U.S. General John J. Pershing attacked by Mexican troops

U.S. General John J. Pershing attacked by Mexican troops

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The controversial U.S. military expedition against Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa brings the United States and Mexico closer to war when Mexican government troops attack U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing’s force at Carrizal, Mexico. The Americans suffered 22 casualties, and more than 30 Mexicans were killed. Against the protests of Venustiano Carranza’s government, Pershing had been penetrating deep into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa. After routing the small Mexican force at Carrizal, the U.S. expedition continued on its southern course.

In 1914, following the resignation of Mexican leader Victoriano Huerta, Pancho Villa and his former revolutionary ally Venustiano Carranza battled each other in a struggle for succession. By the end of 1915, Villa had been driven north into the mountains, and the U.S. government recognized General Carranza as the president of Mexico.

In January 1916, to protest President Woodrow Wilson’s support for Carranza, Villa executed 16 U.S. citizens at Santa Isabel in northern Mexico. Then, on March 9, he ordered a raid on the border town of Columbus, New Mexico, in which 17 Americans were killed and the center of town was burned. Cavalry from the nearby Camp Furlong U.S. Army outpost pursued the Mexicans, killing several dozen rebels on U.S. soil and in Mexico before turning back. On March 15, under orders from President Wilson, U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing launched a punitive expedition into Mexico to capture or kill Villa and disperse his rebels. The expedition eventually involved some 10,000 U.S. troops and personnel. It was the first U.S. military operation to employ mechanized vehicles, including automobiles and airplanes.

For 11 months, Pershing failed to capture the elusive revolutionary, who was aided by his intimate knowledge of the terrain of northern Mexico and his popular support from the people there. Meanwhile, resentment over the U.S. intrusion into Mexican territory led to a diplomatic crisis with the government in Mexico City. On June 21, the crisis escalated into violence when Mexican government troops attacked a detachment of the 10th Cavalry at Carrizal. If not for the critical situation in Europe, war might have been declared. In January 1917, having failed in their mission to capture Villa, and under continued pressure from the Mexican government, the Americans were ordered home.

Pancho Villa continued his guerrilla activities in northern Mexico until Adolfo de la Huerta took over the government and drafted a reformist constitution. Villa entered into an amicable agreement with Huerta and agreed to retire from politics. In 1920, the government pardoned Villa, but three years later he was assassinated in Parral.

The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition: Part 2

Part 1 of this article in the fall issue (Vol. 29, No. 3) discussed the tumult following the 1910 Mexican Revolution and American concerns over the civil war in Mexico. Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico, on March 9, 1916, prompted the United States to organize an expedition in retaliation. While the army prepared for the expedition, Secretary of State Robert Lansing negotiated with Venustiano Carranza to allow the United States to enter Mexico without interference. Carranza balked at granting approval to the expedition. As a compromise, he insisted that his own troops would track down Villa. The United States refused his offer, and after a week of fervent bartering, Carranza reluctantly agreed to allow the Americans across the border as long as they strayed no further than the state of Chihuahua.1 The army was under the impression that Carranza would allow the expedition to ship supplies over the Mexican Northwestern Railway, but initially he refused. Several weeks into the expedition, Carranza made some concessions and allowed the Americans to use the railroad, but by then supplies were already moving by horse and primitive Dodge trucks, which habitually broke down. Still, Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing reported that "supplies are coming in as rapidly as transportation will permit"2 The army's telegraph lines also needed constant attention since the Mexicans made a sport of cutting the wires. The Punitive Expedition learned the hard way that Carranza had little interest in cooperating with the efforts to capture Villa.

By April 8, General Pershing was more than four hundred miles into Mexico with a troop strength of 6,675 men. The expedition set up its headquarters in the town of Colonia Dublan and its supply base on a tract of land near the Casas Grandes River. Having no idea how long he would be in Chihuahua or how much further he would have to penetrate to locate Villa, Pershing wanted to ensure that his army was well supplied. Since the expedition was denied the full use of the Mexican railway system, Pershing turned to his motor transport companies. The only problem was that the army did not have enough trucks to transport the food, clothing, weapons, and ammunition stored at Columbus.

Logistically, the Punitive Expedition started as a nightmare. Nothing of this magnitude had ever been attempted by the U.S .Army. Word of this dilemma was forwarded to Secretary of War Newton Baker, who was somehow able to spend $450,000 of unappropriated funds to purchase new trucks. The funds were well spent as more than ten thousand tons of supplies were eventually delivered by truck to Pershing.3 Moving supplies by truck was no easy feat during the expedition, however, because roads depicted on available maps turned out to be nothing but trails that were impassable during wet weather. As a result, engineers had to rebuild many of the roads. The expedition also had to reply on mules and wagons to a large extent to keep supplies moving.

The airplanes sent for use by the First Aero Squadron proved to be inadequate because they did not have enough power to overcome the erratic winds or to climb high enough to cross the mountains of northern Chihuahua. Pershing complained in a report to Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston that "the aeroplanes have been of no material benefit so far, either in scouting or as a means of communication. They have not at all met my expectations. The further south Villa goes into the mountains the more difficult will be their tasks, and I have no doubt we shall soon be compelled to abandon them for either scouting the enemy or keeping in touch with the advance columns."4 Gradually the airplanes were replaced, and the commander of the First Aero Squadron, Benjamin Fouloius, happily reported that the "squadron rendered efficient service in reconnaissance and in maintaining communications with the troops away from the base camp."5

Working airplanes were not enough to locate Villa. Although a majority of the Mexican citizens encountered by Pershing's forces wanted Villa captured as much as the Americans did, their hatred for the United States was even stronger, and they gave the U.S. forces few leads. After almost two weeks of pursuing aimless leads and fighting a few minor skirmishes, a squadron of the Seventh U.S. Cavalry fought five hundred Villistas at San Geronimo. There were no American losses, but several of the bandits were wounded. It was thought that Villa was among those wounded, but this proved false.6

Even with the recent setbacks, the morale of the troops remained high. Pershing reported that "the spirit of this command is splendid and cooperation of all elements is entirely satisfactory. In fact, I have never seen such willingness and such eagerness to push forward to the task, as is shown by all members of this command. While all realize the difficulties to be undertaken, and while immediate results are not expected, there is a fixed conviction that we shall accomplish our object in the end"7

Probably the most frustrating point during the entire Punitive Expedition occurred on April 13, 1916, when a detachment of troops from Carranza's army attacked the American troops at Parral. Upon receiving reinforcements, they drove back the Mexicans. One American soldier was killed, and one was wounded. The Mexicans suffered fourteen killed. Pershing kept his men at Dublan and sent out scouting parties and detachments to locate Villa without success.

At the town of Carrizal, troops from the Mexican National Army attacked two troops of the Tenth Cavalry on a scouting mission on June 21. Seven enlisted men were killed, and even more were wounded. Villa's forces captured twenty-three enlisted men and one civilian interpreter. The prisoners were sent to Chihuahua City but were released a short time later.

Tensions between the United States and Mexico were at a breaking point. Not since the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848 had the two countries come so close to all-out war. Neither country was prepared, and neither wanted war. The War Department recognized that a force of at least 200,000 was needed to invade Mexico and that Carranza did not have the troops to ward off an American invasion. To avoid further incidents like Carrizal, Funston ordered Pershing to cease sending out long-range patrols.

It was becoming increasingly obvious that Carranza's de facto government openly disliked the American presence in Mexico. Maj. Gen. Hugh Scott and Funston met with Carranza's military chief, Alvaro Obregon, at El Paso and agreed to gradually withdraw Pershing's forces if Carranza would control Villa.

The expedition learned that some of Carranza's soldiers were joining forces with the Villistas. To counter this threat, Pershing's men spent the remainder of their time operating in a limited area close to their base of operations at Dublan. By order of General Funston, the supply route was moved further north to prevent Carranza's men from cutting off the expeditionary force from Columbus. It was not really necessary for Pershing to send troops any further into Mexico. Villa's forces at this point were badly depleted by casualties and desertion, and those who remained were largely scattered. Although the Villistas were still on the loose, they were not much of a menace.

National Guard units from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico had been called into service on May 8, 1916. With congressional approval of the National Defense Act on June 3, 1916, National Guard units from the remainder of the states and the District of Columbia were also called for duty on the border.8 In mid-June President Wilson called out 110,000 National Guard for border service. None of the National Guard troops would cross the border into Mexico but were used instead as a show of force. Nonetheless, activities on the border were far from dull. The troops had to be on constant alert as border raids were still an occasional nuisance. Three of the raids were particularly bloody. On May 5, 1916, Mexican bandits attacked an outpost at Glenn Springs, Texas, killing one civilian and wounding three American soldiers. On June 15 bandits killed four American soldiers at San Ygnacio, Texas, and on July 31 one American soldier and a U.S. customs inspector were killed. In all three cases Mexican raiders were killed and wounded, but the exact numbers are unknown.

The focus of the Punitive Expedition now changed from actively seeking out Pancho Villa to a more defensive position of protecting the troops from Carranza's forces. A new enemy, boredom, now tormented the troops. During the warmer months, the troops faced an almost daily dose of dust storms and swarms of flies. Organized recreation was virtually nonexistent for the men on duty in Mexico. In the absence of a USO or YMCA, soldiers organized baseball games, boxing matches, and hunting expeditions. Gambling was also another diversion for the troops since they had nowhere to spend their army pay. As long as no disorder resulted from the gambling, Pershing and his staff made little effort to discourage it.9

Another feature of the camp at Colonia Dublan were the numerous Mexican prostitutes who followed the troops. To prevent the men from leaving camp, Pershing had the prostitutes rounded up and placed under guard in a specially created barbed-wire stockade. Soldiers wishing to visit the stockade were required to show the guard on duty that they had the necessary fee that was regulated by the provost marshal. After completing business with one of the visiting ladies, a soldier was required to take a prophylactic provided by the army. The result of this strict sanitary measure was one of the lowest venereal disease rates an army has ever known.10

On January 18, 1917, General Funston informed Pershing "that it was the intention of the Government to withdraw from Mexico at an early date." Pershing "recommended that the date of the beginning of the movement from Dublan, Mexico, be not later than January 28, 1917, the withdrawal to be entirely by marching, and the command to assemble at Palomas, Chihuahua, and march across the border together." The recommendation was approved, and the Punitive Expedition officially ended on the afternoon of February 5, 1917. Shortly after the withdrawal, various units of the National Guard were returned to their homes. Small forces were maintained in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico to "prevent further trouble from scattered bands of outlaws"11

As a token of appreciation, the United States Congress approved the issuing of the Mexican Service Badge, then the Mexican Border Service Medal. Eligibility for the Mexican Service Badge, according to War Department General Order 155, December 1917, was authorized by the President for issue "to all officers and enlisted men who are now, or may hereafter be, in the military service . . . in Mexico as members of the Vera Cruz expedition . . . in Mexico as members of the punitive or other authorized expeditions . . . those who participated in an engagement against Mexicans . . . and those who were present as members of the Mexican border patrol."12 Individuals not eligible for the Mexican Service Badge were authorized by Congress on July 9, 1918, to receive the Mexican Border Service Medal. Its purpose was to recognize the National Guardsmen and regular army troops mobilized to patrol the Mexican border between 1916 and 1917.13

Despite its failure to capture Pancho Villa, the Mexican Punitive Expedition can be deemed a success. Secretary of War Baker praised the efforts of Pershing and his men by stating that "its objective, of course was the capture of Villa, if that could be accomplished, but its real purpose was a display of the power of the United States into a country disturbed beyond control of the constituted authorities of the Republic of Mexico as a means of controlling lawless aggregations of bandits and preventing attacks by them across the international frontier. This purpose is fully and finally accomplished."14

Most important, the Mexican Punitive Expedition provided military training experience for the eleven thousand regular soldiers who made up the expedition. Pershing's experience during the Punitive Expedition and the death of Funston on February 19, 1917, made him the obvious choice as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. Many of the same men who served with Pershing in Mexico accompanied him to France.

Hostilities in Mexico continued well after the Americans left. On March 11, 1917, Carranza was officially elected the new president of Mexico but continued to fight off overthrow attempts by Villa and Emiliano Zapata. On April 10, 1919, Carranza had Zapata assassinated. A year later Carranza himself was assassinated after fleeing Mexico City during a rebellion. Pancho Villa met a similar fate on July 20, 1923. Around the same time, the army disbanded troops stationed along the Mexican border, thus bringing to a close a turbulent period in Mexican-American relations.

The holdings of the National Archives contain a significant amount of primary records pertaining to activities on the United States-Mexican border during the Mexican Punitive Expedition. Unfortunately, researchers wishing to use these records for genealogical purposes may find them frustrating.

In most cases, personnel-related documents were removed from the official records and placed in an individual's service record, which are in the custody of the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63132. An NATF Form 180 is required when requesting a search for personnel records in this repository. The complete name of the serviceman, branch of service, and approximate dates of service is the minimum information records center staff need to conduct a search.15 In the event that a soldier served with a National Guard regiment, consult the appropriate state archives.

In some instances, duplicate copies of documents relating to personnel are filed either in the field or headquarters-level records of the army. In the descriptions below, records most likely to contain such documents are specially noted.

Since the military activities in Mexico were conducted mainly by the U.S. Army, this article references only a few U.S. Navy and Marine Corps records. The two exceptions are the Tampico incident and the attack and occupation of Vera Cruz.

The following summary of military records is arranged by record group number, not in order of research value. Only substantive series of records relating to the Mexican situation are included. This list is in no way exhaustive. For more detailed information on these and other record groups, consult the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States (1995). Additional information on these record groups can be obtained from the Old Military and Civil Branch (NWCTB), 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001.

Record Group 24, Records of the United States Navy Personnel

Included in this record group are deck logs, entry 118, and muster rolls, entry 134, for ships composing the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet, such as the USS Dolphin. The deck logs provide a daily summary of operations and a roster of officers aboard a given ship. The muster rolls record the names of enlisted men serving on board a ship or assigned to a station.

Record Group 45, Naval Records Collection of the Office of the Naval Records and Library

Under the Subject File designation of WE-Mexico are collections of U.S. Marine Corps and Navy operations reports, correspondence, and casualty lists for Tampico and Vera Cruz.

Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General

Two series, entries 189–190, pertain to correspondence, telegrams, and other papers relating to supplies for a proposed expedition during the Mexican Revolution.

A function of the Office of the Quartermaster General was the procurement and issuing of medals and badges. Entry 283 is a serial list of Mexican Service Badges issued (Numbers 1–25000), and entry 285 is a serial list of Mexican Border Service Medals issued (Numbers 2401–34060). Entry 256 is a name index to all medal- and badge-related series in this record group.

Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's–1917

Included in this record group is correspondence such as letters received, replies, telegrams, reports, and other documents sent to the War Department in Washington that relate to troops stationed along the Mexican border and the operations during the Mexican Punitive Expedition. The correspondence is included in entry 25 and is arranged numerically it is indexed by name and subject in entry 27. In many cases, correspondence that pertains to a similar topic is consolidated under one number. This is the case for the Mexican border, which is filed under #2378529, and the Mexican Punitive Expedition, which is filed under #2377632. A more complete description of the filing arrangement in this series is found in the Guide to Material on Latin America in the National Archives of the United States (1974), pp. 172–173. Personnel-related documents for all staff officers up through 1917 are included in entry 25. Also, in extreme cases, it is possible to locate documents pertaining to enlisted personnel in the regular army or National Guard, particularly if a soldier was discharged, deserted, or died while in the army.

Record Group 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General

General correspondence, 1894–1917, entry 26, contains a copy of the surgeon general's final report on the Mexican Punitive Expedition, file # 156351. There are also personnel files in this series for medical officers serving during the Mexican Punitive Expedition and along the Mexican border.

Record Group 127, Records of the United States Marine Corps

Included in this record group are muster rolls, entry 101, for the marines occupying Vera Cruz.

Record Group 165, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs

General correspondence, entry 297, of the War College Division contains drafts of reports, copies of telegrams, photographs, and monographs relating to the U.S. Army's operations in Mexico and along the border, mainly under file #9497. Records pertaining to the operations of the "Maneuver Division" were transferred from the War College Division correspondence and are now included in the general correspondence of the Military Intelligence Division (MID), entry 65, under file #6274. File 13137 contains a report on Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico. The MID, entry 63, also contains reports from military attachés, 1917–1941, relating to political, social, military, and economic conditions in Mexico. Entry 152, Records of the Office of the Military Censor, contains reports on censorship along the Mexican border, 1917–1919.

The Historical Division files, entry 310, contain histories, diaries, orders, memorandums, and reports for units stationed on the border during the Punitive Expedition. There is a subject index at the beginning of the series.

Record Group 391, Records of United States Army Mobile Commands

Included in this record group are administrative records for infantry, cavalry, and field artillery regiments, entries 2118, 2122, 2124, and 2133, that served during the Mexican Punitive Expedition and along the Mexican border. In some cases, copies of strength returns, muster rolls, and records are included in these series.

Record Group 393, Records of United Staters Army Continental Commands

Part I of this record group includes the general correspondence and reports of the Southern Department for the period of 1913 - 1916, entry 4437. The correspondence is indexed in entry 4435. Correspondence and reports created after 1916 are arranged by the War Department decimal filing scheme and included in entry 4439. Part 3 contains the general correspondence for the El Paso District in entry 135. The index for the correspondence is in entry 133. Included in this series are the reports relating to the Glenn Springs, Texas, raid.

Record Group 395, Records of United States Army Overseas Commands

The historical records created at the organizational level during the Vera Cruz Expedition, entries 1175–1184, and during the Mexican Punitive Expedition, entries 1185–1229, are clearly the most significant source of documents in the National Archives for the study of the Fifth Infantry Brigade during the Vera Cruz Expedition and the regiments constituting the Mexican Punitive Expedition.

Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1917–

Included in this record group are classified and unclassified, correspondence arranged by the decimal filing scheme. The general correspondence, entry 37, 1917–1925, contains a series arranged by country. The correspondence under the heading of "Country— Mexico" includes weekly summaries of activities on the border as submitted by the commanding officers to the Adjutant General's Office. Entry 37, contains a series of bulky or oversize files that were separated from the general correspondence. Under the heading of "Countries-Mexican Expedition, 370.22" is a copy of the final report of the Punitive Expedition. It includes the reports of the Punitive Expedition Air Service, Quartermaster General, Chief of Engineers, Judge Advocate General, and the Inspector General. There are also attachments to the report, such as maps and blueprints.

Entry 21, Organization Records of National Guard units, consists of orders, sick reports, circulars, rosters, payroll vouchers, and general correspondence concerning recruits, promotions, and furloughs. Entry 16 contains miscellaneous files. Among the miscellaneous files is a compiled list of casualties for the Mexican border and the Mexican Punitive Expedition. Entry 112 has regimental Strength Returns.

Published Records

Abstracts of some of the important reports and correspondence cited in these National Archives record groups are often published in the War and Navy Department's annual reports and the Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States. These invaluable works are included among the Congressional Serial Set, which is available in many large public and university libraries.

Mitchell Yockelson is a reference archivist in the Modern Military Records Branch, National Archives and Records Administration. He specializes in U.S. Army records for the period from the Spanish-American War to World War II.

1. Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1916 (1925), pp. 485–487.

2. Report from General Pershing to General Pershing, Correspondence of the War College Division (#6174), Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165 (hereinafter cited as Pershing Report, RG 165, NARA). Additional copies of the report are located among the general correspondence, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, RG 94.

3. John S. D. Eisenhower, Intervention: The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913–1917 (1993), p. 253.

4. Pershing Report, RG 165, NARA.

5. "History of the 1st Aero Squadron," entry 310, box 231, RG 165, NARA.

6. Eisenhower, Intervention: The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913–1917, pp. 267–268.

7. Pershing Report, RG 165, NARA.

8. War Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year, 1916, Vol. 1 (1916).

9. Clarence C. Clendenen, Blood on the Border: The United States Army and the Mexican Irregulars (1969), p. 330.

10. Ibid., pp. 334 - 335. See also Donald Smythe, "Venereal Disease: The AEF's Experience," Prologue: Journal of the National Archives 9 (Summer 1977): 66 (reprinted in 26 [Summer 1994]: 120.)

11. Annual Report of the Fiscal Year 1916, by Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston, United States Army, Commanding the Southern Department, p. 33, entry 27, file #243231, box 141, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1917–, RG 407, NARA.

12. War Department, General Order 155, 1917.

13. Albert F. Gleim, Army Mexican Service Medal Issues (1994), p. 1.

14. War Department Annual Report, 1917, p. 10.

15. In many cases records for Army personnel discharged between November 1, 1912, and January, 1960, were destroyed in a July 12, 1973, fire at the National Personnel Records Center.

That Time America and Mexico Were Nearly at War (A Little Over 100 Years Ago)

Under the Punitive Expedition, American troops under General John J. Pershing pursued Pancho Villa across Mexico, albeit unsuccessfully.

Five days after the March 9, 1916, raid on Columbus, New Mexico, in which at least 17 Americans were killed, President Woodrow Wilson instructed General John J. Pershing to lead 5,000 U.S. soldiers into the wilds of northern Mexico in search of the bandit revolutionary Pancho Villa, whose Villistas had attacked the small border town in the early morning hours while most of its citizens were sleeping.

Villa had launched the raid in retribution for the Wilson administration acknowledging his political rival Venustiano Carranza as the president of Mexico. At one time, the United States had supported Villa with arms and provisions. Now, Villa felt betrayed, and the fact that some of the rifle cartridges supplied by the Americans were defective only added to his anger. Exactly what the revolutionary leader of the Division del Norte, an armed band of battle hardened fighters, hoped to achieve beyond revenge is unclear. Some historians have speculated that Villa needed ammunition and supplies, but from a strategic perspective it was a calculated risk.

Pershing’s ‘Punitive Expedition’

Surely there would be retaliation on the part of the Americans, and it came in the form of the Punitive Expedition. The expedition lasted officially until February 7, 1917, and involved more than 5,000 troops from a dozen U.S. Army infantry, cavalry, and artillery regiments, Apache scouts, and the planes and pilots of the first Aero Squadron. The troops brought the firepower of the machine gun to Mexico and employed the airplane, truck, and automobile in combat maneuvers for the first time in army history.

Two weeks into their pursuit of Villa, a force of 370 cavalry under Colonel George A. Dodd caught up with a contingent of the Mexican raiders and attacked. For the Americans the Battle of Guerrero was the single most successful engagement of the 11-month Punitive Expedition. Dodd’s men killed or wounded 75 Villistas and suffered only five of their own slightly wounded. On April 1, 1916, a skirmish involving the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment resulted in two Villistas killed. At every turn, however, the elusive Villa managed to slip away.

The Last Engagement

Meanwhile, the Carranza government was becoming increasingly hostile to the American incursion that stretched 350 miles into sovereign Mexican territory. On April 12, Mexican and U.S. troops exchanged fire. Two American soldiers were killed and six wounded, while the Mexicans losses are estimated as high as 70 casualties. Close encounters with Villa’s men and Carranza’s forces continued, and the United States and Mexico teetered on the brink of war.

On June 21, the Americans fought the last major engagement of the Punitive Expedition—against Carranza’s troops rather than Villa’s men. At the Battle of Carrizal, Troops C and K of the 10th Cavalry lost 12 killed, 10 wounded, and 24 captured in fierce fighting with more than 300 Mexican soldiers. Troops of the 11th Cavalry rescued the prisoners four days later, and Pershing reported 42 Mexicans killed and 51 wounded. Furious, he requested permission to attack the Mexican force, but President Wilson, wishing to avoid war, declined. On January 8, 1917, Wilson ordered American troops to withdraw from Mexico.

U.S. General John J. Pershing attacked by Mexican troops

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On June 21, 1916, Mexican troops attacked the United States expeditionary force under General Pershing. From the article:

"The controversial U.S. military expedition against Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa brings the United States and Mexico closer to war when Mexican government troops attack U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing’s force at Carrizal, Mexico. The Americans suffered 22 casualties, and more than 30 Mexicans were killed. Against the protests of Venustiano Carranza’s government, Pershing had been penetrating deep into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa. After routing the small Mexican force at Carrizal, the U.S. expedition continued on its southern course.

In 1914, following the resignation of Mexican leader Victoriano Huerta, Pancho Villa and his former revolutionary ally Venustiano Carranza battled each other in a struggle for succession. By the end of 1915, Villa had been driven north into the mountains, and the U.S. government recognized General Carranza as the president of Mexico."

U.S. General John J. Pershing attacked by Mexican troops

In January 1916, to protest President Woodrow Wilson’s support for Carranza, Villa executed 16 U.S. citizens at Santa Isabel in northern Mexico. Then, on March 9, he ordered a raid on the border town of Columbus, New Mexico, in which 17 Americans were killed and the center of town was burned. Cavalry from the nearby Camp Furlong U.S. Army outpost pursued the Mexicans, killing several dozen rebels on U.S. soil and in Mexico before turning back. On March 15, under orders from President Wilson, U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing launched a punitive expedition into Mexico to capture or kill Villa and disperse his rebels. The expedition eventually involved some 10,000 U.S. troops and personnel. It was the first U.S. military operation to employ mechanized vehicles, including automobiles and airplanes.

For 11 months, Pershing failed to capture the elusive revolutionary, who was aided by his intimate knowledge of the terrain of northern Mexico and his popular support from the people there. Meanwhile, resentment over the U.S. intrusion into Mexican territory led to a diplomatic crisis with the government in Mexico City. On June 21, the crisis escalated into violence when Mexican government troops attacked a detachment of the 10th Cavalry at Carrizal. If not for the critical situation in Europe, war might have been declared. In January 1917, having failed in their mission to capture Villa, and under continued pressure from the Mexican government, the Americans were ordered home.

Pancho Villa continued his guerrilla activities in northern Mexico until Adolfo de la Huerta took over the government and drafted a reformist constitution. Villa entered into an amicable agreement with Huerta and agreed to retire from politics. In 1920, the government pardoned Villa, but three years later he was assassinated in Parral.

The Last Time the U.S. Invaded Mexico

In the early 1900s, Woodrow Wilson was plagued by our Southern neighbor’s “bad hombres.” Trying to interfere got him nowhere.

Joshua Zeitz has taught American history and politics at Cambridge University and Princeton University and is the author of Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln's Image. He is currently writing a book on the making of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Follow him @joshuamzeitz.

In an extraordinary telephone conversation this week, President Donald Trump purportedly scolded Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto for his failure to rein in his country’s criminal gangs and drug lords. According to The Associated Press, which claims to be in possession of a partial transcript of the conversation, Trump accused Peña Nieto of harboring “a bunch of bad hombres down there” and warned: “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

It’s hard to know really where to begin—or whether to take the president’s bluster at face value. (The White House insists he was joking.) Mexico is an ally, a neighbor and a key trading partner. An invasion would constitute a declaration of war (what’s more, it would complicate spring break plans for any number of college sophomores with pre-booked flights to Cancun).

If Trump really wants to meddle in Mexico’s affairs, he might think back 100 years, when another United States president, Woodrow Wilson, sent the Army across the Rio Grande to hunt down another group of “bad hombres.” The excursion was a disaster and an embarrassment, cut short only by America’s entry into World War I.

The takeaway for Trump: Don’t start a land war with an ally and neighbor that you can’t likely win.

When Wilson took office in 1913, he inherited a chaotic diplomatic relationship with Mexico. Two years earlier, the country’s longtime head of state, Porfirio Díaz, had been deposed. Over three decades in power, Díaz had been strongly aligned with American economic interests, which came to control 90 percent of Mexico’s mineral resources, its national railroad, its oil industry and, increasingly, its land. Resentful of the “peaceful invasion” from their northern neighbors, in 1911 middle-class and landless Mexicans overthrew Díaz and installed a noted public intellectual and reform champion, Francisco Madero, in the presidency. Not long after, the military, under the leadership of General Victoriano Huerta, deposed and executed Madero.

Displaying his deep piety and moral conviction, Wilson declared that he would never “recognize a government of butchers” and declared his intent to “teach” Mexico “a lesson by insisting on the removal of Huerta.” To that end, he sent two personal envoys to Mexico City to instruct the country’s political leaders—“for her own good”—to insist on Huerta’s resignation. The mission fared poorly. For one, the envoys—William Bayard Hale, a journalist, and John Lind, a local politician from Minnesota—spoke not a word of Spanish. Lind privately regarded Mexicans as “more like children than men” and conducted himself accordingly, to the detriment of the mission.

Having failed at diplomacy, in 1914 Wilson seized upon a minor diplomatic scuffle (Mexican authorities had briefly detained U.S. sailors who had debarked their ship) as a “psychological moment” that justified sending a small invasion force to “help” Mexico “adjust her unruly house,” as the president’s chief aide explained. Unsurprisingly, the local populace was less than appreciative of the gesture. Crying “Vengeance! Vengeance! Vengeance!” Mexican civilians attacked several U.S. consulates and exchanged blows with the “pigs of Yanquilandia.” Nineteen Americans and 200 Mexicans died before the invading Army finally gained control of the city of Veracruz.

With Americans planted firmly on Mexican soil, Venustiano Carranza, a constitutionalist who was nominally friendly toward the Wilson administration, replaced Huerta. (Wilson regarded Carranza as a “fool,” but he tolerated his regime.) But Carranza faced challenged in consolidating power. In the south, populist chieftain Emiliano Zapata effectively controlled local government and law enforcement in the north, Francisco “Pancho” Villa, a former landowner-turned-military general with a flair for the dramatic, held sway.

At first, Villa sought to align himself with Wilson, but as his grasp on power became more tenuous, he sought to raise additional resources by taxing American corporations and through general banditry. He took matters a step too far when his forces confiscated the sprawling Mexican ranch of American publisher William Randolph Hearst and briefly invaded a New Mexico border town, crying “Viva Villa! Viva Mexico!”

Incensed, Wilson raised a “punitive expedition” of 10,000 soldiers under the direction of General John J. Pershing. Equipped with all the modern trappings of war—reconnaissance aircraft, Harley Davidson motorcycles—the invading army searched high and low for Villa. It was like finding “a needle in a haystack,” Pershing would soon complain. Though Villa’s forces continued to plunder and maraud, the Americans proved incapable of finding and capturing the rebel leader. When Villa surfaced briefly in Glenn Springs, Texas, with his troops, only to disappear soon thereafter, the Wilson administration was left mortified and bereft of an explanation.

American entry into the Great War allowed Wilson and Pershing to save face. In February 1917 the expedition returned to American soil. Within weeks, Pershing sailed for Europe to command the nation’s war effort.

One hundred years after the Americans limped back across the Texas-Mexican border, Trump has raised the possibility that the United States government will once again invade its neighbor.

For Trump, history offers certain lessons.

First, choose a personal representative to the Mexican government who can speak fluent Spanish—or, even better, who understands how to conduct diplomacy. In both regards, Jared Kushner is probably not the man for the mission.

Second, if he does launch an invasion, he should not expect to be met with roses. America’s military in 1917 was small and ill-equipped, but relative to Pancho Villa’s army, it was a formidable fighting machine. This advantage did little good in the face of widespread guerrilla resistance to American imperialism.

Whether one takes the president seriously or literally—or neither, or both—the very fact that he threatened to invade our neighbor to the south constitutes a stunning provocation. Time will only tell whether he finds it necessary to de-escalate tensions with Mexico, if only to focus on a new, more foreboding enemy: Australia.

A Silent Retreat?

German and Austrian resistance crumbled before the onslaught. Within two days, American forces had cleared the salient, establishing a line less than 10 miles from Metz, the German-held city and crucial crossroads. The attackers seized more than 400 artillery pieces and 700 machine guns, along with 16,000 prisoners. The Americans suffered 7,000 casualties. In truth, the Yanks were lucky. Although well planned and executed, the assault was carried out against a phantom enemy. Knowing that the St. Mihiel salient was an easy target and sensing that American forces were massing in the south for some sort of offensive, General Erich Ludendorff, the German commander on the Western Front, had begun quietly withdrawing troops from the sector two days earlier.

French Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme Allied commander, had tried unsuccessfully to prevent the St. Mihiel attack from happening in the first place. The day he turned over command of the sector to General Pershing, Foch visited his headquarters and proposed that the attack be drastically scaled back and that American reserves be dispatched to the Aisne sector. This was the revival of an old scheme, advocated by the British as well as the French, in which American troops would be dispersed piecemeal among Allied forces. The Allies initially demanded that the Americans simply be used as replacements for battered British and French units.

Perspectives on the Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution began quietly on November 20, 1910, when Francisco I. Madero issued a manifesto calling for the overthrow of the military dictator Porfirio Diaz who had ruled the country for three decades. Madero had been defeated in a rigged presidential election and wrote from exile in the United States. Few people seemed to notice his manifesto. But two of his followers, Pancho Villa and Pasqual Orozco, took up arms in the northern state of Chihuahua and began attacking federal troops. A year and a half later, the rebels captured the large port city of Ciudad Juarez and suddenly the regional rebellion blossomed into a national revolution. Diaz resigned in May 1911.

Over the next two decades, the country endured intense political upheaval and widespread violence. Madero was overthrown and executed in 1913 by the military dictator Victoriano Huerto, who was himself overthrown the next year by revolutionaries who then turned to fighting each other. This pattern continued into the 1930s: short-lived regimes ended in assassination and rebellion, with no mechanism for peaceful succession. Historian William H. Beezley writes that “one in seven of the nation’s population died in the fighting, from wounds, or from disease or deprivation or fled into exile as a result of the revolution in just the decade after 1910 (nearly two million people in all).”

The revolutionaries themselves were a diverse group, representing different class and ethnic backgrounds, including subsistence farmers, small-scale ranchers and miners, and craftsmen. But, as Beezley explains, they shared the goal of limiting the economic and political power of foreigners and Mexico City elites. They sought “to create a nation that offered social mobility to all its citizens, the opportunity to participate in their government, the prospect of economic justice, and the promise of legal equality.” The decades of revolution and civil war brought the nation closer to these goals, though at great human cost.

The documents that follow offer different perspectives on the meaning and experience of the revolution. Many of these sources were created by people who lived through or participated in the revolution. A number of the authors are American and reflect the United States’ deep political and economic involvement in the affairs of its neighbor to the south. For additional sources on the history and culture of Mexico, see Caste and Politics in the Struggle for Mexican Independence and Art and Exploration in the American West and Mexico.

  • What social conditions and conflicts contributed to the revolution? How do the writers and artists represented in this collection explain their support of or opposition to the revolution?
  • How did the United States seek to influence events in Mexico? How did Americans in Mexico represent their experience of the revolution?
  • How did Mexican artists respond to the revolution? What visual record did they create of the people who led and participated in the war?

Picturesque Mexico

In the decades leading to the revolution, Mexico attracted a large number of foreign visitors. President Porfirio Diaz encouraged foreign investment in the country’s natural resources and Great Britain and the United States, in particular, had significant financial interests in Mexico. Mexico also held, in the words of the English author Ethel Tweedie, a reputation for “history, romance, picturesqueness, beauty.” The photographs below offer visual testimony to the beauty of Mexico’s urban and rural landscapes at the start of the twentieth century.

The first photograph is from Tweedie’s biography of Diaz, the military dictator who was defeated by Francisco I. Madero’s supporters in April 1911 in the second year of the revolution. Tweedie writes glowingly of Diaz as “a great ruler, the maker of a nation, just a fine, strong, handsome man.”

Subsequent photographs appeared in a book by Walther Staub and Hugo Brehme, published in the mid-1920s, fifteen years into the revolution. While the work is largely concerned with Mexico’s topography and natural resources, Staub takes time in his preface to describe Diaz as “Mexico’s greatest statesman” who brought 33 years of peace and the highest economic development to the country. The photographer, Brehme, was born in Germany in 1882. He arrived in Mexico in 1906 and spent the rest of his life there. The market portrayed in the last photograph is in Amecameca, a town in central Mexico that was known as a Zapatista stronghold.

Mexican legislator Ramón Prida offers an account of the complicated social conditions, particularly in the countryside, that underlie these “picturesque” photographs. Writing in 1913, Prida was deeply critical of both the “iron hand” of the Diaz regime and the “catastrophe” of the revolution, as his title—From Despotism to Anarchy—suggests. In the passage below, Prida analyzes “the agrarian problem,” that is, the concentration of wealth and land in the hands of a few.

  1. Examine the photographs of Mexico City and of rural Mexico. What makes these scenes “picturesque” or beautiful? How would they compare to the landscapes that these authors and photographers would have known from England, the United States, and Europe?
  2. What do the photographs suggest about the differences between urban and rural life in Mexico in the first decades of the twentieth century?
  3. How does Prida portray the agricultural population in Mexico? Why does he write that renters, like Indians, don’t actually want land, even though they ask for it? What is his tone? How would you characterize Prida’s perspective or biases based on this passage?
  4. Why does Prida write, “it is an undeniable fact that the laborer is exploited”? What are the conditions of the agricultural workers’ exploitation?

Mapping the War

The Chicago-based mapmaking and printing company Rand McNally published this representation of the Mexican Revolution in 1914. That year, revolutionary leaders, including Emilio Zapata, Pancho Villa, and Venustiano Carranza, organized as the Constitutionalists and overthrew the military dictator Victoriano Huerto. During the two years that followed, Constitutionalist leaders fought with each other and the revolution developed into a civil war. The United States military became increasingly involved, invading Mexico in 1916 at Vera Cruz and Tampico and pursuing Villa through the state of Chihuahua.

Although we more commonly associate Rand McNally with road and railway maps, the map below identifies the locations of U.S. and Mexican warships, forts, and garrisons as well as the geographic regions associated with each Constitutionalist leader.

  1. Locate the regions on the map that are associated with specific Constitutionalist leaders. How many are there? Which regions do they control?
  2. Identify U.S. forts and warships on the map. Where are they located? What does the map tell you about U.S. military strategy?

The U.S. Presence

The United States had strong economic interests in Mexico before 1910. Once the revolution began, President Woodrow Wilson’s administration tried to influence events to protect these interests and the large number of U.S. citizens in Mexico. The documents below reference two especially notorious instances of U.S. intervention: First, in 1913, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, plotted with Victoriano Huerta in his successful coup against the democratically-elected Francisco I. Madero. Huerta established a harsh military dictatorship. Woodrow Wilson soon turned against him and recalled Henry Lane Wilson from his diplomatic post. Second, U.S. General John J. Pershing led 10,000 U.S. troops hundreds of miles into Mexico in an unsuccessful quest to capture Pancho Villa. The United States had backed Villa in 1913 and 1914 and provided him with weapons. But in 1916, after the Constitutionalists defeated Huerta and turned to fighting each other, the United States shifted its support to Carranza. In retaliation, Villa and his soldiers attacked the border town of Columbus, New Mexico. The United States then ordered Pershing’s “punitive expedition” against Villa. (Soon after, Pershing became famous for his military leadership in World War I.)

In the selection of texts below, American writer Edith O’Shaughnessy provides an account of her experiences in Mexico under the Huerto regime. O’Shaughnessy was married to a U.S. diplomat, Nelson O’Shaughnessy, and lived among Mexico’s foreign elite. She and her family fled Mexico when the Constitutionalists overthrew Huerta in 1914. In the book’s forward, written from the safety of New York, O’Shaughnessy laments the damage the war has inflicted on Mexico: “As for beautiful Mexico—her industries are dead, her lands laid waste, her sons and daughters in exile.”

In contrast, Mexican legislator Ramón Prida criticizes U.S. military interventions in Mexico. Prida spent some years in exile in the United States and returned to Mexico after the revolution. The final document is an excerpt from General Pershing’s report on the punitive expedition into Chihuahua in pursuit of Pancho Villa.

  1. How does Edith O’Shaughnessy portray life in Mexico under Huerta’s rule? In what ways does ordinary life seem to continue and in what ways does she observe the impact of the war?
  2. How would you characterize O’Shaughnessy’s relationship to Mexican people? What evidence is there to suggest that her experiences, as a wealthy foreigner and the wife of diplomat, are quite different from those of ordinary citizens?
  3. How does O’Shaughnessy describe the two sides of the conflict (Huerta’s federal troops and the Constitutionalist rebels) and the violence that each inflicts?
  4. According to Prida, what have been the reasons for U.S. intervention in Mexico? What does Prida criticize and what does he find to praise about U.S. policy toward Mexico? Why does “the spectre of U.S. intervention…strike terror to all Mexican politicians”?
  5. Why does Pershing instruct U.S. commanders “to convince all Mexicans that the only purpose of this expedition is to assist in apprehending and capturing Villa and his bandits”? What other purposes might Mexicans suspect the U.S. troops of?
  6. Examine Pershing’s account of the Guerrero fight. What light does it shed on Villa’s actions and on popular sentiment toward the American soldiers?

Portraits of the Revolution

The images below suggest the rich visual culture—and dramatic figures—associated with the Mexican Revolution. José Guadalupe Posada was a popular artist in Mexico City in the decades leading up to the Mexican Revolution. His engravings appeared on thousands of broadsides that circulated throughout the streets of Mexico City. The broadsides often responded to current events and scandals and served as a kind of pictorial journalism. Posada died in 1913, but his engraved plates continued to be printed throughout the twentieth century. These examples were printed in Mexico City in 1943.

Miguel Covarrubias was a Mexican-born artist and writer who lived in New York in the 1920s and became known for the skillful caricatures that he published in magazines such as the New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Covarrubias created the drawings below to accompany American Frank Tannenbaum’s 1933 history of the Mexican Revolution, Peace by Revolution. Tannenbaum’s book was the first to interpret the revolution as a populist, agrarian, and nationalist movement by rural citizens to free themselves from the elitist Díaz regime.

Posada’s and Covarrubias’s illustrations call attention to some of the revolutionary personalities and figures that caught the imagination of people in both Mexico and the United States. The first photograph below shows revolutionary leaders, including Venustiano Carranza, Francisco I. Madero, and Francisco (Pancho) Villa, meeting in Ciudad Juarez in May 1911. Rebel troops had just defeated General Porfirio Diaz’s federal troops to capture the city. The Treaty of Ciudad Juarez led to Diaz’s resignation at the end of the month and enabled Madero’s election as president later that year.

Covarrubias’s drawings capture two of the most mythologized and controversial leaders of the revolution: Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Zapata lived in the southern state of Morelos, where many people endured brutal working conditions on large sugar cane plantations controlled by hacendados, or wealthy landowners. He and his supporters suffered and also inflicted terrible violence, particularly under the military dictator Huerta, who ordered his troops to wipe out the peasant population of Morelos. Villa began life as a bandit in the northern state of Durango, but proved himself a brilliant military tactician during the revolution. Both men were popular heroes and, in 1914, famously joined forces and led their troops into Mexico City together. But neither wanted to rule the country and both came into conflict with Carranza after the Constitutionalist victory. Zapata was assassinated on Carranza’s orders in 1919. Villa was assassinated in 1923 on the orders of then-President Álvaro Obregón.

Finally, a number of the images below feature soldaderas, a term that could refer either to women soldiers or to “camp followers,” women who travelled with troops and provided food, ammunition, and medical care. Historian Andrés Fuentes argues that federal armies under Diaz and Huerta as well as northern Constitutionalist forces relied heavily on women who accompanied the troops and provided essential support. Some of these women joined the armies voluntarily, out of ideological commitments, or for protection, or to remain close to their families. Others were conscripted or abducted into service. Female fighters participated in all of the revolutionary armies, often dressed as men, and were the subject of great fascination and sensationalist reporting in Mexico and the United States.

  1. Describe the men portrayed in the photograph of revolutionary leaders at Ciudad Juarez. How are they dressed? What differences do you notice in their appearances? How do they seem to relate to one another?
  2. Examine Posada’s engravings. How do they portray the war and, specifically, the revolutionary soldiers? How would you characterize the style of these engravings? What is their tone or mood? Do they seem to express support for one side or another in the revolution? Why do you think they were popular at the time?
  3. How does Covarrubias portray the leaders and fighters of the revolution for Tannenbaum’s book? Compare his illustrations to Posada’s and the Brown Brothers’ photograph.
  • Revolutionary Guarding Land, 1933
  • Women Soldiers, 1933
  • General Zapata, 1933
  • Pershing’s Mexican Expedition, 1916
  • Atlas of Mexican Conflict, 1914
  • American Policy, 1914
  • Market in Amecameca, 1925
  • Baking Tortillas, 1925
  • Mexican Village Street, 1925
  • Zapatista, 1943
  • Four Zapatistas Executed, 1943
  • Mexican Revolutionary Leaders, 1911
  • The Agrarian Problem, 1914
  • Woman Soldier, 1943
  • Diplomat’s Wife in Mexico, 1916
  • Mexico City, 1906
  • Mexican Farm Laborers, 1925
  • General Villa, 1933

Selected Sources

Beezley, William H. “Revolution: 1910–1946.” In Mexico in World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 104–119.

Fuentes, Andrés Reséndez. “Battleground Women: Soldaderas and Female Soldiers in the Mexican Revolution.” The Americas 51, No. 4 (April 1995): 525–553.

When Terrorists First Attacked the U.S.

A hundred years ago this month, the nation was blindsided by the first act of terrorism on U.S. soil—at the hands of Mexican troops commanded by the revolutionary Pancho Villa.

Mitchell Yockelson

John Mitchell/Alamy

It has been 100 years since the first act of terror on U.S. soil was committed by revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa. On March 9, 1916, Villa and more than 400 heavily-armed mounted bandits crossed the Mexican border and attacked Columbus, New Mexico. The Villistas caught the town of 350 inhabitants, plus a garrison of 553 troops from the 13th U.S. Cavalry, completely by surprise. “I was awake, they were asleep,” he later bragged, “and it took them too long to wake up.”

For almost two hours Villa’s men ransacked the town’s hotel, its few stores, and adobe houses before the cavalry chased them back across the border. Left behind on Columbus’s dusty streets lay eight dead civilians and 10 American soldiers, and several others wounded. The Villistas took greater losses, between one and two hundred men, some killed during a cavalry skirmish 30 miles deep into Mexico.

Villa’s raid was an act of terrorism and the first of its kind conducted on U.S. soil. Unprovoked, his men gunned down innocent Americans and destroyed their property. Although the death toll pales in comparison with the 9/11 attacks or the recent Paris mass shootings, the American public was stunned and demanded immediate retribution, fearing Villa was on a rampage with plans to massacre other border towns. President Woodrow Wilson, a reluctant warrior, was in the midst of a re-election campaign that pledged to keep America out of the war in Europe. A war with Mexico was now a possibility and he had to act.

Villa never said why he orchestrated the attack, but his hatred for America was no secret. He was angered that the Wilson administration formally backed Villa’s chief political rival, Governor Venustiano Carranza. Seeking revenge three months before the Columbus raid, his Villistas murdered 18 Americans on board a Mexico train. Wilson ignored the episode and did nothing.

Yet, a day after Columbus was hit, Wilson needed to look strong and ordered his new secretary of war, Newton D. Baker, to send an armed force into Mexico. A week later, a punitive expedition of more than 14,000 troops under the command of Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing, including aide Lt. George S. Patton, headed to Mexico in pursuit of Villa.

Today, Pancho Villa is more associated with a slew of Mexican restaurants that bear his name than his true legacy as a cold-blooded killer. Villa was not a folk hero as some would like to believe, but a violent terrorist whose actions remind us of the atrocities committed by ISIS a century later.

Pancho Villa and around four hundred men raided Columbus, New Mexico, on March 9, 1916, and tangled with the 13th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, who were garrisoned nearby. Villa supporters had been terrorizing Americans in Mexico and conducting border raids for the past year in retaliation for the U.S. backing of President Venustiano Carranza, with whom Villa was embroiled in a civil war. The day after Villa’s invasion, President Wilson “directed that an armed force be sent into Mexico with the sole purpose of capturing Villa and preventing any further raids by his band, and with scrupulous regard to the sovereignty of Mexico.”

Secretary of War Baker, who had just arrived in Washington and knew little about the Army’s field officers, asked his general staff to recommend an expedition leader. Army chief of staff Major General Hugh L. Scott and his assistant, Major General Tasker H. Bliss, put Pershing’s name forward, and Baker selected him. The other possibility was Major General Frederick Funston, a Medal of Honor recipient and commander of the Southern Department out of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Funston outranked Pershing and seemed the obvious choice, but reports that he drank too much ruined his chances. Pershing also had more experience working directly with civilians than any other officer, and that comforted Baker.

Out of all his Army assignments, commanding the Mexican Punitive Expedition was the most difficult. Capturing Villa would be hard enough, considering the bandit knew the terrain better than Pershing and had many allies willing to protect him, but entering Mexico and not inciting its army into a full-scale war would be another challenge. Just after midnight on March 18, 1916, Pershing and the Mexican Punitive Expedition brought the U.S. Army into the modern era of warfare. Accompanying the 12,000 Regulars were motorized supply trucks, Signal Corps communication equipment, and some airplanes. Pershing split his army into two columns and headed toward the town of Casa Grandes, 100 miles south of Columbus. A supply base was established at Colonia Dublán and this is where Pershing made his headquarters.

Four weeks into the operation, Pershing’s Punitive Expedition had pushed 350 miles into Mexico without snagging Villa, although there had been several skirmishes with his Villistas. On March 29, 1916, 370 troopers from the 7th Cavalry Regiment clashed with Villa’s bandits at San Geronimo ranch near the town of Guerrero. Seventy-five Villistas were killed and five Americans wounded. Villa escaped unharmed it was the closest Pershing’s men would get to capturing him. On April 12, a squadron of the 13th Cavalry entered the town of Parral, 400 miles from the border, where they were swarmed by an angry crowd. Wisely, squadron commander Major Frank Tompkins tried to leave town and was attacked in the process by the local Carranzistas (the name given to Carranza’s military forces). Tompkins engaged the Mexicans, and after more American cavalry arrived throughout the day, the outnumbered Carranzistas withdrew. Two Americans died and six were wounded during the standoff. There were many more Mexican casualties, although the exact number is disputed.

Frustrated by failing to locate Villa’s whereabouts and fighting Mexican troops in the process, Pershing’s men grew tired and aggravated. Cavalry regiments were overly exhausted because much of the landscape they traversed was mountainous and troopers often had to lead the horses on foot. Mexican villagers added to the misery. Pershing ordered his men to treat them with respect and purchase their goods at fair prices, as he had done with the Moros. But locals didn’t reciprocate the kindness and snubbed the Americans when asked for help finding Villa. Even more distressing was the Carranza government, which had reluctantly permitted the expedition into Mexican territory under pressure from Wilson but now hoped the Americans would go away.

Pershing thought the 1st Aero Squadron, with its eight Curtiss JN-3 (Jennys) airplanes, led by Captain Benjamin Foulois, could help spot the bandit. He was mistaken. One of the planes crashed on its maiden flight from Columbus to Colonia Dublán, and the other planes either couldn’t fly much above the treetops, or suffered from broken propellers, among other failures. Pershing lamented that the “aeroplanes have been of no material benefit… either in scouting or as a means of communication. They have not at all met my expectations.”

On June 21, the last major battle of the expedition involved Pershing’s old regiment, the 10th Cavalry. Once again the enemy was not the Villistas but the Mexican Army. Eleven American soldiers were killed in a skirmish at Carrizal, including the commander of Troop C, Captain Charles Boyd, when the regiment entered the village without approval from the local Carranzista commander. Pershing wanted to retaliate by attacking the Carranzista garrison at Chihuahua, but President Wilson rejected his order for fear it would lead to war between the United States and Mexico and requested that the commander now cease hostile activity. Pershing obeyed and agreed that he would stand down until further notice. Despite the lack of progress and frustrations over equipment failures, Pershing kept his composure and remained professional throughout the expedition. This is apparent in one of the iconic photographs taken of him at the time. Pershing is captured sitting confidently on his horse. A “Montana Peak” campaign hat rests just above his ears, while he wears a crisp shirt and perfectly knotted tie.

Patton saw his first combat during the Punitive Expedition. For the first couple of months he served under Pershing’s watchful eye as his aide. Patton tended to scheduling, ordering supplies, and any other administrative task he was told to do. All the while he observed Pershing’s command style, and wanted so badly to emulate him. As one of Patton’s biographers put it, “Pershing’s influence on young Patton cannot be overemphasized. He was the very model of a military commander, whose ideas of duty and discipline meshed perfectly with Patton’s own conception.” Pershing, too, appreciated the young lieutenant for his energy, ambition, and hunger for action that reminded Black Jack of himself when he had first started out. He brought Patton along during morning horseback rides, and they slowly developed a strong bond. Pershing saw that Patton longed for adventure, and occasionally sent him out in the field as a courier. Besides these small excursions, however, Patton remained at headquarters, helping his boss to keep the expedition organized.

After weeks of little movement, and with Villa and his band still on the loose, Pershing received a credible tip in early May 1916 that General Julio Cárdenas, Villa’s trusted bodyguard, was holed up in the vicinity of Rubio. Capturing Cárdenas would be a major coup for Pershing, and Patton wanted to take part in the score. Patton made his pitch Pershing bought it and temporarily assigned his aide to Troop C of the 13th Cavalry. At daybreak one morning the regiment went looking for Cárdenas. They searched the San Miquelito Ranch, where the Cárdenas family was supposedly living, but only an uncle and some other relative were home. From there the troop scoured the surrounding countryside, but came up empty-handed. Patton was disappointed and vowed to return to the ranch.

His chance came a couple of weeks later when Pershing dispatched three Dodge touring automobiles and loaded them with Patton, ten soldiers from the 6th Infantry, and a couple of civilian guides to purchase corn from a farmer in Rubio. After buying the feed, Patton seized the moment, sending the party to the San Miquelito Ranch, where he hoped Cárdenas had returned from his hideout. Patton ordered the soldiers to surround the dwelling and prepare for a fight. As they crouched with their guns at the ready, three Mexicans ran out the door. The Americans opened fire, killing two of them, including Cárdenas. More shots rang out and a third Mexican was felled. There is no way to tell if the bullets from either Patton’s rifle or ivory-handled Colt 1873 single action .45-caliber revolver killed any of the men. But Patton is credited with initiating the operation and he couldn’t wait to tell Pershing, who had no idea what his aide and the other men were up to. Lieutenant Patton and his party rushed back to headquarters with the corpses of the dead Mexicans tied to the hoods of their cars. Patton also carried away Cárdenas’s silver-studded saddle and sword as war trophies, which Pershing allowed him to keep. News of Patton’s feat blazed in the headlines of newspapers in the United States, which proclaimed him the “Bandit Killer.”

From FORTY-SEVEN DAYS: How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I by Mitchell Yockelson. Reprinted by arrangement with New American Library, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Mitchell Yockelson.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Miguel A. Levario, &ldquoEl Paso Race Riot of 1916,&rdquo Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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The Pershing Chinese

In March, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing to lead an expedition into Mexico to punish Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary whose troops crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. Chinese merchants set up camps to supply the soldiers, angering a native-born populace who already resented and feared the Chinese. In danger of retribution, 2,500 Mexican civilians, including 527 Chinese, accompanied Pershing when he returned to the U.S. in February 1917.

Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), which banned Chinese immigration into the United States, Pershing had to request special permission to bring the Chinese across the border. They began to live adjacent to the base at Columbus. In June 1917, most of the group was moved to San Antonio, where they served as laborers, carpenters and cooks at Camp Wilson (Camp Travis), Fort Sam Houston and Kelly Field in preparation for World War I. The worked admirably and at night attended an English school established by William Page, civilian advisor for the immigrants.

To prevent deportation of the refugees after World War I, Page and General Pershing, with the help of a law firm, developed a plan to ask Congress to take action in giving the immigrants permanent resident status. Congress passed Public Resolution Paid Advertisement

29 in 1921 and in January 1922, the Immigration Service began registering Chinese refugees in San Antonio as permanent residents of the United States. About half stayed in San Antonio, with many opening businesses. Maintaining identity through church, school, and ethnic organizations, the refugees became the base of San Antonio's Chinese community, which today remains one of the largest in Texas.

Erected 2009 by Texas Historical Commission. (Marker Number 16246.)

Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Asian Americans &bull Government & Politics &bull Settlements & Settlers &bull War, World I. A significant historical month for this entry is January 1922.

Location. 29° 26.866′ N, 98° 26.617′ W. Marker is in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in Bexar County. Marker is at the intersection of Wilson Street and Road S-22, on the right when traveling east on Wilson Street. Marker is in a field on the south side of the road. There is no parking close to the marker. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Jbsa Ft Sam Houston TX 78234, United States of America. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Tether Wall (approx. 1.2 miles away) M-1905 Field Gun (approx. 1.2 miles away) M-56 Howitzer 105mm Towed (Yugoslavia) (approx. 1.2 miles away) Ft. Sam Houston Quadrangle and Staff Post Paid Advertisement

(approx. 1.2 miles away) M-48 Medium Tank 90mm "Patton" (approx. 1.2 miles away) M-59 Armored Personnel Carrier (approx. 1.3 miles away) Bullis House (approx. 1.3 miles away) Sam Houston House (approx. 1.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Fort Sam Houston.

More about this marker. Fort Sam Houston is an active military installation. Appropriate identification is required for access.

Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on July 15, 2015, by Lee Hattabaugh of Capshaw, Alabama. This page has been viewed 740 times since then and 33 times this year. Photo 1. submitted on July 15, 2015, by Lee Hattabaugh of Capshaw, Alabama. &bull Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.

Editor&rsquos want-list for this marker. Wide shot of marker and its surroundings. &bull Can you help?