Pancho Villa

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Francisco Villa ( nickname Pancho , original name Doroteo Arango Arámbula ; born June 5, 1878 near San Juan del Río , Durango ; † July 20, 1923 in Parral , Chihuahua , Mexico ) was one of the most prominent generals of the Mexican Revolution .

Pancho Villa was given many attributes by enemies and admirers: freedom fighter, guerrillero , outlaw , folk hero , warlord , governor , Hollywood star, general and, last but not least, revolutionary. Villa was a guerrilla commander who fought against the Díaz dictatorship in the Mexican Revolution. After the end of the Mexican Revolution, Villa was portrayed as an icon by the new government, although it was believed that this government had killed him. For loyal followers of the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz was Pancho a bloodthirsty bandit, for the majority of the population at that time, however, the Mexican " Robin Hood ".

Pancho Villa (probably first half of 1911)


Childhood and youth

The early years of the later folk hero Pancho Villa are in the dark. Countless, not infrequently contradicting stories and anecdotes about the first decades of his life make it almost impossible to distinguish the true from the false, the certain from the uncertain or even made up. Friedrich Katz , author of one of the authoritative Villa biographies, distinguishes in connection with the reports not only about Villa's early years, but also his later life, three basic variants, which he calls the "white legend", the "black legend" and the " epic legend ”. The first, which is mainly based on Villa's own memories and communications, depicts him as a victim of Porfiriato , the rule of Porfirio Díaz, which ultimately prevented him from entering a peaceful and peaceful life that he was willing to lead; the second legend is mainly attributable to Villa's enemies and portrays him as a diabolical murderer with no compensatory properties or special human qualities. The third villa legend, in turn, owes its existence mainly to the folk tradition of the revolutionary era, as expressed in numerous ballads and corridos . She portrays Villa as a tireless fighter for the rights of the common man and a towering heroic figure, whose importance in the pre-revolutionary Chihuahua is portrayed far greater than in the other two narrative circles.

A fact in which all of the above narratives agree is that Villa was born in 1878 as the son of Micaela Arámbula and Agustín Arango on the Rancho de la Coyotada south of San Juan del Río , which was one of the largest haciendas in the state of Durango and was owned by the López Negrete family. Villa's parents worked a small piece of land as tenants in kind and named their son José Doroteo Arango Arámbula. After Villa's father died in his early childhood, the mother had to take care of himself and his siblings Antonio, Hipólito, Maríanita and Martina. According to Villa's later account, the truth of which is controversial among historians, "the tragedy of my life" began on September 22, 1894 at the Hacienda de Gogojito, where the family, whose head he became after his father's death, continued to be tenants in kind a meager existence. On returning home from work that day, he witnessed the attempt by Don Agustín López Negrete, “the Lord, the owner of the life and honor of us poor people”, to usurp one of his sisters. Villa Negrete shot angry in the leg. When five armed men from his entourage tried to come to the aid of their master, the latter stopped them from killing the young Doroteo and was brought home. Doroteo used this respite to flee as he was sure that this incident would have consequences for him.

Doroteo Arango fled to the mountains of Durango and from then on led the life of an outlaw. With luck, cunning and trickery, he succeeded several times in escaping the captors who had been sent to catch him. During this time he also changed his name to Francisco ( Pancho ) Villa, as his father was the illegitimate son of a certain Jesús Villa. He also decided to join a gang, realizing that it was too dangerous to try to stay alive alone in the long run. His entry into the gang of the two outlaws Ignacio Parra and Refugio Alvarado not only offered him better chances of survival, but also brought him considerable loot from their raids. According to his stories, Villa used his booty to support his family and the poor, led a sedentary life and returned to life as a bandit when his financial resources were exhausted. Over the years he joined various bandit gangs.

Domestic situation

Under the rule of Porfirio Díaz, the Porfiriato , Mexico opened up to foreign companies, especially US companies, to invest. Díaz's advisors, the Científicos , had studied in Europe or the United States and brought Western European government experience to the table .

In Díaz's second term in office from 1884 onwards, it was relatively calm domestically because large sections of the population of the mestizo and the Indians were oppressed. Apart from foreign companies, only the large landowners benefited from the economic upturn. The motto was: "Orden y Progreso" ("Order and Progress") . Indians and dependent farmers were forced by all means to cede their land to large landowners. In 1910, 1% of Mexico's population owned 96% of the land, and nearly 97% of the rural population did not own land.

US firms dominated most of the economy: mining, oil production, and railroads. The simple Indians were only considered to be second class people. B. do not use the sidewalks. The farm workers, peones , were kept like slaves in some places, although Díaz himself also had indigenous ancestors.

The beginning of Villa's career as a revolutionary leader

Pancho Villas career as Robin Hood of Mexico began around 1900 when he established himself with his followers in the sierras . Between 1900 and 1909 he became the hero of the rural poor. In 1910 Villa joined his political role model Francisco Madero and his revolutionary troops. From Pistoleros revolutionaries. He financed his troops by stealing cattle from the endless pastures in northern Mexico and selling them on the border with the USA or exchanging them for rifles and ammunition.

Madero, a wealthy landowner from Parras, developed the political ideals based on liberalism , democracy and theosophy and advocated free elections . Díaz, however, refused. Thereupon Madero published his work Plan de San Luis Potosí , a document that called for armed resistance against Díaz and was seen as the spiritual core of the Mexican revolution. In 1908 he published the influential book La sucesión presidencial de 1910 , in which he explained the concepts of voting rights and democracy. Together with Villa and the peasant leader Emiliano Zapata , they forced the Díaz government to resign in 1911. Díaz went into exile in Paris .

Francisco Madero became President of Mexico in November 1911, and Villa served under General Victoriano Huerta during the following reign . Taking advantage of his political inexperience, he was used to disarm rebellious groups opposed to Madero's government. These originated on the one hand from the environment of the anarchist Partido Liberal Mexicano and on the other hand from the rural rural population.

In November 1911, the published Zapatistas the Plan de Ayala , a political program, which among other things, land expropriations of farmers - promoted under the Díaz government in favor of large landowners - should be reversed. That meant the expropriation of a third of the land for distribution to landless peasants and the nationalization of all land of the large landowners who oppose this plan.

Following new uprisings and fleeing to the USA

Since Madero did not implement any of the reforms he had called for in his writings, and even ruled with the grace of the "unreformed" army , Villa joined the renewed peasant uprising against Madero. Villa was captured in 1912, first brought before a firing squad, but pardoned by Huerta and instead sentenced to life imprisonment. In prison he met Gildardo Magaña , who taught him reading and writing and introduced Villa to the ideology of anarcho-syndicalism . On Christmas Eve he managed to escape from the military prison in Santiago Tlatelolco in Mexico City. He sawed through the iron bars of his cell while folk songs were sung loudly outside the prison.

He fled to Texas / USA, to a run-down hotel in El Paso . To be on the safe side, in order to avoid spies, his contacts ran through carrier pigeons.

General Félix Díaz , a nephew of Porfirio Díaz, tried to put forward against Madero in the same year. His palace revolt failed and he was arrested. Rebel generals like Manuel Mondragón , Gregorio Ruiz and others. a. continued to forge overturning plans. They freed Félix Díaz from prison. Counter-revolutionary troops tried to take the National Palace. However, the revolt was put down by Madero's loyal government forces outside the palace. Madero trusted General Victoriano Huerta, a pupil of Porfirio Díaz, and appointed him commander in chief of the armed forces.

In February 1913, Victoriano Huerta betrayed his Liberal President Madero. There was an army coup and President Madero was arrested. Huerta took over the presidency on February 19, 1913. Three days later, on February 22nd, Francisco Madero was shot while being transported from the National Palace to the state prison "while on the run".

The new and de facto dictatorial ruler Huerta was opposed by a coalition of almost all revolutionary forces. Their political leader was the governor of Coahuila , Venustiano Carranza . He recognized the usurper Huerta from the right to the presidency, called the people to arms and claimed for himself the post of supreme commander of the "constitutional" or "constitutional" armed forces.

Return to Mexico and new revolutionary struggles

Pancho Villa (3rd from right; 1913)

After Madero's death, Villa returned to Chihuahua with eight companions from exile on the night of March 6, 1913. He had received the necessary money from the governor of Sonora , José María Maytorena , who had also convinced Villa to take up the fight against Huerta in Chihuahua and not in Sonora. However, after his return, Villa met with skepticism. Manuel Chao , Maclovio Herrera Cano , Toribio Ortega Ramírez , Tomás Urbina Reyes and the leaders of the other revolutionary contingents who had formed during his absence to fight the Huerta troops were by no means willing to accept him as sole leader. Villa therefore relocated his military area of ​​operations to the north and northwest of Chihuahua for the time being, which gave him several advantages: firstly, none of the other rebel leaders "contested" this area, secondly, it met with greater popularity there, and thirdly, it made it easier to be close to the United States also the equipment and supply of his still small force.

Like the other rebel leaders, Villa constantly sought to disturb the federales , the federal troops controlled by Huerta. He and his men initially attacked mainly small and isolated garrisons of the Federal Army, which among other things brought him urgently needed weapons and equipment as booty. In May, Villa Saucillo was conquered and in June his riding troop , which had meanwhile grown to around 700 men, took Casas Grandes , a not insignificant town which in March 1911 had already been the scene of a battle between federales and rebels.

Even more than those first victories, Villa's Act of Social Justice increased his popularity among the Chihuahuas. For example, he had corrupt local administrators and hacienda administrators disreputed as “exploiters” unceremoniously executed, the food stores of various haciendas opened - or better: expropriated - and their products distributed in large quantities to poor families in town and country or sold at low prices. By observing strict discipline with his troops, cracking down on all kinds of criminality, ensuring order and security and deliberately avoiding confiscations on American possessions, he also earned the goodwill of various representatives of the United States in Mexico. Villa's rapidly increasing popularity, the willingness of the USA, in his case not to handle the arms embargo imposed on the Mexican rebels as strictly as usual, but also countermeasures by the Huerta regime, which in August 1913, for example, went over to the federal troops by the local Reinforcing the Hacienderos' contingents finally ensured that the other rebel leaders went over to him one after the other and submitted to him with their contingents. One of the first was Toribio Ortega, a peasant leader and shopkeeper from Cuchillo Parado , who commanded around 500 men and was rewarded with a high military command post for submitting himself to Villa. On September 26, 1913, a meeting of the most important rebel leaders of the states of Durango and Chihuahua finally took place in Jiménez , at which it was decided to conquer the important rail junction of Torreón in the state of Coahuila and to entrust Villa with the military high command of the rebel contingents united for this purpose which were to make a name for themselves as División del Norte and were recruited from farmers, miners, former bandits, but also US adventurers.

Villa at the head of his troops near Torreón (photo from 1913 or 1914). It can no longer be determined whether the horse he rides is his legendary stallion Siete Leguas .

With the 6,000 to 8,000 men who were now under his command, Villa commanded one of the largest revolutionary armies that had been set up so far, and on October 1st took the city ​​defended by around 3,000 federales and militiamen . The military equipment that was captured was enough to supply his troops for months. Much more important, however, was that with this conquest of Torreón , Villa became a national celebrity that could no longer be ignored. Torreón marked the transition of Villas from guerrillero to revolutionary leader, who from then on could compete in open field battle with the federal troops of Huerta and whose actions were from then on closely monitored abroad. Around a month after the triumph of Torreón, Villa's cavalry army suffered a serious setback when attempting to take Chihuahua, the heavily fortified capital of the state, which seemed to temporarily call into question what had been achieved so far. Determined to wipe out this gap, to restore his battered prestige as a military leader and the morale of his fighters, Villa quickly directed his army to Ciudad Juarez , which was captured in a surprise attack on the night of November 15-16, 1913. The following counterattack by the Chihuahua garrison was countered by Villas, an army already heavily battered by the previous fighting, at the Tierra Blanca railway junction, around 30 miles south of Ciudad Juarez. The Battle of Tierra Blanca , which began on November 23 and lasted until November 25, ended with an overwhelming victory for the Villistas . It not only brought Villa further large amounts of captured war material, but also secured de facto control of the state of Chihuahua for him. The commander of the demoralized federales , General Salvador R. Mercado (1864–1936) decided to evacuate the capital and withdrew to Ojinaga with the remaining troops including the members of the Chihuahuas oligarchy who were still in the capital , the end 1913 was the only part of the state still controlled by federal troops.

Governor of Chihuahua and culmination of Villa's position of power

After the previous military successes against the federal troops, Villa's army occupied Chihuahua, the capital of the state, on December 1, 1913. In Chihuahua, which had been badly shaken by almost three years of civil war, one of the most urgent tasks was the rebuilding of a civilian government and the re-occupation of the governorship. When the candidate Villa proposed as the new governor was rejected, Villa decided without further ado to take over the office himself. Villa's tenure as governor marked a radical change from the previous policy, which had only minimally curtailed the privileges of the Chihuahuas oligarchs, while hardly touching their possessions. In December, Villa issued a decree with which the properties of the large landowning families, especially those of the hated Terrazas Creel family clan, were expropriated without compensation. The expropriated haciendas were not smashed and their lands were distributed to the landless population, but they were mostly given new administrators. Most of the huge herds of animals belonging to them were sold to the USA, and Villas army used the proceeds to buy urgently needed weapons and other equipment. However, Villa did not dare to undertake a land reform, but rather postponed this problem until after the final victory of the revolution. But he took care of the widows and orphans of his army and let them be. a. supply from the proceeds of the confiscated goods. He also set prices for basic and other foodstuffs, such as B. meat, solid. The properties of US citizens and companies continued to remain exempt from all of his measures, since he had to care about the goodwill of the USA because the country is the most important buyer for its predominantly agricultural products and at the same time the main supplier of the weapons it needs in ever-increasing quantities and ammunition was. In order to be able to conduct his business and ensure payment transactions, Villa also had banknotes printed. The individual notes of this issue bore the inscription “Grail. [= General] Francisco Villa ” and were accepted at a relatively high value both in the areas he controlled and by US dealers and companies. The latter often bought large quantities of these banknotes at “discount prices” so that they could later, ie. H. after Villa's final victory, which seemed just a matter of time before taxes and duties were paid.

Villa's measures had an enormous psychological effect, especially among the lower classes, as it was the first time the government had given them something, as Katz put it. (“ [I] t was the first time ever as far as they could remember that a government had given them anything. ”) They allowed his popularity to reach unprecedented heights and the influx of his army to swell, not least due to the simple fact that a regular supply was ensured there. However, the increased use of the printing press on the one hand and the disappearance of large herds of animals on the other led to a drastic rise in inflation as well as food shortages and bottlenecks of all kinds in the following months. The value of the villa peso fell from around 50 US cents in early 1914 to around 20 cents around the middle of the year - a development that could no longer be brought under control, since the administration of the federal state ultimately failed because of the basic problem of all revolutionary governments, namely to get a worsening economic situation under control with the simultaneous necessity of continued warfare. But when the economic hardship became apparent, Villa had long since resigned his governorship. In the long run his in had personal union functions performed as head of the civil administration and military supreme commander of the División del Norte do not agree namely, he therefore resigned as governor already on 7 January 1914 was just under one-month term of office, given to henceforth again to be able to dedicate himself better to his military tasks.

After American US on January 5, 1914, the Mutual Film Company had signed an agreement, which provided that American filmmakers against cash payment of access to genuine war scenes would get his army, he began the new year of the war with a "cleanup operation" of his División del Norte , who in her war against the dictatorship of Victoriano Huerta had meanwhile submitted to Venustiano Carranza. With the conquest of Ojinaga , the last federal troops still staying in Chihuahua and the members of the oligarchy they were protecting were pushed across the border to the USA and thus forced into exile. A possible threat from the federales from the north was no longer to be feared and the territory of Chihuahua was completely under Villa control. Nothing stood in the way of the advance towards Mexico City , long awaited by domestic and foreign observers .

Detail of the photo showing Pancho Villa (left) and Emiliano Zapata (right) in the presidential palace after they moved into Mexico City.

Since Huerta had not fulfilled the hopes of the United States for a special promotion of their interests in Mexico, they too turned against him. By occupying the port city of Veracruz in April 1914, they cut off his military supplies. After his army had finally suffered a heavy defeat at Zacatecas in June of the same year against the army of Villas, Huerta's position of power could no longer be maintained. In mid-July he left the country by ship for Europe. In the race to move into the capital of Mexico, which Villas División del Norte and Álvaro Obregón's División del Noroeste had delivered, the latter Villa had beaten through a clever move. Due to the continued presence of the superior armed forces of Villas and Zapatas, Obregón decided to vacate Mexico City again, which enabled the latter and their troops to make a triumphant entry. The well-known photo taken on November 28, 1914 of Villa sitting in the presidential chair next to Zapata can be seen as symbolic of Villa's position of power, which has now undoubtedly reached its peak. Ultimately, however, the stay in Mexico City did not bring any useful political results for the two revolutionary heroes. Although they met for a face-to-face meeting, there was no signing of any kind of mutual cooperation agreement or any binding commitments regarding a common strategy between Villistas and Zapatistas - a fact that would prove to be a decisive disadvantage in the war against Carranza which soon began should.

Defeat in the Civil War and enmity with the United States

Villa in uniform; Photo from the time when Villa could be sure of the interest of the general public.

The anti-Huerta coalition, which was politically extremely heterogeneous from the start, collapsed immediately after his overthrow. The divergent ideas of Carranzas, who claimed “executive power” in Mexico after the victory over Huerta, Villas and Zapatas, who both saw themselves as representatives of the interests of the rural lower classes, although only Zapata really wanted a comprehensive agrarian and land reform for his own Clientele aspired, while Villa’s entire political program remained rather vague, could not be agreed. After a conversation between Villa and Obregón had almost ended with Obregón's execution, Villa refused to take part in the convention of governors and generals in Mexico City convened by Carranza for the beginning of October 1914, as well as the negotiations on the entry of the Zapatistas into the camp Carranzas had failed, an armed conflict between Villa and Zapata on the one hand and Carranza on the other was foreseeable. To Carranza's surprise, however, the convention he had convened was not prepared to grant him sole “executive power”. He adjourned to resume his meetings in Aguascalientes . There the convention turned completely against Carranza, confirmed Villa in his position as commander of the revolutionary army he commanded and appointed a provisional president. For his part, Carranza has now declared the Convention's agreements to be invalid and announced that he would continue to function as the highest executive body in Mexico. In the beginning of the new civil war, this time fought between “Conventionists” and “Constitutionalists”, Carranza initially turned against Villa, the strongest of his opponents. On November 19, 1914, Obregón sent him the formal declaration of war through the press in Mexico City.

With the help of Obregón, a rancher who had autodidactically acquired his considerable military skills , Carranza succeeded in a series of bloody battles, among others at Celaya and León , from Villa's División del Norte , initially up to 50,000 strong, until the end of 1915 To drive north and to eliminate it as a supra-regional power factor. Following the European model, Obregón used a combination of the means of war trenches , machine guns and barbed wire . Villa's cavalry attacks were ineffective against his troops, which were protected by ditch systems including barbed wire entrenchments and machine-gun nests. After the end of 1915 a. a. In the battles at Agua Prieta and Hermosillo , Villa's attempt to replenish his troubled army by invading Sonora had failed, he sank back down to the status of a guerrilla leader. The majority of his soldiers accepted Carranza's offer of amnesty and either left the war or joined the ranks of their former opponents. With the remaining men - after the failed Sonoran campaign hardly more than 1,000 men - Villa continued to wage a stubborn guerrilla war against Carranza.

Villa felt an increasing hatred for the Yanquis , on the one hand because of their recognition of the Carranza government in October 1915, on the other hand because he blamed them for his defeat at Agua Prieta during the unsuccessful Sonoran campaign. By targeting and murdering US citizens and robbing them and American companies of their property, Villa not only vented his anger, but also began to cause increasing foreign policy problems for the Carranza administration. A first high point of his ever-increasing resentment towards the USA was reached with the so-called "Santa Isabel massacre". In January 1916, a detachment commanded by Pablo López , one of his most loyal subordinates, stopped a train at Santa Isabel and killed 17 or 18 of its passengers, almost all of them American mining engineers. As Villa also attacked the military camp of the 13th US Cavalry in the small town of Columbus in New Mexico with its guerrilla force of around 500 men in the early morning hours of March 9, 1916 , with less than 20 Americans, most of them civilians , died, but over 100 Villistas were killed, wounded or captured, the US had enough: Just a week later, on March 14, 1916, the US Army started a punitive expedition led by General John “Black Jack “ Pershing was directed to bring Villa and the men responsible for the robbery to justice.

Last years of fighting and surrender

The following months were undoubtedly some of the blackest months in Villa's revolutionary career. The despised Yanquis proved to be militarily extremely efficient and Pershing's troops succeeded in decimating the Villistas , which had attacked Columbus and who then operated in small units, in several skirmishes and battles until June 1916 ; but she failed to capture or kill Villa. The presence of American soldiers on Mexican territory also led to an ongoing conflict with the Mexican government under President Carranza, who repeatedly called on the US government to withdraw its armed forces. Armed clashes by Mexican and American army units at Parral on April 12 and at Carrizal on June 21, 1916, with dead and wounded on both sides, finally brought the two states to the brink of war and made it advisable on the American side to move Pershing's troops to reduce and withdraw particularly exposed military units.

Villa and some of his subordinates (from right to left): Martín López, Francisco Beltrán, Villa, Pablo López and Candelario Cervantes (photo from the period after 1915)

Villa benefited from this situation, on the one hand because it increased his freedom of movement, on the other hand because the continued presence of the US Army in Chihuahua, which only left Mexico in February 1917 because of the imminent war with Germany, played into the hands of his anti-American propaganda. Even more than the presence of Pershing's troops, however, the behavior of Carranza's armed forces, which the population of Chihuahua mostly perceived as a “second invasion”, only this time from the south, made Villa's popularity rise again. The mostly foreign "Carranzist" military and their new commander-in-chief, Jacinto B. Treviño (1883–1971), the victor of the battle for El Ébano , behaved in Chihuahua as in occupied enemy territory. Incidents occurred everywhere in which locals were harassed and looted, and women and girls were subjected to sexual assault. Carranza's members of the army, especially their commander in chief, used almost every opportunity to enrich themselves personally. Villa's guerrilla troop thus became a reservoir for all those who were no longer willing to accept these conditions. In the second half of 1916, the number of his fighters rose again to several thousand men by volunteers, but also pressed into service, so that the villa, which had already been declared dead, was able to successfully go on the offensive again against the hated Carranzistas .

Between September and December 1916, Villa's contingents were victorious in 22 military clashes. Spectacular highlights of Villa's offensives, which extended to almost the entire state and the adjacent areas where anti-Carranzist combat units were still active, were the two captures of Ciudad Chihuahua in September and November 1916 and the capture of Torreón in December of the same year. As sensational as these victories were, and important because of the loot of weapons and other war material, they no longer remained as episodes. Even if the forces of Villa respectively used for this was considerable, it was at this success ultimately no more than hit-and-run - operations to classic guerrilla fashion. Villa did not have the resources for a permanent occupation and effective control or even administration of the cities and larger areas it had conquered. Ultimately, he and his men remained dependent on the "taxes" extorted from opponents and foreign companies, captured weapons and war material, and other appropriated consumer goods. They were always forced to live from or out of the country, which is why they represented a significant burden for a population that, after six years of civil war, was close to complete material and mental exhaustion. In contrast, the de facto head of state Carranza - even if there was sometimes a wide gap between claim and reality - was able to draw on the full and strengthen his army through recruiting throughout the national territory and finance its wages and the necessary equipment through tax revenue.

Treviño, who had shown himself to be utterly incapable of mastering the situation and who, in the eyes of his critics, was the main culprit for the disastrous military situation in Chihuahua, was finally recalled. The military high command now went to General Francisco Murguía (1873-1922), who had already fought for the revolution under Madero and had previously been a vehement critic of Treviño and his "methods". Murguía ultimately turned out to be just as corrupt as his predecessor, but was a capable, albeit very brutal general, who had already been responsible for Villa's defeats at Horcasitas (not far from Ciudad Chihuahuas) and Estación Reforma (near Jiménez). The civil war in Chihuahua, which now increasingly assumed the character of a "dogged duel" between Villa and Murguía, raged back and forth for another three years and brought Chihuahua "the most barbaric period of the revolution and one of the darkest times in [Mexico's] history." (Original quote: “ the most savage period […] during the revolution and one of the darkest episodes of [its] history ”). In this phase of the civil war, which had already been characterized by an abundance of cruelty, prisoners could hardly count on sparing. Summary executions of captured Carranzistas or public hangings of Villistas - a preference Murguías, which earned him the nickname "Mecates" ("the executioner") - were common after battles. Unlike its predecessor, Murguía acted very aggressively against his opponent, which often meant that villages or towns conquered by Villa's troops had to be abandoned after a few hours or the next day due to a counterattack by the Carranzistas . For the population of Chihuahua, however, the continuation of the civil war meant an extension of their unspeakable suffering. Neither side showed any consideration for civilians either, and entire village communities suspected of being on the other side were victims of reprisals. The latter, however, weighed much more heavily in the case of Villas, as it made him lose a lot of sympathy among the population of Chihuahuas, whose goodwill was vital for him and his men.

Even if he, such. B. at Rosario in March 1917, was still able to achieve considerable military victories and with Felipe Ángeles (1868-1919), who had returned from the US exile, an experienced professional military and adviser stood at his side, who also moderated could influence him, it became increasingly clear that the civil war could no longer be won for Villa. Nevertheless, he continued it, not least because of the extreme personal hatred that Villa harbored against Carranza, which made surrender impossible for him. Only in June 1919, when Villa's last major attack and the ensuing battle for Ciudad Juárez had failed due to the intervention of an American force on the side of the Carranzistas and Felipe Ángeles was captured and executed a few months later, Villa was militarily at an end. His combat force had melted down to fewer than 400 men through desertions, demoralized and ragged, almost constantly on the run and only occupied with the struggle for their own survival.

The road to the settlement of the civil war and a reconciliation with the Villistas was finally cleared by Carranza's assassination in the succession crisis of 1920. His successor Adolfo de la Huerta , interim president in 1920, was instrumental in Villa's surrender. Mexican federalists bought Villa Hacienda Canutillo that same year , and he moved into a general's pension. In the following three years he looked after his employees in an exemplary manner on his property. He set up craft businesses and schools. Every child received an education.


The automobile in which Pancho Villa and his companions were shot.

On July 20, 1923, Villa was assassinated in Parral. When he reached the intersection of Benito Juárez and Gabino Barreda streets in his black Dodge, which he drove himself, a man standing there raised his arm in greeting and shouted "Viva Villa!" - the agreed signal for the seven assassins that now went into action. Villa was hit by nine bullets and died instantly. With him, his secretary Miguel Trillo and his personal assistant Daniel Tamayo died. The three remaining occupants managed to escape from the automobile. Rafael Medrano pretended to be dead, while the other two, Ramón Contreras and Claro Hurtado, sought their salvation in flight. Although seriously wounded himself, Contreras was able to shoot one of the assassins and ultimately escape. Hurtado, on the other hand, was overtaken and killed by his pursuers because the escape route he had chosen was blocked. After the assassins, who had carried out their murder using dumdum bullets , made sure that Villa was dead, they rode away. In total, Villa's automobile was shot in more than 40 times.

What is certain is that Villa's murder was carefully planned, but the perpetrators of the attack cannot be clearly identified to this day. However, there is some evidence that the Mexican government under Álvaro Obregón was involved in the attack, possibly even the client. Villa was by no means a friend of the Mexican government, had expressed in an interview his antipathy for the Interior Minister Plutarco Elías Calles, who was favored by Obregón as a future presidential candidate , and was also considered an opponent of War Minister Joaquín Amaro . In contrast, he had an untroubled relationship with Adolfo de la Huerta, the interim president from 1920, who was instrumental in the fact that Villa had given up his fight against the Mexican government. In any case, Obregón and his government colleagues could have legitimate reasons to believe that Villa would side with Adolfo de la Huerta in a possible new civil war, as it actually did later. Some authors therefore believe that Calles and Amaro were the authors of the Villas murder and that Obregón eventually gave in to their pressure.

Villa as a person

Villa is described by his contemporaries as a very emotional and impulsive person whose temperament seemed to lack the necessary mediocrity. It was common for anger to break into tears or for his generosity to turn to cruelty within minutes. He loved to dance and was a womanizer who got married again and again without being divorced from his previous "wives". He was proud of the children who had sprung from those marriages and loved them very much. At his retirement home, the Hacienda Canutillo , he had seven of his children, three sons and four daughters, and at times up to three of his wives around him. Two other sons were born at this time, but one of them only after Villa's death.


It is said that Villa's head was stolen from the grave by Emil Levis Holmdahl on behalf of Prescott Bush for the sum of 25,000 dollars in Parral, Chihuahua, on the night of Friday, February 5, 1926 and in the cult museum of the Skull & Bones is said to have been exhibited on the grounds of Yale University . In Mexico there is even a referendum to officially reclaim Villa's skull from the USA . Vicente Fox , former President of Mexico, has not yet complied with the popular movement's petition , nor has he publicly confirmed the theft. Alfonso Carrasco, the curator of the Pancho Villa Museum in Hidalgo del Parral, tells the story like this: Pancho Villa received a beautiful grave in the local cemetery, which was desecrated two and a half years later. A fool who thought he could still collect the US government's $ 5,000 premium stole the head of Pancho Villa. To be on the safe side, his relatives buried the rest of the body in an inconspicuous burial mound that only the initiated know. The city leaders, in turn, did not want to allow the official grave to remain without bones. In a hurry, they could only get that of an anonymously deceased woman of 35 years, who now lay where the followers and admirers of Pancho Villa made the pilgrimage. In 1976, the then president sent a delegation to Parral to transfer the body to the revolutionary monument in Mexico City . A doctor who was present recognized that it was the bones of a woman, but, like everyone else involved, was obliged to maintain absolute silence. The general in charge of the delegation is said to have said: "If the President says I should bring the body, I will bring it". And since then the initiates from Parral have been sending up a greeting when they pass the revolutionary monument in the capital: “Olé, Señora!”. Meanwhile, the headless folk hero rests in Parral - next to one of his 26 wives. And Pancho Villa's head, says the curator, is under a road surface in Chihuahua.

Heritage and importance

Monument to Pancho Villa on
Cerro de la Bufa, towering over Zacatecas

Politically, Mexico today stands between institutionalized revolution and neo-zapatism . The PRI (Party of the Institutionalized Revolution), the social democratic PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion National) and the small UCPFV (Peasants and People's Union Francisco Villa) are the political successors of the Mexican revolution. Today most Mexicans remember with pride the military successes of "General Francisco Villa", who is considered to be one of the pioneers of the democratic constitution of Mexico from 1917 , the reformed version of which is still in force today. Villa and Zapata are in every textbook. In Columbus, Pancho Villa State Park commemorates the conflicting event for the city.


Francisco Pancho Villa portrayed himself in early Hollywood films in 1912, 1913, 1914, and 1916:

  • Life of Villa (1912)
  • The Life of General Villa (1914)
  • Following the Flag in Mexico (1916) also known as "Following Villa in Mexico"

Archived footage with Francisco Villa as (self-) actor:

  • Fifty Years Before Your Eyes (1950)
  • Tales of the Gun (2000)

There are also a large number of films in which Villa appears as a character, including:


  • John Reed : Mexico in turmoil . Dietz Verlag, Berlin (GDR); today under the title A Revolution Ballad. Mexico 1914 . Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2005 (in it a longer chapter about the villa and the author's encounters with him)
  • Gustavo Casasola: Biografía ilustrada del general Francisco Villa (= Hechos y hombres de México).
  • Frederico M. Cervantes: Francisco Villa y la revolución . 2nd edition (repr.). Inst. Nacional de Estudios Histór. de la Revolución Mexicana - INEHRM 2000. México DF, ISBN 968-80526-8-X .
  • Larry A. Harris: Pancho Villa: Strong Man of the Revolution
  • Celia Herrera: Francisco Villa ante la historia . 2nd Edition. Tall. de la Ed. Libros de México, México 1964.
  • James W. Hurst: Pancho Villa and Black Jack Pershing. The Punitive Expedition in Mexico. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT 2008, ISBN 978-0-313-35004-7 .
  • Guillermo Arriaga Jordán: Esplendores y miserias del Escuadrón Guillotina y de cómo participó en la leyenda de Francisco Villa (= Colección Narrativa , 21).
  • Friedrich Katz: The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford CA 1998, ISBN 0-8047-3046-6 .
  • Ders .: The Face of Pancho Villa. A History in Photographs and Words. Cinco Puntos Press, El Paso 1999, ISBN 1-933693-08-8 .
  • Alan Knight: The Mexican Revolution. Volume 1: Porfirians, Liberals and Peasants. Volume 2: Counter-revolution and Reconstruction. Cambridge University Press, 1986 (Reprint 1990, University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln), ISBN 0-8032-7772-5 .
  • Enrique Krauze: Francisco Villa. Entre el ángel y el fierro.
  • William Douglas Lansford: Pancho Villa .
  • Frank MacLynn: Villa and Zapata. A History of the Mexican Revolution. Pimlico, London 2001, ISBN 978-0-7126-6677-0 .
  • Margarita de Orellana: Filming Pancho. How Hollywood shaped the Mexican Revolution. Verso, London / New York 2009, ISBN 978-1-85984-646-9 .
  • Manuel Plana, Arthur Figliola: Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution .
  • Fernando Medina Ruiz: Francisco Villa: cuando el rencor estalla .
  • Robert L. Scheina: Villa. Soldier of the Mexican Revolution (= Military Profiles). Dulles, Virginia 2004, ISBN 1-57488-513-8 .
  • Joseph A. Stout, Jr .: Border Conflict. Villistas, Carranzistas and the Punitive Expedition 1915-1920. Texas Christian University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-87565-200-X
  • Paco Ignacio Taibo: Pancho Villa - Una biografía narrativa . Planeta, Barcelona 2007, ISBN 978-84-08-07314-7 .
  • Elias Torres: Hazanas Y Muerte De Francisco Villa. Ed. Época, México DF 2008.
  • Jim Tuck: Pancho Villa and John Reed: Two Faces of Romantic Revolution. Univ. of Arizona Press, Tucson 1984, ISBN 0-8165-0867-4 .


  • Michael Forster: Pancho Villa. The rebel of Mexico. Bertelsmann [u. a.], Gütersloh 1973.

Web links

Commons : Pancho Villa  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

References and comments

  1. ^ Friedrich Katz: The Life and Times of Pancho Villa . Stanford, Calif .: Stanford Univ. Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8047-3046-6 , p. 2.
  2. Katz (1998), pp. 2f.
  3. Cf. Katz (1998), p. 3. - It should be noted that there are also uncertainties regarding the person of Agustín López Negrete. Some representations say that he was the son of the Hacendados, others that he was his administrator. The fact that López Negrete was about to rape Villa's sister is not explicitly mentioned. From the narrative context, however, a sexual motive emerges beyond doubt. For these and other details of the reports on Villas' early years, cf. also McLynn (2001), pp. 58-61.
  4. Katz (1998), p. 3. - Again and again it can be read that Villa took on the name of a murdered bandit leader, which, however, is fictitious.
  5. Cf. Katz (1998), pp. 4–8, with various other details, as they are told in the “white”, “black” and “heroic legend”.
  6. Volker Depkat: History of North America. An introduction (= UTB 2614), Böhlau Verlag, Cologne-Weimar-Wien 2008, ISBN 978-3-8252-2614-5 , p. 104.
  7. Katz (1998), p. 206. - According to Katz, Maytorena was keen to keep Villa away from his federal state, as he feared it would expropriate the large landowners.
  8. See Katz (1998), pp. 206-209.
  9. Scheina (2004), p. 26.
  10. See Katz (1998), pp. 209-212 and McLynn (2001), pp. 168f.
  11. The Mexican rebels had allied themselves with the American Soldiers of Fortune in their fight against the government. Members of this group were e.g. B. Sam Dreben , the Fighting Jew , Tracy Richardson, and others. Dreben and Richardson actually wanted to sell weapons to the Mexican rebels, but stayed with the revolutionaries for a while and taught them how to use the new weapon systems.
  12. Katz (1998), pp. 212-215 and McLynn (2001), pp. 169f.
  13. Image sources:  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. and - The caption on Wikimedia Commons , according to which the photo shows Villa near Ojinaga, is therefore incorrect.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  14. Katz (1998), pp. 215-218 and 222 and McLynn (2001), pp. 170f.
  15. See Katz (1998), pp. 222–228, McLynn (2001), pp. 172–175 and Scheina (2004), pp. 28–31.
  16. See Katz (1998), pp. 236-238.
  17. Katz (1998), pp. 298 and 511.
  18. See Katz (1998), p. 238.
  19. See Katz (1998), pp. 421 and 423.
  20. Katz (1998), p. 324 and Orellana (2009), p. 42ff.
  21. See Katz (1998), pp. 557-560. - The date and number of victims of this incident, one of whom survived, are given differently in the literature.
  22. For a detailed description of the attack and the course of the punitive expedition cf. u. a. Katz (1998), pp. 560-570, but above all Hurst (2008), pp. 21-30 and the following chapters.
  23. See on this Katz (1998), pp. 580-582, with corresponding reports on the shameful behavior of the Carranza military, and others. a. also a report confirmed by the US side that Treviño exported food from Ciudad Chihuahua during a period of acute food shortage. - Since his brother Francisco also held the office of governor of the state, action against Treviño's machinations was also excluded from this side.
  24. McLynn (2001), p. 367.
  25. Katz (1998), pp. 623, 627 and 632.
  26. Knight (1990), Vol. 2, p. 357 (Original quote: “ […] a dogged duel between Villa and […] Murguía. ”).
  27. Katz (1998), p. 622.
  28. Mecates was the name given to the maguey ropes used to hang captured villistas. Katz (1998), p. 623.
  29. For details about the last years of the civil war in Chihuahua and the atrocities committed by both sides, cf. Kaz (1998), pp. 622-643 and Knight (1990), Vol. 2, pp. 354-360.
  30. Katz (1998), pp. 765f. and McLynn (2001), pp. 393f. - Representations according to which the assassins should have fired a total of 300 shots at Villa and his companions are to be referred to the realm of fable.
  31. Katz (1998), pp. 771–782, deals in detail with the question of the possible backers and their motives.
  32. See for example McLynn (2001), p. 394 f.
  33. See, for example, McLynn (2001), pp. 187-190, 210 f. and 390 f.
  34. List of films with and about Pancho Villa in the German IMDb