Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Back Then: Horseshoer Killed in Pancho Villa Raid into New Mexico

General Francisco "Pancho" Villa was the people's hero during the Mexican Civil War in the early 1900s; depending on which book you read, he was Braveheart with a great mustache...or Osama bin Laden in a sombrero.

Here's some history you won't find in any textbook.

Montana farrier Scott Simpson and I share a fascination with the history of a raid by Mexican General Francisco "Pancho" Villa, who slipped across the border and raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico at dawn on March 9, 1916.

I've always been interested in the raid because it inspired my uncle to enlist in the Cavalry to go after Villa, which he did...and his adventures in Mexico became the fodder for great storytelling sessions. General Patton, then a young officer, was there too. And they were all on horseback.

Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus was the last time a foreign government invaded the United States.

Here's what happened: Villa and 500 of his troops raided the border town of Columbus, New Mexico (due west of El Paso, Texas and south of Deming, NM). History is sympathetic to the rebels and tells us that they were raiding, not attacking; in the raid, the Mexicans killed eight solders and 10 civilians.

President Woodrow Wilson thought otherwise. He called it an invasion and sent General "Black Jack" Pershing into Chihuahua in pursuit of Pancho Villa, but it turned into a failed campaign. Villa hid in the countryside, aided by the Mexican people. (You know the songs.)

Pershing pulled out all the stops; this was probably the US military's first real confrontation with guerilla tactics. It was also the first time that cars, motorcycles and airplanes joined horses and mules for combat transport, although they often had to build roads for the cars.

A troop of crack Apache scouts was sent to Columbus from Arizona. In their documents is a specific military decree stating "The appointment or mustering of farriers or horseshoers on the rolls of Indian scouts is illegal." The Apaches had to supply their own horses, saddles, and take care of them themselves.

The whole story of the Mexican Civil War and the border conflict is a fascinating part of US history. Of course, it is ironic that today the border is again patrolled on horseback, as the Border Patrol looks for illegal immigrants.

But what you probably don't know about the Pancho Villa raid is that one of the soldiers killed by Villa was the troop horseshoer, Frank Kingvall, age 26. According to an old clipping from the New York Times, they draped his horse with black crepe and left it standing at the depot as the train bearing his body pulled out.