Legends Before the Revolution
After Moctezuma and Benito Juarez, Pancho Villa is considered the most widely known Mexican throughout the world. He is seen as a Robin Hood, bandit, killer, womanizer, and since 1812, the only foreigner to have invaded, attacked, and killed Americans inside our borders.
The following information comes from Freidrich Katz from his book, The Life and Times of Pancho Villa.
Pancho Villa During the Revolution
One of the few things about Villas life which most historians agree to is that he was born in 1878, in the state of Durango, on the Rancho de la Coyotoda, owned by the Lopez Negrete family. His sharecropper parents who lived on this hacienda were, Agustin Arango and Micaela Arambula. His baptismal name was Doroteo Arango.
The legends begin on September 22, 1894 when he was sixteen years old. According to Villa years later, as he dictated his autobiography to his secretary, Manuel Bauche Alcalde, this is when the tragedy of my life begins. After his father died, Doroteo became the head of his family, working as a sharecropper on the Hacienda de Gogojito. Coming home from work one day he found his mother and the ranch owner arguing. The ranch owner apparently wanted Arangos 15-year old sister. Doroteo became angry and shot Lopez Negrete in the foot. He then fled into the mountains. This is when he began his life as an outlaw and the legend was born. Since the local police was now after him, he decided to change his name to Pancho Villa.
Pancho Villa began his new life as a thief, robbing wealthy miners and many others. His hold-ups would reap hundred of thousands of pesos for himself, his gang members and his mother. He once gave an old man money to start a tailor shop. He said he was returning to the poor, money the rich had taken from them. All of his robbing did not go unnoticed by the authorities. The police were constantly chasing Villa. He had several shootouts with them and killed many officers and civilians chasing him. Villa admitted later, he had to sometimes kill those who had betrayed him. He was 16 years old during this time period.
Photo by D.W. Hoffman
Another part of Villas early legend takes a much darker turn as the tales turn more deadly. One story has him chasing a man his sister had eloped with and forcing him to dig his own grave. Villa then shot him, tossing his body into the grave. Other stories tell of how he broke into the house of a wealthy man. After the man refused to give Villa a large sum of money, his gang tortured him. Cutting off parts of his feet and then stabbing him to death.
Other legends have Villa becoming the idol of the peasants during his outlaw period. They tell of how he and his gang would attack rich haciendas and distribute the loot to the poor peons. Other stories tell of Villa stealing cattle herds for the poor so they would have meat to feed their families. They say he recruited gang members out in the middle towns, similar to what an army general might do when trying to sign up recruits.
Legends say they when he found a traitor in his midst, he would quickly kill him and his brothers. He would then go after his other male members of the traitors family until they were all exterminated. Besides fear from the peasants, it also bred much hatred and enemies against Villa, some of whom may have plotted against him in later years.
Villa with his "official wife", Luz Corral
There are many other stories about Pancho Villa prior to him joining the revolutionary forces. Most of these legends are centered in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico where he lived for several years during his life as a bandido . How many of these stories are true or have some truth in them is very difficult to decipher, but most of them probably are a mixture.
Katz, Friedrich. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1998.
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