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Pure Personality

The Meaning of Francisco “Pancho” Villa

Only recently, I learned that the community of Columbus, New Mexico, U.S.A., is home to Pancho Villa State Park, which lies immediately south of town.  Since I lived in Las Cruces, 80 miles away by road, for two years in the late 90’s and have paid more than one visit to Columbus and the Mexican hamlet of Las Palomas across the international line, where I had a beer or two under the faintly suspicious gaze of the tabernero and a few solitary drinkers, how I managed to miss Pancho Villa State Park is something of a mystery, the equivalent of overlooking a putative Mohammed Atta State Park at Ground Zero.  The website suggests it hardly amounts to much, like Columbus itself—a drab relic from postmodern America’s reprobated frontier past (population approximately 1,700 souls) that survives like the billion half-dead cactus plants on the flat creosote bush and sotol desert surrounding the town.  One wonders to what extent the city fathers who agreed to—or, more likely, lobbied hard in Santa Fe on behalf of—the park were acquainted with the details of the story of General Villa’s raid on Columbus on the night of March 8, 1916: Before September 11, 2001, it was the sole armed invasion of the continental United States since 1812.  For those with a sketchy knowledge of the affair, here are a few facts.

For 90 years, historians have argued Pancho Villa’s purpose in attacking...

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