The Golden Lady of the Revolution
The Golden Lady
Of The Revolution
Secrets in Her eyes
Ciudad Chihuahua, Mexico She is in her 95th summer now, and a crippling pain has settled in her legs, but those old eyes are as lively and bright as when she was a young girl dancing.
There is a mischief there, and the merriment of mariachis, and wisdom as mutely eloquent as the blue and red and silver sacred heart above the bed she might never leave again.
Dona Maria Luz Corral Viuda de Villa has secrets in her eyes and in the gold-flecked brown of them you can see the reflected forget-me-nots of revolutionary campfires.
It was in July 1923 that a firebrand bandit by the name of Francisco Villa, a hero of a revolution that altered history, was shot to death in the driver's seat of a 1919 Dodge traveling through the dust of Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua.
He is nearly a saint now; canonized by war and the affection of the poor, and the only woman who ever got him to the altar has out lived the eight others he took to his bed in what passed in those days for wedlock.
Is there satisfaction in that for this proud woman who once moved alone to San Antonio rather than share Pancho's Canutillo home with the other wives?
"I would have changed nothing", she says in the joyful noise of a voice that has music in it still, the song the wind plays among the lonesome, naked hills.
Six decades have not diminished her love, wrote Jose Vasconcelos in his preface to Dona Luz's 1948 memoir, Pancho Villa en la Intimidad.
"He was everything in her life. I am sitting in front of a window through which pour the tired rays of a passing winter, I am in front of the window; through its panes I can see the shoulder of a mountain called Santa Rosa" Pancho Villa en la Intimidad
Dona Luz sits today, as well, before a window, this one opening onto the sun-caressed courtyard of the rambling home Pancho bequeathed to her at 3014 Calle Decima in Chihuahua City.
If she leans far forward from the side of the overstuffed bed to which she is confined now, she can see the plump, inedible bitter fruit hanging voluptuously from a spreading orange tree. She does not have to lean forward at all to behold the curious faces of tourists, who cluster outside the window, like puppets in a mad Punch and Judy, to stare at this monument of a woman and thrust in their scraps of paper for her spider's-scrawl of an autograph.
A few of the more lobotomized push their way into the bedroom itself, chattering like magpies, cameras clicking and flashing stealthy fingers exploring the private bric-a-brac of a lifetime.
It is a horrifying spectacle, this rude assault on a stately lady's privacy, reminiscent of the blood-curdling scene in Zorba the Greek when the cackling crones of a Cretan village ransack the exiled matron's room even as she lied dying, watching them in furious, terminal helplessness.
But Dona Luz seems not to object to the daily intrusions. The autographs flow at a rate of perhaps 5,000 a month, and the gracious smile accommodates every flashcube.
After all, her home is a museum with a five-peso (25-cents) admission fee, and this is how she makes her living. What can one say to a visitor who has paid for the privilege of poking about in the hallowed detritus of a legend?
"To pay homage to a woman who dedicates herself to the defense of her husband's name, it is not necessary to be a revolutionary." Nemesia Garcia Naranjo
On foot, by van and coach and private car, the tourist begin arriving before 9a.m. , their day structured around visits to Chihuahua's most popular shrines the Casa Villa and the Cruz Blanca brewery.
Once inside, however, one steps back 60 years or more in an instant, to a rough-and-tumble time of internecine turmoil when Pancho Villa was, in the opinion of a contemporary historian, "surely one of the 10 most important men in the world."
To the left is a small study-like room that serves as the museum office. It is furnished in dark, heavy period style, and its walls are plastered with yellowing photographs and copper-plate daguerreotypes, many of them of the rebel himself at war.
To the right, a shabby Louis XV salon that has seen better days in dominated by a wedding portrait of Pancho and Luz. She appears rather stern and substantial, as though having just caught a preview of perdition. In one corner is a small arsenal of Mausers, pistols and bandoliers of ammunition.
On another wall hangs a photograph of Villa and fellow rebel General Emilliano Zapata, taken shortly after they and their men captured Mexico City in July 1914. They are shown in the throne room of the presidential palace, each having just occupied the seat of power for 10 minutes to demonstrate that either could serve as president. Neither ever did.
Straight ahead, beyond the cracked tile vestibule, is the sunny courtyard, overlooked on two sides by two-story residences where Villa's 50 bodyguards lived during the turbulent post-revolutionary years when the bandit chieftain is said by historians apparently dismissing the War of 1812 to have become the only foreigner ever to wage war on the United States within its own boundaries.
Following Villa's famous raid on Columbus, N.M., in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson sent an army unit under Brig. Gen John J. Pershing to capture him. For months the two generals and their forces engaged in a bizarre military minuet across the barren ballroom of Chihuahua, but they never met in combat.
In a small stone shed in one corner of the courtyard, all but consumed now by the rust of neglect, is the open dodge touring car in which Pancho Villa died, initially paralyzed by a bullet that passed through both arms, then felled forever by a fusillade of shots that wrecked his skull.
The bullet holes in the sides of the car are large enough to pass lime through.
But that is all history, musty and slightly soiled and perhaps not quite real to many of those who come here. To be sure, it is the old woman they have come to see. She is the link with it all.
It is a bright Sunday morning, alive with the buzz of dive-bombing insects and the clang of cathedral bells. Small boys are at play in the street as Alfredo Gonzalez, who operates a tourist agency out of the lobby of the Hotel Victoria, stops by to visit with his old friend, Dona Luz.
He pauses in the Louis XV salon to admire the famous photograph of Villa on horseback pounding across the Mexican desert. It is the one you see in all history books and encyclopedias.
"He didn't have any infantry, you know, just cavalry and artillery," says Gonzalez. "On a horse he was a great general, but on foot he was just another Francisco."
Gonzalez's eyes dart around the room he has visited so many times, and he shakes his head sadly. "It is a crime what has happened here. People will steal anything, just pick it up and walk away with it, and there's nothing she can do about it. I have no idea how much has been taken from here."
Dona Luz's face creases with pleasure as Gonzalez knocks and enters her bedroom, chasing out a gaggle of tourist with a machine-gun burst of angry Spanish. She is sitting up in bed and offers a cheek to be kissed.
"Have you been behaving yourself?" Gonzalez asks. The old lady giggles like a girl but does not answer. Gonzalez explains that she does not talk too much in front of strangers.
"Tell us about your fling with Lara." He says, nodding toward a large framed photograph of Agustin Lara, the renowned composer, singer, orchestra leader and womanizer. Dona Luz giggles again and shakes her head, rolling her eyes mysteriously.
Informed that Dona Luz lives alone in the rambling house, reputed to contain more than 90 rooms, visitors want to know who cares for her and prepares her food.
"Oh, I have no family of my own," she replies, "but I have many families."
Gonzalez explains: "She allows some widows and their children to live here. They are supposed to be widows of the revolution, but there are a lot of them in their 20s and 30s. She just can't say no to anyone. She doesn't charge them anything, but in return for their homes they look after her."
Dona Luz, one learns, also supports an orphanage for 50 young girls on the other side of town. All this philanthropy seems to come out of her own pocketbook, although now that her late husband has been proclaimed an official Hero of Mexico she is presumably entitled to a pension.
Dona Luz's relations with her government have been less than cordial since Mexico City turned down her proposal that the Calle Decima home be converted into a hotel under national patronage.
"I am just going to stay here until I die," she declared. "Then they can have it to do with what they want, but not before."
And, that will be the end of something very rare. The faded photographs and the mementos and the rusting automobile, even the bitter oranges, will endure for a time, but the life will have gone out of the legend.
There will be no one left who remembers how it was
No more young girls dancing El Paso Times - Tom Butler - 1977
Dona Maria Luz Corral Viuda de Villa was more, so much more. The dancing sparkling eyes, hiding the secrets of a lifetime.
From the time of their wedding in 1911 and extending for the next ten years, Villa and Luz worked hand in hand, back to back, shoulder to shoulder, in the successful winning of the war at hand, The Mexican Revolution. It did not take long for Villa to observe in Luz, the wisdom and the innate ability for her to discern the tactics to use in a battle, taking all circumstances into consideration. Due to this and her political astuteness, Villa came to rely on her opinion very heavily. This was made abundantly clear when they did not take the life of Obregon, and other decisions made in the same vain.
Their relationship was one of the world's greatest war time love stories.
The loss of the war was not through any fault of Villa and Luz. That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of Villa's financer Lazaro de la Garza. From the very beginning Garza was skimming money, diverting ammunition to other buyers, investments gone badly and many other things to increase his own bank account, which he did very well. It would not surprise me at all if he had something to do with the dummy ammo Villa received at one of his battles, although this was never documented.
May 1920 Surrender (failure) comes hard to any man and it did also to Francisco Villa, a very heavy cross to bear. He hid his depression by working in the fields and building his town/farm of Canutillo. He found it almost unbearable to face his wife Luz with this burden of failure, he had turned to other women to build his ego, by the time Luz showed up in Canutillo, which was a few months later. Although he had, had other women during the war it was just for the release of his high testosterone, which every great warrior has. He did try to be a family man and a good husband, Luz was very understanding in this regard. At one point in their relationship Luz told Villa that she could accept other women as long as he did not bring them into their home, for their home was where they shared the sanctity of their marriage. Another woman in the home was more that she could tolerate.
On that fate full day that Luz returned home to find many women in the house and one that Villa claimed was his new wife. Villa told her she would have to leave. When Luz objected Villa put her on the street (road).
Here Luz was; not a peso to her name and only the clothes on her back. As a hot summer dust storm, humiliation and degradation, swept over her engulfing her mind. In one moment she became a woman on the street, alone and nowhere to go, from being the wife of the great Francisco Pancho Villa. Clouds from the sky filling her brain as visions of their life and love came and went as if waves on the ocean. As she wandered down the road, hysteria and delirium were engulfing her. The feelings of contentment, the warmth of love, she could feel slipping away from her mind and body. The chills of resentment, hate, revenge, were slowly entering as visions of violence and retaliation, for this unjust persecution. Luz slipped into a state of unconsciousness.
Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.
The killing of Villa, Conspiracy conspiracy conspiracy, Conspiracy was everywhere! The people of Mexico blamed the government. When the people in government were not blaming each other, they were putting the blame on the United States, England, France, and Germany. While reading all this conspiracy theory, it seemed that at any moment space aliens from mars would be the next target of the great conspiracy.
It was simple, much more, simple than that. It was down to earth everyday life. The everyday life, of the everyday house wife, the life of a lady, a woman.
It was a bright sunny day as Luz awoke in the town of San Antonio, Mexico in the company of Mary one of her most trusted traveling companions. The year was 1922 and Luz was well on her way to recovery. The hatred for Villa and desire for revenge was now always on her mind, but she had more immediate demands. She had no income and money was running low, a source of income had to be found. One night Luz and Mary sat watching the stars rise and fall talking at great length of what could be done. Luz knew where some gold was but, was not able to carry it off. Mary had a husband who had brothers, she assured Luz would help; from there a plan was hatched and prepared for execution. With Luz's war background, precise planning was not a problem, it was worked out in great detail with nothing left to chance.
On the day the six brothers arrived, Mary departed for her home in Magdalena. Luz conveyed the details of the plan to get the gold from the ranch at La Boquilla. As Luz had planned, the operation went off without detection. The brothers made their way to Calle 18, Chihuahua, to divide the gold. Each one got an even share which was around one hundred thousand each, U. S. dollars
To the dismay of the brothers there was one hitch. Before the deal could be consummated, Luz wanted the brothers to kill Villa. As long as Villa was alive Luz would always be his throwaway wife. She felt it was better to be his widow. That was not a problem with the brothers as they were familiar with Villa in that they had served as agents for him during the war. They requested to take the gold to their families first, Luz agreed.
Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.
On their way they picked up their wife's and families, and settled in La Junta, secured the gold, and after some time were on their way back to Chihuahua. This they did to make sure there were no repercussions from the loss of the gold.
February 1923 - Luz Corral had been living with Hipolito Villa and his family up to this time. Luz then moved to her home at Calle 18, Chihuahua City with Polo (another brother-in-law) I believe Luz and Polo were having an affair at this point although short lived.
Letter from Luz Corral
March 9, 1923
General Alvaro Obregon
Constitutional President of the Republic
Perhaps you know that I have been away from my husband, General Villa, for the past two years, and although he promised to send me a monthly allowance for my support, he has failed to do so to this day. I am living in the home of my brother-in-law, Senor Hipolito Villa, but perhaps you are acquainted with the fact that he is not well-off at present and it seems to me that I am a burden to him, since, due to the recent death of his sister, four more people have come to live in this house.
I was planning to go to the United States and look for a position there which would enable me to earn a living, but someone whom you well know suggested that I should write to you and request your help. I have therefore hastened to write you this letter in the wish to know whether you would be willing to lend me your kind assistance.
I shall come to Mexico City in order to speak to you in person explaining how I should like to receive your help, since I feel strong enough to fight in life and your assistance will be sufficient for me to go ahead.
Looking forward to your kind reply, I remain,
Luz C. De Villa
- Reply -
The National Palace, May 8, 1923
It was with deep regret that I learned by your letter of March 9 under what difficult conditions you are at present, while at the same time, I am glad to see that you are courageously willing to on fighting in life.
If, as you say in your letter, you make a trip to this city, be sure to let me know in due time and I shall be glad to discuss your case with you and the position you desire.
With my best personal regards and placing myself at your orders, I remain.
Note: This meeting never happened. I do not believe Luz really wanted this meeting; she just wanted to bring her name to Obregon's attention or perhaps just to put Villa in a bad light not standing behind his word and, paying her the monthly income.
On July 20, 1923, Pancho Villa was assassinated.
The six brothers, back in Chihuahua, Luz had planned in great detail how the assassination was to be executed. Waiting in the apartment in the town of Parral for the signal from the man Luz had hired for the job, the brothers were tense. After the gun fire stopped, one of the brothers, Toribio, lay dead in the dusty streets of Parral as the five assassins appeared to ride leisurely out of town. It was with determination of purpose, for they had a train to catch as this was their preferred method of transportation back to La Junta and their wife's and families not to mention the gold.
There was great concern and fear among the brothers of being detected, (ongoing trial on who stole the gold). After much decision, it was decided to split up and go their separate ways. This was a very hard decision to make in that they had been so close all their lives; it almost felt like the end of their lives. By January 1925 they had all relocated to cities throughout the United States.
2 Denver, Sparks
3 San Pedro, Albuquerque
4 Madrid, Wrightwood, San Pablo
5 Los Angeles, Sacramento
Like Luz, the brothers were never wealthy however they did live very comfortable lives.
On July 30, 1923 Luz Corral had Gregorio Macias obtain a copy of her civil marriage to Pancho Villa, which was in Book 58, page 713.
On July 30, 1923 - Polo and Austreberta Renteria applied for Estate Administration Letter.
Polo from this time forward did not have any contact with Luz Corral. Luz wondered what sinister thoughts were running through his mind. All she knew was that he had changed from the moment he had heard of the assassination of Pancho Villa, severing their friendship forever.
Letter from Luz Corral to General Alvaro Obregon
July 30, 1923
As you well know, General Francisco Villa, my husband, has just lost his life, a victim to the treacherous snare that his enemies plotted long ago. This has filled me with sorrow and distress.
The purpose of this letter is to let you know that I am in the possession of documents showing me to be the wife of the late General Villa.
If, as I believe, my husband married Senora Renteria, it is my opinion that such marriage cannot be valid since there was never a divorce between my husband and myself that would render his new marriage legal.
If, as I am confident, I may rely on your kind support, would you please let me know of it, after which I shall immediately apply for the estate administration letters.
It is my wish to confer with you in person. This was my first thought from the beginning, but my lack of funds led me to write this letter in the hope of my being able to come to Mexico City later in order to speak to you about this matter.
I remain, Sir,
Respectfully yours, Luz C. Vda. De Villa
Reply from Alvaro Obregón
August 20, 1923
I am in receipt of your letter dated July 30; I deeply sympathize with your sorrow and beg you to accept my sincere condolence for your misfortune. At the same time, I wish you to know that I shall be only too glad to confer with you, if you come to Mexico City, and I shall grant you an audience in order to widely discuss the point you mention, because it is my wish to be of assistance to you, since I have always gratefully remembered you for the many attentions you had for the writer during his stay in Chihuahua and, more especially, for your kindness to my brother Francisco at the time he was a prisoner in that city.
Congressman Azuela has spoken to me on your behalf and I have promised him that you will be given the necessary railroad passes for you to come to Mexico City.
Note: The date of this meeting is not clear, however it did take place. Obregon paid for all of Luz's transportation, accommodations and also gave her additional money of 5000 pesos for any other expenses she might incur.
Obregon told Luz that it was his wish to be of help to her, since I have always remembered with gratitude the attentions you showed me during my stay in Chihuahua and in a special way those you showed my brother Francisco when he was a prisoner in the capital of that state. During his visit to Chihuahua, Luz Corral had an important role in saving his life in 1914, when she had helped prevent Villa from having him shot.
Obregon was also instrumental in having the government recognize Luz Corral as Villa's de-facto heir by buying from her all her rights to Canutillo and then occupying the estate.
The loss of the gold was duly noted by Pancho Villa however, as to who took it was a mystery. Villa did have people looking for the gold and who took it.
A man named Pedro Merz was charged with stealing the gold. The case was in court from October 1923 to sometime in 1925. There was no proof that the gold ever existed. The Court dismissed the case.
Jesus Salas Barraza confessed to the assignation of Francisco Pancho Villa and was sentenced to twenty years in prison. He was released in three months. Salas was then given a position as an officer in the Mexican military.
In the year 1976 a son of, one of the assassins who had spent much time as a child with Luz and Pancho, went to visit Luz.
The five brothers