Pancho Villa is considered by many to be the most widely known Mexican throughout the world. He is seen as a Robin Hood and a hero of the revolution. One of the few things about Villa’s life which most historians agree to is that he was born in 1878, in the state of Durango, on the Rancho de la Coyotoda, owned by the Lopez Negrete family. His sharecropper parents who lived on this hacienda were, Agustin Arango and Micaela Arambula. His baptismal name was Doroteo Arango.
The legends begin on September 22, 1894 when he was sixteen years old. According to Villa years later, as he dictated his autobiography to his secretary, Manuel Bauche Alcalde, “this is when the tragedy of my life begins.” After his father died, Doroteo became the head of his family, working as a sharecropper on the Hacienda de Gogojito. Coming home from work one day he found his mother and the ranch owner arguing. The ranch owner apparently wanted Arango’s 15-year old sister. Doroteo became angry and shot Lopez Negrete in the foot. He then fled into the mountains. This is when he began his life as an outlaw and the legend was born. Since the local police was now after him, he decided to change his name to Pancho Villa.
Pancho Villa began his new life as a thief, robbing wealthy miners and many others. He said he was returning to the poor, money the rich had taken from them. Villa became the idol of the peasants during his outlaw period. They tell of how he and his gang would attack rich haciendas and distribute the loot to the poor. Other stories tell of Villa stealing cattle herds for the poor so they would have meat to feed their families. He once gave an old man money to start a tailor shop. They say he recruited members out in the middle towns, similar to what an army general might do when trying to sign up recruits.All of his robbing did not go unnoticed by the authorities. The police were constantly chasing Villa, he had several shootouts. He was 16 years old during this time period.
There are many other stories about Pancho Villa prior to him joining the revolutionary forces. Most of these legends are centered in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico where he lived for several years during his life as a bandido.
In November 1910, the Mexican Revolution began in the state of Chihuahua as poor peasants became frustrated with the high cost of food and continued mistreatment by the rich landowners. This anger had been building for many years and it finally just erupted into violence. The revolutionaries quickly organized and elected their military leaders. Pancho Villa was voted as a First Commander and led a force of 28 men. Villa was now 32 years old, with much experience leading men who had but one goal in mind, victory. Villa also had the reputation of being one of Mexico’s best gunfighters. One of friends later said, “His gun was more important to him than eating and sleeping.” Villa was also known to not drink, smoke, or take any kind of illegal drug. He was known as a ruthless man whose anger could turn into a raging fury. Villa was loyal to the men he respected and trusted. However, if he was betrayed, he would instantly try and sentence the culprit all in one action. Pancho Villa was quickly seen as a guerrilla fighter and shortly into the war would become one of the most important military leaders of the Mexican Revolution. He was the first revolutionary leader to defeat regular government soldiers. Villa’s contingent soon numbered nearly 500 as his men won continual battles.
Villa and the Dorados, “the Golden Ones”, his ferocious cavalry would attack, firing accurately at a full gallop from their charging horses in the style of warfare perfected by the Apache and Comanches who the Dorados’ fathers had fought a generation earlier. By 1913 Villa led a revolutionary force numbering about 3,000. They are known as the División del Norte. They were known for their strong cavalry charges. Villa had now begun successfully attacking at night. This seriously damaged the morale of the federal troops. Villa was a strong leader who made his presence known to all. He was known to surprise his men and sit down at one of the campfires where they were making their food. He would ask if he could join them and then sat down alongside and eat whatever they had. This made him very popular among the troops and also made sure he would not be poisoned.
The battle for Torreon was to make Villa a national leader. He had sent in 16,000 revolutionary soldiers who attacked night and day. The fighting included much hand-to-hand combat and was very bloody. The federal leaders withdrew about 4,000 troops and replaced them with 6,000 fresh ones. They soon became weary and feared the night attacks. After ten days and nights of engagement, Villa’s fighters were rejoicing in their apparent victory as the federal army withdrew to the south. Col Villa and his troops place themselves under command of Francisco Madero at the Hacienda de Bustillos, Chi. 1911
Villa financed his army by stealing cattle herds in northern Mexico and selling them north of the border, where he found plenty of American businessmen willing to sell him guns and bullets. Villa became a sort of folk hero in the U.S. Even Hollywood filmmakers and U.S. newspaper photographers flocked to Northern Mexico to record his battles–many of which were staged for the cameras.