Glenn Springs and Boquillas, Texas, on the Night of May 5, 1916

Walter H. Horne of El Paso, Texas, photographed the aftermath of the raid on Glenn Springs, including this scene of the burnt adobe cookhouse.

Long after dark on this night one hundred and four years ago, a large group of riders split into two groups as they approached the Rio Grande west of the village of Boquillas. One group crossed the river and rode toward Glenn Springs, where about seven U.S. Cavalry troops were stationed and several civilians lived, while the second group veered off toward Boquillas. As the bandits surrounded Glenn Springs, they positioned themselves to attack the outpost. Soon, a firefight between the American troops and the Mexican riders erupted and lasted until dawn. Casualties were suffered on each side, whether wounded or killed. The defenders bore the brunt of the attack, losing three men and a seven-year-old boy named Tommy Compton, who was cut down by one of the bandits. The attackers concentrated their fire on an adobe cookhouse where the soldiers had barricaded themselves, and ultimately they set the building on fire to force out the troops. The Mexican riders routed the Americans and then set out after dawn for Boquillas to rejoin their confederates.

Boquillas was selected for the night’s raid because of the general store Jesse Deemer operated there. Deemer, a long-time resident of the Big Bend, had established a good reputation among the area’s residents for his compassion and humanity—traits that prevented his being shot to death by bandits the morning after his store was sacked. When the raiders approached his tienda, they forced Deemer and his assistant Monroe Payne, a half Seminole African-American, to empty the store of its contents and load them up in Deemer’s truck and in saddlebags. Upon the arrival of the Glenn Springs raiders, the bandits departed back across the Rio Grande with their two prisoners.

In Mexico, the fifth day of May—Cinco de Mayo—is a day of great national celebration to honor the victory over the French in 1862 during the Battle of Puebla, and during the early evening when the gunfire and shouting was heard in Boquillas from across the river, the Americans assumed their neighbors were enjoying the holiday. Alas, it was not entirely so. Only two months after the raid on Columbus, New Mexico, and the nearby military cavalry post Camp Furlong, the American military response to the raids on Glenn Springs and Boquillas was swift. Troops under Major George T. Langhorne, commander of the Big Bend Military District, were authorized to enter Coahuila in pursuit of the bandits to punish them for their attack on American soil, for killing Americans, for kidnapping two citizens, and for stealing property. With American troops on campaign simultaneously in two Mexican states, the calls for a full-scale military intervention into war-torn Mexico amplified, including the loud public utterances by Texas Governor James E. Ferguson. The Houston Post editorialized, “The latest raids into American territory ought to contain an important lesson for Washington. It ought to convince the administration that it yet fails to understand the nature of the Mexican problem.” Nonetheless, the so-called Second Punitive Expedition lasted less than a week before Langhorne returned to Texas with Deemer and Payne and much of the stolen goods. While less known than General John J. Pershing’s campaign in Chihuahua in 1916-1917, the events at Glenn Springs and Boquillas are significant moments worthy of remembrance in the history of the impact of the Mexican Revolution in the Big Bend of Texas.

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