Pancho Villa was born Doroteo Arango, the son of a sharecropper. Growing up, Villa experienced the harshness and unfairness of peasant life. In Mexico during the late 19th century, the rich were becoming richer by taking advantage of the poor, who were often treated like slaves. When Villa was 15 he became head of the family after his father's death. He worked long hours as a sharecropper to help support his mother and four siblings.
One day 16 year old Villa came home from the fields to find that the owner of the hacienda intended to have sex with Villa's 12 year old sister. He grabbed a pistol, shot the owner of the hacienda, then fled to the mountains.
From 1894 to 1910, Villa spent most of his time on the run. At first he survived on his own. By 1896 he joined up with another entourage of desperados. They stold cattle, shipments of money and committed additional crimes agains the rich. Often this booty was distributed among the poor. Villa came to be viewed by many as a modern day Robin Hood.
In time Villa's notoriety as a bandit and his prowness at escaping capture caught the attention of men who were planning a revolution. These men understood that Villa's skills could be used as a guerilla fighter for the revolution. Porfirio Diaz , the sitting president of Mexico, had created much of the problems for the poor and Francisco Madero promised change for the peons. Villa agreed to join Madero's cause and be a leader in the new revolutionary army.
Villa proved to be a very effective revolutionary leader. Eventually however, he resigned from command because of differances with another commander.
In 1911 Villa married Maria Luz Corral and tried to settled down to a quiet life. Though Madero had now become president, political unrest reared its' ugly head again in Mexico.
A new rebellion was started against Madero in the spring of 1912. Villa gathered troops and worked with General Huerta to support Mexico. In June of the same year Huerta accused Villa of stealing a horse and ordered him to be executed. A reprieve from Madero came at the last minute, but Villa remained in detention. In December of 1912 he escaped.
By the time of Villa's escape, Huerta had switched from a Madero supporter to a Madero adversary. In 1913 Huerta killed Madero and claimed the presidency for himself. Villa then allied himself with Venustiano Carranza to fight againt Huerta.
Villa was extremely successful, winning battle after battle during the next few years.
Following Madero's short lived victory and assassination, Villa remained in command of his Division del Norte army in resistance. Around this time Villa became something of a folk hero in the US and captured the interest of Hollywood filmmakers. Newspaper photographers flocked to Northern Mexico to record his battle exploits--many of which were staged for the benefit of the cameras.
History repeats itself and the two big egos came in conflict. Villa and Carranza in the summer of 1914 split and became enemies. For several years the two opposing factions became embroiled in civil war.
The United States took sides and supported Carranza. In march of 1916 Villa attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. it was the first attack on American soil since the war of 1812. The US sent several thousand soldiers across the border to hunt for Villa. Long adept at hiding, Villa was never caught.
In the spring of 1920 Carranza was assassinated and Huerta became the president of Mexico. Weary of war, the acting president wanted peace in his country, so he negotiated with Villa for his retirement. The peace agreement stated that Villa would be given a hacienda in Chihuahua.
Villa retired from revolutionary life in 1920, but it was short lived. He was gunned down in his car in July of 1923.
When speaking with Mexicans --especially nortenos--about Villa, one cannot underestimate the respect his name still garners in Mexico. Today Villa is remembered with pride by most Mexicans for having led the most important military campaigns of the constitutionalist revolution. He is often cited as the only foreign military personage to ever have successfully invaded US continental territory.