Franciso "Pancho" Villa


    One of the more famous revolutionaries, Francisco “Pancho” Villa was born under the name Doroteo Arango in the Durango village of Rio Grande on June 5, 1878.[1]  When he was sixteen, he changed his name following the murder of the hacendado’s son who had raped his sister.  He fled to the mountains to join a band of outlaws and became known as Pancho though signing his name Francisco and having several other aliases.[2]  Born of mixed blood, he was considered a mestizo; his childhood had little education and did not know how to read until he was an adult in prison.  His grand skills of escaping danger made him a hero and a leader in the eyes of the Mexican people though also known for his short temper and cruelty.  “He has been described as ‘a twentieth-century compound of Attila, Robin Hood and Jesse James, with a flavouring of red-hot chili sauce.’”[3] 

    Villa was a hard man to get respect from if you were not a soldier of his and especially if you were a woman.  Known to have at least four wives, Villa also raped and murdered many women who he came in contact with.  In some situations, he allowed a woman’s father or husband to be bound up and watch as he raped them.[4]  His cruelty in battle can be reflected here.

    His greatest military achievements occurred as a result of being a strong guerilla fighter, partly due to his Indian heritage and the knowledge of the land.  His sharp alertness helped him shoot whether it is in a moment of revolution or while hunting.  Never much for sitting and relaxing, Villa worked hard on the ranch growing up and always asked questions, looked at his surroundings and picking up facts.[5]  He was drafted into the 14th Calvary Regiment in 1903 before deserting and joining the revolutionary forces in 1910.[6]  While involved in the military, problems erupted with Francisco Madero and Victoriano Huerta.  Villa acted as a defender of Madero mainly because they held the same goals, including fighting for the poor.  Yet in 1912, he was imprisoned by Madero for disobeying orders.  Though Madero did not want to take him to trial because it would hurt his popular support and everyone would see that the basis of Madero’s support was from bandits, he was held in the Federal District military prison.  When Huerta took over, he was sentenced to death but was saved by Raúl Madero and Emilio Madero and escaped to the United States in 1912.  By the end of 1914, he had formed a division in the north of Constitutionalists nad had defeated the federal army in battle twice at Torreón.  He also served as provisional governor of Chihuahua in 1913-1914.[7]

    On July 20, 1923, Villa was assassinated at the intersection of Benito Juárez and Gabino Barreda in Maturana.  Driving in his car, the men in an apartment nearby opened fire on Villa as the car slowed to turn.  Villa was killed instantly with nine bullets hitting his body.  His funeral would not have pleased Villa because none of his men were able to make it since they were fighting in Canutillo and the mausoleum he erected was owned by someone else and the Governor of Chihuahua would not permit him to be buried there.[8]  Through it all, Villa “lived and died to salvage his native land from foreign exploitation and misuse.”[9]



    [1] Roderic A. Camp, Mexican Political Biographies, 1884-1935 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991), 225.

    [2] Ronald Atkin, Revolution! Mexico 1910-1920 (New York: John Day Company, 1969), 51.

    [3] Ibid.

    [4] Haldeen Braddy, The Paradox of Pancho Villa (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1978), 30-31.

    [5] Ibid., 11-12.

    [6] Camp,  225.

    [7] Ibid.

    [8] Friedrich, Katz, The Life and Times of Pancho Villa (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1998), 766-768.

    [9] Braddy, 48.