Skip to content

Pancho Villa Expedition


Punitive Expedition in Mexico, 1916-1917

The Punitive Expedition into Mexico that the United States Government undertook in 1916 against Mexican Revolutionary leader Pancho Villa threatened to bring the United States and Mexico into direct conflict with one another. However, careful diplomatic maneuvering by Mexican President Venustiano Carranza and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson successfully resolved the crisis.

Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary leader who controlled much of northeastern Mexico during 1914 and 1915, experienced military setbacks after breaking with the Carranza government and being subjected to a U.S. arms embargo. The Wilson Administration supported Carranza as the legitimate Mexican head of state and hoped that U.S. support could end Mexican political instability during the revolutionary period. Prior to the Mexican Revolution, the U.S.-Mexico border had been only lightly policed. The instability of the revolution led to an increased U.S. military presence, while U.S. citizens along the border often sympathized or aided the various factions in Mexico. As part of a campaign against U.S. interests in Northern Mexico, Villa's forces attacked U.S. mining executives in Mexico on January 9, 1916, provoking public anger in the United States, especially in Texas. Pancho Villa's forces then raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico, on March 9, 1916, resulting in the death of sixteen Americans and much larger casualties for Villa's forces.

In response, the Wilson Administration decided to order a punitive raid into Mexico with the goal of capturing Pancho Villa. Because of earlier, more minor raids, Wilson had already considered ordering an expedition a cross the border, and so directed Newton Baker, the Secretary of War, to organize an expedition specifically to pursue Villa. Wilson also attempted to mollify Mexican President Venustiano Carranza by claiming that the raid was conducted "with scrupulous regard for the sovereignty of Mexico." Nevertheless, Carranza regarded Wilson's actions as a violation of Mexican sovereignty and refused to aid the U.S. expedition.

The task of capturing Villa was given to U.S. Army General John J. Pershing. Pershing's forces entered Mexico, but failed to capture Villa.

Continue reading:

Archive of the U.S. Department of State

"United States support for Carranza prompted an aggressive reaction from Villa. After 1916 Villa frequently raided United States border towns and then retreated to Mexico. United States General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing's troops crossed the border in pursuit of Villa several times during 1917."

— Country Studies. U.S. Library of Congress.

Mexico. Country Studies. U.S. Library of Congress.

1916 cartoon by Clifford K. Berryman, via National Archive Berryman collection.

Link to the image

Francisco "Pancho" Villa (1877–1923), Mexican revolutionary general, wearing bandoliers in front of...

Link to the image

Pancho Villa. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Link to the image



No comments avaliable.



Published in 27/06/2019

Updated in 19/02/2021

All events in the topic The U.S. in Latin America and the Caribbean:

29/05/1934Cuban-American Treaty of Relations of 1934Cuban-American Treaty of Relations of 1934
22/05/190329/05/1934Period during which the U.S. had the right to invade Cuba
29/09/190606/02/1909Second Occupation of CubaSecond Occupation of Cuba
01/01/189920/05/1902First Occupation of Cuba
01/08/191706/01/1922Sugar InterventionSugar Intervention
04/08/191201/01/1933Occupation of Nicaragua
05/05/191627/12/1924Occupation of Dominican Republic
21/04/191423/11/1914Occupation of Veracruz
28/07/191501/08/1934Occupation of Haiti
31/03/1917Annexation of U.S. Virgin IslandsAnnexation of U.S. Virgin Islands
01/01/1904First Occupation of Dominican Republic
01/10/190313/11/1903U.S. sends warships to PanamaU.S. sends warships to Panama
01/06/1906U.S. intervention in the Cananea strikeU.S. intervention in the Cananea strike
01/01/1905U.S. troops land in Honduras
20/02/190727/03/1907U.S. intervention in conflict between Honduras and NicaraguaU.S. intervention in conflict between Honduras and Nicaragua
01/01/1908U.S. troops intervene in Panama
01/10/190920/08/1910U.S. intervention in Nicaragua, ruled by José Santos ZelayaU.S. intervention in Nicaragua, ruled by José Santos Zelaya
01/01/1911Hondurean president overthrownHondurean president overthrown
01/01/1912U.S. intervention during the 1912 "Race War" in Cuba
14/03/191607/02/1917Pancho Villa ExpeditionPancho Villa Expedition
01/01/191801/01/1920U.S. intervention in Chiriquí Province, Panama
01/01/1925U.S. intervention in Panamanian rent riotsU.S. intervention in Panamanian rent riots
01/01/1933U.S. assists the deposing of Cuban president Gerardo Machado y MoralesU.S. assists the deposing of Cuban president Gerardo Machado y Morales
12/06/1901Platt AmendmentPlatt Amendment
04/05/190415/08/1914Construction of the Panama CanalConstruction of the Panama Canal