Papa And Pancho Villa


“Everybody calls me Pepe,” whispered my father. “Just Pepe.”

“And where do you come from, Pepe?”

“From Bachimba—from Bachimba, Chihuahua—but we live on a rancho.”

The smile of Villa’s face broadened into a toothy grin.

“Then you must know Marti’n Lopez—also from Bachimba.”

“He’s my cousin. Marti’n is my cousin.” With less shyness now. “But he is much older. He’s already twenty-five and I’m only seventeen.” 60

“Ah, yes,” answered Villa in his gently ironic manner. “Martin is getting to be an old man like the rest of us. But he’s still young enough to raise hell with the pinches fédérales . He’s one of my best men, Pepe, one of the toughest rebels in all Mexico.”

Like everyone else in Bachimba, my father knew that Marti’n Lopez had once pulled a gun on Villa and that his act of defiance had, curiously enough, resulted in his being assigned to Villa’s los dorados , that famed inner circle of “golden ones” who might be equated with a modern-day Mafia.

Perhaps sensing my father’s private knowledge, Villa pressed his arm with a certain intimacy and quietly said, “Marti’n Lopez is the only man who ever openly defied me. And it takes much courage, Pepe, it takes great courage to defy Pancho Villa. Now he’s one of my dorados and also a most trusted friend.”

Marti’n Lopez rode into camp on the following afternoon, and shortly thereafter my father was summoned to Villa’s command tent by a gruff, potbellied sergeant. When they finally reached the large officers’ tent, Villa and another man were studying a map spread on the dirt floor, the noncom having to clear his throat twice to catch their attention. Villa looked up and quickly recognized my father. “Marti’n,” he said, touching the other man’s shoulder, “I have a surprise for you. Here’s your little cousin Pepe.” “My God—it is! It’s little Pepe, my little cousin Pepe.” Marti’n grabbed my father and warmly embraced him, nearly squeezing him breathless. “But what are you doing here, muchacho?

“He’s our newest volunteer,” said Villa. “We volunteered him three days ago. Near Bachimba.” “But he’s only a boy, my general. He can’t be more than sixteen,” protested Marti’n. “The last time I saw him—about three years ago at my uncle’s ranch—he was only thirteen years old.” Sensing an abrupt end to his military career, my father shook his head and stammered, “No, no, no, Cousin Marti’n! You’re wrong—really you are—I’m seventeen —I’m already a man—I really am—I’m seventeen- and I want to stay.”

“Don Pancho” (as many people called him with great affection) put his arms around the boy’s slight shoulders and held him tight. “Perhaps your cousin is right, Pepe. Maybe you’d better go home. We may need you later on, muchacho . ”

My father wheedled and cajoled and argued with desperate conviction, and finally, after an hour of futile polemics, they agreed to let him remain on condition that he serve as personal aide to Marti’n Lopez for the duration of the revolution . Thus, though he could not have anticipated it then, my father was soon to bear wit- ness to some of the most exciting and daring exploits of that prolonged and bloody revolution, and his cousin was destined to become one of the most feared soldier-bandits in northern Mexico. Yet Martin Lopez was surprisingly gentle when my father panicked during his first exposure to gunfire. This happened late in November, 1913.

The federal troops had been harassing Villa’s rear guard and were apparently planning a major advance along a railroad route north of Candelaria, in Sonora, where they had temporarily stopped to replenish themselves with food, women, and ammunition. Villa learned of their plans and fell back on one of his favorite tactics: to immobilize the enemy by blowing up its troop trains before departure. This, of course, was always a rather tricky and suicidal maneuver requiring a special kind of talent and courage.

On this occasion Villa assigned the chore to M art m Lopez and Rodolfo Fierro, each of whom was to select five aides. Quite understandably, Martin bypassed “little Cousin Pepe” in choosing his five; but after several hours of spirited lobbying my father persuaded him that he could never become an experienced soldier unless he could have some experience. He thus became the thirteenth man in a sabotage team that was immediately dubbed the Odd Dozen.

Shortly alter sunset the squadron pulled out of camp heading south, nine of them on horseback and four others walking alongside two large mules laden with dynamite. My father was one of the four on foot. They travelled several hours through pitch blackness, skirting the dirt highways and hugging the foothills, where an occasional cactus or bush offered at least minimal concealment from prospective enemy scouts. An hour before sunrise they sighted the troop train on a siding near the town of Candelaria. They could spot only one guard slouched against the rear platform of the caboose. “There are probably more guards on the other side,” M art m whispered to Fierro. “But we have a fairly clear approach from this side.”