The Consul at Chihuahua (Stewart) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 149

Sir: I have the honor to submit for the information of the Department the following report on conditions as they now appear in this district.

In a recent despatch47 I reported in detail the visit, on January 22nd, of Francisco Villa to the mining camp of Santa Eulalia, only [Page 566] 15 miles from this city, and the fourth important point struck by him in the past four months.

As is Villa’s custom he began to gather his forces toward the end of the summer, when men had finished their farm work, and was sufficiently strong by September 21st to enter and loot the city of Jimenez—the important railroad junction in the Southern part of this state. He worked north until, on October 22, 1918 near Villa Ahumada (now called Villa Gonzalez), he seized the following Americans, E. F. Knotts, A. B. Smith and A. M. Tenney. The two last named were released October 29th while Knotts was held until November 15th. About November 24th, Villa entered and looted Villa Ahumada and cut the railroad between Juarez and Chihuahua. A short time thereafter, on December 19th he entered and looted Cusihuiriachic, the location of several American mining properties, the most important, belonging to “The Cusi Mining Company”. The few American employees, being warned, left the camp. The General Superintendent of the above mentioned company stated that he felt very fortunate that the Company’s losses amounted to only about $10,000 when, with one box of dynamite, Villa could have destroyed all the Company’s machinery and closed down the mine for a year or more. Villa burned several thousand cords of the Company’s wood and explained to the people, in his characteristic way, that he burned the wood so that the company would have to buy more thus helping “his people”. Finally, as stated above, Villa entered Santa Eulalia on the 22nd of last month.

A glance at the map shows that Villa has been striking in all parts of this State and at important centers. That he is continually growing in strength is evidenced by his accomplishments of the past four or five months. He has not been hard pressed by the Federal troops, now under the command of General Jesus Agustin Castro, and formerly under General Francisco Murguia, for many months and as a consequence the bandit’s life in this State, being relatively safe and for this and many other reasons attractive, has appealed to so many until to-day there must be, in addition to the five or six hundred associated with Villa, Martin Lopez, Nicolas Fernandez, several hundred other roving bandits throughout the State robbing and killing and making life, outside the larger centers, very unsafe.

Villa’s greatest handicap, acknowledged recently to the writer by General Castro, appears to be the obtaining of ammunition although it is heard on all sides, in army circles and out, that Villa gets all the ammunition across the border that he needs while there are others who state that his supply is only limited by the funds at his disposal. It is the opinion of the writer that, because of restrictions due to the war, the past two years have been difficult ones for the [Page 567] smuggling of ammunition and that Villa would be much stronger to-day had it been less difficult for him to secure arms and ammunition from the United States. On the other hand he has not been using a great deal during the past year and if he has been really steadily smuggling it across, even in small quantities, he must have considerable stored against the time when he feels strong enough to attack Parral or Chihuahua.

The opinion has long been held that, Villa is able not only to enter towns and mining camps at will but also to destroy important mining and smelting property including the large, valuable smelting plant belonging to the American Smelting and Refining Company, which is located only five miles from this city. However, notwithstanding this belief, Villa’s coming into Santa Eulalia and threatening to return unless, by March first some arrangement has been made with him by the mining companies, has greatly lowered the morale of American and other foreign employees who are convinced that, as he has often before made and kept his threats, he will keep his word this time and return to the camp. There is naturally much apprehension and conjecture as to what will be Villa’s next move—where he will strike next. In order to be on the safe side all foreign employees have, since Villa’s visit, been sleeping in Chihuahua and going up to the mines each day. Of course this plan means that ore stealing, now very common, will be carried on on a much larger scale. The operating plan of the Smelter is going to be changed also and, instead of a few of the Americans living at the plant as at present, all will return to town each night and in addition the offices of the company will be removed to Chihuahua. By taking all possible precautions and by insisting upon sufficient garrison for protection, the companies hope to be able to continue operating.

Americans recently taken and released by Villa feel that if not time, then policy, has somewhat softened his attitude toward them. Once again in command of a considerable force, Villa no doubt has renewed hopes of not only receiving steady contributions from the companies but also, and what is very important to him, recognition as a political factor to be reckoned with and not a mere bandit. Working along this line of thought it should be noted that Villa is now, whenever the opportunity presents itself, addressing the mine and farm laborers telling them to claim their rights and demand more wages, at the same time pointing out to them that their brothers in the United States, for similar work, are receiving several times the amount they are getting.

Notwithstanding Villa’s recent considerate treatment of them, Americans and others are entertaining no false hopes of his future [Page 568] attitude towards them in case they should again fall into his hands. If, however, no Americans are killed and the companies continue operating then it will be said that Villa has again established friendly relations with the Americans and is not only receiving ammunition from the United States but also obtaining money from American companies. Comments of Villa’s changed attitude towards Americans are already very common.

Regarding the efforts of the Mexican government to cope with Villa and his followers I believe there is justification in the belief that General Castro, now in charge of the troops, is honest in his desire to exterminate Villa and that he may succeed. Upon his arrival here, about two months ago, he talked very encouragingly and yet cautiously, letting it be known that he found the troops in an unpaid and generally demoralized condition and that his first efforts must be devoted to housecleaning and reorganizing. At the end of two months all are agreed that, although he has not yet started an active campaign against Villa, he has at least made marked progress in weeding out, by the score, “business officers” and telling some of the worse offenders that they are worse than Villa in their shameless looting and thieving. Whether the discharge of so many officers will work to the advantage of the enemy is not known but it is the opinion of the writer that it will not.

According to all reports General Castro is seeing that his troops are paid promptly whereas formerly they remained unpaid for months and when they were given compensation it was often in the form of extra rations of corn, sugar or rice which the soldiers sold for what they could get. He is stopping all needless expenditures and is paying for all supplies purchased thus gaining the confidence of the business men of this and other smaller cities who are now feeling more secure about bringing in stocks of foodstuffs and other goods.

The writer has had numerous long conversations with General Castro and he has always shown great willingness to talk freely and frankly regarding the military situation. He says that with his reorganization plans about completed he soon hopes to start an active campaign by establishing throughout the state 5 or 6 sub-quartels, each well supplied with horses, to be used as relief and supply stations in pursuing the enemy. Trenches and barbed wire entanglements are now being constructed around this and other important cities the idea being to release for campaign purposes a large number of troops now engaged in garrison duty. Whether General Castro will be able to secure, as he hopes, sufficient horses and money to carry out his plans remains to be seen.

During my last conversation with General Castro he mentioned one thing which does not fit in with his extended and elaborate plans for the future. He told me that President Carranza did not send [Page 569] him here indefinitely and that, as General Murguia was only granted a leave of absence, there was the possibility that he would return here. The rumor has been persistent for several weeks that General Murguia is to return to Chihuahua. Such a move would, of course, be very unpopular here among all those sincerely interested in the pacifying of the state.

If General Castro is allowed to remain in command here and begins, as he promises, an active campaign in the very near future then Villa will be so occupied as to allow the mining companies to continue operating and employing several thousand men. If, on the other hand, General Castro merely confines his efforts to an endeavor to keep Villa from attacking cities and villages, then the smelter and mines will close and laborers, being unemployed, will swell Villa’s forces. The latter might then try to secure the aid of Felipe Angeles if for no other reason than to secure his assistance in obtaining arms and ammunition. Succeeding, it might not then be long before there was once again launched a formidable movement in this section of the Republic.

In respectfully submitting the above it is hoped that a fairly accurate idea of present conditions has been given.

I have [etc.]

J. B. Stewart
  1. No. 139, Jan. 27 (File No. 312.115Am3/197); not printed.