The Truth About Pancho Villa

By Herbert W. Piekow

pancho villa at zacatecas


History is the relating of indisputable facts, these facts are usually subject to the interpretation of the researcher or writer. Ancient history is usually in the viewpoint of the victor, while more current history, such as WWII is subject to personal viewpoint of the historian, both mixing indisputable facts with local lore the perspective of the person retelling the events. History cannot truly be considered history until all participants are buried. Genghis Khan and his sons brought scholars and scribes along on their conquests to record the events. However, if one reads the same events through the transcripts of those conquered, the battles are recorded differently, even when the outcomes are irreversible. Recently I read, The Story of MEXICO A Land of Conquest and Revolution, printed in 1914. Included was a chapter about Pancho Villa, who was still living when this book was written, and whom I have previously researched and written about. Usually, I read numerous articles and or books before writing anything about history. What made me stop and wonder were the different “facts” written about Pancho Villa while he was alive and what I´d read about in research.  Pancho Villa died in a blaze of gunfire in 1922. In researching this article, I read at least six versions of how Doroteo Arango became the feared rebel leader known as Pancho Villa. Each story has an older man and Villa´s younger sister. In one version, Villa happens to ride home to find a man is trying to rape Villa´s twelve-year-old sister. In the book I just finished reading a local magistrate talked Villa´s sixteen-year-old sister into running away. Villa mounted his horse, forced a priest to accompany him and when they caught up with the eloping duo, Villa persuaded the priest, at gun point, to perform a marriage, thereupon the magistrate signed both his wedding certificate and his own death certificate.

In my research I read articles that claimed Villa was married up to seventy times and each time he had a magistrate complete the marriage certificate, then burn the evidence of marriage. At his funeral there were twenty-two widows with children of various ages.  It is indisputable that Villa led a violent and romantic life. After the murder of his sister´s husband Villa became a wanted criminal. He was a charismatic person who soon had a following of brigands. Originally, they roamed Northern Mexico taking what they wanted and distributing the remaining to widows and people in need, at least that is what the history books tell readers. Therefore, there must be some basis of fact. But what are the facts? Most of the history books do not tell the reader that Villa had from two to three sisters and the same number of brothers, these same books never tell what happened to his mother or his siblings. They differ on how Villa turned from wanted criminal to wanted rebel, or Revolutionary general of up to 14,000 men. The history books describe Villa´s bookkeeping as anything from he had, “a large black safe from which he pulled stacks of money, which he didn´t count.” To, “Villa printed his own currency which he generously distributed.” The same book described how he would shoot merchants who did not accept his currency. What is the truth? Perhaps some version of both?

Whatever the truths are, Villa was a charismatic leader of men. He may not have been educated  however, it is acknowledged that he was intelligent and he understood how to lead, inspire and reward his followers. “He envisioned a new social order in which workers could organize in communes to be in charge of the economy, eliminating the need for the upper class. There would be no military, but workers would receive military training that would help them protect themselves...” Michael Konstantinovsky. Like a true Communist, Villa took apart large land holdings, like the Terrazas Family´s 5.000,000 acres with herds of horses, mules and cattle and distributed these among the people. He did end up with 120,000 acres for himself. Truly he was a romantic and historic figure, above average in height (although no book nor article gave his height), he weighed 180 pounds, he could ride, shoot and he certainly had an affinity for women. He did not drink alcohol, but allowed his men to drink, as long as they were ready to ride when he commanded. Although Pancho Villa had many enemies it was never proven who assassinated the farmer, general turned rancher, but the person responsible had executed a well-planned and public murder. The murderers rented a house in Parral, Chihuahua knowing that Villa would come to visit a former wife and child. Villa, who usually travelled with at least fifty men drove himself and several of his men. All telegraph lines had been cut and the local federal troops sent out on a bogus errand. Theories range from a vindictive husband or brother of one of Villa´s wives, or President Obregon, wanting to eliminate all possible presidential candidates. Pancho Villa, who had been one of the first to use planes in battle, who went from brigand to general and who knew the power of the press by giving interviews and participating in motion picture newsreels died in public and with mystery, just as he led his life. Both in public and with secrecy. It seems amazing that such a public figure, who died less than one hundred years ago, in the time of motion pictures and journalism, could still have so much mystery and uncertainty about his life.


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