Either he turned outlaw after killing the landlord who raped his sister (believed by his fans) or he was just another lazy country boy who preferred raising Hell on horseback to sweating out his life as a sharecropper (spread by his enemies). Take your pick.
The leader of the gang was a guy who's real name was Pancho Villa, the Original PV. When OPV got shot, young Doroteo decided he'd use the boss's name instead of just letting it go to waste on Pancho #1's headstone. And that's how a country boy named Dorothy became Mexico's Robin Hood and Osama bin Laden rolled into one.
Pancho had made a good career choice turning bandido, because things in Mexico were world-class fucked. Well, I mean things have ALWAYS been bad in Mexico, ever since Cortez landed, but they got even worse around 1910, when a revolution against Mexico's dictator Porfirio Diaz dissolved into anarchynot artsy college-boy anarchy, but the real thing: local warlords robbin', rapin' and rulin' as much ground as their pistoleros could control. Perfect market conditions for a bandido like Pancho.
Pancho's gang grew faster than an oil executive's pension plan, and by 1914 Villa was in command of a huge force called the Division del Norte, a division sized force made up mostly of cavalry but with separate artillery and infantry units. El Division even had its own medical corps, operating out of specially equipped railroad cars.
If I had time, I'd love to go into the genuinely weird mix of tactics, weapons and strategy used by Villa, Obregon, Carranza and Zapata in this war. Since I need to get to Villa's mano-a-mano with the US Army, I'll have to fast-forward through this. But I promise, next column I'll tell you in detail about the battle of Celaya, the Gettysburg of the Mexican Revolution, a three-day bloodfest that saw Villa's previously undefeated cavalry broken forever against the machine-gun equipped trenches of "el Perfumado," Gen. Alvaro Obregon.
For now, all I want to say is that the next time some drunk jarhead tells you real combat has nothing to do with book-larnin', you just tell him, "Oh yeah? What about the Battle of Celaya, which was won because Obregon was an avid reader of war news from the Western Front whereas Pancho Villa preferred to whoop it up on horseback?"
After Celaya, Villa fled with only a few hundred diehard original gangstas. He needed a way to get back in the headlines, win the people's sympathy again. And Pancho knew how: piss off those snotty, blundering Gringos across the Rio Grande. Ever since the first Anglo mispronounced the "x" in "Mexico," the one sure way to a Mexican's heart is to tweak a Gringo's nipple.
Pancho was the best Gringo-tweaker of all time. Hugo Chavez is a mere drama queen next to him. All through 1915 he played cross-border tag with the US Cav, riding into Anglo towns, shooting them up, and galloping off before the boys in blue could catch him.
His greatest raid (or "atrocity," depending on who you ask) came in
March 9, 1916, when he and his riders actually attacked a US Cavalry base, Camp Furlong in New Mexico. It was a case of Old Mexico paying an unexpected visit to New Mexico, announced by Villa's pistoleros firing as they rode through the 13th Cav's tents at 2:30 am. Unfortunately, most of the Yankee troopers had got drunk the night before and weren't in a John Wayne mood.
Maybe it's racist, but I can't help thinking of those old Speedy Gonzalez cartoons when I imagine this raid. Maybe it's because all those old cartoons are set in the desert. One minute Wile E. Coyote's in an F Troop Cav uniform, sleeping it off with a big ceramic jug marked "XXX" beside him, and the next minute there's this huge roar, with Speedy screaming, "Andale! Andale! Arriba! Arriba!" and the whole fort, log palisades and all, is sucked up in his tailwind.