When Villa came of age, he declared his freedom from the peonage of his parents and became notorious as a bandit in Chihuahua and Durango. His vigorous fighting in the revolution of 1910–11 was largely responsible for the triumph of Francisco I. Madero over Porfirio Díaz. When Victoriano Huerta overthrew Madero (Feb., 1913), Villa joined Venustiano Carranza and the Constitutionalists in the fight against Huerta. The Constitutionalists met with continual success. Villa, at the head of his brilliant cavalry, Los Dorados, gained control of N Mexico by the audacity of his attacks; Huerta resigned in July, 1914.
Antipathy and suspicion had always existed between Villa and Carranza; now, with their common enemy eliminated, an open break occurred after the Convention of Aguascalientes. A bloody contest ensued, with Álvaro Obregón taking the side of Carranza. In the midst of chaos, Villa, with Emiliano Zapata, occupied Mexico City (Dec., 1914) but later evacuated the capital (Jan., 1915). Obregón pursued Villa, and their armies engaged at Celaya (Apr., 1915). Decisively defeated, Villa was driven north and out of military significance. In the winter of 1915 he campaigned disastrously against Plutarco E. Calles in Sonora.
Villa's waning power was further diminished by President Wilson's recognition of Carranza (Oct., 1915), which angered Villa. In Jan., 1916, a group of Americans were shot by bandits in Chihuahua, and on Mar. 9, 1916, some of Villa's men raided the U.S. town of Columbus, N.Mex., killing some American citizens. It is not certain that Villa participated in these assaults, but he was universally held responsible. Wilson ordered a punitive expedition under General Pershing to capture Villa dead or alive. The expedition pursued Villa through Chihuahua for 11 months (Mar., 1916–Feb., 1917) but failed in its objective. Carranza violently resented this invasion and it embittered relations between Mexico and the United States.
Villa continued his activities in northern Mexico throughout Carranza's regime, but in 1920 he came to an amicable agreement with the government of Adolfo de la Huerta. Three years later Villa was assassinated at Parral. In a sense Pancho Villa was a rebel against social abuses; at times he worked a rough justice but he was a violent and undirected destructive force. His daring, his impetuosity, and his horsemanship made him the idol of the masses, especially in N Mexico, where he was regarded as a sort of Robin Hood. The Villa myth is perpetuated in numerous ballads and tales.
See biographies by W. D. Lansford (1965), O. Arnold (1979), and F. Katz (1998); M. L. Guzmán, The Eagle and the Serpent (tr. 1930); E. Pinchón, Viva Villa! (1933, repr. 1970); H. Braddy, Cock of the Walk (1955, repr. 1970); C. C. Clendenen, The United States and Pancho Villa (1961, repr. 1972); M. A. Machado, Jr., Centaur of the North (1988); F. McLynn, Villa and Zapata (2000).
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