The Hearts of the Children - Mexican Expedition 1916-1917

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Since 1910, continuous bloodshed and disorders had marked the internal political quarrel in Mexico. Warring political groups during 1910 to 1916 had embittered the Mexican population against the United States. This included the Carranza government and the “Villista” forces led by Francisco “Pancho” Villa. During these years many Americans were killed, American property and capital were destroyed, and bandits roamed at will throughout the territory contiguous to the United States. These bandits , led by “Pancho” Villa, who seized American property and took American lives were neither apprehended nor brought to justice.

The territory adjacent to U.S. border towns soon became a favorite battle ground for Mexican revolutionist. The many battles along the border towns resulted in the loss of American lives. The American government repeatedly requested that the Mexican government safeguard the lives and homes of American citizens. Despite these demands, Villa openly carried on operations threatening Americans. His actions were not stopped or his movements hindered. On 3 January 1916, the American government requested to send troops to punish outlaws which had looted the Cusi mining property, 80 miles west of Chihuahua. No results came from this request. 10 January 1916 Villa and about 200 men shot 18 Americans in cold blood, who were on their way home to the United States. This massacre was known as the Santa Ysabel massacre. Villa’s unhindered activities culminated in the unprovoked and cold blooded attack upon American citizens and soldiers in the town of Columbus, New Mexico on 9 March 1916.

Those years of humiliation for the United States were epitomized by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge on 17 March 1916 after the Columbus raid: “Americans have been murdered in Mexico. Soldiers wearing the American uniform have been shot on the soil of the United States. The Americans robbed and slain in Mexico were entitled to our protection for their property and their lives... We all want peace. We are all against war if it can possibly be avoided, but we shall insist that American rights shall be protected at home and abroad.”

In response to Villa’s actions the State department had notified the press that adequate force would be sent in pursuit of Villa with the single purpose of capturing him. The “Punitive Expedition” was formed with General John J. Pershing in overall command. The Seventh Cavalry Regiment was commanded by Colonel James B. Erwin. The Regiment was part of the Second Cavalry Brigade commanded by Colonel George A. Dodd. The unit consisted of 29 officers and 647 enlisted men.

Under orders from the Department Headquarters, the Expedition was to enter Mexico in two columns. One column heading into Mexico from the east and the other column from the west. The 7th Cavalry Regiment’s mission was to be part of the west column. On 15 March 1916, the regiment was at Culberson’s Ranch, New Mexico awaiting orders to begin its mission and cross the Mexican border. They crossed the border 1230 am on 16 March. With a sense of great urgency, the column traveled 125 miles in two days with hardly any rest and arrived in Colonia Dublan, Mexico.

Upon arriving at Colonia Dublan, natives reported that Villa and his band were in San Miguel. The regiment was ordered to move south to pursue Villa. Their orders were to proceed without delay by way of Galeana to southwest of El Valle, through the San Madre mountains, to San Miguel plateau where they hoped to engage Villa.

On 21 March Colonel Dodd was ordered to join the 7th Cavalry Regiment and take command of the overall operations while Colonel Erwin retained immediate command of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. On 22 March, the regiment proceeded southward where they met Colonel Salas, the local Mexican federal commander. Colonel Salas confided that Villa was at Namiquipa with a large command. Villa had beaten Colonel Salas three days earlier and had driven him back through Cruces to El Valle.

Colonel Dodd intended to remain concealed about 12 to 13 miles from Namiquipa then proceed to surround the place, but before it was possible to act upon this plan, information was received from scouts that Villa was no longer at Namiquipa. On 20 March, Colonel Cano, a Carranzista commander, had attacked Villa and driven him from Namiquipa. They were not sure which direction villa had gone. Colonel Dodd had decided to go to Babicora to camp and to secure supplies and stay there until the 26th. Before moving on to Santa Ana he decided to leave two troops of the 7th Cavalry Regiment to guard the Jaral and Aramillo passes.

From 25 to 28 March, Colonel Dodd had assessed information received from the other regimental commanders, Carranzista commanders, the local Mexican populace, and by his own reconnaissance of the area. He learned that Villa was wounded from a fight in Guerrero on the 27th and had a large command of 500 to 600 men. He concluded that the immediate objective of Villa was Guerrero, the military center of the Guerrero district. By this time, the command was practically without supplies, suffering from the intense cold, and were exhausted. From 13 March to 28 March the troops had marched 14 out of 15 days for a distance of approximately 400 miles.

Guerrero, military center of the district is located in the lower plain of the Guerrero Valley, and is not directly visible from the east until one is on top of it. Dodd’s plan of attack was to detach one squadron and order it across the river the west side. Major Winan’s mission was to block the western escape routes leading out of Guerrero. Captain Samuel F. Dallam, the commander of Troop E, was designated as the rear guard. Once he attained his position no bandits escaped to the west. Captain Dallam’s troop killed the Villista commander General Hernandez.

While 2nd Squadron was securing the western side, the bandits had been alarmed and were escaping through the north end of town. Lieutenant Colonel S.R.H. Tompkins, at the time with Troop C, was sent to intercept the escaping party. He was reinforced by Major A.L. Dade with troops

I,K, and L. As the Villistas moved toward the hills, Troop B, under Captain William B. Corwin, and the Machine Gun Troop under Lieutenant Albert C. Wimberly were sent as further reinforcements. The pursuit of the bandits was pressed vigorously, despite the exhausted conditions of the horses. A mounted pistol charge was planned but was impossible because of the condition of the horses. The running fight continued until the Villistas entered the mountains. Here they broke into small detachments and scattered. The engagement had started from 8 am on 29 March until 11:30 am. The command that participated in the action were 25 officers and 345 enlisted men, all off the 7th Cavalry Regiment except Colonel Dodd and his staff. Villa’s command numbered about 500 to 600 men. The Villistas losses are not known, but Colonel Dodd reported 30 killed and a large number of wounded. The captured property was two machine guns, 44 rifles, 13 horses, and 23 mules.

Villa was wounded twice in a fight with the Carranzista troops several days ago and was not present with his band. At 2 am in the morning on 29 March, the day of the 7th Cavalry Regiment attack, Villa had left Guerrero. In fact it was during the night march that the regiment almost had caught up to Villa. The regiment had halted at a fork in the road near Guerrero and deliberated as to which route was the best way to Guerrero. If the column had taken a different turn at that fork it might have easily encountered Villa. Colonel Dodd’s column missed the bandit chief by not more than a few miles.

The 7th Cavalry Regiment did not make contact with the Villista forces for three weeks. A rumor reached Colonel Dodd that a Villista force he had been tracking was at Yoquivo. The Villista force he would encounter was commanded by Candelaro Cervantes who had a command of about 200 men. The direction of march would no longer go South but rather changed into a northwesterly direction. When the direction arrived in Yoquivo, the Villista force had just left. It seemed that the bandits were tipped off by the arrival of Major Gonzales and a small Carranzista force earlier that day. The regiment would finally meet the Villista force at Tomochic: a small, very old Spaniard town, located in a small valley opening into the valley of the Tomochic river. It is approached from the southwest on the Yoquive trail and is surrounded by high and rugged mountains.

When the regiment arrived in Tomochic, Colonel Dodd tasked Major Winans with Troop L and E to charge into and take over the town. Patrols were sent out to dislodge or kill enemy parties which had occupied hills to the north and south. The balance of the command was sent to the north to cover the plain. Enemy resistance at first was light and scattered, but soon thereafter heavy fire came from the circular hills to the east. This came from the enemy main body. The bandits had returned after learning that their rear guard was attacked and were scattered along the crest and sides of the mountains, extending from the northeast to the southeast. They had an advantage and their position could not be approached before dark. Upon receiving the heavy fire, a dozen men of Troop E under Major Winans immediately occupied knoll and was able to place well directed fire in the direction of the enemy. When darkness set, the enemy withdrew and the command reassembled and occupied the town. The enemy withdrew and the regiment lost contact. The regiment’s casualties were two killed, three wounded, and several horses dead due to exhaustion. At least 30 Villistas were killed, and an unknown large number of casualties. The regiment captured several horses, mules and arms. This defeat led to a thorough disintegration and demoralization of the Cervantes force. The Villistas had numbered 150 to 200 men at the time of the fight a few days later Cervantes had scarcely a dozen men.

After the battle in Tomochic, Villa’s forces had scattered in different directions under separate leaders and were still within the state of Chihuahua. It was believed that Villa was in hiding in the mountains to the south of San Borja. The territory was divided into five districts each to be patrolled by a regiment of cavalry, supported by infantry and artillery. The five districts were Namiquipa, Guerrero, Bustillos, Satevo, and San Borja. The 7th Cavalry Regiment was detailed to patrol the Guerrero district with Colonel Dodd as district commander.

“Guerrero District: Commencing at San Miguel thence south through Bachineve to MalPaso, Southwest to Racho De Santiago, southeast to Carichic, south to Guachocic, west to third meridian west to Chihuahua, north to a point west of Madera, thence east to Madera, thence southeast to San Miguel.”

During the month of May, the regimental headquarters remained a Providencia sending out patrols and scouts and gathering information concerning the surrounding country and the hostile Villistas. On 3 June the regiment moved to Colonia Dublan Chihuahua stopping for rest and supplies at Raspadura Pass, Santan Maria River, Namiquipa, El Valle, Angustua, Galeanl, Morman Lakes. The regiment traveled 170 miles through hot desert country. From July until the rest of the year the regiment remained at camp at Colonia Dublan. Here an intense period of training was entered into, and along with outpost duties, scouting, and patrolling, the command kept busy night and day.

On 30 January 1917, the entire regiment left camp at Colonia Dublan for its return trip to the United States. By 10 February, they returned to Camp Steward, Texas. For the remainder of the year, the regiment, less one squadron, performed outpost and patrol duty along the Rio Grande.

General Pershing accomplished his mission. He dispersed the bands of Villa, scattered them leaderless to the four winds, and rendered them ineffective as a threat to our border states. But he did not capture Villa. Although, in the annals of history, General Pershing received credit for defeating Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his bandits, he would not have been able to accomplish such a mission if it wasn’t for the involvement and daring of the 7th Cavalry Regiment “Garry Owen!”