For the January, 1975 issue of High Times, Robert Lemmo wrote about the legendary Pancho Villa (1878-1923). In conjunction with Pancho Villa’s birthday on June 5, we’re republishing the story below.
On March 17, 1914, a year after Pancho Villa slipped across the border after hiding out in Texas as a disgraced fugitive, his 5,000 enthusiastic soldiers disembarked from their railroad fleet seventy miles north of Torreon, the only remaining obstacle to Villa’s triumphant march to Mexico City. With the sympathy and support of the United States government and the Mexican people, Villa had amassed twenty-eight pieces of field artillery, a score of machine guns, and eight railroad trains, including two construction trains and a press train for foreign journalists. Poised on the brink of their greatest triumph, the Villistas were only missing one thing: General Pancho Villa. He had left the train about 500 miles north to be best man at the wedding of an old friend. Villa finally showed up three days later, bedraggled, besodden, and red-eyed from lack of sleep. At the arrival of the Chief, the Villistas stormed the town, killed 7,000 men, lost 1,000, and toppled the government of Mexico.
A folksong was written to celebrate his victory at Torreon:
Well done, Pancho Villa
His heart did not waver;
He took the strongest fort
On the hill at Torreon.
One thing always gives me laughter,
Pancho Villa the morning after,
Ay, there go the Carranzistras….
Who comes here? The Villistas.
La cucaracha, la cucaracha
Ya no puede caminar;
Porque to tiene, porque no tiene,
Marihuana que fumar.
(The cockroach, the cockroach
Can no longer walk;
Because he hasn’t, because he hasn’t,
Marijuana to smoke.)
You Don’t Have to Look Far to Find the Influence of Pancho Villa in Mexican Folklore
Though Pancho Villa’s military career is well documented, the personal history of the great man is almost unknown to the public. His legends are recorded mainly in the oral tradition of Mexico, passing from father to son in the form of corridos, the Mexican folk songs. Since most of the revolutionaries of Villa’s army could not read or write, the songs of the people tell the story: Not only was Villa a great fighter, he also knew how to party.
There were four battle hymns of the Mexican Revolution: Adelita, La Cucaracha, Marcha Zacatecas, and Valentina. Two deal with Villa. Adelita, a mournful love song, was inspired by a tragic alliance between Villa and an inspiringly beautiful soldier-girl in his army. But it was La Cucaracha that served as Villa’s theme song, swelling to over 100 verses chronicling all his victories, hardships, and debaucheries in ten years of revolution.
Verse after verse of La Cucaracha speaks lovingly and intimately of marijuana, which was virtually the official refreshment of the Mexican Revolution. As such, it marked the first time in modern warfare that an entire war was fought stoned. About half of Villa’s army was comprised of long-haired Indians (primarily Yaquis) who used marijuana as casually and regularly as we might use salt. Haldeen Braddy, a Villa biographer, states that at Torreon, “The Yaquis grew fanatical. High on marijuana, they fought like demonic spirits. They stormed the entrenchments. They ground out yards and still got nowhere. Then they staggered about here and there confused.”
After getting devoutly zonked for the battle of Agua Prieta, according to Braddy, “The intrepid Indians acted like wild men completely out of their heads from inhaling marijuana. Immediately the Indians rose to a crouch and headed for the barbed wire. The marijuana gave them superhuman strength. So frenzied were they with the drug that some of them succeeded in breaking the wire with their hands.”
As for the rest of Villa’s troops—Mexicans, Spaniards, Negroes, Caucasians, and all combinations thereof, marijuana was a staple in their revolutionary diet. Likewise, many stayed high on potent mixes of mescal and sotol, native forms of psychedelic whiskey distilled from desert cacti. Villa himself was probably the greatest debaucher and carouser of them all. That’s why they made him the leader, according to some accounts. Revolutionary author Martin Luiz Guzman, describing his first meeting with Villa, remembered entering a smoke-filled shed, where he spied the notorious leader in a dimly lit corner Villa lay in bed, covered by a blanket, fully dressed in hat, coat, and cartridge belts. The Chief was giggling and talking excitedly to his two compañeros, also fully clad and on the bed. As Guzman was introduced, “Villa listened to him unblinkingly. His mouth was open and there were traces on his face of the mechanical smile that seemed to start at the end of the teeth.”
Pancho Villa was a truly popular revolutionary leader, one of the common people, a peon responsible for some of the most brilliant and successful military operations ever fought; this done under adverse conditions, with untrained, ragtag troops, while simultaneously throwing some of the biggest parties ever seen in Mexico before or since. In fact whether fortune waxed or waned on the Villistas, they maintained a steady choogle on the road of revolution. The siege of Agua Prieta, says Braddy, resembled something of a weary modern rock festival: “The women nursed their crying babies and cooked frijoles; the moon-bosomed girls made promiscuous love; the peones swigged their sotol… long haired Indians, some of whom smoked marijuana at night and danced wildly about their campfires.” Constantly low on supplies, the followers of Pancho were never low on the basic inspiration for their actions.
Born Doroteo Arango in 1878 of Indian and Spanish ancestry, Villa began life as a simple peasant. Villa began his career as an outlaw, bandit and enemy of the ruling class suddenly and early. When he was sixteen, his young sister Mariana was raped by the son of the owner of the hacienda on which Villa’s family worked. Villa immediately grabbed the family pistol, killed the man, and then took to the hills. A corrido describes his flight:
In the wilderness untrammeled,
In the highest mountain crags,
I’ll hide myself,
Where none will know I was guilty,
For my love of thee,
For such a crime.
Never prosecuted for the killing, Villa soon gathered about him a band of similar outlaws and began a career of banditry unparalleled in Mexican history, which is rich in colorful criminals. Unlike other banditos, Villa would slaughter a rich hacienda’s cattle herd, then give an old peasant farmer 1,000 pesos to keep his tiny spread. In a land where a mere 17 families owned one-fifth of all Mexico, Villa quickly became a folk hero among the poor farmers.
Though he was a cold-blooded killer in battle, the young Villa was a smoldering Latin in love. The buckskin-clad nomad caught many a lady’s fancy. If not, Villa was more than willing to commit rape. The only documented instance of Villa abandoning a seduction occurred in the El Dorado Bar in Juarez. Eyeing an attractive young barmaid, Villa threw her a provocative look, then rubbed his fist on his face, which at that time and place meant something like, “Let’s get going.” She seemed complaisant until he revealed his identity, whereupon she answered tartly, “Señor, you should remember that Villa has the charm of a gentleman, and does not pass the time in small, dark bars. He lives in the sun, fights clean battles, and makes short work of little men like you.”
Usually, however, Villa got the girl. One night in Chihuahua City, Villa was getting high and wenching in a fancy cantina. One of Villa’s men was eyeing a Federalista’s girl. The Federalista made his resentment clear, but Villa’s lieutenant persisted with crude courting gestures. The Federalista drew his gun and shot the lieutenant in the mouth. Before the dead man even toppled, Villa fired from under his arm and drilled the Federalista neatly through the head. Instantly Villa dragged the girl away and made ferocious (by all accounts) love to her.
For all his dope, booze, and philandering, Pancho Villa was a firm believer in marriage. In fact, he had at least four “legal” wives, and was happy to marry any young señorita for the night, if that’s what it took. It is said that when Villa married his second wife, the first wife was convinced to serve breakfast in bed to the honeymoon couple. But he loved his first wife, Luz Corral, most, and for all his days.
Villa pursued a colorful career as a bandit, but had no ambitions as a revolutionary until 1909. In that year, his little daughter died. Villa’s wife sent messengers to him with the news, but they were detained and mistreated by Don Luis Terrazas, governor of the state of Chihuahua and one of the wealthiest cattlemen in the entire world. (It is reported that a Chicago slaughterer once wired Terrazas asking him if he could possibly supply a million head of cattle and Terrazas wired back, “What color?”) When Villa eventually learned of his daughter’s death and Terrazas’s mistreatment of the messengers, he immediately assembled a huge band and raided Terrazas’s territory. In a raging bloodlust, Villa utterly devastated the property, and killed hundreds. Without even intending to, Villa took over the land, destroyed the state government, and won the idolatry of the peons as never before. The peons saw Villa as an hombre who could transform bitter dissatisfaction into successful revolution.
Pancho Villa Joins the Revolution
At first, Pancho Villa joined the revolution for profit. There were many revolutionary movements in Mexico at the time, and often the line between a revolutionary and a bandit was narrow indeed. Villa was delighted to loot, plunder, and kill with impunity as a captain in the Revolutionary Army. Why not? But upon meeting the acknowledged leader of the Revolution, Francesco Madero, Villa became a changed man. Madero was a small, black-bearded, hollow-eyed vegetarian. His intense idealism and devotion to land reform for the people touched Villa’s heart, and though he little understood the details, he committed himself to Madero and the Revolution. For all his erratic fits of temper, Villa was constant in his devotion to Madero.
Villa did not fare too well as a Revolutionary. Once he was sentenced to be hanged, another time to be shot, but each time a reprieve from Madero saved his life at the last possible moment. Villa languished in jail in Mexico City for four months. On Mexican Independence Day, Villa escaped and fled to El Paso, where he soon assembled a new army, by carrier pigeon, in Chihuahua City. After a bloody battle, Juarez was captured. The untutored Villa administered the city himself, and during his one-year rule he legalized gambling and prostitution, paved the streets, raised the salaries of the teachers, rebuilt the hospitals, maintained the railroads, and happily levied tribute from the gringos. As for dope, it was not only legal, but practically free. A whole armload of marijuana could be had for a few pesos. Villa bided time, using the opportunity to purchase huge supplies of equipment and guns from the U.S. and making friends with General “Blackjack” Pershing.
During the Juarez period, Villa lived high, wide and handsome. Using gold treasures he had buried in chests throughout Mexico, he outfitted his army and bought his wife a deluxe Hudson and himself a Cadillac.
Villa was now at his peak. He controlled most of northern Mexico. Parties were thrown almost nightly, and farmers labored hard harvesting enough mescal, sotol, and marijuana to keep Villa’s hedonistic troops supplied. After the climactic battle at Torreon, Madero was installed as President, and Villa was a national hero as Madero’s finest general. Villa was happy, and as a Christmas present, he returned the government of Chihuahua City to the people. In return, the soldiers of the town presented Villa with a medal. But Villa had been stoned all night on a potent breed of high mountain marijuana which had just been harvested (1913 was a vintage year, according to Mexicanos, and that in itself may have provided the additional impetus to push the revolution over the top). According to radical writer John Reed, who witnessed the formal ceremony, Villa arrived in an old khaki uniform, with several buttons missing, his hair in disarray. Reed wrote:
“He entered the aisle between the rigid lines of soldiers, walking a little pigeon-toed, in the fashion of a horseman, hands in his trouser pockets. Finally, pulling his moustache and looking very uncomfortable, he moved toward a gilded throne, with lions-paw arms, raised on a dais under a canopy of crimson velvet. He shook the arms violently to test the throne’s dependability, then sat down. There followed six speeches extolling Villa’s bravery on the field. Through it all Villa slouched on the throne, his mouth hanging open, his little shrewd eyes playing around the room. Once or twice he yawned, but for the most part seemed to be speculating with some intense interior amusement, like a small boy in church… Finally, with an impressive gesture, an Artillery officer stepped forward with a small cardboard box. The officers applauded, the crowds cheered, the band burst into a triumphant march.”
Villa put out both hands eagerly… He could hardly wait to open the box and see what was inside… He held up the medal, scratched his head, and, in a reverent silence, said clearly, “This is a hell of a little thing to give a man for all that heroism you are talking about.”
Pancho Villa did not spend all his time wandering about as a stoned buffoon. Tragedy stalked him everywhere, even in pleasure. Around this time, he became involved with the beautiful Adelita. Their romance became the symbol of the tragedy and poetry of the Revolution. Adelita was dark olive, tall, and ravishingly attractive—just Villa’s type. At twenty, this country goddess was already betrothed to the blonde Portilla, one of Villa’s loyal friends. But she couldn’t resist one last fling, particularly with the lusty revolutionary leader. At one banquet, Adelita rose and made a speech in honor of Villa, casting hot eyes on him. She ended her accolade with the hope that Villa would become president of Mexico. Pancho later talked alone with her in the courtyard; soon they were engaged in hot, hungry kisses, while the band played La Cantela, a song from the Bajio region of Michoacan:
I find myself a prisoner in cunning.
I find myself imprisoned by a woman
As long as I live in this world and don’t die,
Never in my life will I love again.
We took for granted that we were trash
Along came the whirlwind and took us up;
And while high up in the air we flew;
The same winds blew us apart.
Suddenly, Portillo, Adelita’s betrothed, stepped into the garden and beheld Villa and Adelita. He paused, torn between fury and despair; then, with a hopeless gesture, he pushed his gun into his mouth and thunderously blew off the top of his head.
Villa, ignorant of Adelita’s engagement, sat petrified with surprise. He had loved and trusted Portillo. Learning the truth, he shook Adelita roughly, and commanded his men to take her where he would never see her again. Villa built a special tomb for Portillo and even buried a pair of his best boots with the man as an expression of grief. His sorrow would be sung about by the rebel minstrels after battle had been retired, when, as Braddy describes, “the Villistas attended to their wounds, patched their saddles—and wet their whistles. Sotol irrigated parched throats, burning away the shock or recent defeat. In the dark night, marihuana cigarettes spurted tiny red tongues of fire and crackled a little as the flames ate into the haylike weed.”
The incident continued to bother Villa, and no amount of getting high or military success could erase it. One night about a year later, he became so despondent that he sought out the leading songwriter of the Revolution, Ochoa, and requested something new to soothe his nerves. Ochoa then sang the mournful verses of “Adelita”:
Adelita is the name of the young one
Who I love and cannot forget.
In the world I have a rose
And, with time, I shall pluck her.
If Adelita should go with another
If Adelita should leave me all alone.
I would follow in a boat made of thunder
I would follow in a train made of bone.
On and on Ochoa sang, through ten more stanzas. Villa stumbled away and bowed his kinky head in tears. Adelita was to grow to over a hundred verses after Villa’s second tragic encounter with the girl. Early in 1913, Villa organized an elite force known as the Dorados (Golden Ones). There were three squadrons, each of 100 horsemen, superbly mounted and armed. Although the rest of Villa’s army traveled with women and children in tow, the Dorados were unencumbered with camp followers and could strike swiftly.
One afternoon, during a bloody carnage, Villa observed a youthful Dorado with a yellow scarf in the thick of the battle. He was enraged; he had ordered his elite Dorados to stay out of this particular fight. After the battle, he saw the Dorado sprawled on the sand, his yellow scarf stained bloody red. Turning over the corpse, he discovered it to be the girl Adelita.
Villa’s fortunes began to decline after this. His old enemy, Carranza, came into power, backed by the United States, and Villa fought a desperate battle to regain the Republic. In retribution for U.S. support of the Carranza’s dictatorship, he raided Columbus, New Mexico. General “Black Jack” Pershing and his troops were sent on a punitive mission. Pershing, an old friend, always managed to be a few days behind Villa and battle was never joined, but it created pressure. Villa’s Yaqui Indians smoked marijuana and drank more and more sotol to keep their wounded moving. Supposedly in hot pursuit, Pershing’s men were furiously learning the secrets of romantic Mexico. Tamales and tequila, warm women and long marijuana cigarettes under the Chihuahua moon were much more appealing than battle with a drifting band of wild-eyed Villistas. The Americans pursued town after town, composing troopers’ songs about Pancho, quaffing Mexican beer, lusting after young prostitutes and being taught the delights of exotic Mexican weeds. Theirs was not the staunch cavalry duty glorified by Gary Cooper and John Wayne.
Early in June, 1919, Villa occupied the northern town of Guadalupe, and prepared to attack Juarez. His new army consisted of a motley band of misfits, and they drank Guadalupe dry before mounting their assault on Juarez sometime before dawn on June 15. Riding crazily into the midst of the city, yelling and screaming profanities, firing wildly and overwhelming the terrified Carranzistas, Villa conquered Juarez for the third and final time. By daybreak, the frustrations of the past months erupted into a memorable party that engulfed the whole city. Tequila, cheap perfume, young girls, soldiers, the smell of marijuana, and the sounds of fist fights filled the night. It was, by all accounts, the longest and most exuberant fiesta of the revolution. The staunchest of carousers were still staggering along the boulevards in a stupor, bawling out corridas, when the Carrazistas counterattacked the next morning.
Bleary-eyed and exhausted from lack of sleep, the Villistas were in no condition to fight. The Carranzistas easily overpowered Villa’s disorganized pack of revelers.
Thus the revolution ended as it had begun—a drunken, stoned, ferocious brawl. This was to be Villa’s swan song, as his foes adopted the modern techniques and hardware developed in the war in Europe. Villa fled the battle fields and hid in the mountains. Shortly after, Carranza was assassinated, and a new phalanx of generals took his place. They looked more kindly on the old war horse and allowed him to retire to a large ranch, where he tried to live quietly. But too many atrocities had been committed, too many wives courted, too many political intrigues still brewed, and on Friday, July 20, 1923, as General Villa motored out of Parral in his Dodge automobile, accompanied by several bodyguards, a pumpkinseed vendor, standing beside the road, shouted, “Viva Villa!” The general slowed his car and lifted his hand in obliging salute. A volley of machine-gun fire clattered down on the car’s occupants, and all but one fell dead. Villa’s body was torn by sixteen bullets. One bodyguard, a conspirator, escaped and was never seen again.
A corrido, La Muenerte, memorialized him:
Though you may not like it, I repeat
In these plain and honest words
That young roosters like Pancho Villa
Are not born every day.
On Villa’s grave, a single marijuana plant grew tall and straight, a lonely reminder of the cockroach who could not walk without marijuana.