In Pursuit of Pancho Villa

Operations to Clear the Serpiente de Cascabel Valley, 7 April, 1916

Early in April of 1916, in accordance with orders, I lead the men of C Troop, 11th US Cavalry further into Chihuahua in pursuit of fleeing Villista forces. Moving south from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, we entered the Serpiente de Cascabel Valley on 7 April, where fliers of the 1st Aero Squadron, based at Casas Grandes, had reported enemy activity. Intelligence reports indicated the possible presence of Pancho Villa himself, likely in one of the haciendas at the valley's southern end.


The mounted section, C Troop, 11th US Cavalry, with MGs and artillery supporting.

Three sections of C Troop, supported by both sections of the regimental machinegun platoon and a gun detached from the 3rd New York Field Artillery, deployed at the north end of the Serpiente de Cascabel in a wide screen to sweep the valley. Two sections of dismounted troopers, their horses in need of rest after recent extended forced marches, formed the flanks of the line, each accompanied by a section from the regimental MG platoon. The mounted section formed the center, supported by the artillery.


The advance begins.

Initial resistance was light, although a Carrancista scout was observed on the hillside to the left. As the advance commenced, local villagers advised the force that an abandoned structure, long used as a shelter for cattle by the local ranchers, had been occupied and fortified by the Carrancistas, also present in the valley in pursuit of Villa's men. Their leader was purported to be General Fernando de Onates, a one-time supporter of Villa who had lately switched his allegiance to Venustiano Carranza, but whom was trusted by neither. His cruelty is of legendary proportions among the local populace.


Consulting the local villagers.

As we pushed on into the valley, the number of skirmishes with scattered Villista riflemen and Carrancista forces increased, revealing the fortified position of Onates' federal troops in the center. The MG section supporting the right wing was put out of action by the wounding of its crew, and some of the local villagers proved hostile to us, at first seeming to be mere bystanders but turning and viciously attacking when approached. The Villista sympathizers were summarily despatched, the matter being rapidly taken in hand by Sgt. Henry Wilcox and some of his troopers. In the center, the mounted section began taking casualties as the resistance offered by the Carrancistas stiffened.


Carrancistas in their makeshift fortifications.

The fortified position in the center was soon reduced through a combination of accurate rifle fire, plunging fire from the remaining MG section, and some well-placed shells from the 3rd New York's gunners. Mounted troopers pushed forward to seize the position, only to find the last of the Carrancistas assisting a wounded General Onates in his flight from the scene. Some of the local villagers revealed the location of a nearby weapons cache, which was destroyed, and Onates himself was taken captive. Other of the locals proved to be loyal to Villa, however, and a brief fight broke out within the fortified compound against a handful of hidden gunmen. Their resistance was quickly neutralized, and troopers despatched to investigate the western-most of the two haciendas. All was apparently normal within, no significant enemy presence being detected.


The mounted section approaches the western hacienda.

A strong force of Villistas soon approached the hacienda from the west, supported by a Gatling gun. These troops occupied the men on the American right, but proved to be less fearsome than anticipated - their fire, while intense, proved to be highly inaccurate. The troopers of the 11th soon pacified the area, assisted by an accurate shelling which disabled the Gatling gun.


The section on the right detects the approach of a sizeable Villista force.

In the center, a marauding band of Yaqi indians, no doubt attracted by the sound of gunfire, lauched surprise attacks on the 3rd New York's position from the rear, having approached unseen through the dry bed of an arroyo. They were driven off by the brave gunners of the 3rd New York and some of the nearby mounted troopers. The gun was no longer entirely serviceable, unfortunately, due to casualties suffered by the crew. Some of the other savages managed to murder the men of the left wing's MG section, making off into the hills with their weapon and ammunition, although chased by members of the mounted section. It is hoped that the Yaqis will find the advanced mechanism of the weapon incomprehensible, and have no means of putting it to use.


Yaqi indians attacking the 3rd New York's gun position.

On the left, the dismounted section continued to advance, encountering some resistance from scattered Mexican forces. The section pressed forward in a determined fashion, undeterred by the enemy's efforts.


A view of the action from the left wing during their advance.

The valley lived up to its name, however, in the form of some truly enourmous diamondback rattlesnakes, which managed to render a pair of troopers hors de combat before being eliminated. (It was noted that available supplies of antidote for snakebite were insufficient, and should be increased in future. A report has been duly forwarded to the commissariat.)


Encounter with one of the valley's namesakes - a truly enourmous rattler!

The eastern hacienda was soon reached, where some Villistas had taken refuge - these were rapidly despatched. During this action, however, the presence of a Villista leader was reported, making his way west accompanied by a single one of his colorados. The final action of the day saw the death of these men. The leader proved not to be Pancho Villa himself, as was hoped, but merely a low-level officer left in charge of the valley's garrison. Villa himself had escaped, if he had been present in the valley at all. It has been suggested that Onates' federal troops may have chased him away even before our forces arrived in the area.


The bodies of the fallen Villista officer and his colorado - definitely not Pancho Villa!

Despite heavy fighting, casualties among the US forces engaged were moderate, with the loss of the MG platoon's men and one of its weapons representing the most significant, followed by the death and wounding of the brave gunners of the 3rd New York. The superiority of American weapons and tactics has again been demonstrated, as in other actions during the current campaign. The artillery and machineguns both added considerably to the combat effectiveness of our force, based as it is on rifles and sabres.

Casualties inflicted on the Villistas were heavy, and, along with the capture of their hidden arms cache and the destruction of the Gatling gun, represent a significant reduction in their regional strength. The forces of General Fernando de Onates were effectively eliminated - how the general is to be handled is left to the politicians. It is been recommended that his actions not be taken as necessarily endorsed by the current Mexican government of Carranza, however, but viewed as those of a rogue agent and common criminal. (The actions of the Yaqi indians are those of a warlike-but-primitive people, and are unlikely to exert any meaningful influence on the conduct of further US operations in Mexico, even if they can get their new Benet-Mercié working.)

The operation to clear the Serpiente de Cascabel Valley has been concluded successfully, even though the capture of Pancho Villa himself was not effected.


Major Daniel Greenwald Paine, Commanding
C Troop, 11th US Cavalry
8 April, 1916
Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua, Mexico