The bandit who became a guerrilla leader.
Pancho Villa (1878 – 1923) was a Mexican revolutionary leader who advocated for the poor and wanted agrarian reform.
Although he was a killer, a bandit, and a revolutionary leader, many remember him as something of a folk hero.
He was prevented from being accepted into the “panteón” of national heroes until some 20 years after his death, but today his memory is honoured by Mexicans and many people around the world alike.
Pancho Villa was born Doroteo Arango, the son of a sharecropper at the hacienda in San Juan del Rio, Durango. While growing up, Pancho Villa witnessed and experienced the harshness of peasant life.
Before he reached the age of 15, his father had died, so Villa had to work to support his family until one day he came home and find that the owner of the hacienda had attempted to have sex with his 12-year old sister.
Villa, still only 16-years old, grabbed a pistol, shot dead the owner of the hacienda, and then took off to the mountains.
From 1894 to 1910, Villa spent most of his time in the mountains running from the law.
By 1896, he had joined some other bandits and soon became their leader.
Villa and his group of bandits would steal cattle, rob shipments of money, and commit crimes against the wealthy.
By stealing from the rich and often giving to the poor, some saw Pancho Villa as a modern-day ‘Robin Hood’.
His notoriety as a bandit and his prowess at escaping capture caught the attention of men who were planning a revolution. These men understood that Villa’s skills could be used as a guerilla fighter during a revolution.
Since Porfirio Diaz, the sitting President of Mexico, had created much of the current problems for the poor and Francisco Madero promised change for the lower classes, Pancho Villa joined Madero’s cause and agreed to be a leader in the revolutionary army.
When one of Madero’s military commanders, Pascual Orozco, started a counter rebellion against Madero, Villa gathered his mounted cavalry troops and fought alongside General Victoriano Huerta to support Madero.
However, Huerta viewed Villa as an competitor and also a threat, and later accused Villa of stealing a horse and insubordination.
He sentenced him to be executed.
Villa was actually standing in front of a firing squad awaiting his fate, when a telegram from President Madero was received commuting his sentence to imprisonment, from which Villa duly escaped.
During Villa’s imprisonment, Gildardo Magaña Cerda, a Zapatista who was in prison at the time, provided the chance meeting which would help to improve his poor reading and writing skills, which would serve him well in the future during his service as provisional governor of the state of Chihuahua.
Villa retired from revolutionary life in 1920 but had only a short retirement for he was gunned down in his car on July 20, 1923.