When I was a young kid, I met Pancho Villa’s wife.
A few years later, there was a hunt for Villa’s treasure.
It was about 1966. My folks and I were driving down the west coast of Mexico to Mazatlan, then east to Parral and north to Ciudad Chihuahua which, a hundred years ago, was Pancho Villa’s headquarters.
There, I would meet Pancho Villa’s wife.
When I write about Villa’s wife, it might be more accurate to say, “One of his wives.”
Villa got around, and not only had mistresses but married and declared some women his wives. Others declared themselves so after his death.
This particular woman seems to be seen as his wife, however. For those readers who might be unfamiliar with Pancho Villa, here’s an extremely abridged description of his story.
Pancho Villa – A Mexican Revolutionary
Pancho Villa was a Mexican revolutionary leader and agrarian reformer in the early 1900’s who advocated for the poor and arguedwith/fought along with the likes of Emiliano Zapata.
He grew up a “have not” in a world run by “haves,” and this effected his choices through life.
He and his followers seized haciendas and land from the rich for dispersal to peasants and families of soldiers. He not only had a major effect in Mexico, but for the United States as well, and triggered the use of U.S. troops in Mexico…but they did not capture the rebel General.
There are a lot of areas of dispute when it comes to Pancho’s past, and this article is too short to start unraveling bandit/leader/reformer Villa’s exciting, bloody, ruthless, and perhaps Robin Hood-like tale.
This includes the claims of marriage. So, for the purposes of this article, I will simply refer to the woman I met at Villa’s former home as Mrs. Villa.
Villa’s hacienda in Chihuahuais where his wife lived. It was an expansive Mexican style house with a large patio.
In the patio sat a car with what looked like bullet holes. I was a kid at the time, so all I knew it was an old car.
Now, a quick search shows me that it was probably a 1919 Dodge. It was the car in which he was assassinated. Even the man who evaded the U.S. Army could not foresee everything.
His wife was a grey haired woman who made a living giving tours of house.
Certainly, I was far from the only visitor to have met this woman, but I remember that I was glad to because she was very articulate and friendly to us.
While being guided around the estate, however, my father happened to bring up Bob Moore and his mother. Upon the mention of knowing a man whose mother was from a former ruling family, Mrs. Villa turned cold. If you think about the history, it’s easy to see why.
About three years after meeting his wife, Pancho Villa’s history came back unexpectedly.
No matter whether it was searching for tales of treasure; heading out to meet native people like the Seri, Tarahumara, and Yaqui; or just enjoying the warm sun and bougainvillea, one location was an important stop over the years that we were exploring and enjoying Mexico: El Encanto.
A man named Bob Moore owned and ran a group of rooms and restaurant called El Encanto in Hermosillo, Mexico in the 60’s and 70’s.
His father was from the U.S., and his mother came from one of the ruling families that had, in the old times, owned much of Chihuahua.
Though not a big place, El Encanto was picturesque with a kind of loosely Spanish Colonial style and wide, shady porches running the length of the buildings.
Heavy carved wood-and-leather chairs and tables, red tile floors, palm trees and what I considered the exotic styling of a balcony off the restaurant that was supported over the pool by a heavy column and near a small manmade waterfall were all pretty striking to a kid from 1960’s Colorado.
Maybe the best memories of the place come from climbing up to that roof in the early mornings and breathing in the sweet, hot dough smells of the small bakery that was nearby.
I grew up visiting that place and growing memories, like the evening when the couple who lived at the end of our line of rooms asked me to come in and watch the Jackie Gleason Show being beamed from Florida, and maybe some Lucille Ball on their TV. (TV’s weren’t in the regular rooms.)
It was at El Encanto where we stayed, met people, and organized trips into the backcountry. Geologists, travelers, business people…it was hard to tell who would be at El Encanto.
So, three years after meeting Mrs. Villa, my father Ray was taking a load of supplies to the then-remote village of Arivechi: about a five-hour, dusty dirt road drive from Hermosillo.
At that time, Arivechi was kind of the end of the road. After that was rough travel.
He was getting ready for an expedition after the Tayopa treasure. Planning ahead as he did almost always, Ray took the supplies to Arivechi to use after rainy season.
It’s good to plan ahead when you can. Unforeseen things happen sometimes, especially if you didn’t plan to be out in the desert at night.
As usual, Ray based out of Hermosillo and, after the trip to Arivechi, returned to El Encanto on a Saturday night. It was time to get a meal and some shut eye.
Some geologists working for U.S. and Canadian mining companies had come back to Hermosillo to get a bath and meal and sleep in a regular bed. Dad knew several of them, because they were all hunting minerals.
They had a meal together and, afterward, sat around telling yarns and treasure hunting stories.
One of geologists mentioned he’d been shown ruins of an adobe ranch house 20 miles north of Hermosillo where Pancho Villa was said to have buried his gold on his retreat from Agua Prieta.
Villa’s Defeat at Agua Prieta
The background history was described: Pancho Villa’s stronghold region was south of El Paso, Texas. He wanted to take control of the west coast of Mexico, so he moved his army west to attack Agua Prieta south of Douglas, Arizona.
However, prior to Pancho Villa reaching the town, the U.S. allowed Mexican Federal troops to go by train across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to reach Agua Prieta where they had time to set up trenches, barbed wire barricades, dynamite mines…and search lights it is claimed came from the U.S.
Villa attacked out in that desert at night against these unforeseen obstacles and failed.
Pancho Villa retreated south toward Hermosillo, then went east over mountains to Chihuahua and what was left of his army.
The story is that Villa had pack mules loaded with gold or silver and was stripping himself of unnecessary items to be able to travel faster to Chihuahua and what was left of army. He needed a place to leave the treasure.
Hunting Pancho Villa’s Treasure
The geologist asked Dad if he had metal detector.
“I was shown the house where Pancho Villa supposedly hid his treasure, but the roof and walls caved. We need a metal detector.”
Contrasting with the painstaking plans Ray usually made for expeditions, he agreed to this impromptu treasure hunt. Everyone at the table piled into two cars and drove north 20 miles, and then down side road.
Sure enough, there was an old house. Ray got out the detector.
Sure enough, something was under the dirt.
Everyone started digging but, suddenly, heard someone singing in the dark. Surprised and confused by this, they stopped and peered into the night.
A cowboy, apparently tanked up from an evening in town, rode by, singing.
Everyone hunkered down and returned to digging and thinking about Pancho Villa and all those riches he had to dump somewhere.
The detector showed stronger signals as they got further down.
Finally, they uncovered it.
An old set of metal bedsprings.
Hey, it happens sometimes, especially if you didn’t plan to be out in the desert at night.
© Mark Dorr, All Rights Reserved
References & Image Credits:
(1) Wikipedia Photo 1
(4) Wikipedia Image 2
(7) Information reference: Ray Dorr
(8) Google Books
(9) Wikimedia: Pancho
(10) Wikipedia: Taking of Zacatecas
(11) Wikimedia: Battle