Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Columbus New Mexico And The Only Land Invasion Of The U.S. Since 1812

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.

pancho villa on horseback
Francisco "Pancho" Villa (shown on left) was regarded in many different ways depending on who you asked. To some he was a robber and murderer. To others he was a sort of Robin Hood figure who appropriated land and handed it over to peasants and soldiers. He actually made a transition from being a simple bandit to a violent revolutionary. Many were portraying him as a folk hero. A fighter for the people. His theater of operation was northern Mexico which of course put him on the American border. During 1913-14 Hollywood even got into the act by filming some of his battles in Mexico which many believe were staged.

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.

early 1900's militay airplanes
 There were several "firsts" during Pershing's pursuit of Villa. It was the first time an airplane was used during combat. The Curtiss "Jenny" shown was used for aerial reconnaissance. An airfield was established at Camp Furlong for the express purpose of launching the Curtiss aircraft into Mexico.

military armored car in early 1900's
Pershing's forces also tested the first armored vehicle in combat. The punitive expedition lasted over eleven months with a total of 11,000 U.S. troops committed to the pursuit of Villa. The expedition penetrated into Mexico some 350 miles and at various times came into conflict with Carranza's forces. This is where politics entered and Pershing was ordered to head north. The end result was that Villa himself was injured but never captured. Some Villistas were killed including two of Villa's generals. Events leading to World War I were heating up in Europe and Pershing and his men were needed elsewhere.

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:




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