Last week we began looking at a little-known event in American history; the hunt for Pancho Villa. We complete that discussion today.

As part of the additional duties of the National Guard related to Pancho Villa’s incursions into the United States, the 2nd Florida Infantry Regiment was mustered into Federal service in June 1916 at Camp Foster in Jacksonville. The commanding officer was Colonel Albert H. Blanding (for whom Camp Blanding would later be named). The Florida troops were deployed to the Texas-Mexico border to support the Mexican Expedition.

In November 1916, the Suwannee Democrat received a letter from four Suwannee County citizens who were serving in Texas. These men, E. D. Groover, Lonnie Rhodes, Claude Jordan and John McCullers, were stationed with Company D of the 2nd Florida Infantry in Laredo, Texas. Their sentiments were probably shared by many soldiers of the day:

“Life on the border is not what some think it is. There are four of we Live Oak boys here and all of us is in good health and having a good time.

“You have probably read some articles of the soldiers hard times here, but it’s not so. We are having a good time and want our friends to know it.

“We all have been on some river patrol and the chances are that we will have some more…”

The Mexican Expedition lasted until February 1917, when U.S. forces were withdrawn and reassigned, partly as a result of World War I raging across the globe (of which the United States was not yet a participant) and partly after negotiations with Mexico. Pancho Villa remained a free man and a nuisance to local Mexican troops, but his threat to the United States was gone. The 2nd Florida Infantry would be mustered out of Federal service in March 1917, and its coat of arms would afterwards bear a cactus to symbolize their border service during the Mexican Expedition.

The four men who wrote to the Suwannee Democrat in November 1916 would have little time to rest from their service, however. The United States entered the First World War on the side of the Allies on April 6, 1917. In August of the same year, the men of the 2nd Florida Infantry would be drafted into Federal service again, this time to serve overseas in France against the Germans and their allies (and the coat of arms would have a fleur-de-lis added to symbolize their service in France).

Pancho Villa, having survived the American excursion into Mexico, remained a guerilla leader until 1920. He negotiated a peace settlement in that year after the assassination of his one-time friend and nemesis, President Carranza. As compensation for laying down his arms, he was granted a 25,000-acre hacienda and a sizeable pension by the Mexican government. Pancho Villa was eventually assassinated in 1923, ending his storied life.

More history next week!

Eric Musgrove can be reached at ericm@suwgov.org or 386-362-0564.

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