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1976: An Oral History – Pedro Gonzalez remembers the revolution

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the El Paso County Historical Society is looking back at past Password articles.

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 through Oct. 14, according to The Library of Congress. It began in “1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson.”

Pedro Gonzalez remembers the revolution

Note: The extract that follows is from an oral history interview conducted in El Paso in 1976 by Dr. Oscar J. Martinez, Director of the Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas at El Paso. Dr. Martinez.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1899, Mr. Pedro Gonzalez was orphaned at a young age and was “adopted” by Francisco “Pancho” Villa. His capture by opposing forces, close brush with a firing squad, and escape from his captors vividly illustrate the trials and tribulations of a soldier attempting to return to a normal life.

In 1913, when I was 14 years old, I joined some federal troops that were going from Guadalajara to Torreon with the intention of conquering Villa. Since I was an orphan, I wandered around with them, just to see what was going on. I gave the officers shines and ran errands for them whenever they needed something, and they would give me a quarter, a dime, twenty cents. Then some other people gave me food to eat, and that’s how I earned my living. I had a good friendship with those people and they treated me very well. From Torreon we went to Durango, and from there we conducted a search, looking for Madero’s followers in towns like Pedricefia, Cruces, Nazas, and Mapimi. The federalists were in control of all those places. 

Pedro Gonzalez

It turned out that the maderistas attacked Pedricefia, where I happened to be at that time. Then I went with the revolutionaries because there was more food ‘and excitement with them. A man gave me a short 30-30 rifle and that’s how I became a revolutionary against the federal government. I joined General Calixto Contreras’ troops, and they must have liked me because they treated me very well. I went along with the colonel who took me under his wing. 

One day there was a meeting of generals and colonels, and Villa was one of them. When they finished talking about the attacks that they were going to carry out, Villa said to me, “Listen, boy, will you come with me?” I told him that I couldn’t say- that he would have to talk to the colonel that I was assigned to, and if he allowed me to, then I would. I was afraid of Villa since he was the head of the Revolution. Then he left me entrusted to the colonel and to General Contreras. He told them, “OK, I leave you in charge of this boy; take good care of him.” They said, “We will.” A little later Contreras and Villa got together again and that’s when I became a part of the Division del Norte (Villa’s troops). At that time Villa only had about 200 or 300 men. He picked me up and I went with him.

I enjoyed being where there was fighting going on, probably for the simple reason of just being young. Most of the generals appreciated me a lot and they all wanted me to go with them. But since I was working for Villa, I couldn’t. If the general gave me permission to go to another brigade with another general I went; if not, I didn’t go. The general saw how clever I was in doing jobs which were a little difficult. He sent me to certain cities that he was going to attack so that I could find out how many troops there were and which positions were strong. For a week I would go all through town and the outskirts where the federal troops were, selling cigarettes, candy and other things, so that I wouldn’t be suspicious looking. 

‘We captured Ciudad Juarez’

In November of 1913 we captured Ciudad Juarez, and we were there until the federal troops started to come to attack us from Chihuahua. When we were in Juarez, the mayor of El Pas·o and a general from Fort Bliss came over to talk with the general. They asked him to please not fight in Juarez because the bullets could go over to the American side and there could be accidents involving civilian families. Villa told them that they didn’t have to worry- that he didn’t like to fight among the houses, that he always liked to fight on the open plains. 

We left Juarez and went about 10 kilometers towards the south to Tierra Blanca. The federal troops started to come in trains, but they couldn’t get to Juarez because we were already waiting for them. We were there several days, and they distributed to us that sausage that the American government gave out at Fort Bliss- a big piece- and a square piece of bread which was also American. At that time the American government helped Villa a lot. Finally, one daybreak, Villa gave the order to attack and the battle began. There was a lot of shooting and I had to retreat to a little hill where our infantry was continuing to fire. While I was trying to rapidly get into a hole with a fellow soldier, they wounded me and I lost my horse. The federal troops kept advancing, and there I was, hurt. I climbed down the hill to a little stream, hoping that if the federalists came they would pass me by and not kill me. Then I heard a horse coming and saw that it was one of my comrades. I told him, “Comrade, pick me up, get me out of here.” He returned, put me on the horse and we left. My condition was really quite bad with a wound in the shoulder and the back right next to the spinal column. The shower of bullets whizzed by us on one side and the other, and we were the last ones to get out of there. I told my comrade, “Make this horse go faster because they’re going to kill us both right here.” Well, he hit the horse a little more but I began aching badly and I told him, “Friend, don’t hit him any more,” and he stopped the horse for a while. 

Finally we were out of danger and then we found the general. Villa recognized me and said, “My goodness, boy, is it you?” I answered, “Yes sir.” He ordered the first lieutenant who had gotten me out of the battle.: “Take this boy to the train far me and assign soldiers to take care of him until they get to Juarez, so that he can be cured in the hospital.” Well, the officer took me to a train where there were a lot of wounded people and we left. 

When I got to Juarez I found lodging in a hotel where there were many people recuperating. There were two other people with me in my room and a nurse from El Paso came and took care of us. 

Some days later a train was leaving Juarez with some of Villa’s soldiers, and since I liked to hang around the station, I climbed up on the top of the train with the soldiers. But Villa noticed that I was up there and he told me to get down. I got down and then he gave some money to one of the brothers of Luz Corral de Villa (the general’s wife who was sick in EI Paso at the time) and said, “Take this; take the boy to El Paso and take him to the movies.” Well, we went to El Paso, but since Luz’s brother had a girlfriend, he left me at the theater and he left with her. I frequently went to see Luz because I was always going back and forth from the hospital in Juarez to EI Paso. 

‘We left Juarez to fight in various places’

Time passed, I got well, and we left Juarez to fight in various places: Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Torreon, San Pedro de las Colonias, Saltillo, Monterrey, and Zacatecas. The battle at Zacatecas was rough because the whole federal army reassembled there. I happened to be at the battle on the side of the Cerro del Coronel. We attacked one afternoon, but they forced us back to the bottom of the hill. When it was darker we attacked again and this time we managed to make it to the top, forcing the enemy back into Zacatecas. We were fighting that whole night and all of the next day when the order came from Villa for us to enter the city. Our group had to enter by way of the station where the enemy had a cannon and two machine guns. We were lucky enough to overcome them, and that allowed us to go into the station where we found other revolutionaries who had entered from the other side. We joined together and we all went into the town, except that you couldn’t walk very well because there were so many corpses. On the corners there were entrenchments of soldiers, and in the streets there were dead men and horses. Some of the federalist prisoners made ditches in which to bury the dead. They filled mule-drawn carts with cadavers and dumped them in the hole, until they cleaned up the city and everything was all right. We were there about two months. 

My last expedition with the villistas was in 1915-1916 in Sonora. We were going to go towards Hermosillo but it wasn’t possible because the carrancistas had joined together with the Mexican troops which had gone over to the American side. Because of that, Villa couldn’t seize the border. We fought for a while in Agua Prieta and from there we went to Guaymas to take over the port, but we couldn’t because it was already full of carrancistas. Little by little we retreated until we reunited with the people who had stayed at the foot of the Cañon del Pulpito near Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua. 

We were there only for two days because there wasn’t anything to eat. I got a hold of a can of salmon and a little bit of wheat that had been left at the edge of a mill, and that’s what I ate. We decided to climb the Sierra del Pulpito and go down to Old Casas Grandes. It was winter at the time and there was a lot of snow in the mountains. I was on foot because they had killed my horse. There wasn’t a road, and the snow came up past my knees. We fell in holes and everything. Finally we got out of the plain and we arrived in Old Casas Grandes where General Jose Rodriguez was with a few people who had arrived a little earlier. There wasn’t anything to eat there either. 

The next day General Rodriguez told me, “Listen, boy, do you want to join General Villa quicker?” Well, I told him that I did, although I was sorry later. He said, “I’m going to send a group of five men towards Chihuahua City to find him so that he knows that here in Casas Grandes the people who left for Sonora a.re reuniting.” They gave me a horse and saddle, and it seemed like an easy job to me. Six of us left under the command of a lieutenant colonel-five who were commissioned, and I only went with them in order to join the general. 

After several days, we stopped and the colonel said, “Boys, wait here two or three hours while I go to Villa Ahumada to arrange an armistice for us.” We were without food or anything. In a little while one of the men said, “We’ve been waiting a long time. Let’s go see what happened to the colonel.” Well, there we went and we arrived in Carrizal ( 15 kilometers from Villa Ahumada) . The two drunks went into a large corral and the rest of us went to get something to eat. I went to a home and asked a lady for some food; she gave me some and I paid her. On my way back to rejoin the others I saw a cloud of dust and I thought that the carrancistas were coming. I got to my comrades and told them, “You know what? Here come the carrancistas!” But they said, “Ah, those aren’t carrancistas.” Well, I left them and went to blend in with the townspeople. I had already changed clothes; I looked like a civilian. It turned out that they captured my companions and a little later the carrancistas came to where I was. They noticed the Texan hat that I was wearing and one of the officers asked me if I were a revolutionary. Right away I thought that if I said that I wasn’t, someone might tell on me and then they would treat me even worse. I told him that I was and they took me to where they were keeping the others. 

The carrancistas searched us and took everything that we had. I had one of those cartridge pouches that the American Army uses around my waist, and I had hidden around 250 pesos in silver inside. Well, everything was lost there – money, blankets, clothes. Then they tied the five of us together in a row and made us march in front of the horses until we reached Villa Ahumada, where they put us on a railroad car. 

A little bit later we got out of the car and joined the rest, and a sergeant told me, “Listen, friend, put yourself in God’s hands because the train is going to take you now.”I answered him, “One day it’s going to take you, too.” Well, he hit me with the rifle and he made us walk to an old shed where we saw our companion who had been taken out earlier, thrown on the floor. I thought that maybe they had killed him and I looked at him to see if he were breathing. One of the carrancistas told me, “The same thing is going to happen to you.” Then they tied our hands and feet behind us and put a rope around our necks. Four or five men pulled it upwards and upon feeling that they were strangling me I said to the captain, “Why are you punishing us this way if we’re not murderers, bandits or criminals? That’s why you have rifles-to shoot us.”

They let the rope loosen a little and they began to ask us questions about how many villistas there were and how many were on their way to that place. We answered that we weren’t the leaders and that we didn’t know. Then they kicked the man who was on the floor and he turned over. He hadn’t been strangled; he was just pretending because they had told him that if he breathed or moved, they would kill him. He got up right away. Then they took us to the railroad car again. 

‘Who knows what’s waiting for us now?’

The next morning they put us in a barracks. We were there two days without food-just watching the soldiers eat! I felt the little pocket in my pants to see if there happened to be some coins left there, and it turned out that I found a fifty-cent piece. For two days I hadn’t thought to look in that little place, and then I said, “Thank God.” Right away I asked a carrancista to do me the favor of buying me some bread with those few cents, and he said that he would. Each piece of bread was worth five cents, so I expected ten pieces. But the soldier returned with only five. Well, I shared them with everyone else and we ate them with water and had a half-way decent lunch. That afternoon they took us to where the head of the garrison was and he told us, “Well, boys, here is some paper so that you can write letters to your families if you want, because tomorrow you’re going to be shot by the firing squad.” I thought, well, who should I write to?” The next morning around eight o’clock I saw that there were already people there watching and that the soldiers were beginning to put on their cartridge belts and get their rifles, and I said, “Who knows what’s waiting for us now?” The soldiers got in formation and they took the three of us out. Then they brought the other two who had been locked up in the basement and they reunited the five of us. Then they decided that they would carry out the execution behind the church, and they took us over there. The townspeople were already there and the soldiers got into firing formation. Then the captain read us the verdict (according to them), and asked, “All right, men, do you want to be blindfolded?” One in the group said, “No, sir, none of us want to be blindfolded.” They were going to shoot us when one of our comrades said, “By any chance do you have some cigarettes that you’ll give us?” The captain came back, gave each one a cigarette and lit it, and then we smoked them. 

The captain returned to the line of soldiers and gave the order, “Load!” I thought, “Hey, stop!” I was dying there and just then a train passed full of villistas who had just 19een discharged, and upon seeing them I thought, “If only God had allowed me to go on that train to my home, to see who I could find in my family.” And then from the other side: “Load! Aim! Fire!” They fired, and so I wouldn’t see, I turned to the side. What a surprise to see that everyone else had fallen except me! The comrade who had been next to me fell beside my feet, and I turned to look at him. He was hurt and tried to get up, but the captain came and pow – he shot him in the head and killed him. The captain was next to me with his pistol in his hand and I thought, “Well, since he shot that poor guy in the head, he’s going to shoot me, too!” I looked to see if the captain was raising his pistol. There was a very calm silence as if there were no people there; not even the dogs were barking. Some time passed, and I thought that according to the rules of execution, if an accident happens and the one who’s being executed doesn’t get shot, well then, he’s saved. But I said, “What are these people going to know about that?” Everything was very serious for about ten minutes, but then the people started to move and the atmosphere changed. The soldiers got in marching formation and the people began to go to their houses. They took me back to the barracks again. It must have been that they decided not to kill me because I was a boy or that it just wasn’t my time to go yet. Only God saved me from death; I’ve always considered it a big favor that they did me. 

In the barracks the first lieutenant realized that I had been a captain in Villa’s army and one of Villa’s adopted sons, and he was always on my back. He didn’t like me; that man didn’t trust me very much. Either he or one of the others was always guarding me and I couldn’t do anything, just stay there being punished. I was there like that for two or three days; there wasn’t a chance to do anything. Then I went to see the head of the barracks and I told him that now that they had done me the favor of not killing me, I wanted them to do me a last favor and let me go. I told him I didn’t want any more fights, that I wanted to try to find my family. He said to me, “OK, boy, if you want to go, leave.” But I didn’t believe what he had told me, so I went to talk to a first lieutenant that I trusted because he had also been a villista at one time. He advised me not to go. He told me that I should wait until they moved me from that place on the train within three days, and that I should escape on the way. 

We traveled from Villa Ahumada towards Chihuahua City and I couldn’t get off the train because they were always guarding me. In Chihuahua City I got off at the station but there wasn’t any chance of hiding myself. We got on the train again, and there we went. I was near the back of the train with a soldier who started to talk with me, and I couldn’t get him to go to sleep. Finally he fell asleep and started to snore. In the darkness of the night I -got close to the ladder on the car and let myself fall. I didn’t get hurt, got up, brushed myself off, and began to walk. But like a fool I walked towards the south instead of going towards the border. I could hear wolves and coyotes howling and I threw stones towards where it seemed the closest animals were. At daybreak I sat down to rest, when I saw a train going towards the south. I managed to get on it at a railroad siding. 

I think that the guard saw me climb aboard, because he came to where I was hanging on and told me that I would have to pay two and a half pesos. I told him that I didn’t have any money and asked him to allow me to stay aboard anyway, but he got very mean and hit me on the head. I had to get off, and there I went again. I walked and walked and walked and in the afternoon I saw another train that was also heading south. I climbed in a freight car and got as far as Gomez Palacios, where I had a good opportunity because I knew some people there. I went to the home of a family I knew, very hungry. It was dark already and when they saw that I was all filthy and my clothes were all torn, they didn’t want to open the door. Since they didn’t recognize me, I began to explain to them who I was and they opened the door a little bit. Through the opening I could see that they were eating. When they opened the door wider they recognized me and pulled me inside, locking the door behind me. 

We chatted for a while, but I could hardly talk since I was so hungry and kept staring at that food. One of the girls asked me if I had already had dinner and I was going to tell her that I hadn’t eaten for two or three days, but I just told her that I hadn’t had dinner yet. Then she told the maid .to serve me, and she brought me beans, tortillas and milk: 

Some time passed and I was still there with that family. One day one of the girls sent me to the market on an errand, and I ran into one of the soldiers who had captured me in Carrizal. He was dressed as a civilian. We greeted each other and he said that he had left the army, but when I left I had a heavy feeling that they would be looking for me. The next time that I was asked to go to the market, I told them about my fear of being captured and they didn’t send me any more. 

After being with that family two months, I went to stay with a man who had a ranch near Gomez Palacio. I knew him because of his sons, who had been with our troops in Sonora when we were defeated. I asked the man to lend me some money because I was thinking about starting a business, but he told me that the only money that he had right then was in 100 peso bills and that Carranza had suspended the use of that kind of bill because they were going to be replaced with new bills. But he told me not to worry; he said that within two weeks he would have fruit in his orchard and I could pick whatever I wanted and sell it. He also gave instructions to his maid to give me something to eat whenever I was there. Therefore, if I couldn’t eat in one place, I ate in another, and now I had the possibility of doing some business. 

‘I had the bad luck of being captured again’

A little later I had the bad luck of being captured again. I was at the Fifth of May celebration in Torreon and someone recognized me and I was arrested by an officer and a soldier. They took me to the barrack and that night they harassed me, but finally they left me in peace. The next morning they undressed me and gave me some cut-off undershort and also a cut-off undershirt. Then they took me to a big corral and beat me with a steel sword. It hurt a lot because I was almost naked. Then I remembered that it isn’t hard to break a sword; if one puts his elbow back, they hit in the hollow place between the elbows and the sword breaks. That’s what I did and “pop,” the sword broke in two. I said, “Let’s see you beat me now.” Well, it was worse, because then they brought another sword and they hit me twice as much. They laid open my whole back, rear end, and arms. I couldn’t bend over or even lie down. I had to stand up almost all the time for eight days. At night when my legs were aching, I got as comfortable as I could and little by little I reclined. 

Finally I got better and they made me learn how to play the bugle because they needed a bugler. I didn’t want to make the effort and one of the officers hit me in such a way that my mouth swelled. Then I told the captain that I couldn’t play with a swollen mouth and he gave orders to the one who had hit me to leave me alone. When I got better, I could play the instrument. 

One day I ran into an acquaintance who told me that the villistas were going to attack Torreon, and if they caught me with the carrancistas they would kill me. He advised me to leave Torreon, but it was impossible. When the attack began I was sleeping. An officer who didn’t like me gave me a kick which hurt a lot: “Come on! Go get a rifle and ammunition so you can fight. ” Well, I didn’t want to fight because I knew that if the villistas caught me they would kill me, but I went to get a Mauser rifle and I loaded it. I spent the night in a big horse corral, and since it was dark no one noticed if I had gone to fight or not. I prayed to God that that officer wouldn’t return because then he would have realized that I hadn’t fought and he would be a worse enemy and cause me more difficulties. The next afternoon the ones who had gone to fight came back and I realized that the officer was among those who had been killed. 

‘I decided that I had to escape’

I decided that I had to escape by jumping over a tall wall that faced the street. I hurt one of my feet a little, but I was able to walk all that night until I reached Gomez Palacio where I had a friend who had told me that if I escaped, I could stay with his family. 

A little later a man selling firewood came to the house and the next day I went with him as helper to his little ranch. We arrived at night and I was extremely hungry, but his family was very poor. In the morning his wife ground a little bit of corn and made three tortillas, of which she gave me one. I ate it with a few beans, and that was all. There wasn’t any coffee, or cinnamon, or anything. Then we went outside and the man told me to bring< water that he needed to make some adobe bricks because he wanted to build another small room. Well, there I was drawing water from the well, transporting it, stirring the mixture for the bricks, and he was just sitting there! My back was still hurting, but I didn’t say anything. After two days I told the man that I was leaving and he gave me two pesos. 

I entered Gomez Palacio with caution and began to sell fruit. I sold grapes to the people who were getting off the streetcar at a peso per kilo to the average person and a little less to the poorer people. After two days I had gotten together a little money and I bought half a dozen glasses so that I could sell fruit drinks. In the mornings I sold fruit, at noon I sold fruit drinks and ice cream, and in the evening I sold sweet bread which I bought in a bakery. Then a fellow from Durango set up a place to sell cigarettes, sodas, candy, and things like that, and he invited me to be his partner. He sold at the stand and I sold on the streets. 

On the first of January, 1917, I went out to see the military parade in downtown El Paso. I ran into a boy more or less my age and since it was cold, he invited me to watch the parade from the window in the building where he worked. Since that place was the YWCA, there were beds where the ladies rested, and the boy told me that I could spend the night there. In the morning we got up, ate, and I helped him clean up. I became a friend of the director of the place and I was able to live and work there until April, earning five dollars per week. 

Since 1954 the El Paso County Historical Society has been a driving force in the historic scene of El Paso. EPCHS strives to foster research into the history of the El Paso area; acquire and make available to the public historic materials; publish and encourage historical writing pertaining to the area; and to develop public consciousness of our rich heritage.