Biography of Pancho Villa, Mexican Revolutionary

Mexican General Francisco "Pancho" Villa

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Francisco "Pancho" Villa (born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula; June 5, 1878–July 20, 1923) was a Mexican revolutionary leader who advocated for the poor and land reform. He helped lead the Mexican Revolution, which ended the reign of Porfirio Díaz and led to the creation of a new government in Mexico. Today, Villa is remembered as a folk hero and a champion of the lower classes.

Fast Facts: Pancho Villa

  • Known For: Villa was a leader of the Mexican Revolution, which overturned the government of Mexico.
  • Also Known As: José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, Francisco Villa
  • Born: June 5, 1878 in San Juan del Río, Durango, Mexico
  • Parents: Agustín Arango and Micaela Arámbula
  • Died: July 20, 1923 in Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico
  • Spouse(s): Unknown (according to legend, he was married more than 70 times)

Early Life

Pancho Villa was born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula on June 5, 1878. He was 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.

In Mexico during the late 19th century, the rich were becoming richer by taking advantage of the lower classes, often treating them like enslaved people. When Villa was 15, his father died, so Villa began to work as a sharecropper to help support his mother and four siblings.

One day in 1894, Villa came home from the fields to find that the owner of the hacienda intended to rape Villa's 12-year old sister. Villa, only 16 years old, grabbed a pistol, shot the owner of the hacienda, and then took off for the mountains.


From 1894 to 1910, Villa spent most of his time in the mountains running from the law. At first, he did what he could to survive by himself. By 1896, however, he had joined up with some other bandits and become their leader.

Villa and his group of bandits would steal cattle, rob shipments of money, and commit other crimes against the wealthy. Because he stole from the rich and often shared his spoils with the poor, some saw Villa as a modern-day Robin Hood.

It was during this time that Doroteo Arango began using the name Francisco "Pancho" Villa. ("Pancho" is a common nickname for "Francisco.") There are many theories as to why he chose that name. Some say it was the name of a bandit leader he had met; others say it was Villa's fraternal grandfather's last name.

Villa's notoriety as a bandit and his prowess at escaping capture caught the attention of men who were planning a revolution against the Mexican government. These men understood that Villa's skills would make him an excellent guerilla fighter during the revolution.

Mexican Revolution

Since Porfirio Diaz, the sitting president of Mexico, had created many of the current problems for the poor and Francisco Madero promised change for the lower classes, Pancho Villa decided to join Madero's cause and agreed to be a leader in the revolutionary army.

From October 1910 to May 1911, Pancho Villa was a very effective military leader. However, in May 1911, Villa resigned from command because of differences he had with another commander, Pascual Orozco, Jr.

Orozco Rebellion

On May 29, 1911, Villa married Maria Luz Corral and tried to settle into a quiet domestic life. Unfortunately, though Madero had become president, political unrest again appeared in Mexico.

Orozco, angered by being left out of what he considered his rightful place in the new government, challenged Madero by starting a new rebellion in the spring of 1912. Once again, Villa gathered troops and worked with General Victoriano Huerta to support Madero in quashing the rebellion.


In June 1912, Huerta accused Villa of stealing a horse and ordered him to be executed. A reprieve from Madero came for Villa at the very last minute, but Villa was still remitted to prison. He remained in prison from June 1912 to when he escaped on December 27, 1912.

More Fighting and Civil War

By the time Villa escaped from prison, Huerta had switched from a Madero supporter to a Madero adversary. On February 22, 1913, Huerta killed Madero and claimed the presidency for himself. Villa then allied himself with Venustiano Carranza to fight against Huerta. He was extremely successful, winning battle after battle during the next several years. After Villa conquered Chihuahua and other northern areas, he spent much of his time reallocating land and stabilizing the economy.

In the summer of 1914, Villa and Carranza split and became enemies. For the next several years, Mexico continued to be embroiled in a civil war between the factions of Pancho Villa and Venustiano Carranza.

Raid on Columbus, New Mexico

The United States took sides in the battle and supported Carranza. On March 9, 1916, Villa attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. His was the first foreign attack on American soil since 1812. The United States sent several thousand soldiers across the border to hunt for Villa. Though they spent over a year searching, they never caught him.


On May 20, 1920, Carranza was assassinated and Adolfo De la Huerta became the interim president of Mexico. De la Huerta wanted peace in Mexico, so he negotiated with Villa for his retirement. Part of the peace agreement was that Villa would receive a hacienda in 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. He was buried in Parral, Chihuahua.


For his role in the Mexican Revolution, Villa became a folk hero. His life has inspired numerous films, including "The Life of General Villa," "Viva Villa!," and "Pancho Villa Returns."


  • Katz, Friedrich. "The Life and Times of Pancho Villa." Stanford University Press, 1998.
  • Knight, Alan. "The Mexican Revolution: A Very Short Introduction." Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • McLynn, Frank. "Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution." Basic Books, 2008.
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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Biography of Pancho Villa, Mexican Revolutionary." ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2020, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2020, September 3). Biography of Pancho Villa, Mexican Revolutionary. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Biography of Pancho Villa, Mexican Revolutionary." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).

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