Pershing’s aide-de-camp, Lieutenant George S. Patton, with a few soldiers and Emil Holmdahl as the scout, diverted from a shopping trip and surrounded the home of Julio Cardenas, a most wanted member of Villa’s Dorados, on May 14. The surprised Cardenas, who just happened to be there with two of his companions, made a stand but died in a hail of American bullets. Trying to get away from the Americans Cardenas charged across a wall with his horse. Both Patton and Holmdahl fired and hit the Mexican revolutionary. Holmdahl walked up to the insured Cardenas and dispatched him at close range.
Patton ordered the bodies of the three Mexicans strapped to the hoods of their Dodge touring cars, earning him the nickname “blood and guts.” Excited newsmen in the Namiquipa camp, about sixty miles to the north, celebrated the young army lieutenant as a hero. Patton, never shy when it came to publicity, showed off two notches on the butt of his revolver, marking the Mexican rebels he personally shot in close combat. Patton, likely at the insistence of Holmdahl or General Pershing, had to correct the record of what really had happened at the San Miguel Ranch on May 14, a version quite different from the exaggerated newspapers reports:
Headquarters U.S. Troops
Somewhere in Mexico
May 20th, 1916
To Whom It May Concern;
This is to certify that Mr [sic] H. L. Holmdahl, was the Government Scout with the U.S. troops under my command in an engagement with Villa Bandits, at San Miguel Ranch, Chihuahua, Mexico, on May 14th.
I have highly recommended Scout Holmdahl, for his coolness, courage and efficiency while under fire, he personally killed General Julio Cardenes [sic], and Colonel Gildardo Lopez, in a pistol dual [sic]. At that time Holmdahl fought in the open, without cover of any kind, shot with great accuracy and deliberation his action being that of a man at target practice.
I also wish to recommend him to any brother officer, who may wish a man who is thoroughly familiar with Mexico and its people or in any position of trust, as he is most reliable, and a Good Soldier.
(sgd) Geo. Patton.
1st Lieut 10th, U.S. Cavalry.
A.D. C. General Pershing.
Despite official commendations from both General Pershing and Lieutenant George Patton, something led to Holmdahl being fired in July 1916. Maybe his sudden discharge was not completely surprising, if indeed Holmdahl coerced Lieutenant Patton to pen this embarrassing “to whom it may concern” letter. Pershing testified in a memorandum in 1917 that “the information furnished by Mr. Holmdahl [as a scout in the Punitive Expedition] was mostly of vague and indefinite character and that his services as a scout were of no particular value; that Holmdahl was a very difficult man to manage on account of his desire to fight the Mexicans all the time and to open fire on them without regard for the consequences…” Instead of bravery, Holmdahl’s shootout, which netted Cardenas, earned him a discharge for recklessness.