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American History: April '01 Letters

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: August 11, 2001 
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WAS PANCHO VILLA AT COLUMBUS?

Gary Glynn might have made a major error in "Attack on Columbus" (December 2000) when he stated that Pancho Villa was nearby when his men attacked the town. Although this is the generally accepted historical point of view, at the time of the raid Pancho Villa was recuperating at the King Ranch in Texas from a gunshot wound sustained weeks earlier.

My information comes from a Frenchman, Mr. Odo B. Stade, now deceased, who at the time was a young naval officer attached to Pancho Villa by the French government. The French secretly supported the revolution in Mexico and opposed Spain's influence there. Mr. Stade wrote the book Viva Villa, which MGM made into a movie starring Wallace Beery in 1934. Some time around 1965, Life magazine published a story on the Mexican general and included a photograph that was also used on page 59 of your story. Mr. Stade is the man standing on Villa's direct right.

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Mr. Stade was a French and Spanish teacher at Brown Military Academy, Glendora, California, from 1962 to 1966 and often told his students how the history books were wrong about this fact.

Glenn Stanford
Palmdale, California

GARY GLYNN REPLIES: Like most other aspects of Pancho Villa's life, his whereabouts during the Columbus raid have been shrouded in mystery and obscured by legend. Although Villa himself denied being present at Columbus, most scholars and Villa biographers agree that he personally led the attack on the town. Mrs. Maud Hawk Wright, who was captured by some of Villa's men more than a week before the raid, gave a detailed account to the New York Times (March 10, 1916) of Villa's actions on the 120-mile ride to Columbus and during the attack itself. She claimed that Villa personally told her she was free to go as the raiders prepared to withdraw from the town. Many Mexicans who saw Villa in the vicinity of Columbus before and after the raid corroborated her account of Villa's presence.

 

CONFUSION OVER JAMES DEAN

The "Attack on Columbus" article states that one of the Villistas shot down James S. Dean, the town's grocer and owner of the Hoover Hotel, and that the raiders riddled Dean's hotel with gunfire and doused his grocery store with kerosene and set it alight.

In fact, James "Todd" Dean (my great grandfather) owned one of Columbus's grocery stores that was looted but not set on fire. James T. Dean's body was found, after the Villistas retreated, at the corner of Main and Broadway Streets, but we don't know where he was actually killed. There was a Hoover Hotel, but it was owned and operated by William Christopher Hoover, wife Iva, and mother Sarah Hoover.

Richard Dean
Columbus, New Mexico

GARY GLYNN REPLIES: Although my account is based on published sources, it appears I may have been in error regarding James Dean and the ownership of the Hoover Hotel. I apologize if I have inadvertently added to the confusion regarding the Columbus raid, and I want to thank Mr. Richard Dean for his clarification.

I SAW THE DISASTER IN THE SKY

Joseph Gustaitis's "Fire in the Sky" (December 2000) brought back memories for me. On the date of the accident I was working on the 12th floor of the Murray Hill Building on the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and 40th Street in Manhattan. I had a desk beside large windows on the Madison Avenue side of the building, with a view to the west and south that normally included the upper stories of the Empire State Building at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. But July 28, 1945, was quite foggy, and I could not easily see the tall buildings.

Hearing the sound of an airplane, which was unusual in mid-Manhattan, and realizing that the craft was relatively close, I looked out of the window and a few seconds later I saw and heard an explosion as the airplane struck the north side of the Empire State Building. I could see the burning fuel, which seemed to flow down the side of the structure. Then several floors began to burn, and the fire kept the fog at bay so that the top of the building was easily visible.

A hero of the accident was Joseph C. Fountain, one of my neighbors. Unfortunately, he died from severe burns sustained during his rescue efforts.

Allen B. Schroeder
Tucson, Arizona

 

TOO EARLY FOR THIS INSTRUMENT

The illustration on page 41 of the article "Fire in the Sky" shows an instrument landing system (ILS) indicator, but the ILS was not developed until after World War II. I am old enough to remember the crash, which was the lead story in the movie newsreels the following week.

Tom Reesor
Conway, South Carolina

 

AN ULTERIOR MOTIVE

I enjoyed the article "Mr. Grant and Mr. Dana" (December 2000). It appears from the article that Dana and Grant became very close friends. As Charles watched and monitored Ulysses' drinking, he had ulterior motives; he sought out a position in Grant's possible future presidential administration. That drive caused Dana to campaign hard for Grant, even though Grant showed poor judgment, because he was under the influence of alcohol. When the situation didn't go the way Dana had wanted, the relationship he had with Grant dissolved. Perhaps when Grant died and Dana showed remorse, he saw their friendship in a different light.

Paul Dale Roberts
Elk Grove, California

 

SIMILAR PROBLEM, DIFFERENT TIMES

The "Izzy & Moe" story (February 2001) brings to mind striking parallels with our current "great experiment" in drug prohibition.

Prohibition in the 1920s gave rise to organized crime, widespread corruption, contempt for authority, and bootleg liquor that killed or blinded thousands of people. For every still seized by Federal agents, at least nine went undiscovered.

Today our "war on drugs" funds worldwide drug cartels, breeds corruption and contempt for authority, and puts impure drugs on the street that kill thousands each year. Despite unprecedented police search and seizure authority and electronic surveillance Izzy and Moe could not have even imagined, drug seizure estimates continue to range about 10 percent only. Are there some parallels we should be learning?

Steve Wellcome
Bolton, Massachusetts



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