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Kids… leave them gringos alone

10 June 2020

I don’t know how the US Army ever lived it down… forced to retreat when faced with an angry school-mar’m and fifth graders.

During the “Punitive Expedition” (aka, Pershing’s invasion of Mexico, looking to punish that “terrorist” … and former US asset… Pancho Villa), Col. Frank Tompkins and his troops rode in to Parral on the 16th of April, 1916, insisting he had the right to billet his troops and resupply them in town.  Tompkins was a seasoned soldier, having fought in the Spanish American War of 1898, the Philippines war of 1899-1902, and had been distinguished for his defense of Columbus, New Mexico when it was attacked by Pancho Villa.  He really wanted Villa and if some locals stood in his way, it was just too damn bad.  Plus, he claimed he had permission to resupply in Parral.  From whom was the question.

The local Mexican commander had heard of no such order and said so.  He even checked with his superiors, who confirmed that the Americans were supposed to stay in their own camps while hunting for Villa, and not, by any means, in the important regional city.

With more gringo soldiers than Mexican ones, it looked like Col. Tompkins was going to stay.  Most civilians closed their doors, but among those on the street was schoolteacher Elisa Griensen, who approached the mayor asked if somebody wasn’t going to do something… anything… about their unwanted guests.

Apparently, the mayor wasn’t that someone and somebody had to do something.  So… Elisa walked into the local grade school, picked up a flag in the fifth grade classroom and led out her … uh… troops.  One would like to think there was some great patriotic shout that went up, but I expect the battle cry was something more like “nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah”.  Whatever it was, the moms joined the students, and the battle was on.

Col. Tompkins probably didn’t expect to be greeted with cheers and flowers, but he certainly wasn’t prepared for rocks and tomatoes, angry mothers and school children.  Or Elisa Griensen brandishing a Mauser rifle someone passed her.  Discretion being the better part of valor, the US forces retreated, and Elisa spent the rest of her long life (she died in 1972 at the age of 84) as a national heroine.  Possibly to recover his reputation, Tomkins would request Pershing for a battlefield command during the First World War, only to be gassed and wounded.  Unfit for further field duty, after his recovery, he taught at a military school for about a year, retiring in 1920.  If he’s remembered at all, it’s for his 1934 book, “Chasing Villa”, his account of the last cavalry campaign in US history.




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