They came in in two columns – one from the southeast, and one from the southwest. There were somewhere around 500-600 of them, it was estimated. They were allegedly led by one of the most romantic, yet ruthless figures in Mexican history – Doroteo Arango, a.k.a. Francisco “Pancho” Villa. In their sights was the sleepy little village of Columbus, New Mexico, and Camp Furlong, the small cavalry post there.
Using Winchester and Mauser rifles and Colt revolvers, the “Villistas” hit Columbus and started cutting down anyone in their paths. The attack started about an hour and a half before dawn, continuing to sunup. Lt. John Lucas, stationed at Camp Furlong, had come in on the train from El Paso not long before the raid. Upon hearing the gunfire, Lucas grabbed his 1911 .45 automatic and headed into the fray with nothing on but his pants. Lt. Lucas headed to a magazine which contained four Benet-Mercier .30-06 machine guns. He and fellow soldiers took after the Villistas, but had problems operating the machine guns in the dark. Even with the difficulties, they expended around 20,000 rounds of ammunition at the marauders.
In all, eighteen United States citizens were killed during the Villa raid, and about 75 Villistas were dispatched. At sunrise, Villas forces retreated back to Mexico, but it didn’t end there. Nine days later General John J. Pershing and his soldiers, which included a young Lt. George Patton, pursued Villa into Mexico. Patton had just purchased a Colt Single Action Army .45 in El Paso, and was anxious to put it into action. He would later get that chance.
The Punitive Expedition, as it was known, encountered every imaginable obstacle, including a number of firefights both with Villistas and Carranza regulars. Pershing never did get Villa, but the trip did accomplish something – most of his troops returned from the Punitive Expedition to find out they were about to embark on an even more harrowing adventure – World War I.
The sleepy little town of Columbus isn’t much different now than it was when the raid occurred. Years ago, the town’s small museum displayed a nickel-plated Colt Single Action Army said to have belonged to Villa. It’s among the hundreds of Colts in West Texas and New Mexico carrying the same handle. Villa’s legacy lives.