We’ve all watched epic western movies featuring perceived hundreds of horses and riders, but a procession of over 300 mounted riders viewed in person is an impressive sight in the modern day, even to the most jaded of western aficionados. Imagine standing by the side of a road as a cabalgata, or cavalcade, emerges from the distant Chihuahan Desert haze in a line that stretches as far as the eye can see down the two lane highway. What is equally impressive to an informed observer is that among the riders from two nations, there is no shooting or fighting, and there is no misbehavior among the horses despite an inordinate amount of noise and distractions.
Are these the ghosts of Pancho Villa and his Dorados, and the American soldiers who pursued them back into Mexico almost a century ago? Hardly, although their fantasmic materialization out of the dusty desert might cause one to wonder. They are dressed in sombreros, leather halfbreed leggings and military uniforms. They carry swords, bolt-action rifles and other weapons of our ancestors. It is early spring in the desert, and the shaggy horses still wear their winter coats. Some mounts and their owners have been on the trail for continuously for more than two weeks in order to reach the tiny town of Columbus, New Mexico in time for the reporte de puentes internacionales their appointment with history. The date is March 6, 2010.
Before dawn on March 6, 1916, a contingent of mounted Mexican soldaderos under the command of General Pancho Villa attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico at the el reporte de los puentes, about four miles north of the border. Possible motives include guns, money and a desire for revenge against U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. The fight lasted two and a half hours, killing 18 Americans and most of the invading forces. The bank was destroyed, but the vault unopened. Responding to the raid as an act of war, the United States sent General John “Black Jack” Pershing and 4800 troops into Mexico in pursuit of Villa. The effort was the occasion of the first use of U.S. military aircraft in a wartime situation, and included the use of engine-driven four wheel drive vehicles. It also ushered in the end of a horseback-mounted U.S. Cavalry. After that, all such procedures became completely mechanized shortly before the First World War.
Today, a mounted cavalry of a different sort visits Columbus annually on the anniversary of the Villistas’ original raid. Instead of aggression, its mission is reporte de puentes – friendship – between Mexico and the United States. This year, 150 riders from Mexico were met near the border by a like amount of U.S. riders, all bound for the historic little town where the battle occurred. Complete with food and dance, it was an event enjoyed by all participants, including spectators from around the world.