Aspen Times Weekly: Los Dorados de Villa |

Aspen Times Weekly: Los Dorados de Villa

by Morgan Smith
A crowd gathered at the cemetery honoring the three soldiers who died as a result of the invasion of Columbus, New Mexico, on March 9, 1916.
Photo by Morgan Smith |

On June 26, 1913, the famous Gen. Francisco “Pancho” Villa, also called the “Centaur of the North,” formed a rural guard of personal bodyguards that he called the “Dorados,” or Golden Ones. Not only were they elite soldiers, but they were also totally dedicated to his protection. Villa handpicked the soldiers for this very tough job and most of them died in various battles. This took place in the town of Ascención, which is about a one-hour drive south of the border crossing between Columbus, New Mexico, and Palomas, Mexico.

On Friday, June 26, Ascención celebrated the 102nd anniversary of this important event. I was there because the following Saturday, June 27, I had been invited to attend a meeting of mayors and municipal presidents of towns from Silver City, New Mexico, in the north, to Nuevo Casas Grandes in the south. These 11 towns are working together to improve the economy throughout their area, especially tourism and — why not? — events like this celebration. Their project is named the Mimbres-Paquimé Connection and is a superb example of both cross-border cooperation and of small communities taking charge of their economic futures.

I went a day early and, therefore, had the opportunity to see the historical importance of Villa in this part of the state of Chihuahua and the rich history of towns like tiny Ascención (pop. 15,000) — things that are basically unknown in the United States.

The celebration began with a visit to the cemetery where three soldiers who were wounded in the attack of Villa’s men on Columbus, New Mexico, on March 9, 1916, are buried. After the battle they were brought back to Ascención, where they died.

There was a cavalcade of riders with us because this is cowboy, or “vaquero,” country. The leader was Cipriano Gutierrez, a bow-legged local vaquero dressed as Pancho Villa,including a fake mustache that was glued to his lip. After the ceremony in the cemetery, we went to the central plaza in a cavalcade with the riders, a band from Palomas and even soldiers with a machine gun. (Ascención had been quite dangerous with an average of three kidnappings a month back in 2010; this completely changed, however, when eight kidnappers tried to abduct a girl from a seafood restaurant called Mariscos Lolo and local citizens chased them and killed two.)

Waiting for us in the central plaza were two groups of young dancers, the men dressed as soldiers and the women in dresses of brilliant colors. Then a tremendous rainstorm poured down so we had to make a sudden retreat to the Centro Social where the whole community prepared the auditorium for the performances. Even Mayor Sergio Gonzalez pitched in and wiped off the wet plastic chairs with a towel. “I’m responsible for this being a success,” he said nervously.

Then there were dances, singing, and the recognition of important visitors like Ruben Parra, the municipal president of nearby Janos.

The male dancers were dressed like “Dorados” and Cipriano, the “Pancho Villa” gave them each a rifle (a fake one made of wood). Then they danced with their “novias,” a farewell dance before leaving for the war. For the real Dorados 102 years ago, it was probably their last dance because almost all of them were killed. But one, Capt. Guillermo Reyes Flores, lived to be 116 years old and finally died in November 2014. Francisco Villa Campa, a grandson of Villa’s, came to his funeral and said a few words on his behalf.

This Dorados de Villa celebration was beautiful, emotional and well worth seeing but having been the only “Anglo” there, I’m sure that it is totally unknown in the United States.

Where did the name “Dorados,” or golden, come from? From the gold with which they were paid? Or because of the insignia they wore on their hats? The historians I met there said it was the insignia.

The following day was the Mimbres-Paquimé Connection meeting of the mayors and municipal presidents. Shortly beforehand, however, I had my own run-in with the local police. I went to the restaurant Mariscos Lolo to photograph the sign on the side of the building. A man came out and I explained what I was doing and that I didn’t want him in the shot. Shortly thereafter, the police pulled me over and four officers surrounded my car, claiming that I had taken his photo without permission. However, when I showed them the photo and, more important, my invitation to the Mimbres-Paquimé Connection meeting, we suddenly became best friends.

The fact is that this region of Mexico has changed dramatically in the last three to four years. I feel no apprehension whatsoever in driving to towns like Ascención. The local history is extraordinarily rich, even though largely unknown. It’s my hope that these local officials from small towns in both countries will help open up this part of Mexico to us Americans. If so, maybe I won’t be the only Anglo at next year’s 103d anniversary of the Dorados de Villa.

Morgan Smith is a former Aspenite who served in the Colorado legislature and as Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture. He travels to the Mexican border at least monthly to document conditions there and assist various humanitarian programs. He can be reached at