On A Trip to Mexico

The bullet bedecked gentleman in the photo above is Pancho Villa. During the decade from 1910 to 1920, Mr. Villa participated in the Mexican Revolution. Needing supplies, money, and weapons to fight in this effort, the resourceful Mr. Villa and his band of merry men turned to a handy and plentiful source of these items: The United States.

However, their methods for procuring these items caused no little consternation among the Americans. You see, Mr. Villa and his comrades simply crossed the US/Mexico border and helped themselves to the supplies. By 1916, their repeated  little forays into US territory from the Mexican state of Chihuahua not only resulted in stolen, lost, and destroyed property, but these raids also caused the deaths of dozens of Americans.

If such incidents occurred today, one can imagine the uproar among the Americans in the press, the public, and among the politicians. One hundred years ago, the reaction was much the same. Calls for punitive military action against the Mexican revolutionaries rose from every corner of the land. President Woodrow Wilson, who had a hand in the early days of the revolution by lending support to the anti-government forces, now decried the activities of Villa and his cronies. He ordered General John Pershing to the border with a large contingent of US troops, including air support (one of the first times airplanes were used in American military history), and he gave Pershing a specific directive: Bring Villa to justice.

Pershing failed to do so. However, he and the American troops fought a few skirmishes with Villa’s crew, and their efforts caused Villa to eventually seek elsewhere for supplies for his part of the revolution. Personally, Pershing declared the expedition a success even if his Commander in Chief didn’t.

One of Pershing’s aides, a young second lieutenant, obtained particular notoriety for an incident involving one of the Villa’s right hand men. It seems that this brash second lieutenant deployed three open Dodge motorcars full of 15 American soldiers and scouts and rode these mechanized “horses“ into a ranch compound in Mexico, guns a-blazing. When the smoke literally cleared, three of Pancho Villa’s men were dead, and no American was as much as scratched.

The lieutenant ordered that the three bodies would be strapped to the bumper and hood of his car and taken back to Pershing‘s headquarters for identification. He then reportedly carved three notches in his expensive pistol handles to mark the three men his part of the operation killed. Pershing, suitably impressed, nicknamed the young man, “Bandito.”

A year later, United States would declare war on Germany and officially enter World War I on the side of the Allies. The Pershing Expedition had served as a small dress rehearsal for the war that America now found itself in. Wilson tapped Pershing to be the leader of the American expeditionary force in France despite the fact the General didn’t capture Villa. “Black Jack” Pershing won international fame and admiration for his part in the Great War.

Wilson, who had  campaigned for reelection  in 1916 on a slogan that reminded voters that he had kept America out of the European entanglement, labeled himself as the savior of western civilization against the evil of war in general and German aggression specifically. His  plan for the peace after the war, called the 14 Points, became the basis for the League of Nations, a weak and ineffective forerunner to the United Nations.  A stroke in 1919 limited Wilson’s effectiveness in rallying America to ratify the Versailles Treaty ending the war; America eventually signed a separate peace treaty with Germany much later and never entered the League.

And that impetuous Second Looey?

He liked the idea of having mechanized infantry strike rapidly at an enemy as he had shown in Mexico. He liked it so much that he entered the tank corps. While he made a decent impression during his service in World War I, we probably remember him best for his accomplishments in the war after the War to End All Wars.

Pershing knew him as Bandito.

You know him as George S. Patton.


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