Pancho Villa. Perhaps no other name in
Mexican history, other than Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, can
elicit a wider variety of impassioned perceptions.
Villa has been described, with equal intensity, as a heartless
bandit, a cold-blooded killer, a shameless self-promoter, a
heroic revolutionary, and a champion of the poor and
downtrodden. In truth, he was probably all of those things to
one degree or another.
Villa was the absolute ruler of the northern Mexican province of
Chihuahua, an area he had lived in,
exploited, since his arrival there from Durango in 1897 at the
age of twenty. Between 1897 and 1900, Villa rustled cattle,
robbed banks, and always managed to skillfully avoid capture and
punishment for his crimes. He amassed a following of like-minded
individuals and was soon a very powerful bandit leader. When he
and his bandit army joined forces with a revolutionary army
Francisco Madero in 1910 to help
overthrow the oppressive government of Porfirio Diaz, Villa
became a revered hero to the populace and was named governor of
Chihuahua. The revolution both
succeeded and failed within a short period of time and Villa’s
forces soon came under attack by other segments of the
revolutionary army. By 1912, open warfare raged throughout
Mexico, but Villa and his army could not be dislodged from their
It was during this time of dangerous turmoil that Villa
encountered Ethel Exile Bingham Farnsworth, a strong-willed
Mormon woman who stood her ground and refused to be intimidated
by the great and powerful Pancho Villa.
In 1875, Brigham Young had ordered a five-man expedition to ride
from Utah to northern Mexico to explore the possibility of
creating Mormon settlements there. After the expedition was met
cordially by Mexican authorities, land was purchased, and all
necessary arrangements were made, in 1885 Mormon colonists from
Utah arrived to begin construction of their new homes. The
first, and ultimately most successful, of the nine Mormon
settlements was located in Chihuahua and was named Colonia
Juarez. By the time Ethel Exile Bingham, born in Riverside, Utah
in 1887, married Stephen August Farnsworth there in 1903, the
community was productive and thriving.
Colonia Juarez, with its red brick
houses, irrigated farmland and orchards, tanneries, gristmills,
mercantiles, and a cannery, provided an ideal environment for
the Mormon colonists. Relations with the local Mexican
population were generally good, although the Mormons were
considered rich compared to the dirt poor native inhabitants.
Stephen ranched and farmed his property, while Ethel kept his
house and bore him four children, two boys and two girls, before
By that time the Mexican Revolution had raged throughout the
countryside for two years, with rebel armies fighting government
troops and each other for power. Revolutionaries and federal
soldiers alike roamed the land taking whatever they wanted or
needed from the civilian population at the point of a gun,
ruthlessly executing whoever objected to their thievery. The
Colonia Juarez citizens began to hide caches of food, valuables,
and their livestock in the nearby Sierra Madre mountains to keep
them from being stolen. It was such a dangerous and chaotic time
that President Howard Taft ordered all Americans living in
Mexico to leave for their own safety. Between 2,000 to 6,000
Mormon colonists wisely chose to join the exodus across the
border to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
However, by 1913 many Mormon families began to return to Mexico,
either thinking the worst was over or overwhelmed by curiosity
about the fate of their homes and property. Stephen and Ethel,
with their children, came back to Colonia Juarez to find it a
ravaged, looted wasteland. Their home had been burned and they
were obliged to take up residence in a nearby house that had
escaped major damage. The rebel army of Pancho Villa now
occupied the town and had ransacked all the homes and stores,
carting away everything useful and destroying all else. Villa’s
headquarters was situated in a large house behind the local
school, or Stake Academy, while the Farnsworth family lived only
a block away.
The Academia Juarez has existed since 1897.
It goes from 7th to 12th grade.
While Ethel cared for the children and put the house in order,
Stephen busied himself gathering firewood and whatever
foodstuffs he could find to augment the meager supplies they had
brought with them. He had several large piles of collected wood
around the house that the rebel soldiers soon discovered made
perfect observation posts and defensive positions. Each day the
soldiers, some mere boys, would sit atop the woodpiles watching
for the approach of any enemy and Ethel, ever the charitable
woman, would send her children out laden with plates of beans
and slices of fresh-baked bread for the ragged sentries to eat.
But when word of her kindness spread, she found herself feeding
not only the rebel soldiers but several of her Mexican neighbors
also. Each day she supplied meals for a mentally handicapped
orphan boy, a blind old man, and a young widow and her children.
Soon, though, Stephen decided he must ride up into the nearby
mountains to discover the fate of the livestock previously
hidden there. He took his sons with him, leaving Ethel and the
girls in possession of the remaining family horse, a sorrel they
called Dick, to use in case of emergency. There being no trouble
with Villa’s soldiers and no indication that any hostilities
were likely to break out, Stephen obviously felt secure leaving
his wife and daughters alone and unprotected. But the very next
morning after Stephen’s departure, when Ethel went out to the
corral near the house to feed Dick she was dismayed to find the
gate securely fastened but the horse gone. Knowing exactly what
had happened, Ethel marched resolutely down the block to Villa’s
headquarters. In a rope corral there she spotted her horse among
the others inside the crude enclosure, and without hesitation
she ducked under the rope.
She untied her apron and slipped it around the neck of her
horse, leading him out of the herd and under the rope barrier
right into the gun sights of a startled guard who started
shouting at her to stop right where she was. The clamor raised
by the guard caught the attention of other soldiers nearby and
they ran to the spot with their weapons at the ready. Now
confronted by a mob of heavily armed rebel soldiers shouting and
gesturing at her all at once, Ethel realized that her life could
end in an instant.
”I want to speak to General Villa!” she shouted above the din.
After a short consultation, the soldiers decided to grant her
demand and promptly marched her over to Villa’s headquarters.
Once inside, Ethel was ushered into a where Pancho Villa waited.
He was an imposing figure, thick-bodied and standing taller than
most of his soldiers, with a broad face and high forehead. The
whole time the soldiers were explaining the situation to him, he
fixed Ethel with a fierce scowl that made her knees tremble. She
knew of his reputation for ordering executions on a suspicion or
whim, and had also heard tales of his insatiable appetite for
women. She was terrified, but determined not to show it.
When the soldiers finished their list of charges, Villa nodded
his head slightly toward Ethel to indicate she was now free to
”General Villa,” she said without hesitation, ”The horse is
mine! Your soldiers stole him from me even after I shared my
food with them and your people. You say your revolution is to
protect the poor and weak. Well, I’m poor and alone and I need
my horse to go for help in case my children get sick. It’s my
horse and your soldiers had no right to take him!”
A thick silence followed Ethel’s pronouncement. The soldiers
shifted uneasily and glanced at each other. Villa continued to
glare at her. With a look of anticipation, she returned his
stare with equal intensity. Then, slowly, Villa’s eyes softened
and his thick mustache twitched slightly as the corners of his
mouth curled up in a grin. In the next instant, he threw back
his head and laughed heartily.
”I admire a brave woman!” he announced, ”You may take your
Ethel Exile Bingham Farnsworth went home with her horse that
day, and with the story of an extraordinary encounter she would
relate to her family, her children, and her grandchildren in the
years to follow. She passed away in Chandler, Arizona in 1960.
Pancho Villa, however, was not lucky
enough to see old age. He was assassinated in 1923 near the town
of Parral, Mexico.
Mr. E.B. Farnsworth of Glendale, Arizona kindly shared
the written family history about his grandmother which this
article chronicles. Art By
Rod Timanus Photo Compliments of Pancho Villa Website.