Pancho Villa: Mexico's Real-Life Robin Hood

By Jacob Shelton
(Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

The name Pancho Villa resonates with Americans like a distant echo of history. We know he's an important Mexican revolutionary figure, but no one teaches his exploits in a standard history class. What is known by Americans is that he was a robber and looter, but to the Mexican people, he's more of a Robin Hood figure. He was also an accomplished freedom fighter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who fought for land reform and led a revolution against Porfirio Díaz. Today, he's regarded as one of the most important people in the modern history of Mexico.

Mysterious Origins

One of the things that makes Pancho Villa such an engrossing figure is that no one really knows who he was before he was Pancho Villa. Born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, he claimed to be the son of a bandit named Agustín Villa, but if that was true, no one ever wrote it down. By the age of 16, Villa was on his own, traveling the country on horseback working a variety of menial jobs. At one point, he started introducing himself as "Arango" and joined a gang of bandits in Durango lead by Ignacio Parra, robbing it up until he was arrested in 1902. He was forced to enter the Mexican Federal Army in lieu of a lengthy prison service, but as soon as he got the chance, he killed an officer, took his horse, and changed his name to Pancho Villa. His friends referred to him as "La Cucaracha" because nothing seemed to kill him.