The city of Fargo welcomed the 1st North Dakota Infantry home from Mexico on this date in 1917. The men returned after serving eight months on the border as part of the Mexican Expedition under U.S. General John Pershing.
Today better known as the Pancho Villa Expedition, the Mexican Expedition began in March of 1916 when Mexican General Francisco “Pancho” Villa began raiding U.S. border towns. Villa gained a powerful military reputation for playing a large role in the Mexican Revolution. However, once the revolutionaries succeeded in overthrowing the Mexican government, the U.S. backed the national government of the revolutionary Venustiano Carranza. Carranza, not Villa, became Mexico’s new president, and he quickly set up a new government. Although Villa was made governor of the northern province of Chihuahua, he was not satisfied and blamed the U.S. for his loss of the presidency. He began raiding towns in New Mexico in retaliation. Finally, after a severe attack in Columbus, New Mexico, in which ten civilians were killed, the U.S. declared war on Villa. They launched the Mexican Expedition with the sole aim of capturing or killing Villa in order to end his paramilitary attacks on American soil.
By June, guardsmen from every state of the union were called up for active duty along the border. Although nearly all of the guardsmen remained on the border and never entered Mexico, they worked tirelessly to end the border raids launched by Villa’s men for nearly a year, while Pershing and Villa were locked in a game of cat-and-mouse on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Finally, in January, with the looming threat of war growing in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson recalled Pershing and all American forces from Mexico.
North Dakotan members of the infantry were glad to be home, but anxious to find work. “What many of us want now are jobs,” one soldier commented. In fact, of the one thousand men called for duty in June of 1916, only seven hundred and fifty returned to Fargo. Many of the men found jobs on the border or stopped in Minneapolis on the way home to look for work. Little could they imagine then that within only two months, the U.S. would once again declare war, and that they would be called up for active duty, this time overseas in the Great War festering in Europe.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Dill, Joseph (ed.). 1988 North Dakota: 100 Years: p. 88. The Forum Publishing Company: Fargo, ND.
The Forum and Daily Republican. Thursday (Evening ed.), February 15, 1917: p. 1.