Meanwhile, in Columbus, N.M. . .
Columbus, hard by the Mexican border (across from Palomas, Chihuihua) about half way between Arizona and El Paso on today’s Highway 9, is the town in which the deportees landed in mid-July 1917. But before that, it was the target of Pancho Villa’s infamous raid of March 9, 1916, and then was Gen. John J. Pershing’s base for his Punitive Expedition to neutralize Villa.
As 1917 opened, the United States was negotiating with the various revolutionary parties in Mexico about what it would take to encourage withdrawal of American troops. Troops on the border (including those at Naco and Douglas) were often national guard units. At Columbus, the New Mexico national guard was on duty, and an Associate Press dispatch (in the months after the raid, the AP kept a reporter there) discussed those troops.
The New Mexico State Record (Santa Fe) gave the state’s national guard front page play, running a dispatch from the Columbus-based Associated Press reporter Phil McLaughlin, saying they were “fast reaching the efficiency standards of the regular army.”
Best on the border
McLaughlin, interviewed while visiting El Paso for a few days, said that “I have observed the New Mexico infantry and I have seen it steadily improve from day to day and from month to month until today I believe the organization is one of the most efficient units on the border.
“Regular army officers with whom I have talked share this opinion and many of them do not hesitate to declare the New Mexico infantrymen the equal of a similar number of regular troops.”
New Mexico’s troops were the first to respond to President Wilson’s call, with one company from nearby Deming not waiting for the call, but arriving at Columbus a mere six hours after the Villa raid.
The New Mexico troops had been criticized when they first arrived at the border. This was justified in part, the reporter said, because physical exams by army doctors resulted in fully 40 percent of them being rejected for physical disability.
Officers of the troops, Col. E.C. Abbott and Major R. Ruppe “have worked unceasingly to recruit and bring the regiment up to a high standard and to uphold the honor of their state,” the reporter added.
“That they have succeeded in their task is the unanimous opinion of the regular army officers on duty at Columbus.”
The New Mexico regiment was the only national guard unit directly under the command of Gen. Pershing. Several of the unit’s officers have commanded truck trains the ran between Columbus and the expedition’s headquarters in Mexico.
The reporter noted that this was the only unit on the board that includes men of Hispanic heritage, adding that there is a “healthy rivalry between these and which might be called the regular Americans,” a rivalry that “works well in bringing out the best there is in both classes of soldiers.”