Pancho Villa: The Revolutionary Hero of Mexico

Learn about the life and legacy of Pancho Villa, the legendary figure of the Mexican Revolution. Discover how Villa rose to the rank of general and led the famous División del Norte, his impact on Mexican history and culture, and his controversial legacy.

Pancho Villa: The Revolutionary Hero of Mexico
For three years, Pancho Villa suffered numerous attacks from which he escaped unharmed. Yet, on July 20, 1923, he was assassinated in an ambush in Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua. Photo: Inafed

Pancho Villa, also known as José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, was a legendary figure in the Mexican Revolution. He was born on June 5, 1878, in San Juan del Río, Durango, Mexico, and died on July 20, 1923. He was a controversial character, both revered and feared by many, but undeniably one of the most prominent figures in the history of Mexico.

Early Life and Background

Villa grew up in a poor family and was orphaned at a young age. He was forced to fend for himself and worked as a laborer on a hacienda. At the age of 16, he had to flee after he shot the hacienda owner, who had made sexual advances towards him. He changed his name to Pancho Villa to evade arrest and joined a group of bandits who lived in the Sierra Madre mountains.

Revolutionary Activities

In 1910, Villa became involved in the Mexican Revolution. He fought for the overthrow of President Porfirio Diaz, who had been in power for over three decades. Villa was known for his military tactics, including guerrilla warfare, and his bravery in battle. He quickly rose to the rank of general and led the famous División del Norte, which consisted of around 20,000 troops.

Villa was a fierce opponent of the Federal Army, and his troops often clashed with them. One of his most famous battles was the Battle of Ciudad Juárez in 1911, where he defeated the Federal Army and secured control of the city. He went on to win several other battles, including the Battle of Torreón, the Battle of Zacatecas, and the Battle of Ojinaga.

Villa's Impact on the Mexican Revolution

Villa's military success was crucial to the success of the Mexican Revolution. His troops were instrumental in defeating the Federal Army, and his leadership helped to unite the various factions fighting against Diaz. Villa's tactics, which included hit-and-run attacks and ambushes, were highly effective against the larger, better-equipped Federal Army.

Villa was a popular figure among the Mexican people, who saw him as a champion of the poor and oppressed. He was known for his generosity towards the peasants, and he often distributed food and supplies to those in need. He was also a supporter of women's rights and encouraged women to join the revolutionary cause.

Post-Revolutionary Activities

After the Revolution, Villa became involved in politics. He supported Venustiano Carranza, who became President of Mexico in 1917. However, Villa became disillusioned with Carranza's government and launched a rebellion in 1920. The rebellion was unsuccessful, and Villa was forced to flee to the United States.

Death and Legacy

Villa returned to Mexico in 1923 and was assassinated in Parral, Chihuahua, on July 20 of that year. The circumstances surrounding his death are still unclear, and there are several theories about who was responsible.

Villa's legacy is complex, and opinions about him are divided. Some see him as a hero who fought for the rights of the Mexican people, while others view him as a ruthless bandit who caused chaos and destruction. However, there is no denying that Villa played a significant role in the Mexican Revolution and that his legacy continues to inspire people today.

Tourism and Pop Culture

Today, Villa's memory lives on through various tourist attractions and popular culture. The city of Chihuahua has a museum dedicated to his life and achievements, which includes artifacts, photographs, and documents from the Revolution. The museum also houses a collection of Villa's personal belongings, including his guns and clothing.

Villa has also been the subject of numerous films, books, and songs. In 1914, Villa allowed the American filmmaker D.W. Griffith to shoot a documentary about him and his troops, which was titled "The Life of General Villa." The film was a commercial success but was also controversial, as some accused Griffith of portraying Villa as a savage and reinforcing negative stereotypes of Mexicans.

In recent years, Villa's legacy has been re-evaluated, and there has been a renewed interest in his life and achievements. In 2016, a Mexican-American filmmaker named Antonio Cuellar produced a documentary titled "Pancho Villa: The Forgotten Hero," which aimed to present a more balanced and nuanced view of Villa's life and legacy. The documentary featured interviews with historians, experts, and Villa's descendants and included previously unseen footage of Villa and his troops.


Pancho Villa was a complex and controversial figure, but there is no denying that he played a crucial role in the Mexican Revolution and that his legacy continues to inspire people today. He was a brave and charismatic leader who fought for the rights of the Mexican people and became a symbol of resistance against oppression and injustice. While his methods were sometimes brutal, his impact on Mexican history and culture cannot be denied. Today, his memory lives on through various tourist attractions, popular culture, and the ongoing debates about his life and legacy.

Francisco Villa, governor, photo from the book "The Correspondence of Francisco Villa".
Francisco Villa, governor, photo from the book "The Correspondence of Francisco Villa". He assumed the position of interim governor on December 8, 1913, and undertook some actions worth mentioning. Photo: Memoria de México
Francisco Villa (center) and the members of the Northern Division.
Francisco Villa (center) and the members of the Northern Division. Photo: Mediateca
Francisco Villa, portrait.
Francisco Villa, portrait. Photo: Mediateca
Francisco Villa during his surrender.
Francisco Villa during his surrender. Photo: Mediateca
Pancho Villa on horseback, portrait.
Pancho Villa on horseback, portrait. Photo: Mediateca

Chronology of The Biography of Pancho Villa


June 5th. Doroteo Arango is born in Rio Grande, municipality of San Juan del Rio, Durango.


He wounds Agustin Lopez Negrete and flees. Becomes a bandit and changes his name to Francisco Villa. He joins Jose Beltran's party along with his compadre Tomas Urbina.


For his bandit activities he is persecuted and declared outlawed.


He joins the revolutionary ranks of the Madero revolutionaries. At the triumph of Ciudad Juarez, he is promoted to the rank of colonel.


Once Madero was elected constitutional president of Mexico, Villa returned to Chihuahua. Pascual Orozco's revolt breaks out and Villa takes up arms again to fight him under the orders of Victoriano Huerta. He is promoted to the rank of brigadier general.

May. He defeats the Orozquistas in Reyano and Parral. For insubordination to his boss, Victoriano Huerta, he is tried and sentenced to the firing squad. President Madero intervenes and manages to save his life.

July. He is transferred to the Federal District Penitentiary for trial.

November. From that prison, he is transferred to the military prison of Santiago Tlatelolco.

December. Flees from prison. Passes through Toluca, Salvatierra, Celaya, Guadalajara, Manzanillo, Mazatlan and Negates.


January. Crosses the northern border and settles in El Paso, Texas, United States.

February. President Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez are assassinated, and General Victoriano Huerta usurps power.

March. Fugitive from the justice of the United States, Villa again enters Mexican territory accompanied by only six men and immediately begins to organize more people to fight against Huertism and on the side of the constitutionalism represented by Venustiano Carranza.

June. Triumphs over the Federals at Bustillos and Casas Grandes. He establishes his center of operations in the District of Ascension to arrange his advance towards the south.

September. He is designated by his men "Chief of the Northern Division".

October. Takes Torreon and imposes a forced loan of 300,000 pesos.

November. Takes the capital of the state of Chihuahua. Defeats the Federals in Tierra Blanca.

December. He returns to Chihuahua and takes office as provisional governor of the state. He issues a series of decrees, as well as a large amount of money. The Huertista general José Refugio Velasco recovers Torreon and Villa hands over the governorship to General Manuel Chao by orders of Carranza.


January. They take the plaza of Ojinaga and little by little the north of the country is in the hands of the Constitutionalists.

February. Assassination of the English subject, Guillermo Benton, at the hands of Rodolfo Fierro, Villa's right-hand man.

March. Very important victories for the revolution of the Villista army in Ciudad Lerdo, Cerro de la Pita, Gomez Palacio and other places.

April. The Federates abandon Torreon and pursued by Villa are defeated in San Pedro de las Colonias. The North American marines invade the port of Veracruz. Villa does not see this intervention with bad eyes and declares so, thus deepening his separation with Carranza.

May. The Federals are defeated at Paredón. Saltillo is evacuated and occupied by the ViIlista army.

June. The constitutionalists under the command of the Arrieta brothers and Panfilo Natera are defeated in Zacatecas and Villa tries to move to that place which Carranza opposes. Villa resigns, but the Chiefs of the Northern Division do not accept and decide to continue under Villa's orders, contrary to Carranza's wishes. After bloody battles Villa takes the Zacatecas plaza and Carranza gives orders not to supply Villa with more coal so that he could not advance towards the capital of the Republic.

July. Talks are held between the representatives of the Northeastern army of General Pablo Gonzalez and the Northern Division to avoid a rupture between Villa and Carranza. For this reason the representatives of both armies signed the "Torreon Pact". Villa goes to Chihuahua and marries Luz Corral.

August. Victoriano Huerta flees Mexico City and leaves in his place Francisco Carbajal, who accepts the unconditional surrender and disappearance of the federal army through the signing of the "Treaties of Teoloyucan". Carranza arrives triumphantly to Mexico City. The governor of Sonora, José Maria Maytorena, supported by Villa, intensifies his fight against the constitutionalists Plutarco Elias Calles, Benjamin Hill, and Salvador Alvarado. Obregon is commissioned to mediate in the conflict and is about to lose his life by orders of Villa himself.

September. Villa launches a manifesto in which he disavows Carranza's authority.

October. The Convention of revolutionary generals and governors begins in Mexico City and is later moved to the neutral city of Aguascalientes. In the end, this Convention will be dominated by Villa. Carranza moves his government to Veracruz after the evacuation of this port by the North Americans.

November. Zapatista troops enter Mexico City.

December. Villa arrives to the capital of the Republic to meet with Zapata and both sign the so called "Pact of Xochimilco". In Sonora, Maytorena attacks Calles and Hill and this provokes an international conflict in which Villa, Carranza and General Hugo L. Scott have to intervene to calm down the United States. Villa breaks with the provisional president appointed by the Aguascalientes Convention, General Eulaho Gutierrez.


Francisco Villa is named by the new president of the Convention, General Roque Gonzalez Garza, "General in Chief of the revolutionary forces in all their military operations".

April-June. The Villista army is forced to retreat to the North after the Obregonist triumphs at Celaya, Leon, Trinidad, and Guanajuato.

September. The remainder of the Northern Division reconcentrates in Chihuahua and from there they leave in expedition for Sonora to take refuge.

October. The faction of Venustiano Carranza is recognized by the United States government. The Villistas cross the Sierra Madre Occidental with much pain and toil. Rodolfo Fierro dies in Queretaro.

November. They reach Agua Prieta, Sonora, and there they are defeated by Calles. Villa goes to Naco, Cananea, and Hermosillo, where he is again defeated.

December. They return to Chihuahua and soon after have to flee the state capital. The garrison of Ciudad Juarez surrenders with a large number of men and weapons.


Villa starts a guerrilla war against the triumphant revolutionary forces.

January. He attacks the town of Santa Isabel killing 15 North American engineers. Carranza declares him outlawed.

February. In that same year (1916) he attacked the American town of Columbus, New Mexico, United States, giving rise to the beginning of the so-called Punitive Expedition under the command of General John Pershing, who entered Mexican territory in pursuit of him without managing to capture him. During these years Villa continued to make his runs in Chihuahua and Coahuila, always hiding in the mountains to reestablish himself; taking important towns for brief days and then fleeing in a stampede.


Upon the death of Venustiano Carranza in May of this year, the interim president Adolfo de la Huerta achieved Villa's surrender through the "Sabinas Agreement", Coahuila, by means of which he was granted the Canutillo ranch to retire to private life.


On July 20, in an ambush he is shot by Jesus Salas Barraza in Parral, Chihuahua.


February. His tomb located in the town of Parral, Chihuahua, is violated and his head is stolen.


His name is placed in gold letters in the Chamber of Deputies.


A monument to Francisco Vila ("Pancho Villa") was erected in Mexico City.


By presidential decree Francisco Villa remains were exhumed and transferred to the Monument to the Revolution in the capital of the Republic.