The Attack on Columbus, New Mexico

COLUMBUS, NM Before the Raid

On March 8, 1916 Pancho Villa and about 400 of his troops arrived about four miles from Columbus, New Mexico. They were preparing to attack this small American town. Why Villa chose this small town, is still a topic for debate among historians. The town had a garrison of about 600 soldiers. It was the home of Sam Ravel, a man to whom Villa had given money to buy arms. Ravel never delivered the weapons nor returned Villa’s money.

Before the attack Villa told his men the reasons he had decided to attack this American town. He said the Carranza government had practically sold Mexico to the Americans. He also mentioned how the U.S. had been given the power to name three Mexican cabinet members. However, all this meant very little to Villa’s illiterate soldiers.

One of Villa’s top officer’s, Pablo Lopez put it in plain terms. “We want revenge against the Americans,” he yelled out. Lopez said the U.S. was to blame for their defeat at Agua Prieta and Celaya. He accused the Americans of allowing the Carrancistas to travel across U.S. land to reinforce their garrison. Villa added another serious accusation, saying that the U.S. had sold them defective weapons and ammunition.

The clincher though, was the terrible act that had occurred in El Paso just two days earlier. According to reports from the time, the following was standard practice. Some 20 Mexicans had been arrested by the local police and they then been soaked with kerosene to delouse them. Someone then set fire to the men. It was never proven whether the fire was an accident or not. However, all 20 Mexicans were burned alive. After hearing this story, Villa’s soldiers were now ready to fight the entire American army.

Gen Pershing gives an on scene press conf in Columbus, NM prior to organizing his failed exped.

At 4:45 A.M. on March 9 Villa’s men rode into Columbus, firing into the army barracks, catching the American soldiers by surprise. Another group later rode into town shooting into houses and at any civilian who came out. The Villistas then charged into a hotel and killed four guests.

Villa had stayed on the Mexican side of the border with a small group of his men. Meanwhile his raiders were looking for Sam Ravel, but never found him. He had already left town on a scheduled appoint with his dentist in El Paso.

U.S. Cavalry preparing to chase Villa. Photo by W.H. Horne, El Paso, Tx

The U.S. soldiers were now firing back at the Villistas in the predawn darkness. However, the skies were soon to be lit by a fire the raiders had started at the hotel. This helped the Americans see their targets better. By 7:30, three hours after the raid began, a Villista bugler sounded retreat. The Mexicans picked up their wounded and withdrew back to Mexico.

The American troops were now riding and shooting in hot pursuit, following the Villistas about five miles into Mexico. There, the U.S. soldiers met strong resistance from Villa’s fighters. The Americans quickly retreated back to Columbus.

In the end, more than 100 Villistas had been lost in the attack. About 17 Americans, mostly civilians, were killed.
Following his defeat at Celaya, Pancho Villa again had a victory, of sorts, to be proud of.
What was to come next would surprise everyone.Katz, Freidrich, Katz. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Stanford University Press, 1998.

Legends Before the Revolution

Revolutionary Hero

The Punitive Expedition

The Assassination

Corridos de Pancho Villa

Return to Jaime's Home Page