The Bandit who became a General
by David LaPell
Originally published in the Nov/December 2010 issue of Backwoodsman Magazine
name George S. Patton, Jr. to anyone familiar with history and you will be told
great tales of his tanks of the 3rd Armored Division charging across
Smith Patton, Jr. was ushered into this world on
later young George Patton married Beatrice Ayer, and in 1912 he represented the
while Patton was getting training in
Villa was born on
year earlier Villa himself was captured and nearly executed by Huerta. Villa
escaped, crossed the border and went to
defeat after defeat trying to regain his honor, and instead lost hundreds of
men in the process. After a bitter battle and crushing defeat at
National outrage broke out against Villa’s raid, and an expeditionary force under John “Black Jack” Pershing was organized to find and capture the Mexican raider. On March 15, despite protestations from Carranza’s government, the Punitive Expeditionary force crossed the border. Part of that force was the 11th Cavalry, to which a young Lieutenant George S. Patton was assigned as an Aide de Camp to General Pershing.
two months proved fruitless in any attempts to capture Villa, since the Mexican
people proved to be less than receptive to an American presence on their soil.
In May, an effort was made to locate Julio Cardenas, Captain of the “Dorado’s”
or Golden Ones, Villa’s personal bodyguards. Patton and his cavalry troop were
informed that Cardenas’ mother and wife were living in a ranch near the town of
While the other troops took their two cars and surrounded the house from the southwest, Patton took his car and went to the northwest side. He took the civilian interpreter and left the driver and the soldier to cover the north and west sides of the house. Patton, who had memorized the details of the house, quickly outpaced the interpreter, nearly leaving him in the dust. As he came to a fence, Patton spotted an old man and a boy butchering a steer. Before the Lieutenant had time to ponder the situation any further, three soldiers on horseback made a break for freedom from the house. Armed with rifles and pistols, they turned their horses around at the sight of Patton and headed away, right towards the soldiers guarding the southwest corner. The three men quickly headed back the way they came again, apparently guessing their odds would be better against the lone Lieutenant. At a distance of only twenty yards, the Mexicans opened up on Patton, who coolly returned fire. Patton’s weapon of choice that day was an engraved Colt Single Action Army revolver with a pair of ivory grips that bore his initials. Despite the bullets whizzing past him, Patton took careful aim and his skill with that sixgun quickly showed true. One round slammed into the lead rider, the heavy .45 Colt slug breaking his arm. As the horse kept going, Patton remembered what he had been told once. If you want to stop a mounted rider, stop the horse. Patton put a slug into the belly of the lead rider’s horse, bringing the heavy beast to the ground. Patton fired until his gun was empty, and then ducked around a corner of the house to get out of the line of fire and to reload. The two other riders rode past the Lieutenant at a distance of only a few yards, firing as they passed him. But their aim was not as true as that of the future General’s. Patton again opened fire, putting a slug into the horse of the nearest rider, which fell on the Mexican. As the bandit freed himself from under his dead mount, Patton stood by and patiently waited. When the Mexican got to his feet and prepared to fire, Patton dropped him with a single shot. The third rider turned his horse and rode towards the east, with Patton and two other soldiers blazing away as he tried to escape. He was brought down quickly with a hail of gunfire.
The first bandit Patton had shot was wounded but was on his feet and on the run. He was being fired on by the entire American force. Then the Mexican raised his left arm as if to surrender. Without warning the bandit grabbed his pistol with his right hand, fired a single shot and cashed in his chips on the spot. He fell to the ground dead. As Patton and his men examined the man’s body, he had only been shot once. The bullet from Patton’s .45 had gone through his left forearm and ended up in his chest. The lifeless body on the ground in front of them was that of Julio Cardenas. The second dead bandit was Juan Gaza, and the third was never identified.
After making sure that there were no other bandits in the immediate vicinity, Patton strapped the bodies of the three men to the hood of his Dodge Touring car and made for the border. With the population being on the side of Villa, the Americans wasted no time in getting back home. When Patton arrived, he practically dragged Pershing out of a meeting. Pershing was most upset with his young Lieutenant, until he saw the three bodies, now quite pungent from the heat draped over the front of that Dodge. From that point on, Pershing referred to George Patton as his “Bandit.”
Patton soon became a national hero for his exploits south of the border, the only real success to come from the entire Punitive Expedition. He wrote of his events to his wife that “…you are probably wondering if my conscience hurts me for killing a man. It does not. I feel about it just as I did when I got my first swordfish; surprised at my luck.” To celebrate the event, Patton carved two notches into the left grip of his .45 Colt revolver.
remainder of the Punitive Expedition turned up nothing. Villa was ambushed and
killed in Parral on
Patton went on to fight gallantly in World War I, winning the Distinguished
Service Cross for Heroism. Of course Patton’s career later in World War II made
him a military legend. Not long after the war ended Patton was in an automobile