Francisco "Pancho" Villa (1878-1923) was a charismatic and controversial Mexican Revolutionary War general who championed the poor during a time when Mexico was controlled by the wealthy land-owning class. Villa was born Doroteo Arango to a peasant family in Durango, Mexico. He changed his name to Francisco Villa, after a legendary early nineteenth century Robin Hood figure. Villa began as a bandit, robbing banks and trains. He then joined the revolutionary army against Mexican President Porfirio Diaz. After leading a winning attack to capture the important border city of Ciudad Juarez, Villa was promoted to the rank of colonel. Diaz was overthrown and a new president elected democratically. After a period of tranquility, Villa was once again called to service for his country, this time serving under Victoriana Huerta. Huerta had his own motives and soon accused Villa of insubordination and took control of the country as Villa was imprisoned for two years. Villa escaped with the help of his tutor and gathered over 10,000 troops in what was called his DivisiÃ³n del Norte. Huerta was finally forced to relinquish his hold on Mexico when Villa captured Zacatecas, Huerta's last stronghold on July 15, 1914.
This marked the last great victory for Villa. After losing out to another revolutionary general for political power in the country, Villa's fall from power was nearly complete. He and his few remaining men hid out in the Sierra Madre staging attacks on U.S. soil as well as against current Mexican President Carranza. After the death of Carranza, Alvaro Obregon was elected President and decided to make peace with Villa by offering a general's pension and a track of land called Rancho del Canutillo. Villa lived there with his family, wife Maria Luz and two children, until he and four bodyguards were gunned down by unknown assailants in 1923. Villa is revered by some and viewed by others as a brutal and ruthless outlaw. What is not disputed is his military prowess and his impact on Mexican history. His life has inspired songs, folktales, films, and stories. See Milwaukee Public Library's books and films about Pancho Villa here.