Huachuca Illustrated, vol 1, 1993:

chuca Illustrat

chuca Illustrat

Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca:
10th Cavalry Contributions to the Punitive Expedition

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The first month and a half of this campaign, from March 16 to April 30, were the most eventful days that the men of the Punitive Expedition were to experience. The trail was hot; Villistas were reported to be everywhere.

Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing in front of his tent. His aide, Lieutenant J. Lawton Collins is on the right.

It was during the first five months of campaigning in Mexico that the expedition inflicted its greatest losses on Villa's forces. Villa himself was hiding in the mountains. But his Army had broken into small raiding bands under various of his lieutenants and operated widely throughout Chihuahua.

The services of the 10th Cavalry and its commander, Colonel William C. Brown, were especially noteworthy during this time. A leading participant in the expedition who would also become its historian, Major Frank Tompkins, had this to say about the contributions of Fort Huachuca's 10th Cavalry:

... The 10th Cavalry under Colonel W. C. Brown marched considerably farther than either of the 11th Cavalry columns, as their start was made at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and was practically continuous. ... Colonel Brown left Dublan five days ahead of Howze with two day's rations and a pack train, but not a cent of government money. He received no more supplies until April 20th, just 32 days from the time he left Dublan. In addition, on the way south his pack train, except six mules, was taken from him at San Antonio, but he kept going and joined Tompkins at Santa Cruz de Villegas in time to turn back the Mexican attack, and three days ahead of the other two columns. I have always felt that the conduct of Colonel Brown in this campaign has never received the recognition it was entitled to. My trail crossed his on several occasions, and I know the quality of his work. I saw him under most trying conditions performing in a way decidedly creditable to his country and the army, doing his job in a workmanlike manner without any thought of reward, but with the knowledge that he had done his duty and done it well.(1)

The campaigning had taken its toll on Colonel Brown. In May he was recuperating from the exhaustion brought on by the incessant marching. From a letter postmarked "Fort Bliss, Texas," dated May 17th, Brown writes from a hospital bed to his sister in Denver:

... The newspapers credit me with killing 30 or 40 Mexicans. My regiment (not myself) killed 3. I get thoroughly tired and disgusted with the newspapers. In this campaign we fortunately kept them pretty well suppressed.(2)

As for the hardships endured by the 10th Cavalrymen along the Mexican trail, Captain George B. Rodney, one of the troop commanders, kept a diary that presents a bleak picture of that first month.

From March 19 till April 20 we never saw any article of the ration. No sugar, no bacon, no meat, no salt, no flour; not one single article of the ration. We had each, one blanket, and a saddle blanket that was always wet with horse sweat when we tried to sleep. For cooking utensils we had three iron pails for the entire live troops; that meant that each troop had the use of the pails for three days out of five. ...The daily routine was this. We would march soon after daylight, when we found a patch of grass we halted to allow the horses to graze which they rarely did. Excelsior would have been equally nutritious. Then about mid-afternoon a herd of cattle would be sighted on the distant range and a detail of men would be sent to drive them into camp where they were killed and butchered with a celerity that would have filled a packing house with envy. If that was our night to have the camp kettles, we had boiled meat, if not, we burned the meat on sticks over the fires or else tried to fry it without grease in our meat cans, while some parched corn and water boiled in our tin cups. I seem to have been hungry from the middle of March till the end of April and I doubt it any man during that time was really warm. We had no overcoats and snow caught us from time to time, the last on May Day.

No matter how hard the service nor how great the privations those men were always good-tempered, joking about the hardships, but that joking in camp was so. noisy that no one could sleep. As long as the fires were kept up the men gathered about them trying to get and stay warm. They knew by experience the discomfort of one thin blanket on cold ground.(3)

First Sergeant Vance H. Marchbanks had this to say about his regiment's trials during the expedition:

[The 1916 Pershing Punitive Expedition] was the most trying ordeal any body of soldiers had ever experienced. For more than 11 months the [10th Cavalry] was in the field, part of the time living on the country. Native beef and parched corn was the principal ration and for many days the men were without salt. They were in the mountains of Mexico following the hot trail of Mexican bandits. Men wore out their clothes and shoes, and were obliged in many instances to use their shelter tents for patches, and their stirrup hoods tied around their feet to keep them from being absolutely barefoot.(4)

10th Cavalry on the march in Mexico.

Over the next ten and one-half months, Pershing's flying columns would scour the hostile Chihuahua countryside as far south as Parral, Villa's hometown. They would engage not only villistas, but the government forces of Carranza as well. They defeated and killed principal lieutenants of Villa and captured many of those who participated in the Columbus raid, sending them to the U.S. for trial and eventually the death penalty. Villa's fighting force was effectively scattered and Villa would go into hiding, never again to emerge as a serious threat.

Colonel Frank Tompkins, a participant in the fighting in Mexico, summed up the expedition's accomplishments.

Our first contact of any importance with the enemy was at Guerrero, where Dodd .administered to them a crushing defeat, killed General Hernandez, and caused the band to disperse into smaller units seeking safety in flight, and again at Tomochic on April 22nd he administered another dose of American justice. Then Howze at Ojo Azules practically wiped out the band of Julio Acosta, Cruz Dominguez and Antonio Agua; and Brown at Agua Calientes scattered Beltran's forces; while the different flying cavalry columns kept the Villistas constantly on the jump running away from American retribution.

So the bands were dispersed, and a number of Villa's principal lieutenants were killed, viz: General Hernandez at Guerrero; Pablo Lopez wounded at Columbus, captured by Carranzistas, and executed in April; Captain Silva killed by Howze at La Joya April 10th; Lieutenant Beltran killed by Howze at Santa Cruz de Herrera April 11 th; Cervantes, Villa's chief lieutenant in the Columbus fight, killed May 25th by an infantry scouting party; Colonel Cardenas killed May 14th by Lieutenant Patton.(5)

The question of whether or not the Punitive Expedition was a success has been one that depends largely upon your point of view. In the mind of most American military men, the U.S. Army had accomplished what it had been ordered to do under most trying conditions. Remember General Funston's orders had been: "The work of these troops will be regarded as finished as soon as Villa's band or bands are known to be broken up...."' And broken up they were. They would not again emerge as an organized threat.


1. Tompkins, Frank, Chasing Villa, The Military Service Publishing Company, 1934,185-6.

2. Brown papers in Fort Huachuca Museum files.

3. Rodney, George B., As a Cavalryman Remembers, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho, 1944, 258-9.

4. Marchbanks manuscript on file in FHM files.

5. Tompkins, 218-9.

6. Scott, Hugh B., Some Memories of a Soldier, NY, 1928,520-1.

2. Timeline

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