On a visit to Columbus, New Mexico, just a couple of miles north of the border with Mexico, we learned the story of a brave young mother who was no more than a girl herself, who saved the little town in its time of peril.
Tensions had escalated in recent months due to a revolution going on in Mexico and there had been a few brief skirmishes along the border. But in the early morning hours of March 9th, 1916, things came to a head when armed men led by Pancho Villa crossed the border to raid Columbus. While many Mexican citizens considered Pancho Villa to be a revolutionary working to free their country from oppression, others on both sides of the border believed he was no more than a bloodthirsty bandit preying on anyone he and his band of gunmen chose to.
Young wife and mother Susan Parks, just 19 years old, was the town’s telephone operator, and her husband was out of town on business that fateful night when she was awakened by the sound of gunfire. Not sure what was happening, Susan quickly put her daughter under the bed, then peered out a window and quickly recoiled when she saw Pancho Villa’s men riding horses up and down the main street, shooting anything that moved. As people she knew fell under the withering gunfire, Susan crept across the dark room to the telephone switchboard and called the operator in Deming, 27 miles north.
Begging the Deming operator to contact the detachment of Army troops stationed there, she told them that Columbus was under attack. All the while the brave young woman was summoning help, bullets were ripping through her small wooden house, wounding both herself and her baby with shards of flying glass and shrapnel. Assured that help was on the way, Susan then crawled back under the bed and shielded her child with her own body, not knowing what would happen next.
It was the first time the United States had been invaded since the British attack on Washington, DC, in the War of 1812. A small detachment of soldiers stationed in Columbus fought back, as did local citizens trying to defend their homes from the ransacking Villistas.
Captain A.W. Brock, in charge of the troops in Deming, quickly alerted his soldiers and they rushed south to drive the intruders back across the border. In the running battle that followed, over 60 of the bandidos were killed, adding to the death toll of some 20 Americans slain in Columbus.
Meanwhile, a message had reached General John J. Pershing, 80 miles away at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas. He mobilized an even larger American response, and a trainload of troops led by Pershing were soon speeding toward the scene. Surveying the carnage left by the Mexican invaders the next morning, and the bullet-riddled home of the brave young telephone operator, it was a wonder that anybody had survived. Pershing himself congratulated Susan Parks for her courage, knowing that without her, the entire community may have been wiped out.
The general vowed revenge, and for the next six months American troops hunted the bandits down across northern Mexico, killing many of them, though Pancho Villa himself escaped.
Today a historical marker in front of the small museum in Columbus tells the story of the raid and of Susan Parks, who risked her life to help save her town.
And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.
Thought For The Day – Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
Hello! I was recently googling my grandmother, Susie Parks, and happened upon your blog entry. It was nicely written and I always enjoy reading about folks who enjoy reading about my grandma. Also, I was impressed that you knew that General Pershing himself congratulated her. Impressed because I had heard it myself but didn’t really believe it- then got it confirmed by a 1981 article by Howard Bryan who learned it from a man named JR Galusha who apparently was the one who introduced them….It amazes me how much my grandmother didn’t tell us about incidents like this in her life.
I just recently found a publisher to publish the book I wrote about her life with my grandfather. Coming to understand that you are an accomplished author and man of mystery, I had to reach out! Thank you for writing this and taking the time to appreciate my grandma!!