Facts About Mexican Leader Pancho Villa

Pancho Villa with a motorcycle

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Pancho Villa was probably the best-known of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution. Still, most people don't know some of the more interesting parts of his history. Here are some fun facts about Pancho Villa.

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Pancho Villa Wasn't His Real Name

His real name was Doroteo Arango. According to legend, he changed his name after murdering a bandit who was raping his sister. He joined a gang of highwaymen after the incident and adopted the name Pancho Villa after his grandfather.

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Pancho Villa Was a Very Skilled Horseman

Villa not only commanded the most feared cavalry in the world at the time, but he was also an outstanding horseman who personally rode into battle with his men. He was so often on horseback during the Mexican Revolution that he earned the nickname “the Centaur of the North.”

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Pancho Villa Did Not Drink Alcohol

It’s at odds with his macho-man image, but Pancho Villa never drank. During the revolution, he allowed his men to drink, but he never did until late in his life after his 1920 peace with Alvaro Obregon.

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Pancho Villa Never Wanted to Be President of Mexico

In spite of a famous photo of him taken in the presidential chair, Villa had no ambitions to be president of Mexico. He wanted the revolution to triumph to unseat dictator Porfirio Diaz, and he was a big supporter of Francisco Madero. After Madero's death, Villa never wholeheartedly supported any other presidential candidates. He hoped someone acceptable would come along so that he, Villa, could serve as a high-ranking military officer.

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Pancho Villa Was a Good Politician

Even though he had no high ambitions, Villa proved while Governor of Chihuahua in 1913-1914 that he had a knack for public administration. He sent his men to help harvest crops, ordered the repair of railways and telegraph lines and imposed a ruthless code of law and order which even applied to his own troops.

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Pancho Villa's Right-Hand Man Was a Psychotic Killer

Villa wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and personally killed many men on the battlefield and off of it. There were some jobs, however, that even he found too repulsive to do. Fortunately, he had Rodolfo Fierro, a sociopathic hit man who was fanatically loyal and fearless. According to legend, Fierro once shot a man dead to see if he would fall forward or backward. The loss of Fierro on campaign in 1915 was a huge blow to Villa.

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Pancho Villa Was a Great Military Commander, but He Was Overconfident

In the famous Battle of Zacatecas, Villa soundly defeated a massive federal force of trained, armed soldiers led by skilled officers. Time and again, he proved his tactical skill and used his cavalry—the best in the world at the time—to devastating effect. At the 1915 Battle of Celaya, however, he met his match in Alvaro Obregon.

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Pancho Villa Brought the Mexican Revolution to the United States

On March 9, 1916, Villa and his men attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, seeking to steal munitions and rob banks. The attack was a failure, as the US garrison easily drove them off. The US organized the “punitive expedition,” led by General John “Black Jack” Pershing, to track down Villa and for months thousands of US soldiers searched northern Mexico for Villa in vain.

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The Revolution Made Pancho Villa a Very Wealthy Man

Picking up a rifle and joining a revolution isn’t what most people consider a wise career move, but the fact remains that the revolution made Villa rich. A penniless bandit in 1910, when he “retired” from the constant warfare of the revolution in 1920 he had a large ranch with livestock, a pension and even land and money for his men.

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Pancho Villa's Death Remains a Bit of a Mystery

In 1923, Villa was coldly gunned down as he drove through the town of Parral. Although most historians blame Alvaro Obregon for the act, there is still a bit of mystery surrounding his murder.