Columbus — steeped in international history

Old Customs house in Columbus. Photo by Barbara Agte.
Old Customs house in Columbus

With a fascinating history, a 24-hour border crossing, a varied and unique geology, a New Mexico State Park, a museum, and a mild winter climate, Columbus is a New Mexican village which attracts visitors from the U.S., Asia, and Europe year after year.

Columbus has had an unusual and colorful history. The village was first established in 1891, just across the border from Palomas, Chih., Mexico. In 1902, when the El Paso/Santa Fe Railroad Line, connecting El Paso to the West, opened its Columbus station, the residents moved themselves and their village three miles north to the present location.

The site of the last foreign invasion into the U.S., Columbus was attacked in the early hours of March 9, 1916. Francisco (Pancho) Villa and his army of 500-1000 men on horseback, crossed the Mexico/U.S. border and burned the sleeping village. Reportedly, a total of 18 Columbus residents and members of the U.S. Army were killed. Over 100 of Villa’s men were found dead. A retaliation was led by General Jack Pershing, commanding U.S. Army Troops. The action was the first time airplanes and/or motorized vehicles were used in U.S. warfare. Pershing and his troops pursued the Mexicans far into Mexico, but Villa and his troops disappeared into the mountains.

Of particular interest to historians visiting Columbus are the Columbus Historical Museum, specializing in both Pancho Villa and railroad memorabilia, the old U.S. Customs House (a film on Villa can be viewed there), the site of Pershing’s Camp, and the airport site used by the First Aero Squadron. A replica of the plane used by the First Aero Squad is located on a concrete tower at Hacienda del Sur Air Park five miles north of Columbus. This replica is visible from Highway 11.

Lovers of the flora, fauna, and geology of the high Chihuahuan Desert will appreciate the Florida and Tres Hermanas Mountains, the open desert, and Pancho Villa State Park, home to every plant and animal native to the area. Depending upon the season, hummingbirds, snow geese, dove, quail, hawks, eagles, finches, rabbits, hares, and many types of lizards are plentiful. Chaparral, sage, and other desert herbs, plants, and wild flowers are abundant.

While Columbus is not in the mountains, it has ranges on all four sides. To the east and north of Columbus is the Florida Mountain range; to the west and north is the Tres Hermanas Range; south into Mexico is the Sierra de los Palomas, and to the north is Cooke’s Range.

The population of Columbus ranges from 700 in the summer to 1000+ in the winter. Special events are always scheduled in Columbus for March 9, “Raid Day” and for the second Saturday in October, for Columbus/ Pancho Villa Day.

Columbus is about 30 miles south of Deming on Highway 11 and just three miles north of Palomas, Chih., Mexico.