Ethel and Pancho by Rod Timanus

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, PANCHO VILLA THE DAY AFTER HIS VICTORY IN OJINAGA IN 1914

and 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 raised by 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 Chihuahua stronghold.

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 1912.

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 speak.

”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 horse!”

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.