Monday, October 18, 2010

Branan Towers Resident Chased Pancho Villa in 1916

This is the transcript of the 1982 Atlanta Journal article about my paternal Grandfather,
Thomas Franklin Marshall

Branan Towers Resident Chased Pancho Villa in 1916

      Tom Marshall, tall and erect at 85, still remembers in vivid detail being dispatched from the University of Kentucky to the Texas-Mexican border in 1916.

      He was part of an organized signal company as a student. The whole company was sent to the border when President Wilson responded to a raid by Pancho Villa, the Mexican bandit and revolutionary who crossed the U.S. border in March 1916 with 400 men, raiding and burning Columbus, New Mexico, killing 16 citizens.

      “Black Jack Pershing was sent down to go into Mexico and apprehend Pancho Villa,” Mr. Marshall recalled in his Branan Towers Apartment. “Pershing took a lot of the national guard troops with him. They were all mounted, including our Signal Corps outfit.”

      There was a remount station at Ft. Bliss, Texas where the soldiers drew their horses and mules from some 150,000 animals kept there.

      A Kentucky farm boy used to horses and mules, Mr. Marshall chuckled out loud at his mental picture of the city boys in his outfit trying to ride horses for the first time.

      “Our officers had us gather our horses, saddle and bridle them and lead them out. He told us to walk around the prairie with our horses and get acquainted with them. Then he blew his whistle and told everybody to mount up. I knew my horse, he had been broken. A lot of those horses had never been broken. It was the most ridiculous sight you ever saw, arms and legs pinwheeling all over the place.”

      Fortunately the commanding officer was a good professional who “straightened us out and made a good outfit in no time,” Mr. Marshall said.

      At that time the Signal Corps used, among other things, a strange device called a heliograph by which they could telegraph signals using the sun’s rays reflected by a mirror. The area where west Texas borders New Mexico provided two perfect spots to break the world’s distance record for heliographing.

      “From Mt. Franklin we could see the Sacramento Mountains far in the distance at Alamogordo, New Mexico, about 150 miles,” Mr. Marshall recalled. His detail was assigned to take a heliograph to the Sacramento Mountains and make contact with Mt. Franklin.

      Eighteen mounted men and a wagon pulled by six mules made up the expedition. The two extra mules were added because the desert sand made pulling difficult. Their route took them through the white sands of New Mexico later famous as a testing site for the nation’s first atomic bomb.

      We went at night to avoid the heat, riding 40 minutes, dismounting and leading our horses 10 minutes and resting 10 minutes,” he said, describing the vivid whiteness of the sand and the brilliance of the stars in the dry desert night, as if he had seen it last night instead of 66 years ago.

      “It was chilly at night because of the altitude and the dry air,” he said. “We would light the tops of those dried out yucca plants in the desert to warm the night air.”

      Alamogordo was [illegible], it had a city park in the center and cottonwood trees planted along the streets with a ditch alongside carrying water to keep the cottonwoods alive, Mr. Marshall remembered.

      They made it to the mountains through sands so white an early film company had just used them for a snow scene. At a mountain peak they set up the heliograph and made contact with Mt. Franklin, setting a distance record at the time.

      He never did see Pancho Villa. It wasn’t long before the U.S. entered World War I and Tom Marshall’s unit was torpedoed on a Dutch ship named The Princess, after Queen Juliana of Holland. They did reach France, but that’s another story.

      Mr. Marshall was in charge of the machine shop at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta for many years before his retirement in 1963. He still attends the Sunday School class he taught for two decades at Lakewood United Methodist Church.

      One son is vice president of a steamship company and lives in New Jersey. His daughter lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and a second son is with a major construction company in Texas. 


Anonymous said...

This is the story that Pap told me, he also told the sunday school class at Lakewood Methodist. Pap was sent with a squad of troopers in a forward position to observe the movement of the Mex. He said they were out in this place, across the border for a couple of days. The older troopers were running low on coffee and tobacco. Because he was the youngest trooper he was selected to ride to the rear lines and get the necessities. He took off with his horse and soon after got turned around. He rode into a town he did not recognize. He spotted some Mex. horses, and the Mexican men spotted him at the same time. He wheeled his horse around, said a prayer to God to deliver him from the enemy, and took off at a gallop. Pap said in a short time, he left the Mexicans in the dust. He still did not know where he was. All he could see was open prairie and a sky full of stars. Again he said a prayer for God's deliverance. Pap kept going in the direction he felt good about. He did make it back to the rear lines and completed his mission. Here is another story, that means more to me. After Grandmom died I visited Pap and we attended Lakewood Methodist. After the sermon, I was happily surprised that the minister gave an altar call. Never heard of this at Lakewood Meth. Pap and I were seated in the middle of the church. I felt moved to go up to the altar like I have never felt it before. Pap went with me and we were the only two to go forward and surrender our lives to Jesus. I know that we always believed, but that was the closest time I had with Pap. I am very thankful for that time. SK

Anonymous said...

Amazing story! When we did the Roving Sands exercise, our equipment was set up on White Sands Missle Range, but we lived at the Holiday Inn in Alamogordo. We drove over the Sacramento Mtns, going up to Ruidoso and Cloudcroft. The white sand has almost a sugar like feel. We went to Easter sunrise service on the sand. It was a very memorable experience.

Thanks for sharing this with us. Did you come across this article somewhere, or did you have a copy? It's really fascinating. I know you are very proud of him and his accomplishments.


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