Francisco “Pancho” Villa (UK: /ˈviːə/, also US: /ˈviːjɑː/; Spanish: [ˈbiʎa]; born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, 5 June 1878 – 20 July 1923) was a Mexican revolutionary general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution.
As commander of the División del Norte, ‘Division of the North’, in the Constitutionalist Army, he was a military-landowner (caudillo) of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. The area’s size and mineral wealth provided him with extensive resources. Villa was provisional governor of Chihuahua in 1913 and 1914, and can be credited with decisive military victories leading to the ousting of Victoriano Huerta from the presidency in July 1914. Following Huerta’s ouster Villa fought the forces of his own erstwhile leader, “First Chief” of the Constitutionalists Venustiano Carranza; in so doing he was in alliance with southern revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who remained fighting in his own region of Morelos. The two revolutionary generals briefly came together to take Mexico City after Carranza’s forces retreated from it. Later, Villa’s hitherto undefeated División del Norte engaged the military forces of Carranza under Carrancista general Álvaro Obregón and was defeated in the 1915 Battle of Celaya. Villa again was defeated by Carranza on 1 November 1915 at the Second Battle of Agua Prieta, after which Villa’s army collapsed as a significant military force.
Villa subsequently led a raid against a small U.S.-Mexican border town resulting in the Battle of Columbus on 9 March 1916, and retreated to escape U.S. retaliation. The U.S. government sent U.S. Army General John J. Pershing on an expedition to capture him, but Villa continued to evade his attackers with guerrilla tactics during the unsuccessful nine-month incursion into Mexican sovereign territory. The mission ended when the United States entered World War I and Pershing was recalled to other duties.
In 1920, Villa made an agreement with the Mexican government to retire from hostilities, following the ouster and death of Carranza, and was given a hacienda near Parral, Chihuahua, which he turned into a “military colony” for his former soldiers. In 1923, as presidential elections approached, he re-involved himself in Mexican politics. Shortly thereafter he was assassinated.
In life, Villa helped fashion his own image as an internationally known revolutionary hero, starring as himself in Hollywood films and giving interviews to foreign journalists, most notably John Reed. After his death he was excluded from the pantheon of revolutionary heroes until the Sonoran generals Obregón and Calles, whom he battled during the Revolution, were gone from the political stage. Villa’s exclusion from the official narrative of the Revolution might have contributed to his continued posthumous popular acclaim. He was celebrated during the Revolution and long afterward by corridos, films about his life, and novels by prominent writers. In 1976, his remains were reburied in the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City in a huge public ceremony