Pancho Villa Rides Again

Pancho Villa Rides Again  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Brian Lebel.

Tall tales thrive about famous men.  Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa is no exception.  He was a Robin Hood type character in Mexican history who sometimes stole from the rich to give to the poor.  A folk saint to many people.

In my (youth) I saw…people who were being oppressed.  They had to suffer for the few who became rich…I solemnly swore that I would attack that system and punish it severely,
— Pancho Villa

Pancho once gave hundreds of pesos to an elderly blind man to help him setup a tailor shop.  He was also known to give poor families stolen cattle so they could feed their families.  And he usually made sure people knew about his generosity. 

As a bandit-hero Pancho understood image was everything and he received a lot of good press and left behind a lot of photos of himself.

To his enemies Pancho was a heartless adversary.  They say he could look a man dead in the eye and shoot him without blinking for no reason.  Legend has it he once forced a man to dig his own grave before murdering him.  And he was known to have killed large numbers of people.

“In my (youth) I saw…people who were being oppressed.  They had to suffer for the few who became rich…I solemnly swore that I would attack that system and punish it severely,” he said.

The historical and legendary character joined forces with Francisco Madero during the 1910 Mexican Revolution to successfully remove elderly dictator Porfirio Diaz from office.  Madero became president and was assassinated shortly afterward. 

Pancho revolted using the town of Chihuahua as his base of operation.  He gathered troops and formed the famous “Division del Norte,” called the most effective fighting force ever assembled in Mexico.  With his troops Pancho headed for Mexico City. 

After a series of retreats and defeats with cavalry charges he surrendered to the Mexican government in 1920.  He and his troops were given amnesty.  Pancho also received a ranch (El Canutillo) near Parral, Chihuahua.   

On July 20, 1923 Pancho was also assassinated by enemies tied to the Mexican government. Shortly after his death his body was dug up and his corpse was decapitated.  No one ever figured out what happened to his head. 

In 1976, Pres. Luis Echevarria, had Pancho’s remains exhumed once again and he was buried in Mexico City in the Monument of the Revolution.

The larger-than-life Pancho Villa’s fame lives on among the poor in Mexico.  His folk legends helped define Mexico’s struggle for freedom.  His followers see him as a saint.  They say they can also still deal directly with him through mediums believed to be in contact with the spirit world.

It was reported that Villa’s spirit advised a man trying to validate a claim to a piece of property.  The man asked his wife, a medium herself, to consult Villa’s spirit.  Pancho allegedly dictated a letter through the illiterate woman to a specific attorney.  Shortly afterwards with the attorney’s help the man gained title to the property.

On Jan. 28, High Noon Western Americana Auction in Mesa, Ariz., featured the silver threaded saddle belonging to Pancho Villa in its auction.  The saddle was created by renowned Mexican artisans and given to American film director Howard Hawks in 1931 by Pancho’s wife when he came to Mexico to begin filming Viva Villa.  Hawks was later dismissed from the film.  The saddle sold for $718,750. 

It’s one of the most important artifacts from this legendary period in Mexican history. 

Also featured in the sale was an oil on canvas painting of Pancho Villa by western artist John Moyers.  The 40 inch by 40 inch oil sold for $20,700.  Moyers is three-time president of the Cowboy Artists of America.  His painting was inspired by his first glimpse of Pancho’s silver thread laden parade saddle in the auction.   


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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