Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Camp Furlong Days in New Mexico

Last weekend we visited Columbus, New Mexico with friends to see the Camp Furlong Days festivities. In 1916, forces controlled by Pancho Villa attacked the town, which is about four miles from the Mexican border. They killed 18 Americans and lost about 100 of their own before retreating to Mexico. The raid prompted President Wilson to send General Pershing to lead a punitive expedition that turned out to be of dubious value. Pershing never caught Pancho Villa, and the general eventually went on to lead U. S. troops in World War I.

So what were the raid and the response all about? A lecturer at the festival mentioned two theories: first, that "Wall Street" wanted to provoke  a war so that the U. S. could capture more of Mexico and seize its substantial oil assets; second, that Germany wanted the U. S. and Mexico embroiled in a war so the U. S. would be weakened in the event it ever decided to enter the European war against the Kaiser.

Today, little is left of Camp Furlong except for a few protected adobe remnants. Every year, two groups ride to tiny Columbus (pop. about 1800)--one from Mexico and one from northern New Mexico--basically, to have a party and celebrate the two countries' friendship. Snowbirds from the U. S. park their RVs in Pancho Villa State Park, a few minutes' walk from the festivities. The horses arrive more or less on time, carrying riders who wear colorful costumes and fly the American and Mexican flags at the head of their column.

An interesting sidelight: the mayor and police chief were unable to attend the event this year, as they were among ten people arrested in a firearms-trafficking bust by Customs and Homeland Security.

Not everyone is happy about the annual event. A descendant of one of the people killed in the Villa raid understandably fails to see what there is to celebrate.

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