Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pancho Villa: Outlaw or Hero?

Author Stephen Bly Books

Pancho Villa and his men
Pancho Villa in the center
At 2:30 a.m., March 9, 1916, Pancho Villa and 500 men attacked the 13th U.S. Cavalry at Camp Furlong near Columbus, New Mexico, the first attack on American soil since 1812. Despite prior knowledge that Villa and his men pillaged, raped, and murdered their way toward the border, the cavalry was caught by surprise.

Reasons for the cavalry’s sluggishness? Some of the troops had been drinking. But more important, all of their rifles were chained and locked in gun racks. Even so, the cavalry managed to get organized and fought off the Villistas, killing many in the process.

During their retreat, the Villistas stopped at Columbus, New Mexico for a looting and window shooting spree. For three hours, bullets struck houses amid shouts in the streets of “Viva Villa! Viva Mexico! Muerte a los Americanos!” They were among the first to shout, “Death to Americans!”

The town was set on fire. Villa’s men gained nothing beyond a few dollars and some merchandise from the burnt stores. The terror continued until about 7:00 a.m. when Villa finally rode away. The smoke-filled streets of Columbus littered with the dead and wounded, fourteen American soldiers and ten civilians were killed in the raid.

Controversial Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s original name was Doroteo Arango (June 5,
Pancho Villa
the revolutionary
1878 – July 20, 1923). The son of a sharecropper farmer, he became a Mexican revolutionary and guerrilla leader. When Villa was 15, his father died, so Villa worked to protect and help support his mother and four siblings. One day he discovered the owner of the hacienda attacking his sister. He shot the man and ran for the mountains, spending six years on the run. There he joined a group of fugitives.

He changed his name while on the run to avoid getting caught by authorities. In the late 1890s, he worked as a miner in Chihuahua in addition to selling stolen cattle. He soon added more serious crimes to his record: robbing banks and stealing from the wealthy.

Though he started as a bandit, he was later inspired by reformer Francisco Modero and helped him win the Mexican Revolution. After a coup by Victoriano Herta, Villa opposed the dictator and fought many battles against him. He was a very effective revolutionary leader. However, in May 1911, Villa resigned from command because of differences he had with another commander, Pascual Orozco, Jr.

Pancho Villa
the folk hero 
On May 29, 1911, Villa married Maria Luz Corral and tried to settle down to a quiet life, although she was not the only woman in his life. Unfortunately, political unrest again appeared in Mexico. Villa gathered troops and chose his sides. He was almost executed when accused of stealing a horse but got a last minute reprieve. He was imprisoned but later escaped.

Villa won battle after battle during the next several years. Then Mexico became embroiled in a civil war. The United States supported Villa’s enemy, Venustiano Carranza. Thus, the attack on the town of Columbus, New Mexico happened as reprisal.

On May 20, 1920, Carranza was assassinated and Adolfo De la Huerta became the interim president of Mexico. De la Huerta wanted peace in Mexico so negotiated with Villa for his retirement. Part of the peace agreement was that Villa would receive a hacienda in Chihuahua. But he enjoyed only a short retirement.

On July 20, 1923, though Villa usually traveled with a number of bodyguards, this
Pancho Villa with wife Maria Luz Corral
Pancho Villa & Maria Luz Corral
time he went with only four associates. On his drive home, in a 1919 Dodge roadster that can be viewed at the Historical Museum of the Mexican Revolution, someone shouted out "Viva Villa!" and seven riflemen fired more than forty bullets into the car. His body was found with his hand reaching for his gun. He was 45 years old.

Pancho Villa retired
By stealing from the rich and often giving to the poor, some saw Pancho Villa as a modern-day Robin Hood. Villa captured the imagination of many Americans and his exploits were regularly filmed by a Hollywood movie company. He even signed a contract with Hollywood’s Mutual Film Company (1913) to have several of his battles filmed. Some report he advocated for the poor and wanted agrarian reform. Though he was a killer, a bandit, and a revolutionary leader, many remember him also as a folk hero.
What do you think? Is Pancho Villa a bad guy or good guy? 

Janet Chester Bly
Janet Chester Bly has written and co-written 32 nonfiction and fiction books with her late husband, award-winning western author Stephen Bly. Her published works include Wind in the Wires, Book 1, Trails of Reba Cahill. She is now working on Book 2 to be released later this fall. Find out more at website:  or blog:

Excerpt from Stephen Bly's novel, Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon:
Bronc hooted. “I asked Big Margarita to marry me six times one night.
Cowboy For a Rainy Afternoon
Shorty sat straight up and yanked off his hat. “You did?”
“Yep. Her and every other woman in the cantina that night.”
“And they all turned you down?” I asked.
Bronc grinned. “It was my lucky night.”
Quirt balanced his revolver on the worn slick knee of his suit pants. I couldn’t tell if he had bullets in five or all six chambers. “I heard she cold-cocked one of Pancho Villa’s men when they made that raid across the border.”
“She cold-cocked his horse,” Shorty reported.
I swallowed hard and jammed my cap gun back into the holster. “His horse?”
“Yep. That Mexican hit the ground runnin’ toward the border. He might still be running,” Shorty said. “Not even Villa could face the wrath of Big Margarita with a lead pipe in her hand.”
“Is she the ole gal who gave you that black eye?” Granddaddy asked.
Shorty sighed. “Two of them.”
“She gave you two black eyes?” I quizzed.
Shorty shrugged. “Little Brother, some men is slow learners.” 


  1. I grew up with missionary parents in Mexico.In the late 50's I spent the night with a friend at her home in the mountains of Chihuahua and her father told stories of Panchon Villa riding through their village when he was small.
    He thought he was a hero.

    1. Linda; Thanks so much for sharing your personal experience. Fascinating!

  2. I think he was probably a little of both. But many back then want to help the poor and found that robbing was one way of doing it. Doesn't mean it was right but it was a way of life back then.

  3. Kim: Thanks for the commentary. Interesting viewpoint.

  4. I can see both sides to the story, but Kim brings up a good point. It is stealing and wrong no matter what your motive. I know life was definitely much harder and different that what we know.

    1. Susan: Good point. Thanks for sharing.

  5. It depends who you ask, I suppose. This story reminds me of Jesus's words: "...for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."

    1. Janalyn: That's also so true. Thanks for the note.

  6. I think he was a bad guy. Stealing from the rich or the poor or anyone is devious and wrong no matter the proclaimed motive. ha! sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  7. I visit a 92 year old friend who tells me Pancho Villa killed her grandparents. Her mother was born in Durango, Mexico. Her mother was brought to the US as a young girl by an aunt. When Poncho Villa would raid and they heard he was nearby they would hide the girls in the corn field and the women would start cooking to feed him and his men. She said he is not a hero he was a killer.