Columbus is famous for having been invaded by Pancho Villa in 1916.
As the Mexican Revolution raged to the south, most Americans felt little threat. In Columbus, residents felt secure: a detachment of 350 U.S. Army soldiers from the 13th Calvary were stationed at Camp Furlong on the town’s outskirts, between Mexico and Columbus. But at 1 a.m. on March 9, 1916, about 500 Mexican revolutionaries, led by General Francisco “Pancho” Villa, crossed into the United States. Villa divided his troops and attacked Columbus from the southwest at approximately 4:20 a.m. This attack caught the entire town, as well as the Army camp, by surprise.
The Villistas concerned themselves more with raiding than killing, otherwise the town might have been erased. The Villistas burned and pillaged the business district. The Army camp and stables received little damage, even though the horses and armaments must have been attractive to the raiders. Alerted by the gunfire and burning buildings, many Columbus residents fled to the desert, or sought refuge in the school house, the Hoover Hotel, or private homes.
U.S. Army officers and soldiers, awakened by the commotion, set up a Benet-Mercier machine gun in front of the Hoover Hotel. Another machine gun set up on East Boundary Street fired north and caught anyone in the intersection of Broadway and East Boundary in a deadly crossfire. The raid lasted until dawn, or approximately 90 minutes. The death toll totaled 70 to 75 Villistas and 18 dead Americans, most of them civilians.
Whatever the reasons for the attack, its result was immediate: Columbus residents experienced a boom. General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing arrived in Columbus to lead a punitive expedition into Mexico to find and capture Pancho Villa. Columbus became the expedition’s home base. By late 1916, due to the growth of military personnel, Columbus had the largest population of any New Mexican city.
The Columbus Historical Museum is housed in the old El Paso Southwestern rail station, which was built in 1902 to connect El Paso, Texas to Douglas, Arizona. The railroad used the depot until 1961 when it was abandoned. The building then became a meeting place for the local Boy Scouts troop and then a library and newspaper office. The museum is staffed by volunteers, and its displays tell the story of the Columbus – and the famous Villa raid.
Address: Intersection of Highways 9 and 11, Columbus, NM 88029
Hours: Open Daily, September – April 10 am – 4 pm, May – August 10 am – 1 pm
Closed most holidays
Admission: No charge