Historical events often create a lasting legacy in the subconscious of the general society that was affected by the event, even generations after it happened. What happened in Columbus, New Mexico is no exception. Despite often being “The forgotten attack on the United States” the American people are very much aware of the lasting legacy it has implanted into the minds of its citizens.
So, what happened in Columbus, New Mexico?
The date was March 3, 1916. The Mexican Revolutionary War was entering its Sixth Year, with no end in sight. The initial objectives had by then devolved into multiple factions each one fighting for power.
One of those factions was led by a man named Poncho Villa. By this point in the war, supplies were running low for Poncho Villa, and in order to get the supplies needed, he needed to get them from the United States.
Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson was increasingly concerned about the situation in Mexico. The instability in Mexico had made the border a hotbed for bandit activity, known as the “Border War.” Such instances include the Plan of San Diego, in which Mexican Bandits attempted to start a race war in the United States by crossing the border into Texas and killing white ranchers in nighttime raids.
But these raids were not as big as what was to happen at Columbus, New Mexico, on March 3, 1916.
Poncho Villa decided to launch an attack on the Cavalry Outpost stationed at Columbus, New Mexico. He divided his army into two columns in order to surround the garrison in a nighttime attack. They launched their attack without a hitch, and virtually the entire garrison, and the town, was fast asleep. They then moved from house to house, raiding, looting, and burning houses, shouting “Viva Villa! Viva Mexico” as they did so.
However, the cavalry garrison managed to recover and launched a counterattack, driving Poncho Villa and his men back across the border. By the time the battle was over, at least 100 people were dead, and Columbus, New Mexico was almost entirely destroyed.
The attack caused considerable outcry in the United States and prompted President Woodrow Wilson to launch the Poncho Villa Expedition with the ultimate goal of capturing Poncho Villa. However, despite costing the Americans 65 lives, the expedition was a failure, and Poncho Villa was ultimately able to evade capture and was even pardoned by the Mexican government, living a quiet life until his assassination in 1923.
But it forever changed American attitudes towards Mexico. No longer could the affairs of Mexico be ignored. Despite seven previous diplomat incidents between the two countries since the end of the Mexican-American War, none of them was major enough to ensure the general public, until now. There was now a strong political will to do something about Mexico and the border with Mexico to prevent this from ever happening again.
And, undoubtedly due to the fact that Poncho Villa never faced justice, the issue never felt resolved, and people have never shaken off the Mexican border as a spot of uncertainty. This is undoubtedly the origins of Donald Trump’s calls for a wall along the Mexican border; while he and people who agree with him, may say that it has nothing to do with an event from over 100 years ago, subconscious often influences in decision making.
But Poncho Villa is dead, and the Mexico of today is very different than the Mexico of 100 years ago, and Americans must change their perception of Mexico to better understand the issues of today.