A hail of bullets ripped through the 1922 Dodge Brother car and killed Francisco "Pancho" Villa, former Irregular General of the Northern Division and charismatic hero of the Mexican revolution. It is 8.30 am on the 20th of July of 1923 in Hidalgo de Parral, Chihuahua state. Pancho had already semi-retired in 1920 keeping 50 men of his "Dorado" detachment as a personal bodyguard, but sure enough he had made scores of enemies in his years as revolutionary general and no serious effort was ever made to bring his killers to justice, even though some bragged about their feat in public.
The Casa Villa in Chihuahua (city) was where he lived when he was Governor of Chihuahua State in 1913 and 1914 and it is now dedicated to telling his story (and does so in such hapless English that it often makes you smile). Porfirio Diaz had been dictator of Mexico for 30 years, murder of political opponents and corruption were rampant and the plight of the Mexican population exploited by harsh capitalist practices sparked a revolution which saw Pancho Villa quickly rise through the ranks and became the commander of the revolutionary troops of Chihuahua. That was an important position because Chihuahua was the biggest state in Mexico, bordering the US, that in the beginning supported the revolution, and it was a rich mining state.
In the end the revolution succeeded and Porfirio Diaz was sent into exile in 1911. Fighting however went on for years in differing alliances, Pancho Villa was initially successful as commander, but also feared because of brutal tactics including the use of firing squads to execute captives. His relationship with the Americans soured when Woodrow Wilson decided to switch to backing the Federales. Angered, Pancho mounted an attack on Columbus, New Mexico, burning the city, killing American soldiers and civilians and capturing large amounts of ammunition. This in turn made the Americans very angry and, under General Pershing, a "Punitive Expedition" tried in vain for a year to capture Pancho, a state of affairs that of course greatly enhanced his notoriety (Pershing's aide-de-camp during the expedition, the young 1st lieutenant George S. Patton, may have secretly admired Pancho Villa's exploits, as he became famous as one of the colourful generals in WW II).
From the air Chihuahua looks like the sprawling city of 1.2 million souls that it is. On the ground it looks rather rundown and low on street lights, makes walking the city centre a bit uncomfortable. People like me come here for one thing only, the Chihuahua-Pacific Express train journey, better known as the Copper Canyon train journey and billed as the journey of a lifetime.
Now that I am here anyway, the Pancho Villa museum and the Quinta Gameros Mansion, a lovely art nouveau building with some exquisite art nouveau furniture, are two good opportunities to pass an otherwise very quiet Saturday in Chihuahua centre.
The train leaves at 6 a.m. and you have to be there at 5 a.m. to buy your ticket(strangely, they cannot be purchased beforehand). So just in case it is very busy I reserved one on an American site I came across for $30; reservation form printed out and in my pocket, I still have to be there at 5 a.m. it says. Early tomorrow morning I will know whether I wasted 30 bucks. In the supermarket I buy a few provisions for the 13.5 hour trip. I set two alarms for 4.30 a.m., read the reservation again and note that I have to pay the M$1552 (EUR 99.33) in cash, so I walk two blocks to the next ATM, and finally try and go to sleep by 11 pm.