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Pancho Villa Raids Columbus circa 1916
 

In the early spring of 1916, Columbus was a sleepy little border town. As the Mexican Revolution raged to the south, most Americans perceived little threat from this conflict, including many of Columbus' citizens, who felt safe in their village.
 

 


The Columbus Raid
 

Pancho Villa

 

To add to this feeling of security, a detachment of approximately 350 U.S. Army soldiers from the 13th Calvary stationed at Camp Furlong on the outskirts of Columbus stood between Mexico and the town. The early morning of March 9, 1916, life in Columbus changed dramatically. At 1:00 A.M., between 500 and 600 Mexican revolutionaries, led by General Francisco "Pancho" Villa, crossed the border into the United States. Villa divided his troops and attacked Columbus from the southwest at approximately 4:20 am. This attack caught the entire town, as well as the army camp, by surprise.


The Villistas concerned themselves more with raiding than killing, otherwise the town might have been erased. That morning majority of the destruction of the town came from the burning and pillaging of the business district. Surprisingly, the army camp and stables received little damage, even though the horses and armaments must have been attractive to the raiders.

 



Old Camp Furlong



Original Hoover Hotel
 

 

Alerted by the gunfire and burning buildings, many Columbus residents fled to the desert, or sought refuge in the school house, the Hoover Hotel, or private homes. U.S. Army officers and soldiers, awakened by the commotion, set up a Benet-Mercier machine gun in front of the Hoover Hotel and produced a murderous rain of bullets.
 




 

Another machine gun set up on East Boundary Street fired north and caught anyone in the intersection of Broadway and East Boundary in a deadly crossfire. The raid lasted until dawn, or approximately one and a half hours. By this time, the death toll totaled 70 to 75 Villistas. In addition, during the attack on Columbus eighteen Americans, mostly civilians, died. Much speculation abounds concerning General Villa's motivation behind the Columbus raid. One theory suggests it was an act of retaliation. Embroiled in a civil war, Mexico searched for leadership. A dispute broke out between Pancho Villa and Venustiano Carranza when Villa refused to acknowledge the authority of the new president, Carranza. To add insult to injury, President Wilson aided Carranza by allowing Mexican troops to be transported on the El Paso- Southwestern Railroad through Texas and New Mexico to a campaign in Mexico. These troops helped defeat Villa and his army in a revolutionary battle. Possibly the attack on Columbus occurred as retaliation for the shipment of troops, since the village had an El Paso - Southwestern depot. Amazingly enough however, the depot only sustained light damage from flying bullets.

After The Raid
Columbus, NM
March 9, 1916

Looking at where and what the Villistas raided, historians have pointed out that little beyond the business district of Columbus received any real damage. Perhaps Villa raided Columbus to correct a business deal gone bad. This theory contends that Villa bought guns and ammunition from the Ravel Brothers of Columbus. Although he paid for the armaments, Villa never received the weapons and ammunition. During the raid, Villistas captured Arthur Ravel and tried to force him to open the business's safe. Fortunately, the Villistas believed Ravel, when he stated he did not know the combination. Arthur Ravel eventually escaped the Villistas when gunfire, possibly from the machine gun in front of the Hoover Hotel, killed the two men holding his arms. Whatever the reasons for the attack, its outcome was the same. Columbus residents experienced a boom in their village. General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing arrived in Columbus to lead a punitive expedition into Mexico to find and capture Pancho Villa. Columbus became the home base of this expedition and a beehive of activity. By March 10, just one day after the raid, the first of several thousand troops began to arrive in Columbus. By late 1916, due to the growth of camp personnel, Columbus held the largest population of any city in the state of New Mexico.



General Pershing
 

 

Several thousand troops, at times going 300 miles into Mexico, were supported by trucks and airplanes, the first such aid in American warfare. Indeed, the punitive expedition saw the end of nineteenth-century warfare and the beginning of twentieth-century combat. The 1st Aero Squadron was moved to Columbus and soon became the first Air Force contingency to be used in a foreign campaign. Motorized vehicles, including armored cars were also tried out in Columbus. George Patton, serving under General Pershing took command of the motorized fleet with raids into the Mexico borderlands. The Punitive expedition became a testing zone for all forms of war craft, and officer training in preparation for WW1.
 



Motorized Armored Car
 

After the Punitive expedition, Columbus began making changes that would last for decades. Initially, Camp Furlong remained in operation by the Army, but at a decreased level of activity. Toward the end of the 1926, the Department of Army decided that a military detachment was no longer needed in Columbus. The El Paso & Southwest Railroad stopped service to Columbus as well.

With these decisions, the notoriety and economic strength that Columbus had enjoyed was in a steady decline. Since the mid 1990's Columbus has been on an upsurge again. The advent of the R.V. lifestyle reinvigorated Columbus' position on the map. With a State Park, museums, a border crossing, and rich historical value, Columbus became a natural stopping point. Many occasional travelers retired in Columbus, finding the low cost of living, and high quality of life to be very attractive.


State Park Museum

  Perhaps the biggest boon to America re-discovering Columbus came as a result of the 9/11 attacks. This tragedy renewed interest on Columbus which had previously stood as the only place America had experienced a foreign invasion.
 
Additional Historical Information
National Register of Historic Places
National Park Service - Camp Furlong
Camp Furlong - Pictures
 



A rich and colorful past
aligned with the work of preservationist has established Columbus, NM as one of the premier locations for historical buildings.