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“A STORY as timely as today’s headlines,” it has been said. However, this story about the United States versus Mexico took place 100 years ago. The tale involves a U.S. general named Black Jack, a Mexican revolutionary named Pancho, and only the second use of American aeroplanes in an international dispute. It’s told here in two parts, today and tomorrow.
The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 and continued until 1920. One cause was the Mexican people’s eventual dissatisfaction with Porfirio Diaz, his 35-year (‽) presidency known as the Porfiriato.
Americans accompanied by French aviator Didier Masson got involved as mercenaries on the side of Sonoran revolutionary Alvaro Obregón fighting against the Federales. As noted in “Masson’s Mexican Melee,” this was recognized as the first use of a U.S. aeroplane, a Martin pusher, in an international dispute: “On May 28, 1913, Masson targeted its bombs on the Federales’ ship Moretos. Though it caused no damage, it certainly scared hell out of everyone and announced a new era of military tactics.”
Pancho Villa was one of the most prominent figures in the Mexican Revolution. He served as provisional governor of Chihuahua in 1913 and 1914.
Villa’s actions in 1914 led to the ousting of Victoriano Huerta, whose conspiracy had deposed and assassinated Francisco Madero, Diaz’s successor to the Mexican presidency. (Remember Porfirio Diaz? Don’t worry; any test on this will be open book.)
Black Jack Pershing had ancestors who emigrated from Alsace to the American colonies in 1749. A West Point graduate of 1886, Pershing rose in the U.S. Army with postings that included Tokyo, Paris, and the Philippines. A personal tidbit: Two years after losing his wife and children in a tragic fire, he courted Anne Wilson “Nita” Patton, younger sister of his protégé, George S. Patton. Black Jack and Nita were briefly engaged, though never married.
Prior to commanding the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, Black Jack led a 1916 expedition into Mexico to capture Pancho Villa. This was in retaliation of Villa’s March 9, 1916, hit-and-run raid of Columbus, New Mexico, a village 3 miles north of the border.
Uneasy Times. Not that relations had been all that cordial before the raid. In October 1915, the U.S. government had aided Venustiano Carranza, a rival revolutionary, by providing rail transportation from Eagle Pass, Texas, to Douglas, Arizona, for 5000 of his troops. This contingent went on to defeat Villa forces in the Battle of Agua Prieta. Feeling betrayed, Villa responded by attacking U.S. nationals and their properties in Mexico.
Tomorrow in Part 2 we’ll follow Black Jack Pershing’s efforts to capture Pancho Villa and the expedition’s use of aeroplanes, in retrospect, possibly not enough of them. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018