COLUMBUS, New Mexico (Border Report) – The Village of Columbus is preparing to celebrate a defining moment in its history with a motorcycle ride and a binational cavalcade marking the 106th anniversary of Pancho Villa’s raid.
The raid on March 9, 1916, claimed the lives of 18 Americans and about 100 of Villa’s troops. It also prompted President Woodrow Wilson to send a punitive expedition to Mexico headed by Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing.
Today, civic leaders in Columbus and in Palomas, Mexico, use the anniversary as an opportunity to strengthen friendships and foster tourism.
“This gives us an opportunity to promote the border, promote Columbus and Palomas. It is a family event. We get several generations of family members from New Mexico, Arizona, Chihuahua and elsewhere,” said Sergio Romero, owner of The Pink Store and restaurant in Palomas.
Celebrations begin this Saturday at Columbus’ Train Depot Museum and in the town square with an outdoor market and a motorcycle ride in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers that were part of Pershing’s pursuit of Villa and were later stationed in Columbus. The Office of Mayor Esequiel Salas says the event starts at 9 a.m. with a street market and concludes at 2 p.m.
Next Friday, a group of horse rides is set to depart from Deming, New Mexico, to Columbus. On March 12, they will be joined by riders from Chihuahua, Mexico, who are scheduled to cross the border and join the Americans in a sign of unity and friendship, Salas’ office said.
“It’s our biggest event of the year, where our population easily doubles,” said Norma Gomez, co-director of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
Eighty American riders from 13 cities will gather in Deming for the cavalcade next Friday. Gomez said they have been asked to “bring an extra horse” because Mexican horses need to be quarantined for a week, and the Mexican riders are in the middle of a 300-mile trek from Southern Chihuahua and will arrive the day of the event.
“This year’s theme is the Punitive Expedition because the raid and the expedition go hand in hand,” Gomez said.
Villa’s armed incursion into the United States more than a century ago drew the eyes of the world to two tranquil border farming communities, said Tomas Cuevas Contreras, a member of the Paso del Norte Historical and Cultural Society.
Standing in front of the huge statue of Villa on a galloping horse in the Palomas town square, Cuevas said the controversial Mexican revolutionary general is part of the region’s rich history.
“He was well-known for his battle strategies. The statue of Villa is very representative and a source of pride for us” in Mexico, Cuevas said.
History buffs say Villa – one of the early heroes of the Mexican Revolution that began in late 1910 – was reeling from political and military defeats after breaking with Mexican President Venustiano Carranza. He was on the run, low on supplies and money and stationed what remained of his troops near Palomas.
Villa, for reasons that continue to be debated by historians, sent his soldiers across the border but is said to have badly underestimated the number of American troops in Columbus. The invaders burned and pillaged homes and buildings before being blindsided by American machine-gun and rifle fire.
Sixty-three of his soldiers died in the battle, an unknown number were killed in pursuit and 12 more who were captured in Columbus were later tried and executed.