“Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something”
The Mexican revolutionary was born as José Doroteo Arango Arambula near San Juan del Rio, Durango on 5 June 1878. Much of Villa’s life story is disputed. It is said that when he was 16, he discovered that a local rancher had raped his 12-year-old sister. He sought the man out and shot him before stealing a horse and going on the run. He changed his name to Francisco Villa to avoid detection. He became a miner but the pay and conditions were so poor he took to robbing banks. When he started sharing the proceeds of his bounty with locals, he garnered a reputation as a Robin Hood figure.
The government of General Porfirio Diaz, in power since 1 December 1884, was unpopular, not least because of its punitive tax rates. In November 1910 the people rose up against Diaz, and Villa and his band of men helped the leader Francisco Madero to overthrow the government. The new order collapsed when Madero was assassinated on 18 February 1913. On that day, Pedro Lascurain became the head of state and ruled for less than one hour, the shortest rule on record. Lascurain was sworn in, appointed Victoriano Huerta as his successor and promptly resigned.
Villa was still in charge of his peasant army and ruled Chihuahua and northern Mexico. He refused to submit to Huerta who labelled him a traitor and signed his death warrant. Villa’s reputation grew and he became a hero in the United States. He appeared as himself in films in 1912, 1913 and 1914. It did not harm his sex appeal either — it was said he married 26 times. However, Villa did not rule over a pleasant land. He had opponents or those who upset him summarily shot.
As word reached north of the border, the people of the United States changed their opinion of him but his actions just enhanced his reputation with his own people. Eventually, his fellow revolutionaries forced him into retirement and he moved to Durango. On 20 July 1923, as he drove his huge 1919 Dodge from a bank in Parral, Chihuahua, he was assassinated for reasons that still remain mysterious. His last words were, “No permitas que esto acabe asi. Cuentales que he dicho algo.” (“Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”) With him in the car were four bodyguards with two more on the running boards. All but one of the bodyguards died with him.
Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico
Friday 20 July 1923
Mexican Congressman Jesus Sales Barrazas was believed to be behind the assassination and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, he was freed after serving just a few months, supposedly because his life was in danger.
In 1926 Villa’s grave was robbed and his head was stolen. It is still missing.