Posts Tagged With: Columbus NM


To the sound of the bagpipes carried on a cold wind, we walked out of Pancho Villa State Park,  crossed  the highway and entered  the Memorial Garden where the Columbus Historical Society honors those who were killed in Pancho Villa’s infamous raid. March 9th, 1916, at 4:00 a.m. the city was awakened by gunfire.

Villanistas went directly to Ravel’s store, a man who sold guns across the border. A new government degree made it against the law to sell guns across the border. Ravel kept the money and didn’t deliver the guns, so the story goes. Some think that may have been the cause of the raid. Seventeen year old Arthur Ravel was dragged from under his bed in his underwear. His father was in El Paso at the dentist.  Arthur lived to tell his story.

Above picture from the Historical Society Museum shows Pancho at a friendlier time. Susan Parks, a 19-year-old telephone operator heard noises outside her living quarters at a Columbus Print Shop. Peering out the window she saw Villa’s men lurking nearby. She scooped up her sleeping daughter and crept toward the town’s switchboard to summon aid. She lit a match to see the keys and a volley of gunfire exploded the shop’s window. Glass splinters tore into her face, neck, arms and into the face of her daughter. She stashed Gwen under the bed and when it got light enough, she carefully crept back to the switchboard and sent word to Fort Bliss that a group of Mexicans was shooting up the town.These, are just a couple personal stories that the historical society has in their museum, along with many pictures and a clock that was struck with a bullet registering the time of the raid.

Members of the Border Patrol on horse back raised and held the colors for the hour ceremony.

Pictures and a biography of those killed hang at the base of the review stand for all to see and read. This year, for the first time, the Society invited Dr. Robert H. Bouilly, a Historian at Fort Bliss to make a presentation at the Memorial. He pointed out how many of them were not U.S. Citizens, like Fred Green, the first of the soldiers to die. Serving in the army was a path to citizenship then. Three units of Villanistas attacked  Fort Furlong, where Green was on guard near the stables. The rest of the encampment, was unarmed. They had to break open the armory to get weapons. The Villanistas were after the horses and Green was actually trampled to death after being wounded.

Struggling with the cold wind trying to blow his notes away and carry his voice off with them, Dr. Bouilly gave an in depth  account of some of those killed in the raid, and an account of victims of the raid that are not included in the official count of those lost. He spoke of a Mexican businessman who came to town and was in the hotel. The Villanistas had hauled the men out to the street outside and the women, after taking their jewelry and valuables, into the lobby. He was planning to kill them all. The business man who spoke excellent Spanish, convinced the, “…we are all Mexicans.”  He took each woman under a dim light and showed them they were all Mexicans, which they were not. The Villanistas  let them live. His body was found two days later over the border. He was never listed as one of those who died in the raid.

Nor was Yarbrough, a man who was seemingly only slightly wounded. He died from complications with gangrene three years later. Or, the wife of John Walker, who never got over his death and had several mental breakdowns after the horrific killings she witnessed.

James Todd Dean died in the raid. His cousin, Tom Dean was present at the ceremony and has a remarkable likeness to the picture above with his hat and sunglasses removed.

Dean called out the names of those Military dead. In the background someone struck a bell at each name.

And then he laid the wreath at the foot of the Memorial. Another man did the same for the civilian casualties.  While some relatives are bitter about the park being named after Pancho Villa, Dean is one of those who is not.  The whole review was interesting and informative and we were glad we braved the chill.

We revisited the State Park Museum, as well, and looked once more at this 1915 Dodge, full of holes. The driver was wounded, his wife took the wheel and with a good lead, the family of three escaped. In a similar chase in another vehicle, the husband  was killed and his wife and kids got out and lay by his body and pretended to be dead. They lived to to tell the tale.

The Museum has other things in it besides an account of the raid. This was the first airbase and a Jenny is mounted to the ceiling. The instructions say, “Do not inspect the Jenny, or you will never want to fly her.”  The reason being, the skin is made of cloth.

Because of the heat, soldiers at one time were housed in two-man adobe “tents”.

We hiked into town and had delicious Mexican food at a hole-in-the-wall family owned Mexican restaurant. The owner had to attend the store next door, and then come back to cook for us. No adjoining door.

Get ready now, federales,
Be prepared for very hard rides,
For Villa and his soldiers
Will soon take off your hides!

A good profile of the Robin Hood of Mexico, Pancho Villa, hated by thousands, loved by millions at the following link.

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We are staying at Pancho Villa State Park. Its comfortable and quiet here. We hunkered down from a terrible wind storm that had Highway 10 closed, and wind gusts up to 75 miles per hour. We stayed in and felt like someone was banging on a tin can as the motor home did a bit of rock and roll, the wind blasting away.  Yesterday was clear and crisp and we walked the park. The park is very distinctive considering that it was the first airbase in the United States, Camp Furlong, and it is also the site of Pancho Villa’s attack on Columbus,New Mexico. Villa’s scouts counted 30 soldiers before his attack, but they were wrong and the attack met 350 American soldiers with a brand new  weapon, a machine gun.Villa was quickly dispatched.

We walked to the top of this hill where a placque displays the battle of how Villa’s men attacked the base. And, of course he attacked the town as well, intending to take over Columbus.

The Citizens fought Villa and their account is in a nearby Museum and the old Custom House visible from the top of the hill. We visited here in January of 2010 and the Museum is really well done as well as a private museum in town that has a replica of Villa’s death mask and many first hand accounts from the citizens who lived there.

In the intervening years, Columbus has made a big effort to honor the long years of friendship with its nearby Mexican neighbors, and Mexican officials from Chihuahua have cooperated with Columbus on the Museum and come here once a year to celebrate Camp Furlong Days, a parade and festivities that we will attend tomorrow.  The attack was 96 years ago.

Two adobe buildings from Camp Furlong’s headquarters are preserved on the site.

And the remains of a grease rack used to maintain vehicles here. It is humorous that the grease and petrol had to be packed in from the train station by mule teams.

When we visited in 2010, we crossed into Mexico and had delicious dinner in Las Palomas with fun friends and strolling musicians. With dismay, I noticed a sign at the park warning us that the most dangerous border crossings today are from Columbus, New Mexico, Fort Hix and Fabens, Texas. What a shame that the drug cartels have practically halted what was once a delightful place to visit. While it won’t stop the celebration being held here tomorrow, there has been, and still is, a lot of controversy about naming the park for Pancho Villa. You can click the two links below and read how people feel about it.

I prefer friendship to hostilities and agree with those who remember that America isn’t innocent of wrong doing and we should all move on.

Interestingly, the park water tank raises consciousness of the water crisis we will someday face and says:  You are drinking ice age water….

…what will you drink next year?

Hmmm!  Good question.

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