D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e     March 2005

Features

Wine Country Safari
A 3-day food and wine odyssey through California's Sonoma County proves you can have too much of a good thing.

Crying Fowl

Clawing toward the truth
about cockfighting.

My Cockfighting Career
An accidental "cocker" remembers his brief life in the pits.

Living History
Richard Dean's great-grandfather was killed in Pancho Villa's historic raid on Columbus, 89 years ago this month.

Rocks in Their Heads
The 40th annual Rockhound Roundup,
March 10-13, will draw thousands of collectors to Deming.

A Journey Through Time
The old trail the Spanish called El Camíno Real de Tierra Adentro offers new opportunities for tourism.

Columns & Departments
Editor's Note
Letters
Desert Diary
Tumbleweeds:
A Wing and a Prayer

Playbill of Fare
Top 10
Ramblin' Outdoors
Henry Lightcap's Journal
Celestial Cycles
The Starry Dome
40 Days & 40 Nights
Clubs Guide
Guides to Go
Continental Divide


Special Sections

Arts Exposure
Poetry in Motion
Arts News
Gallery Guide

Body, Mind & Spirit
The Healing Power of Play
Lessen Your Stress

About the Cover

Red or Green?
Desert Exposure's quarterly
dining guide.

Living History

Richard Dean's great-grandfather was killed in Pancho Villa's historic raid on Columbus, 89 years ago this month. Today he's trying to keep the town's history alive—and to rename Pancho Villa State Park.

By Jim Marion Etter
Photos by Ken Sweetser

Richard Dean and his wife, Betty, love their adobe, hacienda-style home in the desert peacefulness of southern New Mexico. They live a short drive outside the small town of Columbus, near the Mexican border.

Richard Dean, whose great-grandfather was killed in Pancho Villa's raid, at the Columbus Historical Museum.

But the scene of beauty and contentment is also one of irony. And, as March 9 draws near, Dean is quite mindful of this.

Dean, 72, a native of Iowa, is a long-established resident and local historian of the Columbus community. His interest in the town's history springs from the death of an ancestor in Columbus nearly 90 years ago.

His great-grandfather, James T. Dean, then a Columbus storekeeper, was killed—shot and his throat cut—when Pancho Villa's raiders attacked the border town in the early morning of March 9, l916.

Richard Dean's home is near where his ancestor is buried, in the Valley Heights Cemetery. Except for the mesquite, yucca and cactus, he could virtually look out his door and see the grave.

"I had heard the family stories most of my life," Dean says, explaining that he learned of his New Mexico ancestor's death from family members when he was a youngster in his home state. "I heard some of them mention how he had died tragically—Iowa farm people get together and talk quite often."

But, he says, "I didn't get real interested until later in life. And the more I found out, the more interested I got."

He did much of his research—poring through library material as well as old family records—after he moved to California, where he owned an office supply business until he retired. His research over the years also included visits to Columbus, where he finally moved in 1988.

And while he and Betty liked the community when they chose to make their home there, he says the "underlying reason" they are Columbus residents today is the occurrence in the border town on March 9, 1916. He's here today, you might even say, because of Pancho Villa.

It was before dawn on a Thursday morning when some 600 raiders under the command of Mexican revolutionary Gen. Doroteo Arango, better known as "Pancho Villa," crossed the border in a daring raid. They left their horses outside of Columbus and invaded the sleeping town on foot.

Amid yells of "Viva Villa! Viva Mexico!" the Mexicans stormed the downtown area and the vicinity of the Army post of Camp Furlong, setting fires, looting stores and shooting anyone on sight—even dragging some residents out of buildings and executing them in the streets. By the time the raid ended shortly after daylight, 10 local civilians and eight soldiers were reportedly killed.

James T. Dean apparently was killed soon after he, his wife, Eleanor, a
and son, Edwin, awoke to the sounds of the attack. Dean left the house, unarmed, at first to check on neighbors, and possibly then to try to help other townspeople. He later was found dead in the downtown area, his body riddled with bullets and his throat slashed.

Eleanor Dean, in a letter to her other sons in Iowa, described the "butcher and plunder" in Columbus that day in 1916. She told of being "frantic" for a time after her husband, followed by their son, left the house, and of not knowing "where Papa was, without a gun and so helpless."

And soon, she wrote, Edwin returned from his search for his father and told her at the door, "Mama, they got Papa, he's killed."

She told of first looking upon her husband's body: "He lay in the street . . . with Mexicans dead all around him, but all I saw was Jimmie dead—dead, shot like a dog." She described him as "so white and covered with blood and all shot to pieces."

The dead also included about 200 of Villa's men, killed in the fight with Camp Furlong soldiers and with some civilians who'd managed to arm themselves during the chaos. The soldiers chased the rest of the Villistas out of town and several miles into Mexico. A punitive expedition led by Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing would later follow, chasing Villa—in vain—with 10,000 American soldiers for 11 months.

Today, Richard Dean is not only believed to be the lone Columbus resident who is a descendant of a victim of the Pancho Villa raid; he's among the authorities on local history—especially relating to the 1916 period. He's the author of a small book, The Columbus Story, which he describes as "a tour guide—telling of places, and what it was like here in 1916."

He acknowledges the importance of the military segment of the history of Columbus: The US Army, though failing to catch Villa during nearly a year of searching in Mexico, found the military expedition invaluable as preparation for the subsequent US involvement in World War I.

Dean says, however, that in both his writings and in speaking presentations, he stresses the experiences of the local residents during the episode. "My expertise and my interest," he says, "is with the civilians—what happened to them during the raid. For instance, what happened to the Elliott family? What happened to the Miller family? The Walker family?"

He's become a source of information about the raid for many people—including other descendants of people who lived in Columbus during the 1916 raid.
Dean also takes part, to some degree, in the annual local ceremonies commemorating the event, as he expects to again this month. These will include the annual Raid Day on March 9 and, on March 12 and 13, Camp Furlong Day and Fiesta de Amistad (Friendship Festival), which is expected to include a parade of horseback riders from both countries crossing the border into Columbus, according to the local chamber of commerce.

Dean also occasionally gives talks on Columbus history elsewhere in New Mexico and in El Paso. He gives local weekly seminars, mainly for others who teach or are somehow involved with history.


He admits to being torn, however, in his personal feelings about the raid and how it's remembered today, almost 90 years later. As a resident of Columbus—especially one so intensely interested in its history—he's glad about today's atmosphere of goodwill between Columbus and Las Palomas, Mexico, and he has friends on both sides of the border. Dean has discussed various aspects of the 1916 event, and the observances of it, with historians and business and civic leaders in both Columbus and Las Palomas.

But he disagrees with some ways the historical event is publicized—especially with the name, "Pancho Villa State Park."

"I've been a pretty loud voice on the subject," he says, explaining that he's tried for several years to get state officials to change the park's name. "I think it's wrong!"

He says he discusses it when he gives presentations, and often doesn't have to be the one to bring the subject up. "That's the first thing people ask me—why the park is named that," he says. "I've also been asked by others if it was 'a mistake' for the park to be named after the man that sacked the town.
"And that's not easy to answer," he says. He says he believes it would be far easier for state officials to explain why they changed the name, should they do so, "than why it is named what it is."

He compares the 1916 incident to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York: "I don't think many people would be in favor of a 'Bin Laden Square' in Manhattan."

And he says he hasn't given up hope that someday the name will be changed.
Until then, he says he knows of at least one person who refuses to call the park by its present name: "I call it 'Camp Furlong State Park.'"

 

The annual commemoration of Pancho Villa's raid will be held on March 9 at the historical society and railroad museum and Coote's Hill in Columbus. For information, contact the historical society at 531-2620.

The second annual Camp Furlong Days will be held Saturday and Sunday, March 12-13, at Pancho Villa State Park near Columbus. Historian Leon Metz will talk about Villa's famous raid, and the park will host a parade, barbecue, cavalry re-enactors, mariachi band, folkloric dancers, music, vintage car rides, pony rides, 1916 military soldier and horse displays, and demonstrations. For information, contact the park at 531-2711, email ahmartinez@state.nm.us.


Jim Marion Etter is a freelance writer living in Las Cruces. A native of Oklahoma, he's a retired reporter for The Daily Oklahoman and has authored several books about his home state, including Ghost-Town Tales of Oklahoma and Thunder in the Heartland.

Back to top of page.


Desert Exposure