Almost exactly 100 years ago, a German naval intelligence agent named Franz Rintelen arrived in the United States. He had orders to prevent American shipment of arms and munitions to the enemies of the Empire by all means. Creating trouble for the U.S. military at the Mexican-American border was one of his devious projects. Little over one week after the arrival of Franz Rintelen, on April 12th 1915, ex- Mexican president Victoriano Huerta, former secretary of war Manuel Mondragón, Enrique Creel, the former governor of Chihuahua, and Huerta’s secretary General José Delgado stepped off the steamer Antonio Lopez in New York. Enrique Llorente, Villa’s representative in Washington who reported to Sommerfeld, filed a protest with the Wilson administration before the ship had even docked in the harbor. He alleged what most believed to be true at the time: that the former dictator of Mexico came to insert himself in Mexican affairs once again. Before letting Huerta enter the United States, immigration officials made the exiled dictator give an oath to the effect that he would stay out of Mexican affairs.
Despite the oath and public pronouncements, New York’s newspapers continued to speculate about the true purpose of Huerta’s trip. The general informed reporters smilingly that he was on a “pleasure trip” and had no intention of mingling in Mexican affairs. He settled in a suite on the fifth floor of the Hotel Ansonia, on Broadway and 73rd Street, in New York. Reporters watched closely as Huerta received hundreds of visitors, generals of the Porfirio Díaz era, former governors, and exiled politicians, all hoping to join the new movement. Most suspiciously, Huerta also secretly met with Pascual Orozco, a general who like Huerta first fought for President Madero then helped overthrow him. Huerta basked in the attention, freely granted interviews with journalists, and pleasantly ignored direct questions regarding his purpose in New York. Claiming that he had “fallen in love with this country,” Huerta rented a large villa on Long Island in the beginning of May. His wife and children and servants joined him in the new home, a household of thirty-five.
Evidence that Felix Sommerfeld (and by extension, Pancho Villa) did not support the Huerta-Orozco-Mondragón plot surfaced in El Paso in the first week of May 1915. Sommerfeld had traveled to the border in secrecy where he still operated Villa’s secret service on the American side. It is unknown whether Sommerfeld had come to confer with Villa, but he certainly came to focus his secret service organization on sabotaging the “Científico” plot. Sommerfeld's men ratted out arms depots and munitions dumps, as well as meetings and other preparations to cross recruits into Mexico. American agents of the Bureau of Investigations reported on May 3 “… Felix Sommerfeld and [illegible], both very active heretofore in revolutionary matters, had been seen a few days ago, just about daylight, coming from the direction of the foothills north of El Paso.”
According to British intelligence, intensive meetings occurred in and around Huerta that involved German naval intelligence agent Franz Rintelen, Military Attache Franz von Papen, and Naval Attache Karl Boy-Ed. Boy-Ed, who claimed steadfastly never to have met Huerta other than in Mexico in 1914, might not have been involved but still professed his sympathies with the exiled dictator in his memoirs. “His forced removal by the Americans I always thought it [the ousting of Huerta] to be a calamity for Mexico,” he wrote in 1920. The German agents certainly had an interest in helping create the trouble about to commence all along the border. And Huerta certainly would have been happy for any material or financial support. Other than talk, not much happened.
While Mondragón got cold feet and left for France, Huerta and Orozco kept pushing their plot. Significant amounts of supplies poured into the border region throughout May and June, consigned to small dealers in and around Texas. The sudden influx, evidenced by Sommerfeld’s activities and enlistment of his friend, the U.S. Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison, combined with the rampant rumors that a conspiracy was afoot, caused great alarm with both the American officials and the Villista secret service. It was very difficult to separate these shipments from deliveries to Villa and Obregón, who imported millions of cartridges for over 60,000 soldiers in active duty. Historians have alleged that Huerta received German financial aid for his munitions. As it turns out, it was Villa who received the funds, while Huerta used his own from the loot he took with him into exile in 1914.
U.S. authorities and Sommerfeld’s organization tried their best to stop the conspiracy. Despite their efforts and the lack of support from the other Mexican factions, Victoriano Huerta and his immediate followers decided on June 24 to go ahead with their plan. The exiled general and a group of his closest advisers took a train to San Francisco on that day, ostensibly to visit the World Fair exhibition. However, in Chicago they switched to a train to Kansas City, where they changed destinations again and headed for El Paso. The train stopped in the early morning hours of June 27, right across the Texas border near Newman, New Mexico, a small hamlet between New Mexico and Texas and only twenty miles from El Paso. Pascual Orozco and a small group of Huertistas had waited at the station with two cars to take their leader across the Mexican border. Customs Collector Zach Lamar Cobb and a detail of soldiers from Fort Bliss arrested Orozco and his men. As the train stopped on the Texas side of the border Huerta greeted Orozco before U.S. authorities arrested him, as well. Huerta seemed completely surprised. Not so surprised was the American public. Even before agents arrested Huerta, New York papers had reported that the general was on a train bound for El Paso to start a new revolution.
He and Orozco posted bail within hours and remained in El Paso, freely continuing to plot their insurgency. Orozco escaped from house arrest on July 3, 1915. Reports indicated that he entered Mexico where three hundred of his followers awaited him. It turned out he went into hiding on the American side of the border, without men or equipment or money. An American posse hunted him and four companions down, shot and killed them on August 30. Huerta, who had been re-arrested after Orozco’s escape, remained incarcerated at Fort Bliss. A lifelong alcoholic, the death of Orozco caused him once more to seek solace in Cognac and other spirits. After falling ill, being released, rearrested, and falling ill again, he died on January 13, 1916. The official cause of death read cirrhosis of the liver, an entirely reasonable explanation. However, reports of two botched medical operations leading to his final decline fueled conspiracy theories ever since that someone, maybe even the American government, had murdered him. The border remained unsettled for months to come. Felix Díaz tried his own insurrection from New Orleans in the coming months. The Bureau of Investigations uncovered several small filibustering operations in August. About $10,000 worth of arms and ammunition fell into the hands of American officials. However, the plot of the “Científicos” under the leadership of Huerta and Orozco had been ended effectively with the arrests near Newman, New Mexico.
Interested how Sommerfeld eliminated his fellow agent Rintelen? Check out the new book The Secret War on the United States in 1915. For the real back story of Pancho Villa's attack on Columbus, NM in 1916, read Felix A Sommerfeld and the Mexican Front in the Great War.