Border town invaded by Villa rejects wall, troops
COLUMBUS, N.M. — A small New Mexico border town once attacked by Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa is rejecting talk of a wall and troops while embracing its legacy to draw tourists.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has cited Villa’s 1916 raid of Columbus as an example of why President Donald Trump was deploying troops along the U.S.Mexico border. The deployment comes as thousands of migrants fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America head toward the U.S.
Columbus residents say those living on both sides of the border in the area have co-existed peacefully since the Villa invasion. They say the raid was a phenomenon of a different era, and that using it to justify tighter border security ignores more pressing needs such as economic development and better roads.
“It’s just an excuse,” said Roberto Gutierrez, 63, who owns a grocery store in Columbus. “Ever since then, people on both sides go back and forth (between the U.S. and Mexico) with no problem.”
The town is using the Villa assault to generate historical interest and try to pull in visitors rather than as a cautionary tale.
Columbus is set to launch a campaign called “Where Old Mexico Meets New Mexico” that spotlights Pancho Villa State Park as a place where visitors can explore the area near the scene of the attack and the spot where the military planned its unsuccessful bid to retrieve Villa from Mexico.
Residents mark the day of the raid every year to recall the Americans killed.
Sometimes there is a quiet moment with candles displayed in the middle of the village. Other times there is a parade with volunteers dressed as Pancho Villa or U.S. General John J. Pershing.
Shouting “Viva Villa! Viva Mexico!” Villa’s forces attacked Columbus in the early morning of March 6, 1916, looting and burning homes and businesses.
About a dozen residents and eight U.S. soldiers were killed before members of the U.S. 13th Cavalry Regiment drove the Villistas back across the border.
University of Houston history professor Jose Angel Hernandez said the raid came as Mexico was locked in violent civil war. Villa felt betrayed by President Woodrow Wilson, who Villa believed would recognize his rebel government, Hernandez said.
“The raid has to be understood in the context of U.S.-Mexico diplomatic relations and the Mexican Revolution, not immigration,” Hernandez said.
The attack sparked outrage across the United States, and Wilson ordered the Punitive Expedition into Mexico led by Gen. Pershing to capture or kill Villa.
The U.S. Army didn’t catch Villa and withdrew from Mexico amid diplomatic pressure ahead of World War I.