March 12, 1999
COLUMBUS, N.M. - It was a day for friendship, a day for goodwill. It also was a day some residents of this border town didn't see as fitting to commemorate.
Tuesday was the anniversary of Pancho Villa's 1916 raid on Columbus - the last time a foreign power made an incursion into the continental United States.
Stores were looted, buildings were burned and 18 Americans, along with at least 90 Villista riders, were killed during that attack 83 years ago.
But the group of about 50 Mexican horsemen who rode north from the border toward Columbus on Tuesday had a far different purpose.
``This is a march of remembrance, not an attack on the United States,'' said Allen Rosenberg, one of the Columbus organizers who invited members of Mexican riding clubs to retrace Villa's trek - a ride to Columbus from Hacienda San Geronimo in Mexico over the course of 10 days.
A group of 10 Americans, wearing period military uniforms and representing the Columbus-based 13th Memorial Horse Cavalry, rode with the Mexicans, carrying the American flag.
It was the first time the cavalcade, organized as part of a commemorative ceremony, has been staged. But some Columbus refused to participate, saying it would appear to glorify Villa and the attack.
The head of the American Legion Post No. 1916 in Columbus, whose members declined to provide a color guard for the commemorative events held at Pancho Villa State Park, compared the cavalcade to a Japanese flyover of Pearl Harbor.
The Columbus Historical Society also declined to be involved. The Historical Society will hold more low-key events at Pancho Villa State Park on Saturday, including the recitation of the names of the Americans who died in the Villa raid.
``I still don't comprehend exactly why they did it,'' said Historical Society president Ed Beck Jr., who said he noticed the cavalcade from his real estate office window. ``If they are trying to eliminate a feeling of hostility or resentment, I never sensed any.''
But many people did attend, and they lined the streets of Columbus to greet the riders.
Once the cavalcade arrived at the park, people applauded loudly as Columbus Mayor Ken Riley, who promises a bigger event next year, said, ``It's time to forget the past and to start dealing with the present.''
Phoebe Watson, an 87-year-old retired school principal who was living about 15 miles from Columbus at the time of the raid, also spoke.
``We've been practicing hands across the border and friendship across the border for many years, even before it became popular,'' she said.
But the speakers who received the most rousing applause were a group of Columbus Elementary School students.
``We are the children of two countries. We want to thank you for coming to make history in a place where once there was war,'' said 11-year-old Eric Ruiz, who lives across the border in Palomas, Mexico, but goes to school in Columbus.
The festivities, which included representatives of both Gov. Gary Johnson and Chihuahua, Mexico, Gov. Patricio Martinez Garcia, attracted about 500 people.
However, Pancho Villa's daughter, 85-year-old Maria Guadalupe Villa Quezada, who was scheduled to be a featured guest at the ceremonies, was not among them.
Mexican officials said she did not have the proper paperwork to leave Mexico and pass through the port of entry.
American and Mexican officials exchanged flags during the ceremony, and the 32-piece Chihuahua state band played the two countries' national anthems, along with revolutionary songs, such as ``La Tumba Abandonada.''
The 1916 Villa raid precipitated an 11-month-long ``punitive expedition'' led by U.S. Gen. John Pershing, in which about 10,000 American troops pushed 500 miles into Mexican territory in an unsuccessful attempt to hunt Villa down.
Villa's troops had helped Francisco Madero overthrow Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. After Madero was assassinated, Villa, who had been considered friendly to the United States, was enraged when the United States threw its support behind rival Venustiano Carranza.