THE PANCHO VILLA STATE PARK
It is a rare and compelling occasion for a RV’er to find a great
campground and, at the same time, to find one's self smack in the middle of a
very unique historical site. Thirty miles south of Deming, New Mexico,
there is just such a place: the Pancho Villa State Park at Columbus, New
Here you will find a 49-acre park that offers full camping facilities,
whether for a rally group or a lone rig. There are beautiful xeroscapic
grounds, a museum/interpretive center, historical displays, original
buildings from the early 1900's, and a park staff that cannot do enough to
make your stay a pleasant one.
First, a little bit about the park itself. It sits on the grounds
of what was Camp Furlong, one of a string of early army forts that
protected the U.S./Mexico border from marauders and bandits. The park
office/museum is an original structure, as is the adjacent dining hall.
The latter has a full kitchen and is available for group activities.
The sixty-one gravel sites are spacious and most have ramadas, picnic
tables, grills and/or fire pits, 20/30-amp service and water. There is a
modern central dump station on- site and the restrooms and showers are
airy and spotless. There are walking paths and well-labeled botanical
gardens. The daily rate is $14 and there is a 14-day limit.
This is a park that was built with group or caravan travelers in mind.
Two large, spacious pavilions, in addition to the dining hall, are
available. If you have a special need-whether it be an additional
fire pit, tables, interpretive program or whatever-the park staff, under
ranger manager Armando Martinez, is one of the most cooperative and
facilitative you will find in any park.
For the history buff, there are buildings, sites, displays and relics
inside the campground. In addition to the explanatory signs, ranger Robert
Apodaca is always ready to fill in the gaps with colorful and interesting
stories and facts. Make no mistake about it, while the park is a
'true find' by any standard, the immediate area is truly unique in our
country's history: it is the only site, since the war of 1812, that the
united states has been invaded by armed, foreign troops.
In the pre-dawn hours of March 9,1916, General Francisco 'Pancho' Villa crossed the border and attacked
Camp Furlong and the adjoining town
of Columbus with a savagery and wantonness that rivals virtually any
invading army on record. The Villistas streamed through the streets of
Columbus and indiscriminately shot and killed soldiers and civilians
alike, burning and pillaging as they went.
Much of what led to the raid is shrouded in myth and loosely knit
facts. Villa never wrote about it and there are no participant’s
journals that adequately explain why this former U.S. ally turned his
troops loose on Columbus. Some say he was in a rage because the U.S.
government formally recognized a political adversary of Villa's; another story says
the raid resulted from a Columbus merchant taking Villa's money and then
shorting him on the supplies and ammunition he had paid for. Whatever the
reason, he turned his men loose on Columbus!
Camp Furlong garrisoned about 350 troops. Columbus, surviving off the
camp and the railroad that passed through, had approximately 400
civilians. The numbers of the attacking Villistas range from 500 to 1000.
Whether Pancho was actually with his troops is a matter of conjecture.
Some have him waiting at the border with the horses and supplies; others
have him leading the charge.
Regardless, a few hours later, much of the downtown was burned and
sacked, and ten civilians and eight soldiers were dead. The toll could
have been much worse had not the soldiers managed to break in the armory
and obtain weapons and, thankfully, a new-fangled French invention, a
machine gun. Taking the high ground (Coote's hill, which is located inside
the park), the soldiers began to establish fields of fire that sent
Villa's men scurrying for the border. Mexican dead lay strewn on the
streets of Columbus, Camp Furlong and the escape route to Mexico.
Estimates of Villa's dead vary from seventy to several hundred. Their
bodies were gathered, tossed in a pile a mile west of town and burned.
Somewhere between five and fifteen were captured and records indicate six
were taken to Deming for trial and later hanged. Within weeks of the raid,
Camp Furlong swelled to over ten thousand troops and commanded by none
other than 'Black Jack' Pershing, who would later lead our doughboys in
WW1. General Pershing's troops drove 500 miles deep into Mexico in
an effort to defeat the Villistas and to capture Villa. After eleven
months, they did neither. The punitive action was a dismal failure and
Villa lived on, only to be assassinated by his countrymen in 1923.
The camp became a laboratory for several 'firsts' for the U.S.
military: the site of the first operational military airstrip, the first
time an aircraft ('the Jenny’) was used in a military operation, the
first time mechanized trucks were used by U.S. troops. This was the last
true cavalry operation of U.S. troops. And what a learning experience it
was! The hard rubber, thin wheeled tires of the trucks quickly sank in the
sand; in the searing sun, the armored vehicles baked their unfortunate
occupants to toast, and the Jenny could not gain enough altitude to get
over some of the mountains.
Today, preserved in the park, are actual vehicles of the type used
against Villa: a 1916 Dodge touring car of the type used by Pershing, a
full-scale replica of what would evolve into a military tank. There are
camp buildings of the time, a planned display of a Jenny airplane, and a
museum that sports pictures and relics.
Columbus now has a population of some 700 people. There is a walking
tour of the raid's downtown sites (one hotel purports that the holes in
its walls were from the raid. Inside, at the foot of the steps to the
second floor, the story goes that a Villista shot a guest of the hotel, a
pregnant woman, to death.
If Villa's raid is not your thing, the area's offerings to visitors are
notable, including a town museum, a dinner theatre, The Shrine To The
Perfect Man, and The City Of The Sun, to mention a few. The latter
is a community of one-of-a-kind houses built entirely of indigenous
materials, such as paper, tires, adobe, bottles and bottles and
bottles. A glittering house can be built for as little as a hundred
dollars and a lot of sweat equity!
The thirty plus residents are
friendly to visitors and rightly proud of their community. Oh yes,
their only concessions to high tech living are solar panels and running
water, so don't ask where the pay phone is located! A personal
favorite: while there are several good restaurants within walking
distance, the Patio Grill serves an exceptional breakfast and, with all
respect to the renowned Owl Bar in San Antonio, NM, the Green Chili
Cheeseburger is arguably one of the best in the country.
Finally, three miles south of the park is the border and the town of
Palomas. Easy to park and walk across to do your shopping, visit the
dentist, pharmacia and optometrist, or to enjoy a fine meal at 'The Pink
Store.' A visit to Palomas is a must and a highlight of a stay at
There's something for everyone during a stay at the Pancho Villa State
Park and Columbus, New Mexico!!! Do yourself a big favor.
Whether you are traveling east-west on RT. I-10 or north-south on RT.
I-25, drop thirty minutes south of Deming and give yourself a real treat.
PANCHO VILLA STATE PARK 1-505-531-2711