18 Americans are killed ... ten civilians and eight soldiers (with an additional 8 woundings).  It is much worse however for the soldiers of Villa.
Image result for columbus new mexico raid

Counting on resupply for his men, and a modicum of rest, though Villa and his band capture 300 rifles and shotguns, along with 80 mules and horses, they are forced back across the border by Slocum's men (15 miles into Mexico though the intrusion has not been approved by either country) and return to the mountains of Chihuahua missing almost 200 soldiers (the dead Villistas littering the streets of Columbus are dragged south of town, soaked in kerosene, and burnt in a mass grave).  And worse, along with the Mexican forces arrayed against him, Villa now must contend with a pissed off United States!
As daylight came to Columbus the evidence of the carnage became clearer. Destroyed in the fire were a block of buildings consisting of the Commercial Hotel, Lemmon & Romney Mercantile, and two small houses. It was here that the greatest number of American deaths occurred. (AdeQ Historical Archives)
Columbus, New Mexico in the morning
An inglorious death: after the raid the bodies of the Villistas were gathered outside the town, piled like firewood, doused with gasoline, and burned. The stench of decaying human and horse flesh out in the desert continued on in the following months. (AdeQ Historical Archives)
Bonfire Time

Responding to the attack, President Woodrow Wilson authorizes a 5,000 man incursion into Mexico to kill or capture Villa ... an unsuccessful expedition (Villa is never seen and only a few of his lieutenants are brought down in the six months the campaign lasts) led by General John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing (soon to command the American forces that fight in France during WWI and ironically a former friend of Villa during happy times ... he receives a condolence notice from Villa when his wife and three young daughters die in in a 1915 fire in San Francisco), featuring the first use of airplanes and supply trucks by the military, and the first time the public hears of the exploits of a soldier who will become very famous as a general during WWII ... Lt. George Smith Patton, Jr. (he will be called the "Bandit Killer" by the press for his offing of outlaw Julio Cardenas).
1914 - L to R - General Obregon, Villa, and Pershing
Image result for columbus new mexico raid
Army Poster
Patton Before The Tanks - 1914

As for Villa, although he is never brought to justice for the raid, he eventually gets a dose of his own medicine in 1923.  Retired, thinking his bullet days are over, on July 20th, Villa takes his black 1919 Dodge roadster into the town of Parral without his normal allocation of more than a dozen body guards.  A fatal error on the part of the outlaw and rebel, as his vehicle maneuvers through the streets of the city, a pumpkinseed vendor shouts "Viva Villa!" ... the signal that causes seven assassins (members and associates of the Herrera Family Villa has been feuding with and has vowed to wipe out) to step into the middle of the road and blast over 40 dumdum rounds into the car and its occupants ... nine of which hit Villa in the head and upper chest, killing him instantly (along with Villa, two bodyguards, Claro Huertado and Rafael Madreno also perish in the fusillade, as do his personal secretary, Daniel Tamayo, and his chauffeur, Colonel Miguel Trillo.  Life fast and leave a pretty corpse ... in his going, Villa only gets on part of the equation right! 
Image result for pancho villa's death

No comments:

Post a Comment