The History Behind Riley and the Great War: Prologue: The Columbus Raid

The event that precipitated the 1916 Punitive Expedition led by General John “Black Jack” Pershing was indeed Pancho Villa’s raid on the New Mexico town of Columbus on March 9, 1916. This raid, which followed atrocities by Villa’s men at San Isabel and Aqua Prieta, forced Woodrow Wilson’s hand and made it inevitable that the United States would retaliate by sending a force after Villa, one of several pretenders to power in the long Mexican Revolution. The names of Villa’s commanders in the Columbus raid are as given in the novel. Susan and John Moore actually existed and ran a store outside of Columbus. John Moore was killed by Villistas after the Columbus raid, although history says he was shot by men led by Candelario Cervantes; no history book mentions a Spaniard or a boxing match. Susan Moore indeed hid in the desert after being wounded, and she was rescued by soldiers from the fort. Many years later, the Mexican government paid her the compensation described in the novel. Interestingly, according to a history by Eileen Welsome that is cited in the bibliography, another claimant who received a payment was named James O’Neal. I have no idea what to make of that, but perhaps Cornelius talked his way into some modest compensation for the ordeal in the cave.

To be continued…

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