BIO Classroom

BIO Classroom

Bio of the Month Pancho Villa


Pancho Villa was a man of contradictions. Some have called the Mexican leader an unlikely Robin Hood figure and a generous defender of the peasantry. Yet Pancho Villa was also known for his ruthless drive for power and willingness to commit violence to solidify his rule. Born to humble beginnings in San Juan del RÍo in the Mexican state of Durango in 1878, Pancho Villa's birth name was Doroteo Arango. As a youth, he was charismatic and charming, yet he was quickly pulled into conflict and an outlaw life. When he was just 16, Arango changed his name to Francisco Villa after he shot and killed a hacienda owner who had reportedly assaulted his sister. Though he tried his hand at honest professions such as meat-selling and mining, Villa was destined for a far more ambitious future. By 1900, he had become politically active as a revolutionary rebel, and he would go on to play a pivotal role in the unfolding events of the Mexican Revolution.
As a budding political leader in Mexico's northern states, Villa led a courageous and controversial campaign against the oppressive and dictatorial Diaz and Huerta regimes. He recruited an army of thousands and for years effectively ruled over much of northern Mexico. After a split among the revolutionary leaders pitted Villa against his former allies, his military success was short lived. The American government proclaimed support for President Carranza, a rival revolutionary leader, prompting Villa to retaliate by raiding U.S. border towns. Despite months-long "punitive expeditions" by the U.S. Army, he eluded capture and maintained a life on the run. Although he was disdained by fellow leaders, he was revered by his followers; he eventually made an agreement with the Mexican government to retire on a general's salary. Villa's conflicts continued even after the Mexican Revolution had ceased. After bloody battles with bitter enemies, he was assassinated on his way to the bank in 1923. With commentary from historians and fascinating backgound context, this Biography captures Villa's vivid and controversial life. This one-hour documentary will introduce students to vital chapters in Mexican history through the life of one of its most notorious and infamous leaders.


Pancho Villa: Outlaw Legend would be useful for classes on Mexican History, American History, World History, Military History, Hispanic Culture and Ethics. It is appropriate for middle school and high school students. Students will learn about the legendary hero/outlaw Pancho Villa. They will analyze the differences between legend, myth and historical truth. The students will explore how cultures create and maintain heroes through folklore, as well as examine the influence of folklore on historical accounts.


Using a dictionary ( or an encyclopedia, students may want to define or explain the significance of the following terms from this program:
  • Adversary
  • Atrocities
  • Charisma
  • Debut
  • Elusive
  • Fugitive
  • Hacienda
  • Makeshift
  • Paradox
  • Rout
  • Tyrant
  • Tumultuous


  1. Every culture has its own folklore and mythology. What is folklore? Did Mexican folklore affect the true story of Pancho Villa?
  2. Pancho Villa has been called the "Mexican Robin Hood," comparing him to the legendary hero of Sherwood Forest. Why? Do you think this is an accurate comparison?
  3. People in different social and economic categories in Mexico have differing views of Pancho Villa. What are some of the factors that you think would influence someone's opinions or assessments of Pancho Villa? Discuss.
  4. Pancho Villa has been described by some as a hero, and by others as a ruthless murderer. Which of these descriptions do you think is most accurate, and why? Of which other historical can you ask the same question?
  5. Pancho Villa's real name was Doroteo Arango. Why did he change his name? Do you think his name change added to his reputation as an outlaw? Discuss.
  6. How would you describe a "revolutionary"? What was Pancho Villa's first act as a revolutionary? What event precipitated this act?
  7. What is a civil war? How is a civil war different than other wars? How do you think the civil war in Mexico affected the nation overall?
  8. Why do you think so many people were drawn to Pancho Villa as a revolutionary leader? Did he follow through on his promises? Discuss.
  9. Discuss the changes in military technology that occurred during Villa's lifetime.
  10. How did barbed wire help to defeat Villa?
  11. In 1916, Villa and his followers attacked the New Mexico town of Columbus. Why did he attack the United States?
  12. How would you describe Pancho Villa's overall legacy?


  1. Ask students to construct a timeline of the major events of Pancho Villa's life as well the most significant battles and campaigns of the Mexican Revolution. They can use photographs, historical documents, and illustrations to highlight Villa's role in this historic civil war.
  2. Pancho Villa was a man shrouded by myth. Ask students to choose another legendary historical figure (i.e. Che Guevara, Hernando Cortez, Alexander the Great etc.) who has reportedly engaged in controversial behavior in order to achieve an ultimate goal. Write a 3-5 page compare and contrast paper, discussing similarities and differences between Pancho Villa and a historical figure of their choice.
  3. During Pancho Villa's era, considerable tensions arose between the United States and Mexico. Struggles over territory around the borders between these two nations continued. Ask students to locate a map of Mexico and the United States from this era and discuss the geographical boundaries between the two nations. Then, ask them to research the ways these borders had changed in the previous century. Students should then write a short essay describing how these boundaries changed, from the early 1800s through the end of the Mexican Revolution. Students may also present their findings in a visual presentation such as a timeline or a series of maps.



Fantastic photos of the life of Pancho Villa.
Short description of Villa's revolutionary adventures.
Good resource for information on Mexican culture and history.


Friedrich Katz, The Life and Times of Pancho Villa (Stanford University Press, 1998)
Frank McLynn. Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution (Carroll & Graf, 2002)
Eileen Welsome. The General and the Jaguar: Pershing's Hunt for Pancho Villa: A True Story of Revolution and Revenge (Little, Brown and Company, 2002)
James Carlos Blake. The Friends of Pancho Villa (Berkley Group, 1998)
Steven O'Brian, Francisca Gonzales-Arias (Translator). Pancho Villa (Chelsea House Publishing, April 1999)