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Pancho Villa

[vE' yah] bandit chieftain

Pancho Villa

Doroteo Arangio was born in Río Grande, Zacatecas, Mexico, in 1877, and spent his early years in Durango. At the age of 16 he killed a man who had raped his younger sister, and from that time forward was a wanted man. He changed his name to Francisco Villa, but was almost always called Pancho Villa by his comrades.

By the age of 20, Villa was in Chihuahua, working as a miner in Parral. He soon tired of laboring, however, and took up cattle rustling and bank robbery. By 1900 he had amassed a fairly sizable band of bandits around him, with a base in the Sierras.

Over the next few years Villa occupied himself with establishing control over northern Mexico. He financed his "army" by stealing from cattle herds in northern Mexico and selling the beef in the United States. He became a sort of Robin Hood among the peasantry by breaking up vast land holdings and parcelling them out to the widows and orphans of his "soldiers."

In 1910, Villa and his men joined forces with Francisco I. Madero in the fight against President Porfírio Díaz. Villa recruited an army of thousands (known as the Divisíon del Norte), including a large number of Americans, and helped Madero overthrow Díaz in 1911.

After Madero was killed in a coup engineered by Victoriano Huerta in 1913, Villa joined Venustiano Carranza and his Constitutionalist forces in their fight against Huerta, who was subsequently forced to resign in 1914.

The antipathy and suspicion that existed between Villa and Carranza became open hostility soon after their common enemy, Huerta, was out of power. Villa occupied Mexico City in December 1914, but evacuated the city in January 1915. In April 1915, Villa's army was attacked and defeated by Álvaro Obregón, a supporter of Carranza.

The United States encouraged Villa's actions against Huerta, but turned against him once Carranza had assumed power. Villa retaliated by attacking Americans in Mexico. On March 9, 1916, some of his men (and, possibly, Villa himself) raided Columbus, New Mexico, and killed sixteen persons. President Woodrow Wilson responded by sending General John J. Pershing into Mexico in pursuit of Villa. The Mexican Expedition pursued Villa through Chihuahua for eleven months (March 1916-February 1917), but failed to capture him, and Pershing finally withdrew.

Pershing's expedition angered many Mexicans and elevated Villa's status in the eyes of most of his countrymen, and he was able to continue his activities throughout northern Mexico with little interference from the government. But after Obregón drove Carranza from power in 1920, the new government of Adolfo de la Huerta decided it was time to end Villa's banditry in order to avoid any future actions by the United States. Villa was given a tract of land in Durango, and retired there on a general's salary. In 1923, he was shot and killed from ambush by enemies.

Mexico Connect

Francisco I. Madero
Porfírio Díaz
President Woodrow Wilson
John J. Pershing

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This page was last updated on 07/20/2018.