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The Story of Mexico by  Charles Morris
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VILLA, EX-BANDIT AND WAR HERO

[287] IN the campaign of the Constitutional army against Huerta and the forces under his command, while General Carranza was the leading figure, Francisco (alias Pancho) Villa, the one-time bandit, was the most picturesque figure and the most prominent of the leaders in the field. The word "bandit" generally, though not always, conveys a suggestion of disgrace, and Villa's career has not been one to be commended, though he was in a measure driven into it. His life's story is full of active and romantic incident, and in view of the important part he took in the Constitutionalist revolution, a brief account of it is worth giving.

The parents of Francisco Villa had a small farm in the State of Durango, in central Mexico, and on the death of his father he succeeded to its management, leading an active and useful life with his mother and sister, the latter a maiden of noted beauty. As a consequence of her good looks the girl had numerous suitors, a local magistrate being among the number. One day she vanished, and as the magistrate had also disappeared, Villa was quick to judge what had occurred. It was the first time the even current of his life had been disturbed, but the character of the man was decisively shown in the events that followed. Getting a priest to accompany him, he rode in pursuit over the mountains with furious haste. The fleeing couple were overtaken; at Villa's dictation they were immediately married by the priest; then the irate brother compelled the husband to sign his own death-warrant, and killed him on the spot, the priest saying the requisite prayers. Here was retribution with a vengeance.

Returning to the farm with his erring sister, Villa would [288] have lived peacefully enough if the ,rurales, or rural police, had let him alone. But the murder of a magistrate was not to be so easily condoned, and he was forced to flee for his life. This act changed him from a quiet farmer into a desperate bandit. For fifteen years he, in company with two faithful cowboys, roamed the mountains, pillaging farms, robbing travelers and raiding cattle. Although a reward of $10,000 was offered for his capture, he defied the rurales  and in time became looked upon by the people as a second Robin Hood. More than eighty combats were fought between him and his pursuers, forty-three of whom were killed in these encounters. But, although he was eight times wounded, Villa remained free.


[Illustration]

THE REBEL GENERAL-IN-CHIEF FRANCISCO (PANCHO) VILLA, LEADER OF THE CONSTITUTIONALIST ARMY IN NORTHERN MEXICO, IS SEEN ON THE RIGHT. ON THE LEFT IS GUSTAVO MADERO, BROTHER OF THE DEAD PRESIDENT, AND A HEAVY FINANCIAL BACKER OF THE REVOLUTION.

Now came the time of Madero's revolt. Villa saw in this an opportunity to win himself a place as an honorable citizen and joined the revolutionists, in whose ranks he did excellent service. The people had come to regard him as a sort of national hero, a soldier of daring deeds and romantic escapades. There was an American legion in Madero's army, in which served a Garibaldi, a grandson of the famous Italian hero, against whom Villa cherished a feeling of enmity. Some of the Americans had looted in the streets of Juarez, after its capture by Madero, and Villa crossed to El Paso, vowing that he would kill Garibaldi. The latter heard of his threat and met him in a restaurant, both well armed. Villa had six men with him, but Garibaldi had as many, among them four American Secret Service agents. The proposed shooting did not occur. The Secret Service men took from him his arms, and he was well content to get back again to Mexican soil. A Garibaldi had met and faced down a Villa.

When Madero became President, Villa was rewarded, and at the same time kept as far as possible from mischief, by being made a leader of the rurales  and set to the new task of catching bandits. But it was hard to keep him from his old brigand habits, and among his exploits as a commander of police was the collecting from certain banks of a sum amounting to over [289] $90,000. This he handed over to help the Revolutionary cause—with the exception of some $25,000, which he kept to pay for his own services in this direction. Chief among the looted banks was the Banco Mineral, to which General Villa gave a receipt for the money, stating, however, that it was part of the spoils of war and would not be repaid. The bank, he said, had supplied money to Orozco in the north; now it was time to give a little to the south. During the war of the Madero administration, in which General Huerta commanded the Federal army against Orozco and others, Villa was seized by Huerta as a center of disturbance in the army and ordered to be shot. His life was saved by the intervention of the President. The time was soon to come when he would prove to be a thorn in the flesh of the man who had condemned him to death.

In Chapter XXI the important services of Villa, now become the most active leader in the army of the Constitutionalists, have been described down to the date of the siege of the city of Chihuahua. At that time the Federal forces still held the cities of Chihuahua and Monterey in the north and remained in control of the oil districts around Tampico and Tuxpan; but in all these places their position was threatened. Villa had temporarily desisted from his projected assault upon Chihuahua, while he made a dash north and conquered Juarez. The military supplies obtained there and the possession of Juarez and Torreon by the insurgents rendered Chihuahua untenable, and without waiting for the expected assault, General Mercado, the Federal commander, evacuated the city, leaving a small body of soldiers for police duty until Villa's men should take possession. Mercado was accompanied in his march by a considerable number of refugees, some of them wealthy and carrying valuable possessions. One of the members of the rich Terrazas family was said to have with him $2,500,000 in cash. The destination of this large body of fugitives was the border two of Ojinaga, opposite [290] Presidio, Texas, in which the refugees hoped to find a safe refuge. Their route, thither, however, lay across a waterless desert region, swept by cold winds at night and sand storms by day, from which they were likely to suffer severely.


[Illustration]

REBEL SOLDIERS FIRING FROM AN ADOBE FORT. THESE MEN ARE THROUGHLY TRAINED IN THIS KIND OF WARFARE AND ARE WELL SUPPLIED WITH ARMS AND AMMUNITION.

General Villa, then at the head of an army 7,000 strong, desisted from his intended occupation of Chihuahua on learning of this flight, and sent a considerable force in pursuit of the fugitives. He hoped to capture the Federal soldiers, gain possession of their arms and equipment, and also to seize the money which they were taking with them. The caravan of refugees, said to be 2,000 in number, included women and children, many of whom suffered severely from the desert flight. On the 6th they were reported as nearing Ojinaga, the troops moving slowly and many of the civilians on foot. Behind them came a bullion train across the desert, bringing in wagons $2,500,000 of silver from the Parral silver mines. The desert exodus as it neared its end was watched by thousands of persons in Presidio, attracted there by news of the remarkable flight across a waterless plain.

With Mercado came Orozco and other military officers, they reaching Ojinaga in a state of complete exhaustion on the night of December 9th. The fugitives had suffered terribly, more than a hundred of them having died from thirst and starvation during the terrible journey. As they struggled into Ojinaga they were assisted to houses where they were provided with food and clothing, and then were sent in automobiles and carriages to ,the American border. As regarded the soldiers of the escort, some measures of restraint had to be taken to prevent a general rush across the river into United States territory. This was not alone from their sufferings, but from the fact that they were almost in a state of mutiny from not being paid.

While General Villa was thus making victorious progress in his campaign, the revolutionists were reported as endangering important Federal strongholds in other sections of the [291] republic. Zacatecas was threatened; reports of the capture of Monterey were abroad; Colima was reported as being taken, and the forces under the brigand Zapata were threatening other places of importance, some of his raiding bands having appeared in the vicinity of the capital. All these, however, were largely of the nature of rumors, while the city of Torreon, which had long been held by the insurgents, was about to be retaken by a Federal force under General Velasco.

Villa's projected move against the Mexican capital had been halted as a result of the flight northward of Mercado's troops and his position at Ojinaga, where he had about 4,000 men under his command. Villa had about 7,000, but was obliged to garrison Chihuahua and Juarez, both of which he now occupied, and defend the railroad between these cities. Under these circumstances he could not venture upon a forward move with so large a body of enemies in his rear. He was obliged to deal with this force first, and this he energetically proceeded to do.


[Illustration]

REBEL WOUNDED LYING ON FLAT CARS AND TENDED BY THE WOMEN CAMP FOLLOWERS. THE SUFFERINGS OF THESE MEN LYING EXPOSED TO THE PITILESS SON IN A LAND WHERE WATER HAS TO BE TRANSPORTED MANY MILES AND WITHOUT ADEQUATE MEDICAL ATTENDANCE, IS BEYOND DESCRIPTION.

It was no trifling task that lay before him. The town of Ojinaga stands on a hill, on which Mercado had constructed extensive works of defense. The place had been long held against superior forces during the Madero revolution, its elevated position giving special advantages to those holding its forts, which commanded all the low grounds surrounding. The bulk of the force under Villa's command was gradually gathered around the place, menacing it on three sides, the fourth being occupied by the Rio Grande, which separates it from the United States. It was evident, though, that the assailants had a difficult task before them, the commanding position of Federal forts and trenches rendering it impossible to storm the place without heavy loss of life. The assailants would have to climb almost straight upward to the town under fire without shelter except that afforded by a few mesquite bushes. The task before them was a difficult one, and they awaited the coming of General Villa from Chihuahua before making an attack.

[292] In the meantime operations of importance were proceeding elsewhere, an attack in force being made on the port of Tampico, in the vicinity of which were extensive oil fields in which much British and American capital was invested. As a result the place contained many foreigners, whose lives would be endangered by an attack.

The affair began with the capture by rebels of a small town twenty miles from Tampico. News of this reached Rear Admiral Fletcher, in command of the American naval forces in the Gulf, on December 9th, and he lost no time in sending the gunboat Wheeling from Vera Cruz to that port, to guard Americans there from danger. The British commander took a similar precaution. As a consequence some of the oil companies at once canceled their contracts for supplying the National railroads with fuel oil, for fear that this would induce the rebels to seize and injure their properties. This was likely to prove a serious blow to the Huerta government, as it would soon bring about a suspension of railroad travel, oil being used as fuel on all the roads.

The attack on Tampico began on the 10th and continued on the next day. For the protection of foreigners in the town Fletcher, in combination with the British admiral and the commander of a German cruiser present, laid out a neutral zone for the safety of foreigners and notified the commanding officers on both sides that fighting would not be permitted near that zone. The gunboats Tacoma and Chester were sent up the river with 150 marines to take off those who wished to leave, but many of the foreign residents preferred to remain in the neutral zone, in which was included a large area of the beach. Only Americans remained on shore, the British and Germans taking refuge on vessels of their respective nations. The most serious danger was of a fire breaking out in the large oil tanks in the town or in the extensive oil wells, whose yield was very large. The revenues from oil shipments at the port totaled about $250,000 a month.

[293] On the 12th the Mexican gunboat Bravo  took part in the action, firing into the rebel camp, and this was continued on the 13th, a continual shell fire being kept up day and night into the position of the Constitutionalists. When the aliens in the city had been removed to places of safety the fight increased in violence. In addition to the American cruisers, the battle-ships Rhode Island, New Jersey  and Virginia  were now present, these lying in the deeper water several miles out. To these most of the American refugees were transferred, and all foreigners were reported as safe.

The attack failed and the rebel force was withdrawn after the 13th, but a new attack was made on the 22nd, the insurgents now being supplied with artillery, which added much to their chance of success. The garrison, however, with efficient aid from gunboats, succeeded in repelling all attacks, and the city remained in. Federal hands, while its oil interests and supplies continued unharmed. The next event of importance took place at Torreon, which, recovered by the Federals from insurgent occupation, was again attacked on the 24th by rebel forces under General Benevides, the assailants fighting their way into the city, but failing to dislodge the garrison. Artillery was used freely on both sides, much damage being done by the rebel fire to the buildings of the city, though the place was successfully defended.

General Villa was in the interval busied in preparations for an attack on Ojinaga, gathering troops and ammunition for his proposed assault. This began on the closing days of the year, the rebel forces pouring shells, bullets and shrapnel into the place for sixty hours. On the 31st, General Ortego, with 6,000 men under his command, had driven the 4,000 Federals into their inner trenches, and at sundown began to advance his artillery. His purpose was to destroy the horse corral and other loop-holed buildings in which were the bulk of the defenders. The attack continued on the next day, January 1st, a distressing sight being that of the many wounded [294] who made their way in an almost unbroken line across the stream to the American side. All who brought weapons with them were at once disarmed, while physicians and medical supplies were placed at their service. In this respect the battle was a peculiar one, with foreign territory so near at hand as a shelter for all who were able to escape. The attack continued with undiminished fury on the 2nd, the assailants steadily drawing closer and pouring in a hotter fire from small arms and artillery.

Never in border history had there been a scene equal to that of the Federal wounded and deserters who scrambled to reach the United States, while upon their rear there still poured a parting shower of shells and bullets. The river's edge was a ragged fringe of smoke-begrimed, maimed and half-naked soldiers, some of them rushing pell-mell into the river, some crying from the pain of their wounds, others crawling, because of shattered limbs, over the rocks and cacti, some greedily stopping to drink the muddy water, and all begging the Americans on the opposite side for shelter from the horrible turmoil from which they had fled.

The river bed at this point is formed of soft mud, with water in the middle, about waist deep. At one point 200 Federals, all carrying arms, waded across. They were surrounded by a handful of United States troops, disarmed and forced back. The wounded were picked up as soon as they reached the shore; or if a wounded soldier got stuck in the mud he was dragged out and placed in the care of the Red Cross. A soldier who had his arm shot off, another limping with a wounded foot, still others who had actually crawled to the water, a Federal lieutenant wearing the uniform of his rank, a bugler with a bunch of yellow tassels on his arm, a barefooted private who had lost his shoes—all formed part of the hobbling line that came down the mile which intervenes between Ojinaga and the river.


[Illustration]

UNITED STATES SOLDIERS RECEIVING MEXICAN FEDERALIST SOLDIERS WHO SURRENDERED TO THEM AT NOGALES, ARIZONA, TO AVOID CAPTURE BY THE REBELS.

The protests of the unwounded Federals against being [295] forced back into Mexico were pitiable. The deserters went back, but wailing as they went that they would surely be killed without their arms. The rebels were in as desperate a condition, on account of the great number of wounded and the lack-of facilities for treating them. American Red Cross nurses would have given their aid if it had been possible for them to reach the rebel camps. But this could not be done, and the situation was such that the rebel wounded could not be sent across. Thus their needs remained without attention. To mitigate the situation as fully as possible orders were sent from Washington to permit unwounded fugitives who crossed the river to remain, if necessary to save life, and to co-operate with the Red Cross Society wherever available.

The siege of Ojinaga was discontinued after January 5th to await the coming of General Villa. It was resumed on the 10th, and after a few hours fighting Villa's forces closed in at sundown on the garrison with cannon and rifle fire. A panic in the Federal ranks began at about ten o'clock, and Mercado, seeing that further resistance was hopeless, gave the order for a general retreat, a force being left to man the guns until the women and children had escaped. The deserted village was immediately occupied by the besieging forces. For hours women, children and wounded soldiers had been scrambling across the river, to be taken in charge by the United States cavalry patrol. Now came a general rush of the retreating Federals, all who could crossing the river, the others running in all directions. About 400 of these, led by Orozco, Salazar, and other officers, cut their way through the assailing lines and succeeded in reaching shelter in the mountains, while Mercado and Castro, the principal leaders, made their escape to the American side.

The downfall of Ojinaga marked the end of Huerta's rule in northern Mexico. Torreon, which the rebels had more than once held and abandoned, was the next point of importance to be attacked in the projected advance on Mexico [296] City, other places on the route being Saltillo, Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosi. The result of the rout at Ojinaga had left to the United States the guardianship of about 4,000 refugees, the care of whom would entail a considerable expense. But no thought of sending them back to possible massacre was entertained, and the government without hesitation undertook the unwelcome task entailed upon it by its vicinity to a land in insurrection.

We have now to deal with another phase of the conflict, that of Villa's manner of handling affairs in Chihuahua, which city he had held during these operations. One of his admirers thus speaks of his newly developed powers: "Villa's capacity for battle, his method in assault, his assumption of the processes of orderly government when he has made himself master, mark him for more promise than any other man who has recently come across the horizon of a sister nation."

The warrant for this eulogy was the land policy displayed by Villa, showing as it did a keen sense of the underlying cause of the revolution. To quote from the Springfield Republican:  "Unless some government shall solve the land question by purchase in a way satisfactory to the peasant class, the direct action of a Villa flushed with military success over the landed millionaires may prove to be the final solution, precisely as the confiscations of Juarez over half a century ago roughly solved the question of the landholding of the religious orders."

The first step taken by Villa when the city of Chihuahua fell into his hands was to seize $5,000,000 worth of property belonging to foreigners, chiefly Spaniards, to force the merchants to pay him large sums of money, several millions of dollars in all, in support of the revolution, and to order the expulsion of Spanish merchants from the city. On December 16th, by a formal decree, he declared the vast landed estates of General Luis Terrazas and of all members of his family forfeited to the Constitutionalist cause. Terrazas, then a [297] fugitive in the United States, owned fifteen large ranches in the State of Chihuahua and was said to be worth $200,000,000, his holdings embracing fully 5,000,000 acres, while his herds of horses, mules and cattle were enormous in number. His son-in-law, Enrique Creel, formerly Mexican ambassador to the United States, also possessed large estates, which were included in the Villa confiscation. Colonel Luis Terrazas, son of the General, was taken prisoner in Chihuahua, and held as another ,set of the revolution. The Terrazas held pretty much everything worth owning in the state, and ruled like feudal barons over the people, mainly the poorest kind of peasants. Villa entertained the idea, widely prevalent among the revolutionists, that these lands were justly the property of the people, and in all justice should go back to their original owners. He proposed to hold .the Terrazas estates to reimburse widows and orphans and restore property to persons from whom it had been illegally taken.

The next step taken by Villa was to issue the following order: "Anyone who hereafter loots or molests the property of foreigners or Mexicans will be executed. The right toconfiscate property will rest only with the constitutional government." What Villa said he meant. A party of six of his followers who had been found guilty of sacking the home of a wealthy Mexican were promptly shot on the city plaza and the stolen goods were returned to their owner. This example of Villaism put a sudden stop to depredations of this kind. The property of the expelled Spaniards was held for return to the owners unless they had aided the Huerta government. In the latter case it was to be confiscated by the revolutionists. The rights of all other persons were strictly protected, but members of wealthy families were not permitted to leave the city without paying ransoms ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

Such were the main features of General Villa's policy as dictator of Chihuahua. He had shown an ability as a military leader and a shrewdness as a civil governor that threw into the [298] shade anything done by Carranza, the originator of the revolution, and many looked upon the ex-bandit as the coming President of Mexico in the event of the success of the revolutionists, and had serious fears of the result of placing a nation under such control. This fear was dissipated by Villa himself in an interview held with him on January 28th.

"I have never been in anything but the fullest accord with General Carranza," he said, "I have never had any personal ambition to reach high office. I am a fighting man only, and I am fighting for the liberation of my country, not to elevate myself. I am only a soldier, under command of my chief, and I shall obey him whatever his orders may be. We are not fighting to make any man president, but we hope to save our country from spoliation and the ambitions of individuals. We are spreading the ideals of a republic and we are exterminating those who oppose us."

This threat of extermination probably referred to armies in the field, as he had already advocated putting an end to the savage custom of killing the wounded and shooting prisoners of war. He announced that civilized warfare, particularly with reference to the treatment of prisoners, hereafter would be adopted by the rebels. He had obtained a little book from United States army officers called "The Ethics of International Warfare," and said that henceforth no Federals would be executed unless they previously had been captured and, on being released, had broken faith not to fight again. In Chihuahua he put into operation the street car lines, the electric lights, the stores, the railroad services, and a banking institution, ordinary civil conditions being restored, and all these industries being operated under and paying a profit to the revolutionary cause.

A correspondent of the New York Sun speaks thus of this remarkable ex-bandit: "Villa's word is the only law that the city knows. A word from him means the life or death of a man. There is no habeas corpus, no appeal. Under such [299] rule, so long as Villa can maintain it and refrains from grafting himself, his socialistic plans are bound to be profitable to the people. In all his actions Villa has shown a wonderful facility for administration. His years on the hills, coupled with the natural shrewdness of the man, taught him to act quickly, to meet a situation immediately and without hesitation. This has been the secret of his success thus far.


[Illustration]

GENERAL VILLA'S MOUNTAINEERS GUARDING THE MEXICAN END OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE. THESE MEN HAVE HAD LONG TRAINING AS BANDITS AND ARE BETTER FIGHTERS THAN THEY LOOK.

"His men are ruled as with a hand of iron, they are shot for breach of discipline, yet they are all loyal. It is his control over and hold on his men, something most remarkable, that foreigners cannot understand. One of his most loyal subalterns says that Villa is loved because he is just. He does not hesitate to help one of his humblest men to fix his saddle-girth if he is near by and notices that the man is in trouble; neither does he hesitate to order the firing squad to do its duty as he catches one of his highest officers stealing or looting. He does one with as little show of emotion as the other."

When he took control of the industries of Chihuahua he called together the workmen, placed experts at the head of the industries, and told them to go to work. They were glad of the chance, because they were sure of normal wages. The heads of the industries paid running expenses and turned over the balance of the proceeds to the dictator.

"Villa puts the bills in a big safe without counting them, and when he buys powder, shells, flour, khaki uniforms, or gives money to his men, he takes what he needs from the big safe. This is the only bookkeeping system that Villa has, but his men are pleased; their women and children are living better than for many months. He has declared forfeited enough gold and silver mines in Chihuahua to supply him with all the metal he needs. All he wants is a coining outfit. He says he is going to make every dollar an honest dollar when he starts his mint, and Villa has always been a man of his word.

"This is the man who is running a state and all its indus- [300] tries for the benefit of the people, running the first successful socialistic state government in America, but running it with a drawn revolver."

To return to the state of affairs in Mexico in early February, 1914, preparations for the projected movement on Torreon were being made, a southward advance of the whole available revolutionary army, with the city of Mexico as its proposed ultimate destination, and the complete overthrow of the Huerta administration and the establishment of a constitutional government being the ultimate aim. The decree of free shipment of arms from the United States, under date of February 3d, had raised high hopes in the revolutionary ranks and they prepared to march southward with renewed confidence in the final success of their cause.


[Illustration]

AMERICAN SOLDIERS GUARDING THE AMERICAN END OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE AT EL PASO.

The text of this order from President Wilson and its immediate effect upon the respective positions of the battling parties are given in the following chapter, where also the change from prevention of military trade to the freest shipment of arms and munitions of war over the international border is stated. The Constitutionalist forces were soon abundantly supplied with the greatly needed weapons and ammunition and placed upon a far more equable plane with their opponents than they had previously been. They had made notable progress in extending their area of occupation with the imperfect munitions they first possessed. It now devolved upon them to prove if they could keep the boast they had made, that a free access to warlike supplies would soon give them full victory and triumphant possession of the country and its government.

An early step toward the movement upon Torreon and the other Coahuila strongholds was dependent upon the receipt from New York of one million rounds of seven millimeter Mauser ammunition, which had been ordered by Carranza for Villa's army. Delay in shipping this retarded the whole movement south, and on February 14th, Carranza's [301] secret service agent was sent northward to investigate the cause of the delay and hurry the needful material to the south.

Meanwhile news of a distracting character had been received. A party of bandits was at work and had brought about a frightful catastrophe. Maximo Castillo, leader of this band of brigands, had fired the Cumbre tunnel on the Mexico Northwestern Railroad by means of a burning freight train, and had decamped without giving warning of what he had done. His act was said to be in revenge for the capture and execution of a member of his band. Seizing the freight train, he ran it about 300 feet into the south end of the tunnel and there set fire to it.

Into this blazing cavern ran a passenger train from the north, its crew ignorant of the death trap awaiting them. Its passengers included a considerable number of Mexicans and sixteen Americans. Death was the inevitable result. When the engineer saw the trap it was too late, the train being near the blazing freight cars when it was wrecked. One body was found by those in search, that of Juan Fernandez, rear brakeman of the train, who had made his way nearly three-quarters of a mile from the train before he fell, suffocated by the smoke. Others probably died in the same way, and fragments of bones were picked up by the searching party on reaching the train. Hot indignation filled the souls of the horsemen who were put in all haste on the trail of the bandits, and several stories of their capture were set afloat, as it proved, without warrant. A rumor of the capture of Castillo and the entire band was brought to Villa at Juarez. His comment was:

"I hope it is true. If it is, the entire band will be brought to Juarez and publicly executed. Every American and every citizen of Mexico will be invited to attend the execution. I feel a great responsibility in this awful Cumbre catastrophe. I had given the Americans guarantees that they would be protected, and, having failed in this instance to have prevented [302] the awful slaughter of innocent civilians, both American and Mexican, I want to vindicate myself, at least to the extent of giving to the criminals the punishment they deserve."

The rumor spoken of proved untrue, but on February 17th Castillo and part of his band were captured on United States territory, which they had entered to escape the hot pursuit. The bandit leader was taken into custody and held until a decision could be reached as to how to dispose of him. Meanwhile a considerable part of his band had been captured by Villa's men and were said to have been executed on the spot of their capture.

While the insurrectionists had this calamity to deal with, the Federals had their problem in an effort to deal with the mountain band of Pueblo Indians, who had taken advantage of the war to strike for revenge on their old enemies. The story of how this brave tribe had been treated has been given in an earlier chapter and now had come an opportunity for them to strike a blow at their oppressors. Reports of Federal victories over them were reported, but the situation grew daily more serious, the Indians making fierce assaults on Teziutlan and other places near their mountain stronghold, while the electric plant at Necaxa was threatened. The Pueblos had in some way obtained rifles and machine guns and had several pieces of artillery of large caliber, though they showed little skill in their use. Meanwhile in the south the Zapata brigands continued their depreciations, in some of their raids attacking places and railway trains at no great distance from the capital city. In truth, the whole republic was in a state of warlike turmoil not easy to describe. Among the outrages reported was an attempt to kill Lieutenant Arthur B. Cook, of the United States battleship Connecticut at Vera Cruz. While on his way at night in an open carriage with two ladies to the steamship Morro Castle, in which the ladies were to sail next day, the sound of a pistol shot was heard and a bullet struck him in the hip. The would-be assassin escaped, [303] but fortunately the wound was very slight. Arrangements were made to guarantee the safety of John Lind, President Wilson's representative, whose life was also believed to be in danger.

Another evidence of hostility to Americans was shown in the newspaper El Impartial, which has been indulging in scurrilous attacks upon President Wilson. Thus when printing the report that the American President had recognized the new revolutionary government in Peru, it remarked: "The word of Wilson is lacking in honor, as he himself is. The Yankee creature acts only according to his evil passions and worse ambitions." Charge d'Affaires O'Shaughnessy complained to Huerta of the malevolence of these attacks and also of a reported threat of the editor to kill him, whereupon the paper was notified that such personal attacks and threats must stop, though national policies might he criticized.

As matters appeared, not only the lives of Americans were threatened, but General Huerta himself was not safe, as a plot against his own life or power was said to have been discovered, a military uprising of widespread character. Rumors were afloat that detachments in the environs of the capital were on the point of revolt. Preventive measures were at once taken, the guards at the National Palace being strengthened and the garrison ordered to sleep on its arms. Soldiers were also stationed on house tops at points commanding the principal streets near the palace.

On the following day, February 7th, the streets were filled with mounted troops, houses were emptied of their inhabitants and machine guns mounted on their roofs, and whole regiments of infantry stationed around the arsenal, where had been fought the street battles that preceded the downfall and death of Madero, just a year before. During the day, hundreds of business men and clerks were arrested, on the charge of being in league with the conspirators, the [304] police declaring that they had found incriminating documents in their possession. Soldiers marched and counter-marched, the clang of arms mingled with the shouts of mule drivers, all was turmoil and confusion. Then, in the succeeding days, the affair blew over and the city sank into composure again. What lay behind it all no one knew. How much rumor and how much fact were in the sudden fright none could or none would say. But the whole affair, together with the recent refusal to pay the interest on the foreign debt, and a condition of panic on the exchange on the 14th, all had a serious aspect for the Huerta government, which many believed to be fast, approaching its end.

The projected movement upon Torreon, spoken of on page 300, was delayed until complete preparations had been made, the movement upon it of Villa's forces not taking place until late in March. This city, which Villa had formerly taken and had been obliged to abandon to the Federals, lies in the southwest corner of the border State of Coahuila, 707 miles by rail from Mexico City. It has a population of about 30,000, and possesses important cotton, flour, iron and soap works. It was founded at the late date of 1887 and became a city in 1907, its name Torreon being derived from the watchtower from which the ranchmen had formerly kept a lookout for cattle thieves. As a point of vantage in the advance on Huerta's capital it was regarded as of great importance and its capture was considered essential to the plans of the revolutionists. Eastward from it lie the cities of Saltillo and Monterey, other strong Federal posts which it was also necessary to capture to give the revolutionists full control of northern Mexico.

In mid March, having completed his preparations, Villa advanced from Chihuahua, capturing the outpost towns of Mapima, Brittingham and others as he made his way southward. Gomez Palacio, a town five miles from Torreon, seated on the flanks of La Pitia mountain, formed the advance [305] post of the Federal fortifications, and was strongly held by the troops of General Velasco, the Federal commander. From this point the route to Torreon lay through a valley in which barbed wire entanglements, trenches, and irrigation ditches served as aids in defence, while Federal batteries occupied the hills which close in on Torreon on all sides.

The attack on Gomez Palacio began on March 23rd, General Ortega's brigade leading in the assault, in which other sections of the army quickly joined. General Villa was in personal command of the forces which assailed the place on all sides, the bulk of the work being borne by Ortega's men. All afternoon the battle raged fiercely, Velasco's men being slowly driven back until 9 o'clock at night, at which hour the town was carried, 300 prisoners being taken by the Constitutionalists, while the losses in killed and wounded had been heavy.

The following days were marked by continued and desperate fighting, with alternate victories and reverses for both sides. During the 24th the rebel bands fought their way onward through the valley, the Federals, while fighting desperately, being driven back step by step until the outskirts of Torreon were reached. It was a hard fought battle, with hours of hand to hand fighting, and Villa in the thick of the battle, now urging his men on, now handling a rifle in the fray, now succoring the wounded. He was here, there, and everywhere, tireless and enthusiastic, instilling fresh courage in his men, while in the midst of the fight he sent a courier across the irrigated fields to General Bonavides, inviting him' to take dinner with him in Torreon the next day.

The dinner party did not come off, for the day fixed for it had a new tale to tell. A large body of apparently fresh Federals made a sudden attack on the rebel forces and drove them back irresistibly through Gomez Palacio, the retreat continuing until El Vergil was reached, six miles from their former position. This reverse took place in the northwest. [306] On the east General Benavides continued the assault on Torreon, into which place his artillery was hurling tons of steel. He had crossed the Nazas River early in the day, driven the Federal outposts from the dry irrigation ditches which they occupied, and made his way steadily over the wet and muddy fields to dry ground on the edge of the city, men falling dead and wounded everywhere in the fierce struggle.

As yet only a portion of Villa’s 12,000 men had been in action and had the Federals followed up their advantage they could have flanked and surrounded his forces. But this they failed to do, and on the next day, the 26th, the entire force was hurled against the Federals in a determined effort to regain their lost ground. Three days of unceasing battle had worn out the vitality of the men, but this applied to both sides and Villa again succeeded in instilling much of his tremendous energy into his men.

The work of the 26th included the recapture of Gomez Palacio and a second advance upon Torreon, and on the following day the town was entered and a considerable portion of it occupied. During the 28th the streets of the city formed the field of battle. The forces under Villa's command were now estimated at 16,000, considerably outnumbering the Federals, and much of the work was done by the aid of dynamite hand grenades, of which 20,000 had been distributed. The cannonading was incessant and the whole city seemed in danger of destruction, the only hope of the Federals being in the arrival of strong reinforcements from the south.

Thus continued the desperate struggle we have briefly outlined, Velasco holding stubbornly to his defences until April 2nd, ten days after the terrible work of run and slaughter had begun. On the 3rd the victors held the town—such of it as remained—Velasco and the remnant of his men being in full flight across the desert wastes towards Saltillo in the distant east. Thus ended one of the most notable military events in the history of Mexico, a fight kept up almost [307] without intermission for ten days, and much of it of a desperate character. The actual loss in killed and wounded is not known but must have formed a considerable percentage of the numbers engaged.

The supposition at first entertained was that Velasco had escaped with a mere remnant of his men. But as the event proved he had with him 5,000 fairly well appointed soldiers. To these he added at San Pedras de los Colonis, forty miles east of Torreon, the reinforcements which had failed to reach him at the latter place, the combined force numbering from 12,000 to 14,000 men. He was thus stronger than before. Villa had not failed to pursue him in his retreat and on the 15th attacked the combined forces at San Pedras with a vigor that gave him a second victory. The estimated losses in this battle were 2,800 Federal killed and wounded and 700 prisoners, the rebel loss being given at 650 killed and wounded.

Meanwhile another attack had been made on the city of Tampico by the revolutionists. This city was reported on the 10th to have fallen, with great destruction in the burning of oil tanks. This proved to be untrue, the town having held out against the assault, while the injury to the oil interests was very slight. But an event had just taken place at that city which was likely to prove of more vital loss to the cause of Huerta than its capture would have been. This was an insult to the American flag which brought the United States vitally into the affair. The story of this event must be reserved for a later chapter.


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