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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 23 July 2016

Pancho Villa - man and myth

The start of my summer break is an opportunity to finish the Pancho Villa project. More a gallop to the finish line for Claymore, rather than the leisurely stroll I had planned.

The latest additions are the commanders. I have used the Old Glory personality pack, but I have painted them as generic command figures. 

First up is of course Pancho Villa. “Pancho Villa,” people whispered at the beginning of the 20th century, "can march 100 miles without stopping, live 100 days without food, go 100 nights without sleep, and kill 100 men without remorse."

Was he a revolutionary or just a bandit? Probably a bit of both, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and plump for mostly revolutionary. In his best revolutionary rhetoric he said:

“My sole ambition is to rid Mexico of the class that has oppressed her and given the people a chance to know what real liberty means. And if I could bring that about today by giving up my life, I would do it gladly.”

He was born around 1878, as Doroteo Arango Arámbula, into abject poverty in Rancho de la Coyotada, an insignificant village of no more than six houses, inside the hacienda of Santa Isabel de Berros, in the state of Durango. Mexico at the time was a hugely unequal country with large landowners supported by an almost feudal peasant class. Foreign companies dominated the economy. While the stories vary, he probably killed his sister's potential rapist and fled to the mountains where he became a successful bandit leader - adopting the name Pancho Villa.

He was persuaded by a supporter of Madero to join the revolution. Madero became president but was later killed in a coup that brought Huerta to power. During this period Villa organised his Division of the North, which by 1914 had grown to 50,000 men. By December 1914, allied with Zapata, they entered Mexico City and installed their own president. 

The subsequent Carranza government repeatedly defeated him on open battles and Villa was forced to return to his northern mountains. He lost the support of the USA, which led to the famous raid on Columbus, New Mexico in 1916 - the last successful invasion of the USA. The subsequent punitive expedition failed to capture Villa. 

In 1920 Carranza was killed bringing another Huerta (Adolf) to power. He agreed that Villa could retire to a farm with his remaining men. The Mexican Revolution was over. However, in 1923 he was assassinated in his local town of Parral, probably on the orders of the new President Obregon, because he thought Villa was planning a political return.

Like all popular heroes, Pancho Villa continues to live in hundreds of corridos, songs, books, movies, legends and even ghost stories about him. The truth is more prosaic, but everyone likes a good story!

Of course, every good story needs a bad guy. So here is my wicked Federales commander.

For further reading a good short history is, Pancho Villa: The Life and Legacy of the Famous Mexican Revolutionary by Gustavo Vázquez Lozano. The American journalist John Reed wrote a book about his time in Mexico, Insurgent Mexico, that included his time with Villa. It's a bit of a ramble, but does give a real flavour of the period. Both are available very cheaply as e-books.


  1. I think you are getting your Huertas mixed up! (Sounds painful I know).
    Victoriano Huerta (Federale, army) died in exile in 1913.
    Adolf de la Huerta (no relation Constitutionalist) was president in 1920s & managed to negotiate a peaceful settlement with remaining factions.
    Alvaron Obregon (Mexican translation of O'Brien) was the Constitionalist General who defeated Villa at Celaya who became president and it is thought, had Villa assassinated. He was himself assassinated soon afterwards.

  2. Thanks, You are quite correct. Trying to write highly abridged version of ten years history too quickly!