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SENORA VILLA SAYS OF PANCHO: POOR PEOPLE ARE THE ONES WHO LOVE HIM. A PEN FROM THE PAST BY ROSS MCSWAIN 



In mid-October 1965, a new mayor took office in Ojinaga, just across the river from Presidio. A gala fiesta was planned for the change in municipal officials. Dignitaries from all over the state of Chihuahua were on hand for the event.

But probably the most important person there was Luz Corral Villa, a spry 72-year-old matron with shining eyes, steel gray hair and a broad smile. Luz Villa is the widow of Pancho Villa, on of the most famous men in Mexico. Although more than 50 years ago Villa's army of peasant soldiers sacked Ojinaga after a bloody battle in which mort than 1,000 persons died violently, Senora Villa was given one the biggest welcomes any VIP could receive from Ojinaga citizens.

What was the secret of Senora Villa's acceptance, not only in Ojinaga but in cities though out the United States, including Columbus, N.M., where Americans died before Villas guns?

"The older people remember what Pancho Villa did for the poor." Senora Villa said, "Even though there was much bloodshed many years ago, the poor classes still remember him as their hero, their Robin Hood."

Senora Villa, a resident of Chihuahua City, was the revolutionary's only legal wife. (Note: According to the New York Times of July 13, 1966 Soledad Seanez Holguin also legally married Villa on May 1, 1919)

She readily admits that Villa had many mistresses and sired some 15 children by different women by several women, her eyes sparkle as she speaks of the bandit-general's exploits and their brief and hectic married life.

Senora Villa maintains a Pancho Villa museum in Chihuahua City. She lives in the same house Villa bought in 1906 from the money taken in bandit raids.

The 50-room house has been rebuilt twice since it was purchased. It was destroyed during the Mexican Revolution in 1913 and during the war between Villa and Carranza in 1917.

"Pancho didn't especially like politics," Senior Villa said during an interview in Ojinaga. "He had a strong sense of loyalty to the poor. He was pushed or forced to take part in the revolution," she said.

During the height of Villa's successes when he was undisputed dictator of all the northern provinces of Mexico, Senora Villa lived in seclusion in El Paso.

"I saw my husband for several days each month during the revolution when he would sneak into El Paso," she said. When he and Carranza fought, Pancho sent me to Havana, Cuba for safety."
Senor Villa was in Havana during the last revolutionary struggle. Her home in Chihuahua City was destroyed a second time.

When the Columbus, N.M. raid was staged in 1916, Villa had just sent his wife to Havana.

"I knew he was planning to attack an American town, but I did not know where or when," she said recently. "Pancho was furious with President Wilson for stopping the shipment of arms to him. He felt that the American president was in agreement with his actions. The raid was a retaliation for President Wilson's arms emabargo."

Senora Villa said stories saying Pancho Villa was not at Columbus during the raid are not true.

He planned and led the raid, she said, even though he was advised by his generals not to do so. They told him the American soldiers would follow and destroy him but he would not listen.

Senora Villa said her husband was very hot-tempered but was not cruel.

"He despised cowards and incompetent offices."

Villa hanged hundreds of persons in Durango and Chihuahua accused of desertion from his peasant army. Historians note, too, he had numerous officers in his band shot for failing to carry out his orders.


"The poor people are the ones who truly love him and his memory," she said. "Others hate and despise his name."

Senora Villa said her husband never drank to excess.

"He enjoyed parties" and found many beautiful women at the gatherings. He was famous. Women threw themselves at him," she added, explaining his many love affairs and many children."

The bandit's wife reared five of the reported 15 children born to various Villa mistresses. Three of his daughters and two sons are still living. A son, Samuel Villa, still resides in Chihuahua City. Octavio Villa, a minor government official, was killed at an ambush at Matamoros about two years ago. Another son, Agustin Villa, is in a mental hospital in Los Angeles. A nephew of Villa's, his namesake, fought in World War II with the U.S. Army. He was a paratrooper, Senora Villa said. The nephew now lives in Los Angeles.

Villa and Luz were married in 1911 when she was l8 years old. They met in 1910 when he took over her hometown of San Andres. He was a bandit chieftain, she said.

Senora Villa was living in Chihuahua City when Villa was gunned down in an ambush near Parral, Chihuahua, a mining center. His ranch, called Canutillo Hacienda, was near Parral but in the state of Durango.

"The ranch was taken by the government", she said, "because Villa was accused of owing the government more than $80,000 in taxes."

The revolutionary's widow said tales of Villa treasure being buried in the Sierra Madre Mountains is false.

"If there had been a lot of treasure he would not have had to ask for so many loans."

"The money taken from banks during the revolution went for and ammunition, uniforms and other equipment," Senora Villa said, "He was always in need of money for ammunition. During the last days of fighting, he had to ay two and three times for it (munitions) than its actual price since most of it had to be smuggled into Mexico."

In 1922, a year before he was killed, Villa was approached by an American film company about appearing in a motion picture about his life.

"Pancho refused to take part in the picture unless the company could promote the construction of a school in corporation with the Mexican government," Senora Villa said.

The school, to be used by orphans, was rejected by the Mexican government. No reason was given for the refusal, even though the school was badly needed.

The famous bandit loved children, his wife said.

"Pancho used to pick up children off the streets and take them to school. He took 300 children and fed them and bought them clothes at one time in Juarez."

Pancho and Luz Villa had a baby girl about a year after their marriage, but the infant died.

"I would have been proud to have had her live," Senora Villa said.

In 1950, Mexican president Aleman made an offer to rebuild the Villa home in its original state but nothing ever came of the offer. Senora Villa, however, has restored the home out of her funds, raised though donations to her Villa museum.

She lives alone in Chihuahua City, except for several servants who also help maintain the museum.

Last August and September, more than 3,000 persons visited her home to see the large collection of Villa papers, uniforms and other personal items of the late revolutionary.

On display is the Dodge touring car in which Villa was riding when shot to death, battle flags, weapons of all kinds, uniforms, his desk, letters and other numerous items.

Senora Villa said she had ten volumes of registration books containing more than of visitors to the museum.

"Guests have come from all over the world," she said.

Senora Villa is also a traveler. She has been all over the United States and has made several jet flights.

Early in 1965, she toured the U.S. appearing in person at premier showings of a documentary film on Villa made during the revolution. The film, put together from silent newsreels, but narrated, was produced by Columbia Pictures, Inc. The film company paid Senora Villa's expenses on the journey.

She said she tries to make several trips a year to Juarez. Her recent trip to Ojinaga was the first such trip in years. She was a houseguest of Mr. and Mrs. Pete Valenzula who she met in Chihuahua City about 12 years ago. Valenzula is a clerk in the Spencer Store at Presidio and has lived in the immediate area since birth.

Senora Villa's best friend and traveling companion is Senora Margaret H. Campos, a Chihuahua City music teacher. They have been friends for more than 40 years.

Villa's wife's greatest wish is that Pancho could have lived out his life more peacefully.

She said he was a happy man, although he was virtually in exile on his Durango ranch.

He was a big man, standing about six feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds. He was graceful in his movements, and had a commanding voice. His very being expressed confidence.

"He had a strong sense of loyalty to the poor," she said. "He knew the hardship of being a field-hand, a laborer. He only wanted the poor to have more to eat, better living conditions and better education. These things he and his family had done without."

In April, a highlight of Senora Villa's life came when Governor Campbell of New Mexico visited her in Chihuahua City to discuss plans for the extension of U.S. Highway 180 from Columbus, N.M. into Mexico and into the state of Durango. The scenic highway Federal Road 45 in Mexico, would be called the Pancho Villa Trail. The highway should be an international effort.

Mexican peasants still call Pancho Villa, "mucho hombre." He will always be "a big man" to Luz Villa, his wife. Pancho Villa died on a hot July afternoon in 1923 as he and four bodyguards traveled a dusty road outside Parral.

More than a dozen heavily armed men blasted the Villa car as it started over a bridge crossing a shallow ravine. The gunmen, believed hired by Mexico City politicians, had hidden in ambush in a deserted adobe house.

Senora Villa said she did not know who killed her famous husband. She suspects he was assassinated by political foes.

"He was being mentioned too much in the news," she said. "He didn't like the way the government under Obregon was being run and said so on a number of occasions. He was killed because the politicians suspected he was being urged to lead another revolt."

Luz Villa's husband died as he had lived violently and with a pistol in his hand.

"He trusted the government when he was granted the pardon. But they (the politicians) apparently didn't trust him," she said.

Thanks Ross for the fine article, a chance for us all to look back and ponder. Gj



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