El Centauro del Norte

El Centauro del Norte

Doroteo Arango was born a Gemini in Durango in 1878.  He was a boy named Dorothy.  His father died when he was five and he took over as head of the household for his mother and four children.  He worked hard and was respected.  Most notable was his phenomenal memory.  Later he would learn to read, but never to write, as he could hold all accounts in his head.  When he was fourteen his sister was raped and Doroteo killed the villain, the son of a rico.  He stood up for his rights.  Then he fled into the sierra.  There he was taken in by an outlaw gang and taught the trade of cattle rustling.  He became an expert horseman, butcher and marksman. 

One of his duties was to hang around cattle yards and learn when the trail drive would depart and where it was going.  This information would then be used by the robbers to steal the herd.  By the time he was thirty he had his own gang and a headquarters in Parral.  Two years later the Revolution began and he joined in against the Dictator Diaz.  By then he had changed his name to that of a famous bandit long since dead and remembered only in corridos.  But Doroteo Arango would resurrect the name of the bandit and he would use it to become famous as Pancho Villa.

          He was a large man, over six feet, over 200 pounds.  He had a barrel chest, reddish kinky hair, a thick mustache, and an open mouth displaying crooked stained teeth.  He was clumsy afoot, always walking pigeon-toed with his awkward arms thrust outward.  He wore mostly old plain khaki.  He was a natural cuentista and loved to tell.  His voice was too high-pitched for his appearance.  His pronunciation was crude and slurred.  But he could tell a story sharp in visual images and rich in myth.  He never muttered profanity nor obscenity.  He never drank alcohol and smoked tobacco only to join his men.  He always ate from the plates of his troop as he feared poison. 

Pancho loved all women and took a new wife in every village.  His taste in women was always Mejicanas with dusky Indian skin and large black eyes and breasts hard as rocks.  Other than his first and permanent wife Luz Corral, Encircled Light, he trusted no one.

As a good Gemini, Pancho Villa lived a double life.  Amongst some he was known as a gentle compassionate Robin Hood, the Friend of the Poor, the Hope of the Indian Republic.  Amongst others he was seen as a tempestuous lunatic prone to unpredictably erupt into a murderous rage at any moment for unknown reasons.  His strongman for atrocities committed during rages was Rodolfo Fierro, his carnicero, the butcher, Iron Rudy.

          When the Revolution began, Pancho Villa had a gang of fifteen men.  His early successes in Chihuahua caused others to join him and his troop reached 375.  Francisco Ignacio Madero, leader of the Revolution, then placed Villa and his men under the leadership of General José Victoriano Huerta.  Although Villa learned tactics from the experience, he never trusted Huerta, who Villa claimed was drunk all the time.  Anger grew and finally in June 1912 Huerta had Pancho arrested for stealing a horse and ordered him shot.  But another officer intervened to spare a life and Pancho Villa was sent to prison in Mexico City. 

There Pancho learned a more serious political philosophy from other inmates and became thoroughly radicalized.  After six months confinement, he escaped through the aid of a court clerk who brought him a disguise, wearing which Pancho simply walked out of prison.  It was his Christmas gift of 1912.  From Mexico City Villa fled to Manzanillo.  There he boarded a freighter to Mazatlán and then traveled overland to Nogales and finally on to El Paso.  From Texas, Pancho Villa began to recruit a new army.

          In March 1913, Pancho and eight good men returned to Mexico, crossing the frontera at night near Ysleta.  Within a few weeks the troop numbered 900.  Within six months Villa enjoyed 10,000 troop officially called the Division of the North.  Villa called them Los Dorados, those of gold, d’oro, the golden ones.  Madero had been killed long past and Pancho now claimed allegiance to José Venustiano Carranza against Huerta who had seized power while Pancho was in prison.  Los Dorados then took control of Chihuahua with several victories.  Most notable amongst the triumphs was at Juárez City.  Villa and his men entered the unsuspecting city in a coal train that had been seized from the Federales.  It was the Trojan horse trick used to perfection. 

By the end of the year Pancho Villa was head of a military government headquarters in Chihuahua City, and three months later in March 1914 all of northern Mexico was under control of the revolutionaries.  Carranza departed El Paso to Chihuahua City to direct the government there.  And Pancho Villa the General-in-Chief of the army was preparing to move south toward the Mexican capital to confront Huerta.  It should have been a grand time for the Revolution but it was not.

          After arriving in Chihuahua, Carranza and Villa began to disagree.  Pancho in private referred to Carranza as Perfume.  The two were cultures apart.  Ignoring a decree of Carranza, Villa moved his army south to defeat the Federales at Torreón and then at Zacatecas.  At the same time Obregón moved his army from Sonora south to defeat the Federales at Guadalajara.  Even though these victories put Carranza in Mexico City as First Chief, the breach between Villa and Perfume had deepened. 

At the convention to plan the future of Mexico, Villa was elected Military Chief.  For Provisional President, Perfume was by-passed in favor of Eulalio Gutiérrez, an unknown train dynamiter and compromise candidate but the actual first president of modern Mexico.  Perfume Carranza fled to Veracruz along with Obregón and his army.  So, at the end of 1914 Pancho Villa controlled Mexico City and the provisional government.

          This glory was to be short-lived.  In early 1915, Obregón began his offensive against Villa.  Eight battles were fought and Pancho Villa lost every one.  Obregón employed barbed wire and trenches in his strategy.  Villa was unaccustomed to these tactics and stubbornly and stupidly and continuously sent his men to die entangled in the snares.  His most severe defeat was made possible only because the Gringos had stabbed their old friend Pancho in the back by allowing the army of Carranza to travel through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to join Obregón in an attack on Villa.  By the end of the year Pancho was defeated and isolated in Chihuahua.  Villa’s army was disbanded.  Carranza controlled Mexico and the United States quickly recognized his government.  This recognition was viewed by Pancho Villa as betrayal by his previous friends the Gringos.  Pancho vowed revenge.

          In January 1916 Pancho Villa and his new gang of bandits attacked a train of Gringo mining engineers bound from El Paso to a claim in Chihuahua.  They robbed everyone and then killed sixteen Gringos.  Two months later Pancho Villa crossed the Gringo border and raided Columbus, New Mexico.  Eighteen Gringos died. 

Into Mexico the Gringos sent General Blackjack Pershing on a punitive expedition.  One battle was fought.  Not Gringos against Villa, rather Gringos against Carranza forces.  The recognized Mexican president had asked the Gringos to stay out of Mexico, but his request had been ignored.  Eight Gringos were killed and twenty-three taken prisoners.  Then the Gringos left.  Later Gringo President Wilson would tell that he called off Blackjack only because the United States could not afford a war with Mexico as it was being threatened with World War I, which it entered the following year.  Corrió El Gringo.  Ganó El Mexicano.  

          Pancho Villa continued to terrorize Carranza forces in northern Mexico for four more years.  He hated Carranza and degraded him by calling him Cucarranza, from cucaracha the cockroach.  He ceased only after Carranza was assassinated by Obregón in 1920.  At that time he received a peace offer from the new government.  Pancho would take possession of a hacienda named Canutillo and a large sum of money.  His men would get money and land.  In return the government received the word of Pancho Villa, Centaur of the North, that he would raid no more.  So at the age of forty-two the legendary Pancho Villa finally settled down.

          For three years Pancho lived quietly on his hacienda Canutillo.  The Revolution was over.  Obregón had become El Presidente and had established a government through use of strong-arm tactics, murder and treachery.  But in 1923 Obregón was threatened by his own Constitution and with rising discontent over his brutal dictatorship.  Fearing rebellion, Obregón secretly ordered rival leaders assassinated.  

          On the morning of July 23, 1923, Pancho Villa in his car, with six of his men, were ambushed and killed in downtown Parral, Chihuahua.

*

          We sat around one of the squat circular tables at the Copa de Leche.  The shade over the veranda and the breeze off the ocean cooled us and made our brown bottles sweat and drip onto white napkins.  The malecón bordering Olas Altas lay empty and listless in the heat.  We had been speaking of Pancho Villa and his escape from prison that had brought him through Mazatlán on his way north.  Looking at El Crestón we recollected that Pancho had slid beside the high rock when he had entered the port from Manzanillo.  Suddenly a voice cried out in English from the only other occupied table on the veranda.  I knew Pancho Villa.  

          We looked over at an elderly gentleman wearing a white guayabera shirt and sharply pressed burgundy-colored trousers.  He smiled and his eyes twinkled and we invited him to join us at the round table.  After he sat down and we had all expressed tanto gusto de conocerle, we asked how he had known Pancho.  With an open-handed gesture and arched eyebrows and with a resigned chuckle he answered matter-of-factly.  The bastard stole our land.

          Somewhat stunned by the abruptness and nature of the response, we sat still.  The gentleman asked if we would like to hear more and we nodded.  He began to speak in fluent, educated English, his voice rising and falling.

          Pancho Villa was a thug and a hoodlum.  He was a madman and a savage.  Anybody who owned anything was fair game for Pancho.  He enjoyed killing.  Especially he relished murdering respectable people who had worked for what they had.  He and his band of vermin would sweep down from their hideouts and plunder innocent people just because Pancho wanted something to do.  No one was safe from him.  He stole as many daughters from the poor as he did cattle from the rich.  Pancho had no political awareness.  He did not fight for Mexico, nor for the Revolution.  Pancho fought to express his pitiful rage. Better said, he had his thugs do his fighting for him.  The only times Pancho would personally fight was when his opponent was obviously weak or vulnerable, like are young boys or old men.  Pancho without his thugs was a coward.

          Gringo history claims that Pancho raided Columbus, New Mexico.  Thereby the outlaw Villa is glorified as being the leader of the only army that has ever invaded the United States.  But Pancho did not really take part in that raid and has received unwarranted credit.  Truly, he was in Madera hiding from Cucarranza troops.   It is the Gringos who claim it was Pancho at Columbus.  This is to diminish their black eye by attributing its cause to a figure of strength not weakness.  For rather than the legendary Villa, the raiders were actually petty outlaws hired by Germany to create an event planned to draw the Gringos into the coming conflict that would be called the First World War.

          The gentleman stopped talking and smiled confidently at us, his eyes twinkling and his cheeks flushed and rosy.  During the gambit Miguel the white-shirted waiter from the dining room had arrived to stand around the table and listen to the English.  The gentleman enjoyed a captive audience and after a suitable pause and a soft sip he spoke again.

          Stealing daughters was sport for Pancho.  He and his hoodlums would storm into a village, any poor village, and terrorize it.  This happened before the Revolution, during it, after it, all the time up to Canutillo.  Once in the village, Pancho would order everybody out of their houses to stand before the gunmen.  Pancho always picked first, so he would then chose his girl.  Then his men would pick any girls they wanted. 

After the girl-picking Pancho would start the men-picking and the boy-picking.  He would finger the village leaders and the strongest biggest men and would have them strung up.  Then his personal bully Iron Rudy would castrate them.  Following this Pancho would have the sons of the castrated men come before him and Iron Rudy would cut one ear off each boy.  Then Pancho Villa and his thugs would ride off taking the girls.

A long sigh flowed across the veranda.  The smiling gentleman raised his eyebrows and blinked several quick times.  Miguel the waiter whispered Que es lo que es castrated?  The gentleman made a hand signal.  The mouth of Miguel suddenly snapped sharply shut.  The beads of sweat dripping from the brown bottles were the only movement at the table.

          After awhile the gentleman with twinkling eyes spoke again.  Pancho Villa extended his brutality to women also.  Once in Delicias a women with babe in arm offered him a bouquet of flowers under which she was hiding a pistol with which to shoot him.  She was discovered before she could shoot.  An enraged Pancho had her and her baby burned in the center of the village.  Word of the atrocity rushed through the countryside.  Other women vowed revenge.  A few days after the burning Pancho heard that a woman in Jiminez, a village nearby Delicias, planned to kill him.  He and his thugs rode into Jiminez and demanded the name of the Señora.  When the people denied him, Pancho rounded up all women within the area and burned one of them in Jiminez plaza.

          Here the gentleman fell silent and stared at us with his twinkling eyes.  With a silent gesture Miguel asked about otras cervezas más and we nodded.  The brown bottles had already begun to drip sweat by the time Miguel brought them to the table.  After a silent lifting of bottles toward each other and some soft sips,  we all settled in again to listen as the gentleman continued his story.

          Pancho Villa was a cruel racist.  Any unfortunate Chinese falling within eyesight of Pancho was executed immediately.  In Torreón Pancho had all the Chinese rounded up and gave them to Iron Rudy for torture and shooting.  Only rarely did Pancho offer any reason for his actions.  However, in the case of any atrocities against Chinese he always responded in the same manner.  Spit and laugh.

          Other foreigners suffered from Pancho also.  The British were favorite targets and also the Scots.  Near Galeana lived a Scot named Benton.  He often gave beef and supplies to Pancho.  He was rewarded by being left alone.  Then one night some men of Villa cut his fences and stole horses and cattle.  Benton hurried away and found Pancho and complained.  In a rage Villa had Benton seized and given to Iron Rudy.  The madman forced the Scot to dig a grave and then Iron Rudy used his rifle butt to club Benton to death.

          Usually it was against other soldiers and officers that Pancho Villa practiced atrocities.  He executed any officer who opposed him.  Any soldier of any opposing warlord was shot because Pancho demanded all common men to side with him alone.  However, he let join him any federal soldier because he knew they were conscripts.  Pancho Villa executed soldiers and officers by lining them up four deep and using a single bullet so as to save ammunition.  Iron Rudy did all the shooting, stopping only when his trigger-finger would cramp.  Oftentimes he killed more than 300 prisoners in a single session.

          Here the gentleman paused due to a distraction.  Suddenly in the walkway between the dining room and the sidewalk tables had appeared an unexpected quartet of out-of-place rurales bearing musical instruments.  The guitarista stopped by our table and asked to play a song.  They had just arrived in town and needed money.  The gentlemen replied Claro que si and then asked Would you like to hear a favorite song of Pancho?  The one he had the band play during a battle?  We nodded and the request was made and the guitarista received it with a beaming smile, and he began to strum, and soon joined him the bass guitarrón and the accordion, and finally entered the violin, and then together as one they erupted into a lively polka, the violinista leading the way.

          No one could sit still.  Miguel began to dance, clapping his heels on the floor, and from inside the Copa rushed a pair of swirling señoritas to join him.  The gentleman stood and clapped and grinned.  A passing taxi stopped and the driver bobbed in his seat and impersonated the violinista.  One of the normally passive gringos uncharacteristically leaped up to become a dancer.  The bouncy polka was contagious.

At times the acordonista sang loudly.  “I’m leaving, I’m going to Chihuahua.  I’m going to look for my pretty Jesusita because I know she’s there.  I’m dying to kiss her.  Well I know I have to find her, and I’m going to feel happy.  I want to dance.  I want to dance a polka. I want to clap my heels with Jesusita, no one else.  I want to dance.  I’m leaving for Chihuahua.”

Jesusita en Chihuahua

When all the dancing was done, and while the sweat still poured off Miguel, one of the señoritas brought more beer to the table and to the quartet.  The clicking of bottle bottoms and the subsequent calmness created by silent swigs of cerveza bien muerta, beer as cold as a dead body, recharged our smiles.  Not willing to give up the music, the twinkling eyed gentleman asked the quartet to play La Valentina and he spoke along as the rurales-come-to-town played for pachocha in Old Mazatlán.   

If today I drink tequila,

Beer and Spanish sherry;

If today you see me sodden,

Tomorrow I’ll be dead.

Valentina, Valentina,

I ask you just this once – 

If they shoot me tomorrow,

I pray you, come and claim me.

          The rurales smiled as they left with a pachocha of walking-around money.  Miguel brought otra parada más of sweating brown bottles and a bowl of limón verde

We asked the gentleman about the Gallo de Cielo fighting cock from Casas Grandes and about the caballero who owned him and fought him for money To return to buy the land that Villa stole from Father long ago.  The song is a corrido about a Terrazas heir the gentleman shrugged.

Gallo de Cielo

Also we asked him about a Gringo song claiming Lefty from Ohio killed Pancho, and he replied that it did not surprise him.

The Story Behind Pancho & Lefty

Townes Van Vandt, Pancho & Lefty

Merle Haggard, Pancho & Lefty

Emmylou Harris, Pancho & Lefty

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, Pancho & Lefty

          We mentioned that the hero of the cock fighting corrido is a peaceful man.  Yes agreed the gentleman, and then he scowled that Villa was not a peaceful man so he is not worthy of corridos but he has them anyway.  We mentioned that Pancho was valiant in standing up for his rights against the rico who raped his sister.  The gentleman shook his head and declared Pancho Villa was a thug before the rape so he is guilty neither of being peaceful nor honorable.  We mentioned that an abuelita from Macanudo had said that Villa was a warrior not a hero.  The gentleman suggested that the abuelita must have had something to lose because all Panchos disallow lawful ownership.

Pancho Villa

Los Dorados de Villa

There breathed a pause and we sipped quietly.  What happened to Iron Rudy we asked.  The eyes twinkled and the eversmile glowed and the gentleman drew us together and then he told.

          Iron Rudy rode through the row of hanged men strung on the telegraph poles, mouths agape, tongues protruding, swinging in the soft desert breeze, all along the lane leading to the burning village.  His cacique Villa was defeated by Obregón and Iron Rudy headed his own gang.  Thirst for girls had just been quenched and the gang rode hard north toward Casas Grandes.  The thugs came upon the Valle Santa María near Buenaventura.  Ahead lay a mostly dry lake.  Some of the gang carried girls and they turned safely around the lake.

Iron Rudy never carried girls.  He always carried the money.  He boasted that he would cross the lake rather than follow the others.  Iron Rudy rode confidently onto the dry lake bed only to find quicksand and his men unwilling to pull him out and he sank along with the money into legend.

The gentleman twinkled and blinked and laughed.  So did Miguel and the Gringos.  The gentleman rose suddenly saying Con su permiso, it is time to go.  We shared hands, la toca.  

          As we watched the gentleman slip away into the narrow streets of Olas Altas, Miguel said softly to us that the sharply pressed trousers and the twinkling eyes belong to Señor Canutillo Negrete de Durango.  Otro Terrazas dice Miguel. 

Sound Track:

Jesusita en Chihuahua

Gallo de Cielo 

Pelea de Gallos

The Story Behind Pancho & Lefty

Townes Van Vandt, Pancho & Lefty

Merle Haggard, Pancho & Lefty

Emmylou Harris, Pancho & Lefty

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, Pancho & Lefty

Pancho Villa 

Los Dorados de Villa

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