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Pancho Villa: Biography, Timeline & Quotes

Instructor: Matthew Helmer

Matt is an upcoming Ph.D. graduate and archaeologist. He has taught Anthropology, Geography, and Art History at the university level.

Pancho Villa is one of the most famous Mexican revolutionaries in history, and he brought about significant social changes in the country. This lesson reviews his biography, timeline of events, and historical importance.

Who was Pancho Villa?

Pancho Villa
Pancho Villa

Seen as a Latin American Robin Hood figure, Pancho Villa is remembered as a mythical persona who fought for the peasants against the European elite-controlled hacienda system of Mexico. But though he is somewhat of a legendary character, many people don't know the full back story to this important historical figure.

Pancho Villa was born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula on June 5th 1878, the son of peasant farmers in Northern Mexico. After struggling with crime early in his life, Pancho Villa ascended through the revolutionary ranks to become the face of the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century.

Timeline of Biographical Events

Known as either the Mexican Revolution or the Mexican Civil War, depending on political leanings, armed conflicts began in Mexico in 1910 as the Mexican underclass became increasingly displeased with the age-old hacienda system, which was reminiscent of colonial rule. The hacienda system of Latin America was similar to feudal times in Europe, where peasants worked the lands of wealthy aristocrats in exchange for a meager subsistence.

Under the rule of President Porfirio Diaz, the hacienda system merged with capitalism during the late 19th century. This era is known as the Porfirian Era, and it led to excess wealth for Mexican elites and the continued marginalization of peasant communities. As a result, uprisings in the north and south of Mexico aimed to overthrow the government. Pancho Villa played a crucial role in solidifying northern resistance, leading a number of large battles.

After large gains were made by the resistance in northern Mexico, Pancho Villa became governor of the state of Chihuahua in 1913, during a time when Mexican revolutionaries took control of the entire country under president Francisco Madero. Pancho Villa was a revered general as well as a political leader, and his influence spread well into Texas, helping him to secure resources and influence. Villa's fierce military unit was known as the Division del Norte, which he led into a series of battles throughout Mexico against federal forces.

After first supporting Villa, however, the United States later backed his opposition under the guidance of president Woodrow Wilson, which led to a series of attacks by Villa on United States soil. The United States retaliated with military forces sent into Mexico under the guidance of General John Pershing, who later became world-renowned for his victories in World War 1.

Pancho Villa Wanted Sign
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Although President Madero was assassinated in 1913, dealing a major blow to the revolution, Villa continued to fight as governor with the Division del Norte, until in-fighting among revolutionary forces reached a head in 1915 at the Battle of Celaya over revolutionary control of Mexico City. In the battle, Villa's Division del Norte suffered a crushing defeat, and his influence waned. Villa retired, but was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in 1923 as he attempted to re-enter politics.

The Legacy of Pancho Villa

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