Pancho Villa’s Invasion of New Mexico Town Drives Tourism More Than a Century Later

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It’s been more than 100 years since Pancho Villa invaded the small town of Columbus, New Mexico, but local businesses say the Battle of Columbus is still what drives nearly all of the tourism in their community.

Villa, a Mexican revolutionary leader, invaded Columbus on March 9, 1916. Eighteen Americans were killed in this raid, but local business owners such as Irma Gonzales say people on both sides of the border consider Villa a hero.

Gonzales, who has lived in Columbus for three decades, owns and operates her own restaurant. She says most of her customers are tourists.

“The tourists, they do talk about Pancho Villa,” she said. “They go to the museum too and learn about the history of him. They do see him as a hero because he is the only one to cross the United States.”

At Los Milagros Hotel just down the street, pictures of Villa cover the wall.

“No one knows for sure why he raided (Columbus),” Phillip Skinner, the owner of the hotel said. “There are five or six theories out there.”

Skinner says once a year, the town of Columbus celebrates the Battle of Columbus with their neighbors across the border.

“Palomas has a party for them, dinner and then those riders get special permission to cross and then there is a switching of flags,” he said.

Skinner also emphasizes that Palomas and Columbus are interdependent. For example, students who are American citizens living in Mexico cross the border every morning to attend school.

“There are 5,000 people in Palomas,” he said. “Seven hundred kids cross that border. That’s at least 300 families over there. We have that relationship. It’s been a long time – 60 years going – and, of course, Columbus is dependent on the border crossing.”

“As most border communities, we’re not unusual in having this very close relationship where we’re dependent on each other,” he added.

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