The California Cowboy
WOODROW WILSON, COLUMBUS, PANCHO VILLA, GERONIMO AND COWBOY JIM: CONNECTING THE DOTS.
By Jim Nichols
|Cowboy Jim Nichols|
“I think I’ve sold it my Love Bunnie” I hollered to my wife in the kitchen. “When you ‘Love Bunnie’ me you rascal I know you are up to something sneaky” she hollered back. She is right. Like Batman I like to work in the shadows without waiting for a committee (or wife) to help me make decisions.
In 1974 I acquired an option on 160 acres outside of Columbus New Mexico. The property is very near the Mexico border. I was finishing up law school and wanted a ranch. Two sides of the land were fenced so I thought it would be an easy matter to fence the other two, drill a well and drag a mobile home onto the property. Well call me Ben Cartwright! Of course the land had more clouds on it than Thailand in its rainy season but new lawyer that I had just become, I got them all removed acquiring a clean title.
March 9, 1916 it was a still moonless night when at a little past 4:00 A.M. a gun shot shattered the silence and dropped Private Fred Griffin, a Camp Furlong sentinel, on his back. The ball had opened! An estimated 500 Mexicans under the command of Francisco “Pancho” Villa stormed the Camp and the small town of Columbus. Those boys were in a frenzy shooting looting and burning. The towns people didn’t know what was going on but those with guns made them bark along with the soldiers who set up machine guns to mow down the invaders. It was a hot time in the old town that night LITERALLY. The Villistas didn’t realize the buildings they torched enabled the soldiers to drop them like ducks in a shooting gallery. The battle raged until dawn at which time the Mexicans retreated south into the desert. Quick rest was denied them because with his blood up, U.S. Army Maj. Frank Tompkins and a contingent of men were on their butts blasting away for a hundred miles.
“So we sold our worthless piece of Border dirt which you called the Wolfdog Ranch?” she asked. “ Maybe not rich in water, minerals, grass or trees, Cookie” I said. “But rich in American history.” I told her. “How so?” she asked.
Villa’s Columbus raid was the only time in the 20th Century that the continental United States was invaded by an outside force. It occurred about a century after the War of 1812 and 85 years before those wack jobs flew planes into the World Trade Center.
The Columbus incident resulted in a American punitive expedition which lasted a year and prepared the United States for stepping onto the World War 1 stage. Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, for the first time in U.S. history assaulted the Mexican revolutionaries with the aid of biplanes, trucks, and motorcycles. Out of the chase for Villa's men were killed and heros were made. George S. Patton, famous World War 11 general was a lieutenant under General Pershing.
“Why did Villa attack Columbus, and did Pershing catch or kill him after the raid?” “A good compound question Buttercup” I said. “ Don’t Buttercup Cookie or Love Bunnie me, Cowboy, just tell me what happened” she said rather curtly.
Why Columbus, no one knows for sure. It was a railroad town and perhaps he thought it had a payroll. Some speculate he had visited the town before and was ill treated by towns people or soldiers. Why he raided the United States is known. Villa was a small town bandit who wanted to be the President of Mexico. In 1910 he joined Francisco Madero to oust Mexican leader Porfirio Diaz. Diaz got bounced but instead of sliding into Diaze’s zapatas a fellow revolutionary Venustiano Carranza grabbed that chair. Villa sought assistance from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to help him dump Carranza but the Wilson administration threw their hat into Carranza’s ring infuriating Pancho Villa. So the contest was on.
Pershing never did catch Villa. He penetrated south all the way to Chihuahua City and sought permission from Wilson to occupy it. However by then Carranza, the little back stabber, was engaging the U.S. soldiers in fights and things were turning to crap for our boys. So Woodrow, on the verge of going to war in Europe, told the men to come home and they did.
“Want to know something really cool?” I asked my wife. “Tell me” she said. “I have the original deed to our property and it is signed by Woodrow Wilson” I said. (I assume he was signing stacks of deeds under the Homestead Act).
“Probably worth more than the property” she said, bruising my feelings.
“Want to know something else I teased?” “Lay it on me” she said. The Fort Sill Apaches have returned to Luna County (where Columbus is located). “So?” she said. “It is historical” I told her. “ Before 1886 Geronimo and his Chiricahua band traveled all over southwestern New Mexico. They are believed to have entered and retreated Mexico many times at or near where Columbus is presently located. In 1886 Geronimo surrendered for the last time and eventually was shipped with his band to Oklahoma. In 2012 the Oklahoma Apaches celebrated their first anniversary of the official recognition of a Apache reservation in Luna County not far from Columbus.
“So there you have it my sparky little Fox…whoops, my wonderful wife and mother of my children” I said. We have connected the dots. Woodrow Wilson, Columbus, Pancho Villa, Geronimo and Cowboy Jim. Like that song at Disney Land which makes me want to stick pencils in my face; IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL.
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