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The General and the Jaguar
By Eileen Welsome
Reviewed by Jay Raymond White
Copyright by Little, Brown publishers, New York, 2006.
$19.95 in hardback. Available on Amazon (new and used) and on Kindel
General John “Blackjack” Pershing is The General and Francisco “Pancho” Villa is the Jaguar in Eileen Welsome’s look at the raid that reduced the border town of Columbus, New Mexico, to smoking rubble on the morning of March 9, 1916, and explains the social, military and political hullabaloo it spawned between two nations.
The General and The Jaguar is an account of that raid and what happened in both Mexico and the United States after it was over; but more than an account of the action as it occurred, it contains finely drawn character sketches of the Mexican revolutionaries who conducted it and of the Americans—civilians and soldiers—who endured it, and who avenged it with blood and hatred.
They’re all here: Maude Wright (overlooked by most historians), kidnapped by Villa from her farm near Casas Grandes and taken away to Columbus to witness the raid, not knowing if she would ever see her infant son again, thinking at any moment to have her throat slit by the filthy, starving, desperate Mexican peons who guarded her.
Along the trail, Maude’s husband Ed and his hired man, Frank Hayden, also taken at the farm, were indeed murdered by Villista soldiers—Dorados: Golden Ones. Several of these types would survive wounds to be hanged for their “crimes” by New Mexicans who decided they were dastardly bandits and terrorists and not at all honorable soldiers and prisoners of war.
General (then lieutenant) George S. Patton who served Blackjack as aide in the “punitive expedition” was ordered to cross the border by Woodrow Wilson and distinguished himself in action against the Carrancistas; Venustiano Carranza himself, who, as President of Mexico, feared invasion from the north more than any other foreign military possibility, considered gringo aggression a propensity rather than a mere possibility–it had happened before; Colonel Herbert J. Slocum, a West Point graduate, in charge of the Thirteenth Cavalry based at Columbus, whose reputation was greatly damaged by his response to Pancho Villa’s surprise raid on the military camp and town, even though his “response” accounted for some three hundred dead or captured Mexican raiders.
Subsequently though, as, being ill and uncertain and unable to distinguish his personal arms on the Expedition itself, Slocum was thought among some soldiers of the Thirteenth to be a coward. His reputation as a man and an American soldier was ruined—here Welsome leaves her reader to sift the evidence and judge for himself as to Slocum’s character—and there are the civilians who survived the gunfire and arson and mayhem brought down upon them that early morning in March, 1916; and they, too, are here permitted to tell their stories of that day. And there is Francisco Villa himself, “the microbe that managed to infuriate an elephant,” and what he, exhausted, sorely wounded and on the run from both the Americans and the Carrancistas, felt in his exaggerated being about the whole sorry mess.
The historical personalities mentioned and many others of equal or lesser light are depicted in language drawn from the author’s keen eye for detail and her obviously extensive and impeccable research into the events that unfolded at Columbus, New Mexico, and in northern Mexico just short of a century ago.