Pancho Villa, a figure of the Mexican revolution

Pancho Villa, a figure of the Mexican revolution

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Title: Troubles in Mexico: General Pancho Villa

Author : HOFFMAN David W. (-)

Creation date : 1911 -

Dimensions: Height 18 cm - Width 13 cm

Storage place: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © National Library of France

Picture reference:

Troubles in Mexico: General Pancho Villa

© National Library of France

Publication date: November 2016

Historical context

Pancho Villa after the battle of Ciudad Juarez

This photo of Mexican leader Pancho Villa on his white horse was taken in 1911 shortly after the Battle of Ciudad Juarez by a photographer from El Paso, Texas called David W Hoffman. The latter documented many revolutionary events that took place in this city which is located in the north of Mexico. This image of Pancho Villa is well known because it was released as a postcard, with the photographic image printed on the back. The French news agency ROL owned one of these copies.

The Mexican revolutionary armies were accompanied by photographers and filmmakers who “covered” the event. This phenomenon is quite modern.

Ciudad Juarez's victory truly marks the entry of Pancho Villa into the Mexican revolution alongside Francisco Madero (1873-1915), the main opponent of the regime of Porfirio Diaz (1830-1915), founder of the Porfiriato, dictatorship of thirty years.

Madero offers a new reflection on the lives of farmers robbed of their land by large landowners and on November 20, 1910 calls for an insurrection. On May 25, 1911, the dictator resigned after 35 years of absolute power and embarked for France He died in Paris in 1915.

As these events unfold in northern Mexico, the south in turn moves from guerrilla warfare to pitched battle with Zapata as leader. It will last until 1920.

Image Analysis

Pancho Villa: from the outlaw to the bandit gentleman

Pancho Villa poses elegantly while stationary on his white horse. The savagery that usually characterizes the character is not emphasized by the photographer. For little, we would find the pleasant bandit. However, a double row cartridge belt surrounds his bust, while the second single row sits on the saddle in front of him. A rifle is also visible on the horse's rump and goes under the leg of the bandit who has become an army general. The huge sombrero, which forms a halo around his head, gives him a real allure.

In 1911, Pancho Villa was just over thirty years old. He was born around 1878, near Durango in the north of the country, a desert and mountainous region, land of breeding and passage. His real name is Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula. His father, a farm laborer, worked hard in a hacienda, and he himself was very likely to suffer the same fate as he did, but young Doroteo is one of those who refuse to take a straightforward path.

Legend has it that at the age of 17, he killed the young son of a family who had dishonored his sister Martina. From the age of twenty, he alternated between periods of banditry and more orderly life. It was not until 1913 that Pancho Villa gained national stature and became master of the state of Chihuahua. He is especially famous for his attacks on horseback military trains which he then uses for his own troops. He was finally murdered in his car in July 1923.


Pancho Villa, icon and star

Pancho Villa gazes calmly at the photographer's lens as if he had been doing this all his life. He is becoming a star of the press and the media. David W. Hoffman is a photographer who as an American has helped to convey a benevolent image of Pancho Villa in the public eye. In the beginning, the United States was in fact positioned in favor of the rebels by supporting them against the Porfiriato regime. Subsequently, they will consider Pancho Villa as a renegade but in 1911, the bandit has the wind in its sails.

Hollywood takes over the character and the famous Raoul Walsh makes a film about him called The Life of General Villa which is projected as early as May 1914 when the image of Robin Hood who came to avenge the hopes of the humblest dominates the criminal bandit. His fame comes from the fact that he is an outlaw who became a spokesperson for a whole people.

The Mexican revolution is one of the first examples of media war of the XXe century, a conflict in which enemy generals clash not only on the battlefields but also in newspapers and cinemas.

  • revolutionary
  • Mexico


Bernard HOUDIN, Mexico on fire, Gallimard, Paris, 1989

Paco Ignacio TAIBO II, Pancho Villa, novel of a lifetime, Payot, Paris, 2009

Jean-André MEYER, The Mexican Revolution 1910-1940, Taillandier, 2010

To cite this article

Marie-Louise SCHEMBRI, "Pancho Villa, a figure of the Mexican revolution"


Video: The Mexican Revolution LAST100 wk 8