Why is Pancho Villa important in Mexican history?

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Pancho Villa (1878–1923) was a charismatic and key figure in the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920).

Before gaining fame in the tumultuous Mexican Revolution, Villa was a bandit. He became known as a Robin Hood figure and achieved some popularity.

The Mexican Revolution erupted because of widespread dissatisfaction with the oppressive dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, who ruled from 1876 to 1911. Unfortunately for Mexico, the overthrow of Diaz did not bring stability. From the beginning, Villa, based in northern Mexico, played a key role as a military commander. War continued for years because nobody managed to unite the country behind one leader.

Villa led an elite cavalry unit, Los Dorados (Spanish for "the Golden Ones"). He occupied Mexico City in late 1914, but he met defeat one year later.

Villa was enraged when President Woodrow Wilson recognized Villa's enemy, Venustiano Carranza, as the leader of Mexico. The United States had recently occupied Veracruz, so there was a lot of anti-Americanism in Mexico. Villa sought to exploit that hostility and win support by antagonizing Wilson. In 1916, Villa raided Texas and New Mexico, killing seventeen people. Wilson sent General John Pershing and thousands of American troops into Mexico to capture or kill Villa. The elusive Villa could not be found, and Pershing returned to the United States in 1917.

Finally, by 1920, Villa signed a truce with the central government of Mexico. He was given amnesty and a large hacienda. Villa was popular, and songs were sung in Mexico to honor his bravery. His continued popularity was seen as a threat by President Alvaro Obregon, who probably gave the order for his assassination in 1923.

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Pancho Villa was important because he was part of the group of rebels who supported Francisco Madero in the Mexican Revolution when he rose up against the regime of Porfirio Diaz.  Madero came to power but was then overthrown and killed.  Victoriano Huerta then took power.  Villa was the leader of one of the armies that fought against Huerta's regime.  Villa and the other leaders were able to overthrow Huerta and to set up the semi-democratic system that is still in place in Mexico today (it has become much more democratic in the last 12 years).  Villa, then, was famous because he was one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution.

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