March 9th, 1916 was an historic day in the little town of Columbus, New Mexico. Located three miles north of the Mexican border it was also home to Camp Furlong, home of the 13th U.S. Calvary. The unit was on outpost duty along the border.
On this date in 1916, about 500 Pancho Villa irregulars attacked the town and camp. The raid took place in the middle of the night and resulted in an intense firefight. Guns were blazing and the U.S. military responded with heavy machine gun fire. The result was about one-half of Villa's forces were killed along with 18 Americans. The attackers eventually retreated back into Mexico. The question arises as to why the town was raided. Why this town and why then? The answer most given is that the raiders were after any plunder and riches they could find. Another answer is that the U.S. Government had just thrown it's support to Venustiano Carranza, another revolutionary and some say the father of the Mexican Revolution. The Villistas were in a struggle with the Nationalist Mexican forces and other revolutionaries. Some therefore would say the raid on Columbus was in retaliation for the U.S. taking sides. This was a time during the Mexican Revolution where several factions were fighting against each other. Whichever answer is true, and it could be a combination of both, the fact remained that Villa's forces needed all the money they could get.
After a deadly attack like this from foreign invaders on U.S. soil, a cry for revenge went out. Whatever popularity Villa had in the U.S. at that time, plummeted. Two days after the attack President Woodrow Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing into Mexico on a punitive expedition with about 500 troops.
Villa met his end in July 1923 when he was assassinated while making an unescorted visit to Parral, Mexico where he had been living on his nearby ranch. There were some arrests and trials resulting in pardons but ultimately nobody was punished for Villa's killing although the prevailing theory was that there was a conspiracy on the orders of then Mexican President Obregon.
Columbus, New Mexico is located about 35 miles south of Deming which is on Interstate-10. If you find yourself traveling through southern New Mexico, a stop at the Columbus Historical Society And Railroad Depot Museum offers a chance to step back in time. Actually, the Railroad Depot itself was the scene of some of the most intense fighting. Lots of photographs of the conflict, weapons and other artifacts can be found there. It's located at the junction of Hwy 9 and 11.
Here are good sites for further exploration: