Saturday, March 9, 2013


A few years back, one of the last of Pancho Villa's Columbus, New Mexico, raiders passed.

Today is the anniversary of Pancho Villa's 1916 raid on Columbus, an event central to the plot of my debut novel HEAD GAMES (AKA, Hector Lassiter #1).

HEAD GAMES, in all three of its American formats (softcover, hardcover, and collector's edition, is sold out and effectively out of print in the U.S., though still available in eBook format. The novel will be making its Mexican debut in a few months with a great new cover I'll share soon.)

To mark the anniversary of Villa's raid, a look back at the column I wrote upon word of the last Villa raider's passing:


Time is a funny thing: stuff that seems so long ago, really isn't. This man passed away last month. A very old man. He lived a lot of the things I wrote about it in my first novel. He experienced Pancho Villa, up close and personal.

1916: That was the year Pancho Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico and triggered the Punitive Expedition.

The expedition into Mexico was Woodrow Wilson's kind of foreshadowing of George W. Bush's invasion of Afghanistan in search of Bin Laden. Wilson's incursion across the border stoked a lot of resentment against America on the part of Mexico's people.

Wilson sent 100,000 men down into the desert to chase Pancho bring him back "Dead or alive." The chase didn't go well.

In my literary world, one of the men who rode down into the desert after Villa was a young Hector Lassiter, who lied about his age and rode off after Black Jack Pershing into the Mexican desert (all of this fuels my first novel, HEAD GAMES).

Like Bin Laden many decades later, Villa proved infuriatingly elusive. Once we lost interest in him, Villa eventually settled down on his ranch, put on some weight, stepped up his womanizing, and started amassing this arsenal. What he meant to do with that latter remains a mystery: Villa was gunned down by parties unknown before he could stir up further revolts or revolutions. A few years later, Pancho's grave was robbed and his head stolen. (Again, all described in HEAD GAMES.) The head remains missing. We'll get back to that, shortly...

Now, I don't consider myself a relic, but I have actually known/met a couple of Punitive Expedition members (both dead for some number of years now). One I met as a child. The other I met as a young reporter...spent an afternoon with him hearing tales of the trail and looking through old photo albums only to be told by the lonely old man he forbid any article be written about him. He just wanted company to pass a summer afternoon. That man, and the other man from my hometown who rode with Pershing, are both name-checked in HEAD GAMES.

I'd come to believe most of the men of that time were long passed. But last evening I ran across this obituary for a man pretty wonderfully named Juan Carlos Caballero Vega. He claimed, at the age of 14, to have ridden with Villa into New Mexico that night to attack Columbus. He claimed to have been Villa's young chauffeur. In a sense, his actual story reflects an opposite-sides-of-the-border version of Hector Lassiter's tale.

Vega passed away on March 30, 2010, at the age of 109. He'd hoped to live to see November 20, the centenary of the Mexican Revolution in which he fought alongside Villa.

According to an article in the Telegraph, he attributed his long life to "love," much walking and an active sex life (he remarried at the age of 99). You can read Vega's story, much of it in his own words, here. An image from Corbis of the old Villista shows a man with some real character etched into his face:

So Vega's gone. And Pancho's head remains elusive. Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal this past week took another look at Villa's missing remains (more than just his noggin, really)... Of course, Skull & Bones (the culprits behind Villa's grave-robbing as posited in HEAD GAMES) also got a mention... You can read that piece here.