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Commemoration to feature 100th anniversary of end of Mexican Expedition

This photo features a vehicle used in the Mexican Expedition in 1916-17. Photos courtesy Library of Congress.

This photo features a vehicle used in the Mexican Expedition in 1916-17. Photos courtesy Library of Congress.

By Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle Managing Editor:

(El Paso, Texas, Mar. 9, 2017) COLUMBUS, N.M. – Each year in the small border town of Columbus, New Mexico, residents hold a commemoration of the day Mexican revolutionary Gen. Francisco “Pancho” Villa and 450 of his men raided the town, killed eight Soldiers and 10 civilians and burned several buildings.

The raid took place March 9, 1916, and this year, residents are kicking off the commemoration at 10 a.m. Saturday at the intersection of N.M. State Roads 9 and 11, said Norma Gomez, secretary of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and an organizer of the event.

From left, Col. L.G. Berry, Col. De R.C. Cabell, Lt. M.C. Schellenberger, Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, Lt. George S. Patton, Maj. J.C. Hines, Maj. J.C. Clayton and Capt. W.B. Burt pose for a photo at a field headquarters near Casas Grandes, Mexico, during the Mexican Expedition in 1916.

From left, Col. L.G. Berry, Col. De R.C. Cabell, Lt. M.C. Schellenberger, Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, Lt. George S. Patton, Maj. J.C. Hines, Maj. J.C. Clayton and Capt. W.B. Burt pose for a photo at a field headquarters near Casas Grandes, Mexico, during the Mexican Expedition in 1916.

This year’s event, called the 18th Annual Cabalgata Binacional and Raid Day Commemoration, will focus on the fact that 100 years have passed since the end of Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing’s Mexican Expedition originally called the “Punitive Expedition,” on Feb. 7, 1917, Gomez said.

Fort Bliss residents will recognize the Pershing name from his former home on Sheridan Road here. Pershing took command of Fort Bliss in April 1914, and after the raid, he gathered more than 50,000 Soldiers at the border and began the expedition March 16, 1916, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Although Pershing and the 10,000 Soldiers he took with him (including then-Lt. George S. Patton of World War II fame) did not succeed in catching Villa, the expedition caused Villa’s supporters to scatter and marked the birth of the Army Air Corps and Army truck transport, according to the TSHA. Pershing later served as commander of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I.

For anyone interested in learning more, Columbus has two museums that feature historical information and artifacts, and they will be open Saturday.

The Columbus Historical Society runs the Columbus Train Depot Museum, and it contains a number of artifacts from the raid, including a bank safe with a bullet hole in it, photos of Pershing and the Americans killed in the raid, newspaper accounts from the time and much more. Located at the corner of N.M. State Roads 9 and 11, the museum is impossible to miss.

A booklet available at the museum includes a map that leads visitors on a tour of the town (not difficult to do on foot) that points out 11 significant landmarks from the raid, such as the former Camp Furlong, the former Commercial Hotel (where five Americans died) and the former Columbus State Bank.

The state of New Mexico runs the town’s other museum at Pancho Villa State Park, a short walk from the Columbus Train Depot Museum. The park is located on the site of the former Camp Furlong, where members of the 13th Cavalry (which has a squadron stationed at Fort Bliss today) were stationed when the raid took place. It also includes artifacts, including one of the airplanes used in the expedition and an armored car.

Gomez said the commemoration will include 100 riders on horseback coming across the border in memory of the 200 or so Mexicans who died in the raid, a subsequent parade, historical talks, folklorico dancers, food, music and more. The riders start in Guerro, Chihuahua, Mexico, which is more than 300 miles from Columbus.

The town is about a 90-minute drive west of Fort Bliss.

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