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War on the Border

Villa, Pershing, the Texas Rangers, and an American Invasion


A dramatic account of the “Punitive Expedition” of 1916 that brought Pancho Villa and Gen. John J. Pershing into conflict, and whose reverberations continue in the Southwestern US to this day.

Jeff Guinn, chronicler of the Southwestern US and of American undesirables (Bonnie and Clyde, Charles Manson, Jim Jones) tells the riveting story of Pancho Villa’s bloody raid on a small US border town that sparked a violent conflict with the US. The “Punitive Expedition” was launched in retaliation under Pershing’s command and brought together the Army, National Guard, and the Texas Rangers—who were little more than organized vigilantes with a profound dislike of Mexicans on both sides of the border. Opposing this motley military brigade was Villa, a guerrilla fighter who commanded an ever-changing force of conscripts in northern Mexico.

The American expedition was the last action by the legendary African-American “Buffalo Soldiers.” It was also the first time the Army used automobiles and trucks, which were of limited value in Mexico, a country with no paved roads or gas stations. Curtiss Jenny airplanes did reconnaissance, another first. One era of warfare was coming to a close as another was beginning. But despite some bloody encounters, the Punitive Expedition eventually withdrew without capturing Villa.

Today Anglos and Latinos in Columbus, New Mexico, where Villa’s raid took place, commemorate those events, but with differing emotions. And although the bloodshed has ended, the US-Mexico border remains as vexed and volatile an issue as ever.

Photograph by Eduardo Fierro SVC

Jeff Guinn is the bestselling author of numerous books, including Go Down Together, The Last Gunfight, Manson, and The Road to Jonestown. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and is a member of the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 18, 2021)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982128883

"The Mexican borderlands in the early 20th century are a history buff’s dream: violent, romantic, epic in scale, a little bit crazy, and featuring an astounding cast of larger-than-life historical characters. Out of this striking raw material Jeff Guinn has fashioned a riveting and supremely entertaining narrative. I highly recommend it.”

– S. C. Gwynne, author of New York Times bestsellers Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell

"General 'Black Jack' Pershing’s 1916 pursuit of Pancho Villa into Mexico has, unfortunately, long occupied a dusty and overlooked corner of history. Let us now give thanks that Jeff Guinn has written a stirring book that promises to be the classic treatment of this hair-raising time and place. This is a terrific tale of valorous advances and feckless blunders, of brilliant commanders and greedy knaves, and every page crackles with high adventure."

– Doug J. Swanson, author of Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers

"A tightly focused history of the relations between the U.S. and Mexico in the early 20th century . . . A riveting account of a dynamic period featuring larger-than-life characters and plenty of drama and suspense."

– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Jeff Guinn has focused on a memorable period of border history -- the decade (1910-1920) of the Mexican Revolution. A gifted writer, Guinn is able to explain a complex situation peopled with larger-than-life figures."

– Charles H. Harris III, coauthor of The Texas Rangers in Transition: From Gunfighters to Criminal Investigators, 1921–1935

"Guinn gives us a riveting account of one of the most dynamic periods in U.S.-Mexican relations. His captivating narrative is a result of his strong source materials and nuanced storytelling. This is a great read for both the academic and non-academic audiences alike."


– Miguel A. Levario, author of Militarizing the Border: When Mexicans Became the Enemy

More books from this author: Jeff Guinn