The U.S. Intervention in Northern Mexico 1916-1917 (Text Content)

This web page, published by the Military Postal History Society, contains the text content of the single frame U. S. Intervention in Northern Mexico exhibit pages created by the late Al Kugel. This exhibit was created by, and is the property of the late Al Kugel, and is being supplied by his heirs as a courtesy to the Military Postal History Society.

Introduction Text

This exhibit documents the postal history of the American military intervention in northern Mexico prior to our entry into World War I. There had been considerable political unrest and armed conflict between rival political factions in Mexico since the overthrow of President Diaz in 1911. By 1916, a number of local warlords were able to defy the central authorities and establish their own control over sizable areas of the country. One of these, Francisco (Pancho) Villa, was very popular in the State of Chihuahua and apparently felt that he was ready for the big time. On the morning of 9 March, he led 500 of his men across the border to raid Columbus, New Mexico looking for arms and ammunition. The ensuing battle lasted for three hours and left 76 Mexicans and 17 Americans dead. President Wilson immediately ordered Gen. John J. Pershing to organize a retaliatory campaign to capture Villa.

To view the exhibit page images, see: web page containing the image content of the exhibit frame.

Updated 8/22/2022

Text Content of Exhibit

Drawing on troops available in the Southwest and such National Guardsmen as could be mustered, Pershing was able to cross over into Mexico just six days later with 5,000 men. Camps were set up at Casas Grandes and Dublan, about 90 miles south of Columbus. From these bases, the Cavalry fanned out to try to find Villa. However, he knew the territory well and managed to avoid encounters with any sizable groups of Americans. Eventually, he was located and severely defeated by Mexican federal troops early in the next year, which led President Wilson to call off the intervention on 12 January 1917.

As to the postal situation, no post offices were opened in northern Mexico, but mail was collected and bagged for shipment back to Columbus for processing. Most of that originating in Mexico was sent unfranked and postage due was charged to the recipients. As an interesting sidelight, for about five weeks between 19 March and 20 April, mail was flown out of Mexico on aircraft of the 1st Aero Squadron, thus providing the earliest examples of an American military airmail service. In addition to letters from the intervention forces directly, covers sent from the men called up to reinforce border posts from California to Texas form a significant part of the story of the campaign.

June 1916 patriotic cover with slogan "On the Way to Mexico" sent from camp by a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard called up to serve on the border following the raid by Pancho Villa.

Columbus, N. Mex.
U.S. Forces Arrive at Raid Scene
30 March 1916
Deming, N. Mex.
27 June 1916

Mailed just three weeks after the raid by Pancho Villa, the upper postcard shows the burning of bodies of the "Bandits" killed at Columbus. Writer states that he is "on the border making pictures of the war." Photo postcard below sent by a soldier from Deming, N. Mex. to Indiana provides a similar scene.

The Advance into Mexico 10 May 1916

Mailed during the pursuit of Pancho Villa, this cover was sent by an officer from the interior of Mexico. The enclosure is datelined "Camp, 5th Cavalry, Mexico/April 30, 1916. Self-censored by 1st Lt. Bull and sent back to Columbus where it was postmarked ten days later.

Bull was subsequently promoted to Captain in the field. This letter was written and self-censored by him on 17 July, four days before being postmarked in Columbus. Although enlisted men typically sent their mail from Mexico unfranked, with postage due being charged to the addressees, some of the officers took imprinted envelopes with them as handy source of envelopes. The postcard shows a picture of U.S. troops “Marching into Mexico.”

Columbus, N. Mex.
Flown From Mexico
27 March 1916
The First U.S. Military Airmail Service

Military aircraft of the 1st Aero Squadron were used to fly mail from the camps in Mexico to Columbus for postmarking. This activity, thus, provided the first airmail service for American soldiers anywhere. The above cover, cancelled 27 March, was mailed by First Lt. Baird of the 13th Cavalry in the field to his wife. The American Air Mail Catalogue listing quotes an official field report for that day as stating "Seven flights were made this date by five aeroplanes between Columbus, N.M., Dublan, and El Valle [Mexico], carrying mail and dispatches." As no stamps were available for the troops in Mexico, the 2 cents postage due was collected from the addressee.

Flown From Mexico 5 April 1916
Military Airmail Service

Another example of the Baird correspondence flown from Mexico to Columbus. It was soon demonstrated that the planes used for the airmail service were not built for the rough terrain encountered in the field. As described in the AAMC, these flights started with eight planes on 19 March and continued until 20 April, when the last two aircraft still operating were taken out of service "due to their unsafe condition." (Some new planes arrived later, but it is not believed that they carried mail.)

Call-Up of National Guard 13 July 1916

Members of the National Guard in various parts of the country were mobilized and moved to locations along the Mexican border. Photo card shows a company of Guardsmen embarking by train for Mexico on June 22, 1916. The cover with imprinted return address of the First Infantry Regiment of the New Jersey National Guard was used for private purposes by a Sergeant in that unit from Douglas, Ariz.

Call-Up of National Guard 5 July 1916
Forwarded Mail

This official letter from the State of Maryland was sent to a member of the New York National Guard at the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York City. However, his unit had already been activated so the letter was forwarded to McAllen, Texas. It has a New York transit mark dated 7 July. Unusual usage of previously unrecorded two-line instructional forwarding handstamp.

Use of Civilian Post Offices 25 July 1916
Bisbee, Ariz.
8 March 1917
Normal Postmarks on Out- and Inbound Military Mail

In order to strengthen the U.S. military presence along the Mexican border, the President called up National Guardsmen from all across the U.S. Most of the letters sent by these men have the normal postal markings of various towns in the area. Examples above represent such mail from and to military units, with the outbound cover showing the unit designation of the Mexican Punitive Expedition, not previously seen by exhibitor.

Strengthening the Border 18 January 1917
Special "On Mexican Border" Letterhead

Letter datelined Douglas, Ariz. but posted in the railway mail car of a train en route to El Paso. The only example of this postmark or the special military letterhead for the troops on the border seen by exhibitor.

NORTHERN MEXICO CAMPAIGN Calexico, Calif /Military Branch
Strengthening the Border 24 October 1916
Deming, N. Mex./Military Br.
29 November 1916
Military Branch Markings

With additional troops pouring into camps from California to the Rio Grande, seven new military branch post offices were opened in the border states to handle the increased mail volume. Calexico and Deming were the only ones in California and New Mexico, respectively. The Deming cover was double-weight and sent Special Delivery, at a cost of 4 cents postage plus 10 cents S.D. fee, by a member of the 1st Delaware Infantry stationed at Deming. It is the only such usage related to this campaign observed by exhibitor.

Douglas, Ariz./Military Br.
Strengthening the Border
6 December 1916
17 April 1917
22 May 1917
Military Branch Markings

The military station at Douglas was the only one to use more than one postmark. The first had "Branch" spelled out, while the second was abbreviated to "Br," This second cancel was apparently shipped out as the camp was being disbanded. Because some men remained to ship the remaining equipment, a Receiving cds was pressed into service during the final week, thus providing a third marking. Usage of this device is only recorded from 22 May 1917 (ERD shown) to the 28th, and examples are regarded as very elusive.

NORTHERN MEXICO CAMPAIGN Mercedes, Tex./Llano Grande Military Branch
Strengthening the Border 28 November 1916
Laredo, Tex./Military Sta.
16 November 1916

Two of the military stations opened in Texas were at Laredo and Mercedes. The Laredo postmark is shown here on an envelope supplied by the YMCA and sent by a member of the Ist Missouri Ambulance Company to (presumably) his mother. This postmark is also considered as quite elusive.

Reinforcements Arrive 24 December 1916
Official War Department Mail

Provisional penalty envelope sent from the Machine Gun Company of the 5th Ohio Infantry at El Paso to Cleveland. The only example of such usage seen by exhibitor.

11 December 1916

Letter from a member of Company D of the 11th Infantry at Douglas to his wife. Note unusual corner card of the Enlisted Men's Club. Below is a real photo card of U.S. soldiers guarding Mexican prisoners (most of whom do not appear to present much of a threat).

Last Official Day of the Mexican Expedition 12 January 1917

On 12 January 1917, President Wilson ended the intervention in northern Mexico and ordered the men back to their original posts. The writer of this letter (a member of the regular Army's 11th Infantry) mailed on the final day of the intervention mentions that General Funston conducted a review of the troops in Douglas and then boarded a special train to go to Columbus for another review.