Glenn Springs Raid

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Glenn Springs Raid
Part of the Bandit War, Mexican Revolution
14th Cavalry Glenn Spings 1916.jpg
Nine men of the 14th Cavalry in front of the Ellis home at Glenn Springs, Texas in 1916.
Date May 5, 1916
Location Brewster County, Texas
29°10′34″N 103°09′25″W / 29.176°N 103.157°W / 29.176; -103.157Coordinates: 29°10′34″N 103°09′25″W / 29.176°N 103.157°W / 29.176; -103.157
Result Villista/Carrancista victory
 United States Villistas
Commanders and leaders
United States Charles E. Smyth Natividad Alvarez
Rodriguez Ramirez
9 cavalry ~80 cavalry
Casualties and losses
3 killed
~5 wounded
~1 killed
~3 wounded
Civilian Casualties 1 killed

The Glenn Springs Raid occurred in May 1916 when Mexican Villistas and Carrancistas attacked the towns of Boquillas and Glenn Springs, Texas. In Glenn Springs, the raiders burned several buildings and fought a three hour battle with a small force of American soldiers who were stationed there. At the same time, a second party of rebels robbed a general store and a silver mine in Boquillas. Four Americans were killed and the rebels made hostages out of two men before riding back to Coahuila. In response to the attack, the United States Army launched a short punitive expedition into Mexico which fought a skirmish with the rebels and rescued the captives.[1]


Following the federal victory at the Battle of Celaya in April 1915, the Mexican rebel Pancho Villa led the remnants of his once large army back to northern Mexico. By 1916 Villa and his men were in desperate need of food and provisions to continue the revolution so they devised a plan to raid the American border town of Columbus, New Mexico. On the early morning of March 9, approximately 500 mounted Villistas attacked and burned the town though not long after that they were encountered by some 300 American troops. After a pitched battle the Villistas were defeated and pursued back into Mexico, having lost nearly 200 killed, wounded or captured. Eighteen Americans died in the engagement, including ten civilians and eight soldiers, an outrage that incited President Woodrow Wilson to authorize a punitive expedition to capture or kill Villa. The Pancho Villa Expedition, as it became known, was under the command of General John J. Pershing and it began in mid March. Starting from various camps and forts along the border, Pershing headed into Chihuahua where his men engaged the Villistas on multiple occasions. Pershing was able to capture or kill several rebel commanders but Pancho Villa got away and his rebels continued to launch raids on United States territory while American troops were in Mexico. Tension along the international border between Texas and Mexico was high during the Mexican Revolution. Raids into southern Texas were very common, so to help protect the Big Bend region, President Wilson allowed troops to occupy the area in June 1915.[2][3]

Boquillas and Glenn Springs were just small settlements at the time, about twelve miles apart, so only nine 14th Cavalry troopers guarded the former and none at the latter. Glenn Springs was located at the southern end of Chilicotal Mountain and centered around a small spring named after the first settler in the area who was killed at the site by Comanches. The town was home to some eighty people, who were employed mainly by a wax factory, owned by "Captain" C. D. Wood and W. K. Ellis. The Ellis family also owned the general store, which was managed by C. G. Compton and his family. The inhabitants, who were mostly Mexican-Americans, lived in a "scattered" neighborhood of about fifty jacales concentrated at one end of town. Boquillas was even smaller than Glenn Springs. Located along the Rio Grande, across from the mining town of Del Carmen, Boquillas had a general store, owned by Jesse Deemer, and several jacales.[4][5]


On May 5, just fifty-seven days after the Battle of Columbus, Lieutenant Colonel Natividad Alvarez launched his attack with in between sixty and over 200 men. Accounts of the rebels' strength differ but there was likely no more than eighty of them involved. Though Colonel Alvarez was a follower of Pancho Villa himself, on the march from Torreón to Texas he recruited both Carrancistas and fellow Villistas. Alvarez divided his command into two prongs, the first he led against Boquillas while at the same time Rodriguez Ramirez led the second against Glenn Springs. Because it was Cinco de Mayo, the Mexicans living in Glenn Springs were holding a celebration for themselves and the people in the area. Since many people had come to town that day, Alvarez and his man looked like regular citizens, visiting friends and family, they had no trouble with occupying the Mexican neighborhood without alerting the soldiers. The conflict began sometime after 11:00 pm, by that time everyone in town had gone to sleep, except the rebels who started the raid by arming themselves and approaching the home of Compton and his three children. One of the rebels knocked on the door and asked if there were any soldiers in town, to which Compton said there wasn't. At least temporarily the rebels went away, allowing Compton time to take his daughter to the nearby home of an old Mexican lady, where she would be safe. Compton left his two young sons at home by themselves and while he was going back to his house he heard the raiders begin shooting and calling out "Viva Villa" and "Viva Carranza." Compton apparently hid at that point and by the time he had got back to his home he found that his four year old son had been murdered but his ten year old boy was left unharmed, likely because he was a deaf-mute.[6][7][8][9]

Meanwhile, the nine man cavalry squad, under Sergeant Charles E. Smyth, had abandoned their tents and taken up positions in an old adobe building. The skirmish that followed lasted for nearly three hours but eventually the rebels came up with a cunning idea to set fire to the roof of the adobe building. This forced the cavalrymen to try and retreat to their horses and it was during this time that three of the soldiers were killed and at least four others were either wounded or severely burned. The surviving soldiers escaped and hid in the desert outside of town. Mr. and Mrs. Ellis watched the attack from a canyon behind their house. They hid there for some time until deciding to walk to the ranch of James Rice, twelve miles away. Captain Wood was at his ranch three miles from town when he heard the shooting. At first he thought it was celebrating but as the firing continued he decided to mount his horse and ride to town with his friend, Oscar de Montel. It took over two hours before Wood and de Montel made it to town. They arrived just before the cavalrymen retreated and entered unnoticed. Wood and de Montel then dismounted and began walking to the general store, which was on fire, but fifty yards way they heard the sound of horses eating corn and men speaking Spanish. When de Montel climbed a hill to have a better look someone saw him and called out Quién vive? De Montel responded with Quién es? and then the shooting started. The two men then began running as fast as they could but they hit a wire fence and fell to the ground. A bullet splintered a rock near where Wood had fallen, some of it hit him in the hand, causing a slight wound. Once out of town the two men were able to elude their pursuers and make contact with the surviving cavalrymen.[10][11][12]

According to author Benjamin R. Beede, the rebels encountered no resistance at Boquillas and they successfully looted the place. However, Lieutenant Colonel Alvarez was captured by the townspeople in some way so the raiders took two hostages before heading to the Del Carmen mines to steal the company payroll. The hostages were Jesse Deemer and his Black Seminole assistant, Monroe Payne, a relative of the Indian scouts Adam and Isaac Payne. According to Beede's account, more hostages were taken at the mines but all of them were apparently released before the rebels rode back to Mexico. After the attack on Glenn Springs, Ramirez regrouped with Alvarez's men in Boquillas and they crossed the Rio Grande into the state of Coahuila. The hostages were held in a stolen truck and driven to Mexico. Deemer pretended he was a German while in captivity, this was because of an order issued by Pancho Villa, who saw Germans as friendlies. When the raid was over, the commercial buildings and some of the houses in Glenn Spings were heavily damaged but Boquillas was left comparatively untouched. At Glenn Springs, the wax factory, the Ellis' store and the adobe building the American soldiers defended were all burned and several houses were looted. The rebels also stole all of Mrs. Ellis' clothing and a day later some of the thieves were seen wearing the clothes near San Vicente, Texas. In all, four Americans had been killed, two captured and at least five wounded or burned. Though successful, the Mexican rebels lost at least one man killed and a few wounded. Captain Wood said that on May 6 he found the body of one raider and "seven pools of blood," indicating that some others may have been either killed or wounded. The army later established a camp at Glenn Springs, which it maintained until 1920, when the settlement became ghost town.[13][14][15][16]


When General Hugh L. Scott learned of the attack he organized another punitive expedition under the joint command of Colonel Frederick W. Sibley and Major George T. Langhorne. Setting out from Marathon on May 8, the expedition assembled at Jesse Deemer's store in Boquillas where Colonel Sibley allowed Major Langhorne to proceed ahead of the main column with two troops of the 8th Cavalry, the remainder of the expedition would then follow in two days. With 80 men, two wagons and one Cadillac touring car, Langhorne crossed the Rio Grande on May 11 and headed for the village of El Pino, Coahuila where the rebels were holding Deemer and Monroe Payne. Following a twenty-four-hour march, Langhorne arrived at El Pino and learned that the rebels wanted to trade Lieutenant Colonel Alvarez for Deemer and Payne. Langhorne had no intention of negotiating so he put "twelve sharpshooters" into the touring car and ordered them to attack the little village. But, when they began their advance, the rebels fled, leaving Deemer and Payne in American hands. Though the two hostages had been liberated, the Americans continued to search for the raiders and, on May 15, a small force of cavalrymen, under the command of Lieutenant Stuart W. Cramer, engaged in a "brief firefight" at Castillon. Five Mexicans were killed during the skirmish and two more were wounded, there were no casualties on the Americans' side. The expedition occurred while the United States and the Mexican government of Venustiano Carranza were holding a peace conference in El Paso. During the conference, Carranza issued a statement saying that Sibley's and Langhorne's "little punitive expedition" was pushing Mexico and the United States into war. Carranza had already protested about General Pershing's expedition in Chihuahua so it was agreed that Sibley and Langhorne would return to the United States, which they did, on May 25, after a 550 mile journey.[17][18]

See also[edit]


  • Beede, Benjamin R. (1994). The War of 1898, and U.S. interventions, 1898-1934: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-8240-5624-8.