- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

COLUMBUS, N.M. (Reuters) | Scores of Mexican riders, some dressed as bandits and toting sabers, trotted across the U.S. border Saturday to commemorate a raid by Francisco “Pancho” Villa that left 18 Americans dead and this dusty U.S. frontier town a smoking ruin.

The riders crossed the border in an annual commemoration of Mr. Villa’s bloody attack on Columbus during the Mexican Revolution in March 1916.

The re-enactment is organized by history buffs from both sides of the border and draws hundreds of tourists and residents who gather to watch and picnic.

Villa, a bandit turned revolutionary, raided the town in reprisal for the U.S. government’s support for his rival, the nationalist government leader Venustiano Carranza. His pistoleros crept into Columbus’ streets under cover of darkness, attacked a U.S. Army garrison - killing 10 soldiers and eight civilians - and torched adobe and timber-framed homes across the town.

“Today we come in peace; we have no guns,” said Narciso Martinez, 57, a rancher from the Mexican state of Durango, dressed as Villa in a pith helmet, cravat and spurs and twirling a saber above his head. “We come in a spirit of friendship, love and the love of God,” he added in Spanish.

Villa’s 500 raiders, of whom 67 were killed, looted stores, stole machine guns and ammunition as well as horses and mules before running for the border and refuge. Outraged by the raid, the U.S. government dispatched an expeditionary force of 10,000 troops in a failed bid to capture Villa.

Concern over violence along the U.S.-Mexico border has flared again in recent months, as the Mexican government struggles to curb drug cartels that have killed more than 7,000 people since the start of 2008.

The riders commemorating Villa’s attack were met at the border early Saturday by Luna County sheriff’s deputies, as well as scores of U.S. riders, some dressed as bandits, others as U.S. cavalrymen from the era.

They trotted a few miles up from the border and rallied at a park in Columbus, where hundreds of local residents and visitors swayed to a mariachi band and held picnics in bright sunshine.

“The border is a violent place, but this brings us together,” said Francisco Flores, a construction worker from Columbus who turned out to enjoy the event with his family. “It’s our way of turning violence into friendship.”

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