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The Ouster of Usurper President Huerta - Fighting for Spoils

The battle of the Constitutionalists against the usurper president Victoriano Huerta dragged on from the spring of 1913 to July 1914. The opposition to the man who had come to power over the dead bodies of the democratically elected president, vice-president, and influential members of the Madero administration such as Gustavo Madero and Abraham Gonzalez, had fought a bloody and drawn out campaign for over two years. Among the Constitutionalist generals Pancho Villa stood out as the most powerful with an army close to 40,000 strong. With him was one of the most brilliant military strategists of Mexico, Felipe Ángeles. Ángeles had been a federal commander, then switched to the Madero camp in 1911. In the coup d'etat, the Mexican general remained loyal to President Madero, which earned him arrest and detention. In the summer of 1913, he joined the opposition forces under Venustiano Carranza. He rose to Secretary of War. However, as a rivalry and competition for military supremacy between Carranza and Pancho Villa developed, Ángeles threw his lot with Villa. While the differences between Villa and Carranza simmered below the surface as the common enemy Huerta fought his last, desperate battles, the demise of Huerta brought the split between the two Constitutionalist factions to the surface.

Not wanting the situation in Mexico deteriorate into chaos after Huerta's ouster, President Wilson tried to mediate the situation in an ABC power conference at Niagara in May and June 1914. In a series of secret meetings paralleling the Niagara Conference the Wilson administration and the forces opposing Huerta decided on the modalities of the takeover of Mexico City. Participants included lobbyist and representative of Carranza in the U.S., Charles Douglas, the Constitutionalist ambassador in the U.S., Rafael Zubaran Capmany, and Carranzista Foreign Secretary Luis Cabrera, who joined in the end of May after his return from Spain. Felix A. Sommerfeld and Sherburne G. Hopkins officially negotiated on the Constitutionalists’ behalf, but in reality represented Villa’s faction. The Wilson administration participated through Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan in Washington, Special U.S. envoy John Lind in Veracruz, and special envoy George Carothers who was embedded with Villa. Zubaran Capmany staunchly upheld Carranza’s stance of obstructing any U.S. attempt to mingle in Mexico’s internal affairs. As a result Secretary Bryan refused to talk to him directly and sent his communications via his personal friend turned Constitutionalist attorney Charles Douglas instead. Manuel Esteva, the Mexican Consul General in New York, who had been a personal friend of Sommerfeld for some time, as well as Enrique Llorente who Sommerfeld had recently established in New York to head the Villa junta, complemented Sommerfeld’s team. According to the German agent, the takeover of Mexico City would be accomplished in a matter of weeks through a three-pronged assault. Once Huerta was gone, either General Villar (who had been wounded in the Decena Tragica defending Madero) or General Ángeles would take over the provisional government as dictator.

Felipe Angeles and Rafael Zubaran Capmany

Felipe Angeles and Rafael Zubaran Capmany

It seems that both Hopkins and Sommerfeld floated the idea of Ángeles becoming provisional President and dictator either as a trial balloon or without checking with the home office. Carranza’s reaction was swift. On June 20th 1914, when he heard rumors of Ángeles’ potential ascendancy to power, Carranza fired the general as his Secretary of War. Most Mexican military leaders including some of Villa’s own generals opposed Ángeles potential candidacy, because he was a former federal officer. Villa and Ángeles quickly told their U.S. power brokers to retract the idea. In a telegram published in the New York Times on June 21st, Villa's financial agent Lazaro De La Garza instructed Sommerfeld to “…categorically deny the statements that Gen. Villa has issued a manifesto proclaiming Gen. Angeles First Chief. Therefore it is completely false.” With or without Ángeles at the helm, Sommerfeld explained to German naval attache Karl Boy-Ed that after initiating changes in the Mexican Constitution, the provisional president would call for elections through which Carranza would be elected President. The “US government knows this plan and supports it,” Sommerfeld reported to Boy-Ed. “The plan” that the German described to Boy-Ed realistically did not aim for the election of Carranza to become President of Mexico. The allusion to “dictatorship,” and “changes in the constitution” allows for an interpretation of what Mexico would look like after Huerta if Hopkins and Sommerfeld had had their way: Carranza would never make it into a presidential contest. Villa and his huge military colossus would control the government through a puppet president named Felipe Ángeles. It would not take long for exactly that scenario to take shape with a minor change of personnel. On the 6th of November 1914, Villa chose General Eulalio Gutierrez Ortiz instead of Ángeles as his puppet. Hopkins and Sommerfeld had devised and executed yet another plan for Mexico - this time to benefit Pancho Villa the man they thought was Madero’s rightful political heir.

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The Occupation of Veracruz April 1914 - A Bungled Mess?

The German HAPAG steamer Ypiranga left Havana on the morning of April 21st 1914 and was approaching the Mexican coastline for a routine stop at Veracruz, the largest port in Mexico, three hundred miles to the south of Tampico. Tensions between the United States and Mexico were high. On April 9th 1914, Mexican authorities briefly detained nine sailors of the USS Dolphin. Although the Mexican commander immediately released the sailors, the U.S. government, anxious to support the Constitutionalists ousting President Huerta, demanded a formal apology or else. When the Ypiranga approached Veracruz on the morning of April 21st, virtually the entire U.S. Atlantic fleet had been summoned to the Mexican coastline. Congress had authorized the use of force the day before. Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, and Secretary of State Bryan roused the President in the West Wing at 2:00 a.m. that fateful day. The American consul at Veracruz, William W. Canada, had transmitted a telegram to Secretary Bryan, informing him that the German ship carried arms and ammunition for Huerta.

The HAPAG Steamer SS Ypiranga

The American President ordered the occupation of the customs house of Veracruz that morning to prevent the landing of the munitions. An order to that effect went to Admiral Fletcher:

"Early on April 21, 1914, General [Joaquin] Mass [sic], the Mexican military commandant, was notified that US forces intended to take charge of the Custom House and was urged to ‘offer no resistance but to withdraw in order to avoid loss of life and property of the people of Vera Cruz [sic].’ He, for the most part complied, but the commander of the Naval Academy and unorganized pockets of individuals offered resistance. Ships of the Atlantic Fleet started bombardment of Veracruz. By 11:30 AM the first detail of 787 soldiers, of whom 502 were marines, landed and seized the custom[s] house, and an urban battle ensued in which many civilians are said to have taken part. The defense of the city also included the release of prisoners held at the feared San Juan de Ulua prison. In the meantime, the building of the Naval Academy was being bombarded by the USS Prairie. American troops occupied most of the town by that evening. The USS San Francisco and USS Chester continued the bombardment of the Naval Academy building until the following day.”

Nineteen American soldiers died and seventy-two were injured. The Mexican forces lost slightly less than two hundred, most of them cadets of the naval academy. The civilian population, who had resisted in concert with the federal defenders, continued to snipe at U.S. patrols, which forced Admiral Fletcher to impose martial law on the city. Brigadier General Frederick Funston arrived within a week and organized the long-term occupation of the Mexican city.

If the reason for the bombardment and occupation of Veracruz had been to prevent the landing of the Ypiranga, the operation was hopelessly bungled. The first mishap was that the Ypiranga was not at the docks when the marines landed. While the cargo remained on the German steamer it could not legally be seized. Once unloaded the arms would have been under the authority of the custom’s house. Seizing the custom’s house then would have brought the arms under the control of the Americans. The ownership question thus would be a dispute between Mexico and the U.S., not Germany and the U.S. The timing of the invasion, namely landing troops before the Ypiranga had discharged her cargo, botched the seizing of the arms. When she finally approached the harbor around 1:00 p.m., without having been notified of the American action, a U.S. navy captain boarded the HAPAG steamer and ordered it to drop anchor and wait. Unaware that it was his ship that apparently caused the landing of marines on Mexican soil, the captain of the Ypiranga, Karl Bonath, cabled to the German naval cruiser SMS Dresden, anchored in Tampico, and requested instructions. Captain Erich Köhler of the Dresden had no idea about the U.S. interest in the Ypiranga freight either. All he knew was that after clearing her freight, the Ypiranga would be assigned to take on German refugees. Minister von Hintze had asked the German naval authorities to provide a ship in case of war so that German citizens could be evacuated from Mexico. Captain Köhler of the Dresden therefore requisitioned the steamer Ypiranga for the German navy.

When, on the 29th of May, the Ypiranga cleared her 1,500 cases of rifles, 15 million cartridges, and various other munitions in Puerto Mexico, one hundred and fifty miles south of Veracruz, emotions ran high. Also discharging cargo in Puerto Mexico were the HAPAG steamers Bavaria with a similar consignment and the Kronprinzessin Cecilie with a smaller shipment of arms and ammunition. William F. Buckley testified to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1919, that apparently none other than Carl Heynen, the German representative of HAPAG in Mexico and also a German naval intelligence agent,  desperately tried to prevent the arms to fall into the hands of President Huerta. “…Carl Heynen …called on the chief of port at Veracruz, Captain [Herman O.] Stickney, an unusually obtuse naval officer, and tried to get him to order him, Heynen, or even ask him, not to permit his boat to land the arms and ammunition in question, as Heynen was anxious for an excuse not to obey Huerta’s orders, but this brilliant commander practically ordered Heynen out of his office.” The New York Times seconded Buckley’s claim, “Capt. C. Bonath of the Ypiranga, however, said: ‘The possibility that our cargo might be landed at Puerto Mexico was not new to the Collector [Captain Stickney]. Before clearance to Puerto Mexico was granted to us, I asked him specifically: ‘What would you do if I were compelled [by Huerta] to land these arms at Puerto Mexico?’ To this he made no reply.’”

Besides accelerating the downfall of Huerta, the European governments including Germany supported the U.S. occupation for another, obvious reason: International banks expected the seized customs revenue to be used for paying Mexican coupons. This the Americans did not do. German banker and big investor in Mexico Baron Bleichröder wrote an infuriated letter to the German Foreign Office on June 19th 1914, alleging that the U.S. was stealing the customs revenue that by law had been pledged to Mexico’s debtors. He was right. German-American relations cooled significantly in the wake of the American intervention. All the discussions in contemporary news coverage and in the subsequent historiography characterized Germany as a supporter of Huerta and the reason for the U.S. intervention in Mexico. In reality, the arms were purchased from French, German, and Belgian manufacturers via suspect channels completely outside of German government control. The U.S. could have stopped the shipments through diplomatic or military means but did not. In reality, the reasoning behind the intervention had nothing to do with the arms shipments. Historians have grappled with the fact of how and why the arms of the YpirangaKronprinzessin Cecille, Dania, and Bavaria ended in Huerta’s hands anyway. Sometimes even a historian has to acknowledge that if something looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it might just be a duck! By any objective measure, the U.S.’ capture of the customs house in Veracruz was messy in detail but achieved its ends: The U.S. captured the cash register of Mexico’s government, kept the proceeds, and, in taking it away from Huerta (and the other creditors), the Usurper President was done for.


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A Literary Giant Has Left US

There is one literary work that captured me as a teenager and has never left me since. I feel part of the story. I lived this book in a village on the German-German border, seemingly abandoned by a world which had decided in 1945 to create a political division of my country. How was it, I have been asked many times, to grow up 500 yards from the Iron Curtain? We kids knew no different.

We admired the mighty American tanks that came through the village every day. Sometimes, when we celebrated harvest with a great festival, the Americans brought their tanks and we were allowed to climb on them. Once they even brought a helicopter. The people in my village talked about a past we kids could not imagine; about my great uncle being murdered by a communist; about the time when city people scavenged for food on our fields after harvest; about Hitler youth challenging American tanks which promptly shot up the village; about a village less than a mile away that we had never seen; about not being at the very edge of the western world but in the middle of Germany; about the time when the four lane "ghost" autobahn behind our house continued on to a city called Dresden (Great for riding bicycles, though).

A new generation now lives in the village. Kids listen to the elders with astonished faces about a time, when a border with self-shooting machines, dog runs, watch towers with Vopo and Russian soldiers cut the world in half, 500 yards from our houses. Not to mention American tanks and jeeps coming through the village every day.

All I know about this generation, and mine, and the one before, and the one before that is that we had the same names, lived in the same farms, had strange outsiders coming through, and had no impact on the larger world. The First World War started 100 years ago. The Weimar Republic came and went. Famine came and went. The Nazis came and went. The Second World War came and went. The Americans, the Russians all came and went. The border came and went. The village and its people are still there. I lived in one generation of 100 Years of Solitude. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I will miss you but I will never forget that you opened my mind to how I fit into an ever changing world that I cannot control, that is full of magic and wonder, and that doesn't change if you really look close enough, and that's why I study history.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Gateway to Mexico City - The Last Throes of the Usurper Huerta

In March 1914, one hundred years ago, Pancho Villa was reaching the pinnacle of his power. Images of Villa from this time show him in the uniform of a general. His ragged railroad car had given way to a series of cars for himself and his entourage. Constant companions were George Carothers, a diplomatic envoy of the U.S. government (who rode in his own rail car), a film crew, a personal doctor, and a group of foreign correspondents. Villa's Division of the North, an army of 40,000 men, controlled most of Northern Mexico. The might of the Villista army was nothing but astonishing given the fact that merely a year earlier, Villa had crossed the Rio Grande with a handful of companions to fight the murderer of President Francisco I. Madero. The trains not only carried his soldiers, artillery and horses. They also included an advance repair train to fix blown up bridges and ripped up rails. The most modern hospital train that even roused the admiration of the German military attaché Franz von Papen accompanied the soldiers into battle as well. Villa's supply organization was the best of all revolutionary forces. His soldiers donned American made uniforms and recent makes of Mauser 7 mm rifles. His artillery capabilities exceeded that of the federal army with modern Krupp cannon from Germany and captured French guns taken from the federal army. Since Felipe Ángeles, the former chief of the Colegio Militar (Mexico's West Point), had left Carranza's entourage and joined Villa as his chief military adviser, the Army of the North steamrolled the forces of President Victoriano Huerta. Already forced to give up the north of the country, Huerta's federal forces entrenched at Torreon, the strategic railway hub that connected northern and western Mexico with the capital.

Pancho Villa, General Y Jefe de la Division del Norte

On the 16th of March 1914, Villa’s army boarded the trains in Chihuahua and headed south. For the second time since 1911, Torreon stood between the revolutionary armies and Mexico City. With Felipe Ángeles in charge, Villa’s forces swooped into Gomez Palacio, severely beating the federal forces. On March 26th, the División Del Norte surrounded Torreon. The battle lasted a full week. Ángeles’ artillery supported 16,000 revolutionary soldiers who pummeled the city with a hail of fire night and day. Especially Villa’s famous night attacks caused the federal defenders to become demoralized and sleep deprived. They defected in droves. On April 2nd the city fell. Huerta had sent six thousand fresh reinforcements to nearby San Pedro de las Colonias to no avail. The newly established federal positions caved and what was left of the Huerta army withdrew to the south. 

The sweeping victories of Villa's army depended to a large degree on supplies from the United States. Felix A. Sommerfeld, who through Sherburne G. Hopkins had contracted with Flint and Company to supply arms and munitions to the Villistas, was in charge of procuring the military supplies. Trainloads of arms and ammunition from Winchester, Remington, and Colt, arrived daily at the Mexican border where Sommerfeld's agents arranged the transfer to Villa's forces. Villa financed the effort with cattle confiscated from the large haciendas of Chihuahua and forced "taxes" from the merchants of towns he controlled. In New York the former head of Villa's treasury, Lazaro De La Garza and three uncles of the slain Mexican President Madero ran the financial organization. In Ciudad Juarez, Villa's brother Hipolito controlled the customs house, gambling joints, and cattle transfers. Despite the best efforts of Villa's supply organization and especially of Sommerfeld not everything went smoothly. Infighting and jealousies disturbed the teamwork. While Villa and his generals celebrated their success, Sommerfeld received severe admonishment from headquarters. Apparently, Flint and Company had sent bad ammunition. On April 14th, Villa ranted to Lazaro De La Garza: 

PLEASE IMMEDIATELY solicit two million Mauser cartridges which must arrive within a short time to proceed with the campaign. I much recommend that you pay attention so that we may find no reason for such poor quality cartridges that Sommerfeld bought. I have lost my troops precisely because of not checking which is indispensable when buying this type of material.

The problems with Sommerfeld’s supplies worsened to the level where Villa was ready to fire him. Instead of De La Garza and the Maderos defending Sommerfeld, they stood by as their team member took fire. The general sent a telegram to De La Garza on May 30th in which he requested someone else to buy munitions. Of course, this was impossible since no one had the connections that the German agent had. The issue came to a head when De La Garza sent a stinging memo to Charles Flint on May 30th and signed it with Sommerfeld’s name:

Wired you yesterday seventy five thousand [.] Be sure goods ordered through Sommerfeld are new and thoroughly guaranteed, as failure of previous ones caused much damage and bad impression, but are giving you another chance to vindicate. – Ship Monday. – F.A. Sommerfeld

The next morning Sommerfeld asked Lazaro De La Garza whether he was out of his mind when he sent the earlier note to Charles Flint: De La Garza’s response has not been preserved. 

You telegraphed Flint and Company yesterday that you are giving them another chance to vindicate themselves. I want to say that Flint has never sold us such merchandise before. Flint is a house of the highest standing and our friend who have [sic] given us advise [sic] and assistance many times. Your telegram is absolutely unjust and therefore I beg you to telegraph Flint telling them that your telegram was sent by mistake. F. A. Sommerfeld.

However, the shipments through Flint and Company from U.S. manufacturers proceeded unabashedly. Sommerfeld remained at his post. Within the next three months the embattled President of Mexico, Huerta, found himself thoroughly defeated and heading into exile to Spain.

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Horst von der Goltz, Sabotage Agent - Sommerfeld Spy

Horst von der Goltz, a colorful German secret service agent became known in the United States in 1916 as a saboteur. Von der Goltz alias Franz Wachendorf went to Buffalo, New York with three other sabotage agents in the fall of 1914. The German agents were armed with two suitcases of dynamite and had orders to blow up the Welland Canal linking Lake Ontario with Lake Erie. The destruction of the locks in this canal would have created havoc for the downstream communities but might have delayed the deployment of Canadian expeditionary forces to Europe. The plot fell apart mainly because the Canadian military had thoroughly secured the locks since they had been earlier targets of sabotage. Von der Goltz in particular chickened out and returned to New York. He asked his superior, German military attaché and future German chancellor Franz von Papen, to provide funds for returning to Europe. Von Papen complied. After that the story becomes slightly murky. Von der Goltz wrote in his memoirs that he went to Germany, received new orders and on his way back to the US was picked up by the British. It is far more likely that he never made it to Germany, but gave himself up to British authorities at Falmouth. In any case, von der Goltz returned to the United States in 1916 as a star witness of the prosecution against Franz von Papen and other sabotage agents. Despite his admission of being a German sabotage agent, he never went to prison and, according to historian Barbara Tuchman, spent the rest of his life in New York. 

As with so many German secret agents in the northern hemisphere in World War I, von der Goltz' career also was closely linked to Felix A. Sommerfeld. As a matter of fact, Sommerfeld directed his activities in 1913 and likely was instrumental in bringing the agent to New York once the war began. Von der Goltz was not the agent's real name but an alias that to this day provokes an angry rebuke from the famous military family of the same name in Germany. Born in Koblenz, Germany in 1884, Franz R. Wachendorf had a German middle class upbringing. It does not seem that he ever studied or acquired a profession. Rather, just like so many of his generation including Sommerfeld, he went to the US to seek his fortune. Just like Sommerfeld he ended up in the US military, from which he, just like Sommerfeld, deserted. In March 1913, as the Mexican Revolution ravaged Northern Mexico, the German consul of Chihuahua, Otto Kueck (on the run from Pancho Villa in El Paso) sent Wachendorf to Sommerfeld who assigned him on missions for the Mexican secret service. What exactly Wachendorf did is unknown other than the highly inflated claims of exploding locomotives, haranguing stories of enemy capture and flight in his memoirs. As soon as the war broke out in August 1914, Sommerfeld moved to New York for his wartime assignments. There he reported to Karl Boy-Ed, the German naval attache, and worked closely with the German agent and arms dealer Captain Hans Tauscher. At the same time, Wachendorf also showed up in New York. Tauscher, clearly in touch with Wachendorf, organized the explosives for the Welland Canal mission and the rest is history.

Well, almost. There is one unanswered question: When did Wachendorf switch loyalties to England, or did he? An intriguing theory that has not been verified through English archival documents is that Wachendorf indeed was a British secret agent from the get go who infiltrated the German naval intelligence as early as 1913. Just a theory. All the known puzzle pieces, the approach of Sommerfeld in 1913, the abandoned Welland Canal plot, the subsequent ratting out of the entire German secret service in the US, and his staying out of prison after the US joined Great Britain in the war make perfect sense if Wachendorf indeed worked for British naval intelligence.

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Fuer Freiheit und Recht by Arnold Krumm-Heller

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Fuer Freiheit und Recht by Arnold Krumm-Heller

C. M. Mayo, a wonderful friend, incredible writer, and intellectual power house, found this forgotten little book by Arnold Krumm-Heller called Fuer Freiheit und Recht: Meine Erlebnisse aus dem Mexikanischen Buergerkriege (For Liberty and Justice: My Adventures in the Mexican Civil War). Krumm-Heller was a colorful personality, Grand Wizard of Mexico's Freemasons, German agent, and author of dozens of books. 

Arnold Krumm-Heller in the uniform of a Mexican Army Colonel, 1915

Arnold Krumm-Heller in the uniform of a Mexican Army Colonel, 1915

Fuer Freiheit und Recht seems to have been written and published in Germany in 1916 as a propaganda piece targeting the German government to embrace Venustiano Carranza. In 1916, Carranza sent Krumm-Heller to Germany as "military attache" in Berlin. In reality he became Carranza's Liaison Officer to the German government. Originally, Krumm-Heller was supposed to stay one year. On the way there, the British arrested him. It took major international wrangling to release Krumm-Heller to continue to Germany. The British vowed to arrest him as a German spy if they caught him again. As a result, he remained in Germany for the duration of the war, offering his services to the General Staff.

The book starts with the history of Mexico leading up to Francisco Madero. The author describes in detail the reasons Diaz fell. He cites corruption, the loss of popular support of the Cientificos, and the "Latifundienuebel" (the hancienda cancer) as reasons for the Revolution. He decries the lack of a non-clerical legal system, such as the fact that divorce was illegal. Krumm-Heller emphasizes the influence of Germans on Mexican history, the works of Alexander von Humboldt (which he translated into Spanish) as positive, and the speculation of German businessmen taking "millions" out of the country as negative. He particularly mentions a "certain Rattner [sic], who claimed to be German, but was in fact Russian." Abraham Ratner was Huerta's arms procurement chief in the U.S. It is a great example of the propagandist nature of the book if you notice that people like von Humboldt and Ratner are mentioned in the same paragraph. In the last paragraph of the chapter Krumm-Heller writes: "I see in Militarism the highest moral state of a peoples' education and dedication for the holiest mankind owns, his Fatherland." He espouses German militarism as a solution for Mexico's social and educational deficiencies.

In the next chapter Krumm-Heller describes Madero as a Democrat and great political agitator. He marvels at Madero's knack for political organizing covering a country "four times as large as the German Empire." Small wonder, he adds, that the people wanted Madero to run for president. The corruption of Diaz' dictatorship and Madero's genius which was supported by Mexicans of all classes, down to the smallest "Indian villages" made his eventual victory inescapable. Krumm-Heller admires Madero. He describes him: "Of small frame, robust physique, neither fat nor skinny, the President radiated the energy of youth. His movements were easy and nervous; the round, brown eyes shot rays of sympathetic light. The face round, features rough, the beard thick and black, cut in angles, he always smiled with dignity. In his face thoughts mirrored that found expression in his gestures. Depending on whether he thought about something, talked or was silent, whether he walked or stood, listened or interrupted, he moved his arms, fixed his focus or looked into the distance and always smiled, smiled without fail. But his smile is good, deep, free, magnanimous; a smile the exact opposite of that of Taft. It was the gesture of a whole regime that went down with him." p. 25.

From the description of a Christ-like Madero Krumm-Heller goes straight into the Decena Tragica which he personally experienced. Not a sentence about the short-lived government of Madero. He describes the horrible carnage and destruction of the beloved capital of Mexico. He does not go into much detail on how close he was to the president and his staff at the time. He does mention "my friend S.," which might have been Felix A. Sommerfeld, fellow German agent and personal friend of Francisco Madero. As a matter of fact Krumm-Heller was a member of the Mexican secret service and reported to Sommerfeld. After Madero's murder, Krumm-Heller has to flee (an indication of his true occupation). In the next chapter it becomes clear who the only ideological heir to Madero could be: Venustiano Carranza. Krumm-Heller reproduces in detail  the entire Constitutionalist program. Carranza is presented as a courageous senator who fought Porfirio Diaz, and as a governor was beloved by his people. He "wanted to slay the serpent of discord and destroy together with Villa the excesses of the conservative party. He kept in mind that he had to realize Madero's ideals and thereby save Mexico." p. 89.

Krumm-Heller's adventures take him into the camp of the Constitutionalists. His reasons are encapsulated in this quote: "Madero had been arrested, and I received orders [from Sommerfeld?] to make the last arrangements for his departure on a Cuban warship, and thus save his life. As I described earlier, these inhumane power mongers did not keep their word and assassinated Madero; my beloved great friend, with whom I was connected spiritually through an eight year long friendship, based on our common studies." p. 93. In Guanajuato Krumm-Heller joines the Constitutionalist army as a propagandist "to urge the residents of Guanajuato  to join us with fiery speeches, and help the cause of justice and common good to victory, and not rest until the murderers and traitors who deposed the president and apostle of freedom Francisco I. Madero are getting their just punishment." p. 95. As a result of his activities Huertistas capture him  and he is condemned to death. According to Krumm-Heller he escapes after a harrowing mock execution and month-long incarceration. The savior is Eugen Motz, who intervenes as the Chilean Vice Consul. Supposedly, Krumm-Heller had refused the help of the German envoy. While the arrest of Krumm-Heller is documented, his stay of execution and release did result from the intervention of the German government. After being released, Krumm-Heller goes into exile to New York where he starts working as a doctor. He describes in detail how he despises American culture. He writes: "At a European court high class guests came to a party. Diplomats and princes showed off their medals. Also an American soap-prince found a way to smuggle himself into the gathering. On his chest he wore a huge, unusual looking, shining star. All the guests were wondering what kind of medal this could be. The host, driven by his curiosity finally had the courage to ask: 'Excuse me, which country bestowed this medal on you?' The Yankee dryly but full of self esteem replied: That is my own invention! Typical American! If an American does not reach the high goals of his desires in a comfortable and natural way, he moves ahead with force." p. 115. 

Krumm-Heller moves on to become a physician in General Alvaro Obregon's army. He lauds the typical Mexican soldier as brave, disciplined, and tough, but emphasizes that it is critical "to keep the flanks open, otherwise he will loose his composure."  He describes among many battles which he witnessed, the occupation of Veracruz and the fact that the German cruiser HMS Dresden saved thousands of American citizens in Tampico. As a matter of fact, in 1915 Captain Koehler of the Dresden indeed received a commendation from the American president for his actions in Tampico at the time of the Veracruz invasion. When the Constitutionalists conquer Mexico City in the summer of 1914, Krumm-Heller chooses not to participate in the lavish festivities but rather goes to the grave of his fallen friend and idol, Francisco Madero. 

The rest of the book details the struggles of the Constitutionalists against the corrupt forces of Conservatism, to which also Pancho Villa had fallen prey. Krumm-Heller does not describe his crucial role as chief of artillery in the battle of Celaya and as military adviser to Alvaro Obregon who started using German military tactics effectively against Villa. Rather, the author describes the heroism of Obregon, who, after his arm had been severed, "still bleeding" encourages his troops to attack. Krumm-Heller notably comes back to the United States in 1915 to run Carranza's propaganda effort in the Southwest. His "lecture tour" coincides with violent unrest in the border region under the Pan de San Diego. As Carranza takes power and becomes the provisional, de facto President of Mexico, things are on the mend. Krumm-Heller lists in detail agrarian reform laws, labor protection, stabilizing the monetary system and other actions that end the need for revolution. He describes in the chapter "the great men of Mexico," Obregon, Cabrera, Aguilar, Rojas, Azcona, and the Mexican ambassador Jose Almaraz Harris who wrote the introduction to the book. Finally, he writes an appeal to the Germans in Mexico who he admonishes to support the Carranza presidency and participate in the flowering of Mexico that will undoubtedly be the result of the new regime. 

Krumm-Heller sent one of the first copies of this book to the German Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg. Reportedly, Foreign Secretary Zimmermann read the book and "with reservations as a result of some language issues" passed it on to Emperor Wilhelm II to read.

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Krumm-Heller and the Plan de San Diego

In the summer of 1915, while the United States reeled from the devastating labor strikes in Bridgeport and elsewhere in the industrial centers of the North, the Mexican border suddenly caught on fire as well. The deteriorating situation in Mexico stemmed from what became known as the Plan de San Diego and the revolución de Texas. Issued in the town of San Diego, Texas in January 1915 the Plan de San Diego called for an uprising of the Mexican-American populations in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and California against the “Yankee tyranny.” Among other stipulations the manifesto included two passages that American officials who first saw a copy of the plan in the end of January 1915. Objective number 5 read: “It is strictly forbidden to hold prisoners …they shall be shot immediately without any pretext.” Number 6: “Every foreigner [i.e. any non-Chicano in the states to be liberated from the Yankee tyranny] who shall be found armed and cannot prove his right to carry arms, shall be summarily executed…” Number 7: “Every North American [sic] over sixteen years of age shall be put to death…” While local sheriffs carefully watched the mood among the Mexican-American population, not much happened as a result of the plan until July 1915. Historian Trinidad Gonzales traced a second separatist movement that succeeded the Plan de San Diego, called the revolución de Texas. The second effort of Mexican-American minorities along the Mexican border to start a separatist movement featured similar goals as the Plan de San Diego, and might have had the exact same intellectual root just with new organizers. Within weeks of President Wilson putting pressure on the Mexican revolutionary factions in his ultimatum on June 2nd 1915, “bands of outlaws” raided ranches throughout the lower Rio Grande Valley. In the end of July the first American, an 18-year-old farmhand, died from the bullets of a Chicano raider. During July and August hundreds of attacks occurred, some of which had nothing to do with the revolución de Texas but undoubtedly took advantage of the situation to settle old scores. Short of personnel and reluctant to get involved the U.S. army reluctantly reinforced the overwhelmed Texas Rangers and local law enforcement authorities by September. Raiders not only robbed banks, shops, and ranches but also blew up railroad bridges and cut telegraph lines. The Mexican Revolution finally seemed to be spilling over into U.S. territory in a deadly and disturbing way.

Some American newspapers quickly blamed the disturbances on German agitation. These suspicions seem to have pressured Secretary Lansing and possibly also President Woodrow Wilson to find a solution for stabilizing Mexico as quickly as possible. Lansing wrote in his diary, “Germany does not want one faction dominant in Mexico; therefore we must recognize one faction as dominant in Mexico… It comes down to this: our possible relations with Germany must be our first consideration; and all our intercourse with Mexico must be regulated accordingly.” While German archives did not reveal any obvious financing of the border troubles, evidence suggests that at the very least German agitation contributed to the unrest. While Sommerfeld organized munitions supplies for Villa at the same time he supported the efforts of the U.S. State Department to wrest important concessions from the revolutionary chieftain, a sinister plot developed in South Texas. Colonel Arnold Krumm-Heller, the physician and German agent who had engineered Villa’s most devastating defeat at Celaya, suddenly appeared in free masonry lodges and gatherings of Mexican-Americans around Brownsville, San Antonio, and El Paso between June and August 1915 giving inflammatory anti-American and pro-Carranza speeches. The El Paso Herald reported on June 22nd, 1915, “Dr. Krumm-Heller, formerly professor of literature in the University of Mexico, Will [sic] deliver a lecture Friday night on ‘The Origin of the war in Mexico and the method of pacification by the Mexicans themselves,’ at the old Fraternal Brotherhood hall… No admission is charged to the lectures, which favor neither faction.” The target audience of his “lecture” tour through the Southwest, which started in the middle of June and lasted into August, was mainly German-Americans and Mexican Americans. While supposedly “not favoring” any faction in the revolutionary struggle, Krumm-Heller was a devout Carranzista and fanatic German nationalist. Von Eckardt reported in 1916 to the German Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg, “K. H. [Krumm-Heller] has been whenever possible extremely helpful to Germans throughout the Mexican Revolution until now. Since the beginning of the European war he has engaged tirelessly in propaganda for the German cause through lectures, articles, and leaflets in Spanish, while relentlessly proceeding against the Allies… As Grand Wizard of the Mexican Freemasons (about 20,000 strong) he is influential in all layers of Mexican society… Krumm-Heller reports directly to Carranza. His goal is to support the pro-German tendencies here [in Mexico] and reduce the influence of the Allies in Mexico.” Historian Mark Cronland Anderson traced lavish financial support of Krumm-Heller’s lecture tour to Carranza: Krumm-Heller’s “efforts were successful, and his [propaganda] work apparently did not lack funding [from Carranza].” The financial records of the German legation in Mexico City have been lost. It is therefore not clear when and how much money Krumm-Heller might have received from von Eckardt for his pro-German propaganda. In Mai 1916, von Eckardt confirmed to the German chancellor that “the necessary funds [for a one year assignment in Germany] have been officially made available [by von Eckardt].” Krumm-Heller left no doubt as to his disposition to the U.S., the Mexican Revolution, and his propaganda mission in the Southwest in the summer of 1915.

He wrote in his book Für Freiheit und Recht: Meine Erlebnisse aus dem mexikanischen Bürgerkriege (For Liberty and Justice: My Adventuresin the Mexican Civil War), which was published in Germany in 1916:

 

“Against my wishes I had to go back to the United States, which I so hated. I got there in the beautiful spring time and luckily into a state [Texas], in which millions of Mexicans, millions of Germans, and fewer American [Anglo] elements were present. Once-in-a-while one finds cities, which are 80 percent German [emphasis in the original]. Nevertheless have the Germans that have settled there wound up in the same dependency as the Mexicans that settled there or have remained there as the original inhabitants [before the U.S. - Mexican war of 1846 to 1848]. As overlords the Americans driven by their boundless need for speculation have succeeded in settling on the once large Mexican haciendas through the creation of the notorious lumber- and land companies. The Germans that had immigrated there received land for colonization under ostensibly favorable conditions. They were promised anything that a settler can dream of. But as a result of the inadequate legal circumstances it was easy for unscrupulous lawyers to add clauses to the contracts that made the settlers utterly dependent. Did one of those inexperienced hapless devils have difficulties making payments the issue was twisted in such a way that while faking leniency and sympathy he was given extended deadlines. In reality, he was allowed to work a little longer, until in the decisive moment everything was taken away and the land sold a second time, this time for a higher price than before since all the cultivation had already been done making the land arable. Thus the Germans and the Mexicans, or whoever else got caught in the Yankee web, were exploited and driven in many cases to suicide. What else could such a man start, who had lost everything without a way to go back home. Much has been written about these unhealthy speculation deals and the so-called revolutions in these regions are nothing but momentarily flaring acts of revenge that the terrible pressures of these circumstances created.”   

 

Krumm-Heller’s idea that there was a natural alliance between the German and Mexican populations in the Southwest had little basis in fact. German immigrants in the Southwest had done quite well as merchants, farmers, and craftsmen. The radical, separatist Mexicans called for uprisings, strikes, property destruction, and murder, hardly the type of activities pro-order and law abiding Germans would support. However, the natural alignment of interest existed in the disappointment of German-Americans in the political attitude of the United States versus Germany in the war. As such, German-American companies such as Heyman-Krupp Company, Krakauer, Zork, and Moye, or Degetau and Ketelson, some of the largest arms dealers, merchants, and banks in the region, could possibly be convinced to materially support elements in the Mexican-American community that caused unrest along the border. Helping the German cause in this case certainly was also good for business. 

A key question with regards to the revolución de Texas is whether a deliberate effort of the German government supported it. Two facts stand out in considering this theory. There was a connection between Felix A. Sommerfeld and Arnold Krumm-Heller. Both had been in the inner circle of the slain president of Mexico, Francisco Madero. Krumm-Heller acted as his spiritual adviser, personal physician, and worked in the Mexican secret service in 1912. Felix Sommerfeld, a personal friend of the president, worked first as his chief of staff then as head of the Mexican secret service. Krumm-Heller in all likelihood reported to Sommerfeld. Both Germans reported to the German legation in this time period. It is no accident that when Villa and Carranza split after the ouster of Huerta and started the latest round of civil war, Sommerfeld stayed with Villa, while Krumm-Heller stayed close to Carranza. As German envoy von Eckardt reported to his superiors in 1916, Krumm-Heller performed valuable services as a staff member of Carranza. Karl Boy-Ed reported the same about Sommerfeld. While no direct link can be established between Sommerfeld and Krumm-Heller, Sommerfeld traveled to El Paso throughout the summer, first to direct the fifteen million cartridge order for Villa, then to assist General Scott’s negotiations with Villa. Unquestionably, the two agents could have been in personal contact. The second important fact is that Sommerfeld received orders from the Imperial War Department in the end of May to proceed on his proposal to instigate an American intervention in Mexico. Within weeks of this order, the German agent Krumm-Heller, an associate of Sommerfeld’s, appeared in the border region as a pro-German and pro-Carranza propagandist to incite the Mexican-American population against the “tyranny” of the United States. The timing of Krumm-Heller’s trip not only coincided with Sommerfeld’s order to produce a military intervention in Mexico but also with the labor unrest in America’s war industry, planned, financed, and executed by German agents in eerie parallels.

The unrest took on crisis proportions in the beginning of August. On the 3rd Carranzista irregulars engaged soldiers of the 12th Cavalry in Brownsville, Texas, leaving one soldier dead and two wounded. On September 6th Mexican raiders engaged the 3rd Cavalry and Texas Rangers again in Brownsville in a shootout leaving two Mexicans dead. U.S. authorities involved in battling the uprising and arresting the organizers behind the revolución de Texas left no stone unturned. Dozens of Mexican-Americans faced arrest and detention. Reprisals by the local Anglo population and the Texas Rangers raised the specter of a race war. As the battle for diplomatic recognition intensified in Washington and New York, so did the war in Texas. By the time the raids ended in October six Anglos and approximately three hundred Mexican and Mexican-Americans had died. As suddenly as the raids had started, they ended. On October 1st shortly after the American government announced that it will recognize Carranza’s faction as the legitimate government of Mexico the raids stopped. On October 13th General Frederick Funston reported to his superiors in Washington that “it had been ten days since the last hostile shot had been fired.” Historians Harris and Sadler concluded in their analysis of the uprising, “once Carranza withdrew his support, the insurrection in Texas collapsed like a punctured balloon… Viewing Mexican-Americans as a useful fifth column, Carranza skillfully played on their hopes and fears as a means of exerting pressure on the United States. When his policies shifted [and those of the United States], they were cynically abandoned… The Plan left a legacy of racial tension in south Texas that has endured to the present.”

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The Old Gringo: The Disappearance of Ambrose Bierce

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The Old Gringo: The Disappearance of Ambrose Bierce

In the Battle of Ojinaga in December 1913 a famous American writer disappeared without a trace. Ambrose Bierce, who wrote the last known letter to his daughter Helen on December 26th 1913 from Chihuahua City, had been seen as an active participant in the Battle of Ojinaga. “He said that he had ridden four miles to mail the letter and that he had been given a sombrero as a reward for ‘picking off’ one of the enemy with a rifle at long range. He also told her that he was leaving with the army for Ojinaga, a city under siege, the following day.” After the battle he disappeared and no trace of him was ever found. Bierce’s daughter Helen became alarmed after she had not heard anything of her father by January. Most disturbing was the appearance that Bierce had arranged his affairs at home in a way that pointed to his expectation not to return. The seventy-one-year-old writer had been suffering from depression. In a letter to his cousin Laura, Bierce wrote on December 16th 1913: “Good-bye — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia!"

Bierce's letter to a friend saying "Good Bye"

Bierce's letter to a friend saying "Good Bye"

Helen approached the U.S. government to help find her father. Apparently, and quite different from the timeline most historians offer on the efforts of the U.S. government to find Bierce, the request was not made until September 1914. General Scott related the message from Secretary of the Interior, Franklin Lane, to Felix Sommerfeld.

“The Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Franklin K. Lane, is very anxious to get news of a man by the name of Ambrose Bierce, who went to Mexico last year and his friends have heard nothing from him since last December. He is quite a poet and writer, was 71 years of age when he left Washington last fall, was feeling exceedingly strong and healthfull [sic]…He…was accredited to the Villa forces…He had a considerable sum of money with him…In this letter [dated 12-26-1913] he said that his subsequent addresses would be indefinite, that he intended to go [on] horseback and by rail, when possible, through to the West coast of Mexico and from thence to South America…The Secretary would like you to have confidential inquiry made to trace Mr. Bierce. Anything you can do in this direction will be greatly appreciated by him and by the Secretary of War.”

 

The German agent tracked Bierce from El Paso to Chihuahua City where the writer’s presence had been confirmed and the last letter was sent from on December 26th. In this letter Bierce claimed that he was leaving on a troop train from Chihuahua to Ojinaga. The time frame coincides exactly with the dispatch of six brigades under Generals Ortega and Natera to Ojinaga. Of course, the generally accepted story that Bierce somehow attached himself to Villa is untrue given this time frame. Very surprising is the fact that Bierce did not join the movie producers, journalists, and other foreign admirers of Pancho Villa to witness this last battle for control of Chihuahua. At least, none of those remembered Bierce after his disappearance. Tex O’Reilly, the soldier-of-fortune turned writer was one of the few people who claimed to have heard of Bierce coming through El Paso and on to Chihuahua City. “O'Reilly says that several months later, he heard that an American had been killed in a nearby mining camp of Sierra Mojada. He investigated and heard how an old American, speaking broken Spanish, was executed by Federal Troops when they found out he was searching for Villa's troops. The locals told how he kept laughing, even after the first volley of his execution.” Since not many of Tex’ stories pass the truth test, it is likely that O’Reilly simply related rumors as his own research.

The most widely accepted stories placed Bierce in Ojinaga in the beginning of January. There, the course of events separate. Some rumors had it that the “old gringo” got in a fight with Pancho Villa and was executed. “Odo B. Slade, a former member of Pancho Villa’s staff, recalled an elderly American with gray hair and an asthmatic condition who served as a military advisor to Villa. The American was called Jack Robinson, and he criticized the Mexicans’ battle strategies with the accomplished eye of a military expert.” Another claimed that Bierce got lost on the battlefield and was captured by federals that killed him. A more conservative and perhaps more realistic twist was that Bierce “…started out to fight battles and shoulder hardships as he had done when a boy, somehow believing that a tough spirit would carry him through. Wounded or stricken with disease, he probably lay down in some pesthouse [sic] of a hospital, or in some troop train filled with other stricken men. Or he may have crawled off to some waterhole and died, with nothing more articulate than the winds and the stars for witnesses.” George Weeks, a friend of Bierce, traveled to Mexico in 1919 to research the author’s disappearance. According to an officer of the Mexican army, Bierce “had collapsed during the attack on Ojinaga and had died from hardship and exposure.”

Sommerfeld’s research revealed a potentially different chain of events: Bierce probably never was in Ojinaga or survived the battle and returned to Chihuahua City right after the battle. Sommerfeld found out that the writer left Chihuahua City to the south not to the north where Ojinaga is located. “I investigated in Chihuahua, Mexico and found out that Mr. Bierce left that City some time [sic] in January 1914 for the South, and that is the last anybody [had] ever seen or heard of him. I communicated that information at that time to General Scott on my return to Washington.” Bierce leaving to the south solves several inconsistencies: Villa, who Bierce claimed to have been with, was in Chihuahua City in the beginning of January and had had no plans to come to Ojinaga. If Bierce was with Villa and stayed with him through the battle, why did neither Villa nor anyone else in the Villa camp remember seeing him? If Bierce traveled south towards Durango, he was executing his plan of trying to make it to Mexico’s west coast. If he wanted to see fighting, there was plenty of action in January of 1914 in the Laguna region. Also important was the fact that in order to go west, one had to come through Torreon, the railroad hub in central Mexico.

Carey McWilliams, a journalist and Bierce’s biographer, seemed to share Sommerfeld’s conclusion that the famous writer was alive after the Battle of Ojinaga. Through the good offices of Sherburne Hopkins, McWilliams addressed a letter to Sommerfeld in April 1930 in which he asked for any information about “an ammunition train that was supposed to have been captured by Gen. [Rudolfo L.] Gallegos in the state of Durango in February 1914? It had been rumored that Bierce was attached to this train which was destined for the Huerta forces in Torreon.” Sommerfeld could not offer McWilliams much additional information. The only leads he could provide to the journalist were to check with the Arrieta brothers who were in charge of the Constitutionalist forces in the Laguna and around Torreon in 1914.

The matter of Bierce carrying “a large sum of money” has not been mentioned in the historiography of his disappearance. The Mexican countryside in the early days of 1914 was notoriously infested with rebels of any shape and form, deserted bands of federal soldiers, hapless and homeless peons, and bandits. An old “gringo” traveling with guides, or on a train that had been captured, would have been a prime target for robbery or worse. Conceivably, he was robbed and dumped somewhere along the way without any witnesses. The true story might never see the light of history. Sommerfeld explained the reason why he did not search further for Bierce in 1914. “When I received the letter from General Scott, it was impossible to make any inquiries in the South as I was with the Villa faction and the South was in the hands of the Carranza partisans.” Sommerfeld felt that he satisfied his obligations to General Scott and his superiors in the Wilson administration. Clearly, he did not obsess over the vanished poet. Sommerfeld had more important things to do in the final push against Huerta than to research the disappearance of a suicidal writer in the middle of a war. In a strange twist of history, Sommerfeld’s response to Carey McWilliams in May of 1930 from the Hotel Bristol in Berlin is the last known correspondence of the German agent. Just as is the case with Ambrose Bierce, when, where, and how Sommerfeld died remains a under a veil of secrecy that no historian has lifted to this day.


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A Special Christmas Card 99 Years ago

 

On Christmas Eve 1914, Felix Sommerfeld and General Hugh Lenox Scott did what they could to prevent a clash between American army and Mexican revolutionary forces at the little border hamlet of Naco, Arizona. One year later, Felix Sommerfeld wished his old friend a Merry Christmas:

From left Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee Mitchie, General Hugh Lenox Scott, General Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Second from right in the back row is Felix A. Sommerfeld

From left Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee Mitchie, General Hugh Lenox Scott, General Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Second from right in the back row is Felix A. Sommerfeld

New York, December 24, 1914

My dear General:

About a year ago or better just a year ago (Dec. 24) we were trying to keep warm under an army tent somewhere near Osborne, Arizona, making strenuous efforts to convince Governor Maytorena that it was necessary for him to sign a peace agreement. In those trying days I learned to admire your wonderful patience, tact and ability to deal with men and your determination to stand for the “square deal” idea. I deem it my greatest pleasure and honor to have been with you at that time and to have been able to be of some assistance to you and the cause you represented. You spent Xmas eve under a water coated tent somewhere in an army camp in Arizona and I had to listen to the wonderful music of the shrieking wheels of a railroad coach between Naco and El Paso. But I know that you did not mind those inconveniences [,] neither did I. We were on a mission to preserve peace and we accomplished something worthwhile…

            I hope that this Christmas will be a very pleasant and merry one for you, Mrs. Scott and your family.

With kindest regards,

                            I beg to remain

                                            Most sincerely and gratefully

                                                            Yours,

Felix A. Sommerfeld

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Luis Terrazas and the Hoard of the Banco Minero

One of the thorns in the revolutionaries’ side from the time Porfirio Diaz left Mexico City was the power and money of General Luis Terrazas, the largest landholder in Chihuahua and one of the richest men in the history of Mexico. Terrazas had financed the Orozco uprising, allegedly assisted in the plan to assassinate Governor Abraham Gonzalez, and fed the interventionists in the U.S. Senate under Senator Fall all the misinformation they could handle. Huerta also was rumored to be a recipient of Terrazas’ financial goodwill. No one in the Constitutionalist movement irked Luis Terrazas more than Pancho Villa. While other rebels confiscated cattle and hacienda stores, Villa converted the destruction of Terrazas’ wealth into an art form. He publicly looted banks, and drove tens of thousands of Terrazas’ cattle into the U.S. for sale. The relationship between Terrazas and Villa was not just disdain, disrespect, and outright hatred: It was war! The following events, that occurred 100 years ago in December 1913, proved for the first time that Villa was winning this war, hands down.

Luis Terrazas, the cattle king of Mexico

Luis Terrazas, the cattle king of Mexico

When Villa took Chihuahua City, Luis Terrazas with the majority of his clan had to flee to safety in the U.S.  One of Villa’s first moves was to clear the Banco Minero of its deposits. When the Villistas came to rob the Terrazas bank they made a remarkable discovery. Luis Terrazas Junior, the hacendado’s son, had remained behind to safeguard the remaining family including his mother and the bank of which he was a director. For reasons of insanity or overconfidence, the young Terrazas thought that Villa would not touch him. Shortly before the Villistas could nab him, he took refuge in the British Consulate. Whether or not Villa was aware of international law, which designated diplomatic missions immune, or whether he simply did not care less about British sympathies, he ordered the billionaire’s son arrested. The British Consul protested vehemently but the Villistas removed Terrazas by force. Villa had learned from a director of the Banco Minero, that a large stash of gold had been removed from the vault and hidden. After a few hours of light torture and a mock execution Terrazas revealed that the gold was hidden in a column inside the bank. He did not know which. Raul Madero, by now a Villista general and Luis Aguirre Benavides, Villa’s secretary found the hoard: 600,000 Pesos in gold ($6.3 Million in today’s value). For a second time in the history of the revolution, the Banco Minero in Chihuahua City had taken center stage. Where the gold ended up remained Villa’s secret. Treasure hunters, including Soldier-of-Fortune Emil Holmdahl, would spend decades after the revolution searching for the famed gold to no avail.

The Banco Minero in Chihuahua City in 1909

The Banco Minero in Chihuahua City in 1909

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You Think Negotiations With Iran Are Tough? Try Carranza...

The Wilson administration that had taken office literally days after the coup against and assassination of President Madero had a difficult time formulating a sensible foreign policy towards Mexico. State Department officials who consisted mainly of holdovers from the previous republican administrations as well as a hawkish group in the US Senate pleaded for military intervention as the only way to create order. Before Henry Lane Wilson had been fired in the summer of 1913, he, as well, consistently sent inflated reports of violence against Americans and businesses in Mexico.

Going behind the back of his own State Department, President Wilson decided to use his trusted friend William Bayard Hale for a second time. Hale had been in Mexico in the spring on a mission to find out the truth of Madero's assassination. His mission had resulted in the verification of H. L. Wilson’s role in Madero’s downfall and led to the ambassador’s eventual firing. However, according to Sommerfeld’s testimony in 1918, the mission turned out to be harder than expected. Hale had a hard time to even get an appointment with Carranza. The First Chief refused to see Wilson’s emissary since Hale he did not have official government credentials. Always a stickler for process, Carranza wanted to force Wilson into a de-facto recognition that mandated a diplomatic representative to be dispatched to Carranza. Naturally, not lacking a measure of pigheadedness himself, Wilson did not accept. In November 1913, in order to prevent the issue from coming to a head, the Wilson administration relied on Felix Sommerfeld to intercede with Carranza.

“While in Sonora Mr. William Hale came there and we went to the border and arranged a meeting between Carranza and Hale and acted as a go-between.” It took Sommerfeld from November 2nd until November 12th to get Carranza to grant the audience. However, Sommerfeld’s job had just started. Carranza refused to discuss anything that, in his opinion, touched upon affairs of a domestic nature. At issue was President Wilson’s attempt to somehow arrive at a compromise government for Mexico that would be able to allow for and set up national elections. Of course, by November the Constitutionalists had just won several major battles and had no interest in compromise. The talks quickly stalled. According to historian Cumberland, Hale threatened U.S. intervention and Carranza retorted with the threat of war. Sommerfeld recalled, “…they [Hale and Carranza] were always sparring around and after the meetings I would go and talk to Carranza.” The efforts of the German agent came to nothing. Hale and Carranza split in a huff. The First Chief’s mode of operation, being dilatory, delegating, and insisting on written communication, directly contradicted Hale’s “go-getter” energy.

The "First Chief" with his staff.

The "First Chief" with his staff.

Sommerfeld tried again to bridge the gap. At the urging of Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, the German agent rushed to Tucson, Arizona on November 10th 1913, where Hale waited in vain to be received by Carranza: “I came back because I heard that Dr. Hale had left Carranza in disgust or anger. I met Dr. Hale in Arizona and told him not to lose his patience because Carranza was stubborn and wouldn’t let the United States interfere in Mexican politics. He wouldn’t discuss politics with Dr. Hale. I told him ‘sit still, I am going down to see him.’…I tried to coax him to come off the high horse. He wouldn’t… The problems Hale faced in relating to the First Chief were symptomatic for many who had dealings with the stubborn politician from Coahuila. In part because of his failed attempts to broker an agreement between Hale and Carranza, Sommerfeld realized that he as well could not get along with Carranza. It is unclear whether, as Sommerfeld recounted, Carranza asked him to work with Villa, or whether Sommerfeld was fired as a result of the Hale intervention. However, around Christmas 1913, Sommerfeld switched from the Carranza to the Villa camp. From that moment on Carranza is not known to have ever again personally interacted with Sommerfeld. Historical sources after December 1913 show only Sherburne G. Hopkins officially working for Carranza. One other fact, however, became painfully apparent: The American embassy in Mexico City as well as the Latin American desk in the State Department in 1913 and beyond had lost their roles as policy advisers of the American President.

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A Máquina Loca turns the tide at Tierra Blanca

The fall of 1913 produced some of the most memorable battles in the Mexican Revolution. Pancho Villa with the ever growing Division of the North steamrolled through Chihuahua cutting the lifelines of the federal army. Villa's army was not the crude, rag tag assembly of amateur fighters one would expect. It had up-to-date artillery, the soldiers wore uniforms, and had brand new German Mauser 7 mm rifles. Notable about Villa's army was also a tightly organized supply system, form the chief buyer in the US, Felix A. Sommerfeld, to the supply organization operating all along the US -Mexican border, sourcing and shipping munitions, uniforms, medicine, saddles and anything else an army needed to where ever Villa went. The money that sustained this huge army that eventually number 40,000 soldiers came from confiscated cattle, customs revenue, and "volunteer taxes" from the wealthier residents of Chihuahua (usually Spaniards) who, Villa determined, could afford it.

While Villa consolidated power and established an effective administration in Ciudad Juarez in October 1913, the battle for control over Chihuahua raged on. The rebel general decided to challenge the opposing federal army at Tierra Blanca. He preempted the mounting danger of being pinned down in Juarez by federal reinforcements, which were on their way from Chihuahua City. The little railway station some thirty miles south of the border offered multiple advantages: Moving the battleground away from Juarez, Victoriano Huerta’s forces did not get the chance to create a border incident by firing into El Paso. In addition, the sandy terrain made it harder for the federals to move their heavy artillery into place. On November 23rd the federals under General José Ines Salazar challenged the entrenched Villistas.

Typical for Villa’s crude planning he “had no reserves, no grand strategy and not even any real tactics; it later transpired that he had not coordinated the movements of his various commanders.”  By all military standards the battle should have been a rout for the federal army. For a while it looked that way. The Villistas ran short of ammunition, were outflanked, and on the brink of disaster. It was a combination of Villa’s daring charges with him leading the way against the federal positions and the unbelievable mistakes of General Salazar. Leading three hundred cavalry into the line of fire, Villa managed to push the federals back. Rudolfo Fierro, Villa's crazy-eyed executioner and fighting buddy, sent a máquina loca into the federal positions.  This crazy train consisted of a locomotive and coal tender that instead of fuel contained dynamite wrapped in shrapnel of all shapes and forms. The locomotive was set to full steam and, without an engineer, sent on its way down the tracks into enemy positions. Upon impact with the barricades it blew up. A tremendous explosion sent the unsuspecting federal soldiers racing for cover in a panic. Now Emil Holmdahl’s artillery kicked in gear and carved a breach into the enemy lines. A horrendous slaughter followed in which “more than one thousand” Orozquistas fell despite holding up white flags.  The decisive battle for Chihuahua ended in a huge fiesta on the night of November 25th. 

Fierro "the butcher" and Pancho Villa, "Centaur of the North"

Fierro "the butcher" and Pancho Villa, "Centaur of the North"

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Catherine M. Mayo's Translation of the Spiritist Manual

 

Contemporary observers as well as historians have long grappled with open questions concerning the convictions, political beliefs, decision making processes, and motivations of the revolutionary government led by Francisco I. Madero between 1911 and 1913 in Mexico. A hopeless idealist, said most, an inept leader, indecisive, clueless, proposed others. Madero fought the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz on principle, deposed him without much violence, but in the process unleashed a social revolution so powerful that one out of seventeen Mexicans succumbed to violent ends. When he took power in 1911, he deferred taking it and gave the presidency to Francisco Leon de la Barra instead. Nine months later, in the fall of 1911 and in the first democratic election in her history, Mexico overwhelmingly elected Madero to the presidency. However, almost immediately his government is threatened from both, the reactionary old power structure and members of his own revolutionary circle. Violent uprisings plagued political and social progress until finally, in the Decena Tragica, both the president and his vice president are deposed and murdered in a bloody coup d'etat. Why did Madero not fight harder against his enemies? Why did he not immediately institute fundamental social and economic reform? And, above all, why did he not listen to those around him who predicted his tragic demise? In a secret book, Madero wrote under the pen name "Bhirma," called the Spiritist Manual, many of the answers can be found.

Catherine M. Mayo does a brilliant job combining the known facts of the Mexican Revolution and Madero's role within it, and creates an intellectual bridge to the president's spiritist belief structure. He was not the hopeless idealist so many historians have proclaimed him to be. Neither was he inept or indecisive. Rather, his personality was deeply rooted in a sharply defined vision for a future Mexico. His inclusion of friend and foe in a revolutionary cadre of leaders, that ultimately proved his downfall, set the stage for real governance: The inclusion of all, the agreement of a whole people on a new social contract guided by justice, democracy, due process, and law. His belief in a cosmic energy that can be summoned and called upon to help overcome the past and pave the way to the future guided his decisions. The Spiritist Manual is the document in which he put into words what guided him in his quest to save Mexico from herself. He never lived to see the final signature under the new social contract that was not completed until many years later, in the 1940s. But his spirit, his unselfish, uncompromising, deeply rooted beliefs, remained... With her translation of the Spiritist Manual, Catherine Mayo opened this incredible window into the metaphysical side of the Mexican Revolution that might otherwise have been forgotten.

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William Bayard Hale - Icon or Traitor?

In November of 1913 Felix Sommerfeld made the acquaintance of a special envoy and friend of President Woodrow Wilson: William Bayard HaleBorn in 1869, Hale studied at Boston and Harvard universities. He graduated from Episcopal Seminary College in Cambridge. He began his career as an ordained priest in Boston in 1893. In 1900 the then thirty-one-year-old Hale decided to become a journalist. As a first job, the retired clergyman signed on as managing editor of the Cosmopolitan Magazine. After three years he switched to the Philadelphia Public Ledger and ran the editorial board until 1906, when the New York Times hired him as foreign correspondent for Paris, France. In 1908, Hale also wrote for the New York American, a Hearst paper, as its Berlin correspondent. Widely acclaimed for his thoughtful political analysis, the journalist and author interviewed the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. This interview was according to some the most insightful ever with the German monarch. The following year, 1909, Hale married Olga Unger, a German-American in London. As a personal friend and adviser of then governor of New Jersey, Hale wrote and published Woodrow Wilson’s biography in 1911. He played a major role in the highly contested presidential election campaign of 1912. As Wilson’s friend and confidante Hale went on sensitive diplomatic missions in 1913 and 1914 concerning the Mexican Revolution and upheavals in Central America. The first such mission resulted in the dismissal of the notorious American ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson. Sommerfeld had organized meetings between Hale and the First Chief of the Constitutionalists in Mexico, Venustiano Carranza

According to Sommerfeld’s testimony in 1918, Dr. Hale had a hard time negotiating with Carranza in the fall of 1913. To begin with the First Chief refused to see Wilson’s emissary since Hale did not have official government credentials. Always a stickler for process, Carranza wanted to force Wilson into a de-facto recognition that mandated a diplomatic representative to be dispatched to him. Naturally, not lacking a measure of pigheadedness himself, Wilson did not accept. To prevent the issue from coming to a head, the Wilson administration relied on Felix Sommerfeld in November 1913 to intercede with Carranza. “While in Sonora Mr. William Hale came there and we went to the border and arranged a meeting between Carranza and Hale and acted as a go-between.”

It took Sommerfeld from November 2 until November 12, 1913 to get Carranza to grant the audience. However, Sommerfeld’s job had just started. Carranza refused to discuss anything that, in his opinion, touched upon affairs of a domestic nature. At issue was President Wilson’s attempt to somehow arrive at a compromise government for Mexico that would be able to allow for and set up national elections. Of course, by November the Constitutionalists had just won several major battles and had no interest in compromise. The talks quickly stalled. According to historian Cumberland, Hale threatened U.S. intervention and Carranza retorted with the threat of war. Sommerfeld recalled, “…they [Hale and Carranza] were always sparring around and after the meetings I would go and talk to Carranza.”

The efforts of the German agent came to nothing. Hale and Carranza split in a huff. The First Chief’s mode of operation, being dilatory, delegating, and insisting on written communication, directly contradicted Hale’s “go-getter” energy. Sommerfeld tried again to bridge the gap. At the urging of Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, the German agent rushed to Tucson, Arizona on November 10th 1913, where Hale waited in vain to be received by Carranza. “I came back because I heard that Dr. Hale had left Carranza in disgust or anger. I met Dr. Hale in Arizona and told him not to lose his patience because Carranza was stubborn and wouldn't let the United States interfere in Mexican politics. He wouldn't discuss politics with Dr. Hale. I told him ‘sit still, I am going down to see him.’…I tried to coax him to come off the high horse. He wouldn't …

The problems Hale faced in relating to the First Chief were symptomatic for many who had dealings with the stubborn politician from Coahuila. In part because of his failed attempts to broker an agreement between Hale and Carranza, Sommerfeld realized that he as well could not get along with Carranza. It is unclear whether, as Sommerfeld recounted, Carranza asked him to work with Pancho Villa, or whether Sommerfeld was fired as a result of the Hale intervention. However, around Christmas 1913, Sommerfeld switched from the Carranza to the Villa camp. From that moment on Carranza is not known to have ever again personally interacted with Sommerfeld. Historical sources after December 1913 show only lawyer and lobbyist Sherburne G. Hopkins officially working for Carranza. One other fact, however, became painfully apparent: The American embassy in Mexico City as well as the Latin American desk in the State Department in 1913 and beyond had lost their roles as policy advisers of the American President.

Sommerfeld would again work with the American journalist in 1914. After a disagreement with the President, Hale was looking for a job. Sommerfeld, always a keen observer and strategist recommended his friend to Bernhard Dernburg who was then heading the German propaganda effort in the US. Hale was hired to "fix" the dilettantism of German efforts. In 1917, William Randolph Hearst sent him to Europe as a war correspondent. Largely discredited and shunned as a traitor, Hale spent most of the time after the war until his death in 1924 in Europe.

William Bayard Hale in 1914

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A Trojan Horse - Made in Mexico

100 years ago, after Pancho Villa had defeated the federal troops at Torreon he headed to Chihuahua. The capital of this important northern state remained a federal stronghold. The federal troops under General Mercado prepared for the worst as news of Villa's approaching rebel army trickled in. On November 5, 1913 Villa ordered a frontal attack against the numerically inferior defenders. Like in Torreon wave after wave of cavalry challenged the entrenched defensive lines of General Salvador Mercado’s federal force and Pascual Orozco’s irregulars. Emil Holmdahl’s artillery was charged with “softening” defensive lines. However, Mercado was ready. He had studied Villa’s crude method of attack. Owing to the federals’ superior artillery, which Mercado had strategically placed for maximum effect and the deadly machine gun implements along the defensive line, the frontal assaults turned into bloodbaths for the attackers. After three days of heavy losses Villa stood to lose the battle. He ordered a pullback which caused General Mercado to report to Mexico City: “I have the honor to report to you that yesterday [November 8th] at 6 p.m., the enemy was expelled from his last positions and thrown back by our courageous troops…” Villa seemed to waver as to what to do next. To the defenders of Chihuahua he seemed to have broken off the attacks.

However, on November 11, 1913 small skirmishes resumed leading Mercado to anticipate a renewed assault on the city. Faking a new attack, Villa divided his forces and in the night of November 13 captured two coal trains at the Terrazas Station between Chihuahua and Juarez. He had the rail cars emptied and loaded an elite corps he called Dorados onto the trains. Further cavalry regiments followed at some distance as the Villistas moved north towards Ciudad Juarez. At each train station on the way, the rebels arrested the telegraph operators. Under the threat of death, they had to send fake messages to the garrison in Juarez. The telegrams pretended that Villa had cut the rail lines to the south and that the operators needed urgent instructions on where to direct the threatened trains. As expected the officials at Juarez ordered the operators to retreat north, thus clearing the way for the Villistas to approach Juarez without arousing suspicion.

In the early morning hours of November 16 the trains pulled into the downtown of Ciudad Juarez. When the rail car doors flew open at 2:30 in the morning and Villa’s cavalry charged the unsuspecting federal garrison the battle ended almost before it had started. Disoriented by attacking forces from inside the city as well as from the outskirts, the federals did not stand a chance. With only a few stray bullets pitting some walls and breaking some windows in El Paso without serious bloodshed, and by complete surprise Villa took Juarez, the jewel customs station for badly needed supplies from the United States. By 8:00am mop-up operations in the city were replaced by summary executions of federal officers, which lasted for the better part of a week. To the disgust of the national media in the U.S. and to the horror of the State Department Villa openly rounded up approximately 125 military prisoners, many of them Orozquistas, and had them shot without mercy. Not all El Pasoans joined in the abhorred outcry for humanity on the part of Villa’s troops. “Great numbers of morbidly curious El Pasoans, including some well-dressed women, flocked to Juarez to gawk at the dead bodies, and if lucky they got to witness an execution or two.” One high-ranking officer was allowed to flee to safety in the United States: The federal commander, General Francisco Castro. Villa had not forgotten that this officer interceded on his behalf when he himself faced a firing squad ordered by Victoriano Huerta to execute him. The caudillo general had overnight become a sensation in the American psyche. 

 

Pancho Villa as depicted in the El Paso newspapers the next day, well dressed, shaven, cultured ... American.

Pancho Villa as depicted in the El Paso newspapers the next day, well dressed, shaven, cultured ... American.

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Free Masonry and the Mexican Revolution

Conspiracy theories about the role of Freemasons in our history are abound. To this day, no real facts have supported the theory that somehow a global secret order with members in virtually every layer of society indeed influenced or changed the actions of its individual members. Maybe that is the function of freemasonry being secret. Did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson execute orders from this secret society? Would Simon Bolivar, the independence hero of most of South America, have changed anything if he had not been a mason? Was there some kind of a code or ideology that influenced the political decisions that made our modern world? Freemasons were blamed for causing World War I (although Kaiser Wilhelm II was not a member) and World War II (according to Hitler together with international Jewry). After the Catholic Church excommunicated the secret order in 1738, Freemasons faced periodic persecution in countries all around the world. This in turn gave rise to allegations of subversiveness and undue influence on world events.

Freemasons also played an important role in the Mexican Revolution. Arnold Krumm-Heller, a German-born doctor, spy, and occultist headed the freemasonry in Mexico, while President Madero, himself a Spiritist, led the country. On a fact finding trip to Parral, Chihuahua, I discovered that another German agent, Frederico Stallforth (Felix A. Sommerfeld's infamous colleague-agent) also was a mason. His uncle had founded the lodge in Parral. The entire male Stallforth family has chairs in the lodge.

While working on my current book, I discovered that another influential force in the Mexican revolution were masons: Dictator and usurper of the Madero presidency Victoriano Huerta, co-conspirator in the counter revolution against Madero, Felix Diaz (nephew of the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz), Manuel Mondragon (former Secretary of War under Huerta) as well as an unnamed eighty followers of Huerta. When American authorities arrested him for a second time in El Paso in July 1915, he was allowed to keep his "mason charm" attached to his watch (New York Times, July 4, 1915). While Huerta never lost his "charm", newspapers had reported a month earlier that Huerta, Diaz and all his followers have been expelled from the freemasonry (The Washington Times, May 2, 1915). The group was then mounting a filibustering expedition into Mexico to depose both Pancho Villa and Venustiano Carranza. The freemasons of Mexico were then headed by Arnold Krumm-Heller, who at that time had joined the forces of Venustiano Carranza. It is a curious detail that the rivalry between Huerta and Carranza spilled into the secret order. What if not trying to influence the conspirators to give up their political activities was the purpose of expelling the whole reactionary lot? 

From left Manuel Mondragon, Victoriano Huerta, Felix Diaz, and Aureliano Blanquet

From left Manuel Mondragon, Victoriano Huerta, Felix Diaz, and Aureliano Blanquet

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Removal of all semblance of Democracy

Exactly 100 years ago, Victoriano Huerta, the Mexican general who had usurped power in February 1913, removed the last vestiges of democracy in war-torn  Mexico. Ongoing pressure from Mexican parliamentarians to explain the details of the murder of President Francisco Madero led to the arrest of the entire liberal wing of delegates.  

President Wilson who had fired the US ambassador to Mexico Henry Lane Wilson in July remained aghast at the role of the United States in the removal and murder of the democratically elected president of Mexico.  He sent his friend and biographer William Bayard Hale to Mexico to investigate the facts of the coup. Hale's report, although devastating for Ambassador Wilson did not solve the murder of Madero. President Huerta of course never admitted to having given the order. The actual assassin Francisco Cardenas had fled to Guatemala. Pancho Villa did send a group of his personal guard to apprehend him but did not succeed. 

Did General Huerta order the assassination of President Madero and his Vice-President Jose Maria Pino Suarez?  The only indication we have that he indeed ordered the murders comes from Francisco Madero's widow, Sara Perez de Madero. When she visited Ambassador Wilson two days before her husbands assassination to plead for her husband's life, Wilson alluded to having been asked for permission. In a 1916 interview with the American journalist Robert Hammond Murray, Sara recalled the conversation: "He said that General Huerta had asked what should be done with the prisoners. 'What did you answer?' I [Sara] asked. 'I told him what was best for the interests of the country,' said the ambassador. My sister-in-law, who accompanied me, could not help but interrupt saying, 'How could you say that? You know very well what kind of man Huerta and his people are, and [he] will kill them all.'"  

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Burning Questions About the Mexican Revolution: Mexico in World War I

What was Mexico's participation during the World War I? How were German-Mexican relations at the time?

Mexico became a battleground for Germany and the Allies in the World War. In the beginning of the war Germany had the strategy of buying up as many arms and munitions in the US as possible to slow down the material support for the Entente powers. Mexico being engulfed in the revolution was an obvious choice for diverting the arms to. Felix A. Sommerfeld and Hans Tauscher were in charge of the execution of this strategy. By the way, the shipments Sommerfeld made were initially not free of charge as some have speculated. The US wanted Mexico to calm down and regenerate pre-revolutionary trade. The Entente saw Mexico as a crucial base for oil supplies. Mexico had the largest deposits in the world at that time. The British fleet in particular needed Mexican oil for its operations in the Atlantic.

So Germany bought domestically produced weapons and sent them to Mexico? Did that really disrupt government acquisition?

The intention was to slow purchases by the Allies in the US. That indeed worked to a certain degree until the US munitions industry expanded capacity from 1915 on.

Any suggested further reading on this?

A good book to check out is Reinhard Doerries "Imperial Challenge," a biography of the German ambassador Johann Count von Bernstorff. A great read is Price and Hollister (free download) "The German Secret Service in America." Also a standard is Barbara Tuchman "The Zimmermann Telegram." If you can wait another few months I will have a scholarly book out called "The Secret War Council" that will detail all German intelligence activities in the US in World War I with the most up-to-date sources.

 

 

 

 

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Burning Questions about the Mexican Revolution: Pancho Villa

Here are some excerpts from an "Ask Me Anything" session at Reddit.com. 

I'll ask something of an obvious question: Pancho Villa. I've heard him romanticized and vilified, labeled a rotten bandit and a near folk hero. What are your own thoughts on Villa and his campaigns? Did they have significant political/social ramifications for Mexico?

The most elaborate biography of Villa written by Friedrich Katz (highly recommended!!!) finally tried to put this to rest. He was all of the above. He was an impressive military leader, fearless, motivating, sensitive, decisive, but also cruel, stubborn, unscrupulous. He was a social reformer in Chihuahua (established schools, broke apart large haciendas), but also a thief (he favorite sport was to round up cattle of large haciendas and sell them to the US market, he also took ransom for captives etc.). In my personal opinion, he was the product of his time, upbringing, and political/economic circumstances. Felix A. Sommerfeld liked him to a degree but was also quite fearful of him (like most who worked with him). However, he was one of the most important driving forces of the Mexican Revolution. Without his constant pressure (and that of Emiliano Zapata) Mexico would have sunk back into dictatorship whether with a revolutionary leader or a reactionary.

 

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The Battle of Torreon, September 29 to October 1, 1913

In September 1913 Constitutionalist leaders charged Francisco Pancho Villa, the daring commander of the Division of the North, with taking Torreon. The central Mexican railrod hub was the gateway to Mexico City where the usurper Victoriano Huerta occupied the blood stained presidential chair. 

In three days, between September 29 and October 1, 1913, the Constitutionalists under Villa’s command smashed the defenses of Torreon. Never before had Villa led these many men into battle. His army consisted of eight thousand men, cavalry, and two cannon. Torreon became the largest battle of the Mexican Revolution to date. Wave after wave of cavalry charges pounded the three thousand defenders under General Murguía. Finally, after Villa contemplated breaking off the attacks, his charges leapt into the city through a breach in the defense lines. Murguía ordered a hasty retreat and left the city to the rebels. To Villa’s credit he had effectively commanded a rebel army that lacked training, discipline, and heavy weaponry. The overwhelming force allowed Villa to charge straight at the enemy. This strategy would gain the self-educated general many victories but would eventually become the main cause for his most disastrous defeats. A well-entrenched defending force with superior weapons and training should have been able to repel Villa’s attack. The federal commander and his officers lacked imagination and resolve, its conscripted foot soldiers the motivation to fight. The Battle of Torreon offered a glimpse into the future for the Usurper President Huerta and his forces. Within two weeks of the loss of Torreon, Huerta had fired his Minister of War, General Manuel Mondragon.

The Battle of Torreon became the single most important prize, which propelled Villa to the height of his career. His men captured heavy artillery, half-a-million rounds of ammunition, armored rail cars, eleven cannon including the future division mascot, the three inch "El Niño" (the little one), hundreds of rail cars, and an estimated forty locomotives.  From this time on the Divisiódel Norte would travel by rail to the battlefields of Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. Villa also forced loans on Torreon’s business elite and the local banks. The “contributions” amounted to three million Pesos (approximately $31.5 million in today’s money). With 100,000 Pesos in cash ($ 1 million in today’s value) Villa dispatched his brother Hipolito and Lazaro De La Garza, the son of a well-known merchant and industrialist in Torreon, to take over the arms procurement for the División Del Norte in El Paso. 

Pancho Villa entering the city of Torreon

Pancho Villa entering the city of Torreon

De La Garza would handle the finances of the Villa army and its illustrious general until the end of 1915. He also would become Sommerfeld’s smokescreen that succeeded in hiding German financial support for Villa from the American authorities in 1915. As a result of the victory, the largest insurgent army of its time in Mexico quickly swelled to over 10,000 strong and moved along with a fully equipped hospital train, railcars loaded with kitchen supplies, soldaderas, soldier families, and cooks traveling alongside. The cavalry mounts with loads of alfalfa hay and grain recovered their energy in between engagements riding in the captured cattle cars. The train also included several water cars for the soldiers and the animals. Ammunition and artillery, some of which mounted firmly on the rail stock and heavily guarded formed the rear of this hitherto unseen modern, mobile army.

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