From Farmer to Fugitive: what created Pancho Villa?

5 Min Read

After murdering the wealthy landowner that raped his 12-year-old sister by shooting him in the face, Pancho Villa donned two bandoliers of ammunition, grabbed firearms aplenty, and rode out to right the wrongs that had kept the average citizens of Mexico down for so long.

The future Robin Hood of Mexico was born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula on Rancho de la Coyotada on June 5, 1878. His parents were sharecroppers and about as poor as what amounted to being a slave with no way out of slavery could be. The family and others like them all across Mexico had no way to get ahead in life and were treated as more or less as property by large landowners. Pancho got little schooling on the ranch and by all accounts was barely literate.

But one doesn’t have to be literate to know that rape is wrong so when Pancho came home one day to find wealthy landowner Agustín López Negrete raping his sister he beat the tar out of him then killed him. Figuring he’d worn out his welcome on the ranch, Pancho stole a horse, ammunition, and firearms and fled to the mountains of Sierra Madre Occidental where he joined a bandit group run by uber-famous bandit Ignacio Parra.

In 1902, Pancho was arrested for stealing mules and forced into service with the Federal Army. Pancho hated the military and quickly deserted. In 1903, Pancho killed an army officer, stole his horse, and changed his name to Francisco “Pancho” Villa although his friends called him La Cucaracha, the cockroach. 

Pancho continued participating in the cockroach-like activities of banditry, robbery, and the occasional murder until 1910 when presidential candidate Francisco Madero suggested he use his skill set to fight for the people of Mexico by putting the hurt on large hacienda owners.

Pancho agreed.

He seized haciendas, trains, the town of San Andrés, and the border city of Ciudad Juárez in 1911. These crushing defeats looked bad and prompted current President José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori to resign from the presidency then flee to exile. Madero became president and quickly acted no different than the man he replaced by telling Pancho and his men to return to civilian life. Pancho scoffed at this idea and demanded that land seized by him and others be distributed to revolutionary soldiers. 

Madero refused. 

This infuriated many including one of Madero’s top generals, a man by the name of Victor Huerta.

Huerta murdered Madero, tossed Pancho in prison, and declared himself Dictator of Mexico.  Pancho quickly escaped and vowed revenge on Huerta. Pancho recruited the worst of the worst of the worst in his quest and quickly put together what he called The Division of the North.  Pancho moved this group quickly by railroad – a new and exciting idea at the time – and outfitted it by robbing wealthy landowners and purchasing goods in the US. As Pancho racked up victory after victory against Huerta, so grew his popularity. He was loved by most of the common men and even more so by the common woman, 26 of which he “married.” Pancho conquered Chihuahua and appointed himself provisional Governor.

Pancho’s military tactics were ruthless and unheard of at the time. At the Battle of Tierra Blanca, he hijacked a locomotive, packed it with explosives, and sent it missile style into an enemy train depot. He took over Ciudad Juarez by pulling a Trojan Horse by secretly ferrying his men into town in a train that was supposed to be carrying coal. 


That last one wasn’t new.

It had been done before.

Pancho took control of one-third of Mexico’s Silver Reserve when his men took what was said to be the impossible to take mountain fortress of Zacatecas. This was a huge blow to Huerta as it all but broke him and his war machine financially.

Weeks later, Pancho entered the gates of Mexico City with fellow bandit and revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The two took the city then lost it to a Constitutionalists named José Venustiano Carranza De La Garza. Carranza quickly kicked Pancho out of town. Pancho regrouped his army then returned only to be introduced to Carranza’s forces and a new invention called the machine gun that quickly ended Pancho’s attempt to regain control. 

Pancho regrouped again and this time asked the US to help him retake the city and ultimately the country. The US put their support behind Carranza instead and Pancho got pissed. In 1916, he and his men launched what is considered to be the only successful foreign invasion of US soil in the 20th century by riding into Columbus, New Mexico, defeating the US 13th Cavalry, and stealing a ton of guns and ammo. America retaliated by sending General John “Black Jack” Pershing and 6,000 US troops across the border and after Pancho to no avail. They never found him despite using aerial reconnaissance for the first time in history.

In 1920, Carranza was replaced with new leadership and Pancho retired. He was assassinated in 1923 while driving in his car.  Despite his car taking 40 bullets and his most likely dying instantly, reports claimed that Pancho’s last words were, “Don’t let it end like this.  Tell them I said something.”

By Gayne Young

Author Gayne C. Young is an Editor-at-Large and regular contributer to Field Ethos. He is the author of And Monkeys Threw Crap At Me: Adventures in Hunting, Fishing, and Writing, Texas Safari: The Game Hunters Guide To Texas, Sumatra, The Tunnel, Bug Hunt, Teddy Roosevelt: Sasquatch Hunter, Vikings: The Bigfoot Saga, and more. In January 2011, Gayne C. Young became the first American outdoor writer to interview Russian Prime Minister, and former Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Visit Gayne at his Amazon page.

Related Articles

Get More Field Ethos in your Inbox.


  1. Avatar

    Love the stories!! Keep em coming!!

    • Jason Vincent

      Thanks, Tom. We’ll keep writing them if you keep reading them.

  2. Avatar

    Quick, informative read.
    I am in the middle of reading a couple of Texas Ranger books and I find it interesting to read different points of view.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This