California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
California and the Punitive Expedition, 1916
On the Mexican Border, 1914 and 1916

By
Warrant Officer 1 Brett A. Landis
California Center for Military History
 
The 1st California Infantry at Fort Huachuca, Arizona
 
Relations between Mexico and the United States became strained shortly after the abdication of the caudillo-president Porfiro Diaz in 1911. The United States had been given good opportunity to exploit Mexican oil and mineral resources. Mexico's problems were not only associated with the United States. Great Britain and Germany had shared large influence in her economy. With some complicity from American diplomats, the anti-American, newly elected president, Francisco Madero was assassinated by Huerta operatives. Not aware of this at the time, President Wilson adopted a policy of watchful waiting and reversed established policy of recognizing de facto governments. Americans living on the border were impatient that the government turned a blind eye to property rights and lives of citizens were not being protected.
 
On April 9, 1914 Mexicans attacked Americans at the oil center port Tampico. Eleven days later President Wilson asked Congress for the authority to intervene militarily in Mexico. Diplomatic relations were severed and war seemed imminent. In California Governor Hiram Johnson received telegrams and letters requesting the national guard be sent to the border to stop the raids by bands of Mexicans. Governor Johnson's decision was a profitable election year move. On April 23, two days after the bombardment of Vera Cruz, the Los Angeles Battalion of the 7th California Infantry, under the command of Col. W. G. Schreiber, was directed to the border town of Calexico, California, to protect lives and property. Adequate protection on the border could not be provided by an army with too few of numbers.
 
The San Diego water system seemed vulnerable to sabotage. As these events occurred, San Diego's based units, 5th and 8th companies, coast artillery corps, California National Guard, and the 3rd division of the California naval militia were ordered to active duty. These units took up positions at the various reservoirs and water conduits. Troops discovered two tons of dynamite found near the Sweetwater Reservoir and a large amount of cyanide of potassium missing, believed to be in the hands of Mexican Guerillas. The national guard had been given notice of was Mexicans smuggling guns across the border. The state military forces assisted the regulars in guarding all roads and trails leading into Mexico from the San Diego-Yuma post road. When sixty Mexican prisoners escaped from the Point Loma refugee camp, it was the amateur soldiers who caught the vast majority of them within a two-day period. To facilitate communication a radio station was placed on Red Butte, a mountain just east of the city and was connected with Camp Otay by field telephone. This was the first time radio was used by the California while in active service. Now the forces could be spread with greater flexibility. Comparative peace and quiet prevailed. On May 11, after some eighteen days on active duty, the San Diego based units were withdrawn.
 
It was in early May that Argentina, Brazil and Chile, otherwise known as the ABC powers, assisted Wilson and Huerta to negotiate a settlement. In July Huerta appealed to President Wilson's pressure and voluntarily went into exile. Wilson had to reluctantly accept the popularly elected Carranza. Hurt in the process was Francisco Villa who now actively rebelled against the new government. Villa chose to spill American blood at Santa Ysabel and Columbus, New Mexico where seven American soldiers were killed and seven more wounded. Brigadier General John J. Pershing was immediately directed to lead an expeditionary force into Mexico for the purpose of catching and punishing Villa. The incursion had the half hearted support of Carranza while the ABC powers had suspicions about the behavior of the United States. Even though Villa evaded capture, several of his lieutenants were apprehended.
 
New repudiations came to the Americans on the border with Pershing's units away from their posts. Civilians and soldiers, without provocation, attacked in Texas leading to several deaths. President Wilson on May 9, 1916 called up the national guard in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to ward off further aggression. Yet even more force was necessary to patrol the long difficult line between the United States and Mexico. On June 18, 1916 President Wilson activated a large part of the militia and national guard in the other states. 135,000 officers and enlisted men were rapidly sent to mobilization camps. Governor Johnson directed the officers and men of the California National Guard to assemble at the armoires immediately. They were ready to entrain within twelve hours of the scheduled times.
 
Two weeks earlier the National Defense Act of 1916 had just become law of the land, yet, national guard organizations had not expected to have to comply with its provisions. The act established uniformity in periods of enlistment, conformity to Federal regulations, dual oath of allegiance to the Federal and the State government, higher officer service and more tactical units. To implement the new policy would lose precious time. Adjutants-Generals of the states were instructed to disregard the act for now and instead transfer units to the border, once reasonably equipped for the field.
 
The mobilization of California troops from Sacramento to Nogales began on July 1, 1916, was conducted in secrecy. This continued for the next week so that the entire operation of mustering and transporting the California National Guard to defensive positions had been accomplished within a two-week time span.
 
California National Guard and State militia fared better than the other states. Each of the infantry regiments was made up of 1,050 officers and men. Well above the nation average, 4,487 of 4,600 troops transported to mobilization camp and sent to the border. The minimum was quota was 6,954 officers and men, which put California effective strength at 65% minimum standards.
 
National guardsmen did not understand President Wilson's policy with Mexico but, then, most Americans did not understand it. The men in uniform expected to be put into service just as the regulars under Pershing had been used. It did become clear as the guard and militia were used in daily depressing details of drill inspection and police in the heat and dust. President Wilson had no intention to use the troops on the border in any other way. Morale had to be affected. A minority of guardsmen began to demand to be relieved from active duty and sent home. Most of these men had dependents and were non-commissioned officers. A letter campaign helped to obtain their wish. Others were sent home because of disabilities, which brings into question the quality of physical examination taken at the Sacramento mobilization center. To prevent further need of dependency discharges, Congress voted two million dollars to be used to help alleviate family hardships. The conditions of the army without corporals and sergeants must have made this situation bewildering.
 
There was one tense incident on August 4th, shortly after 1:00 am. It looked as if the California National Guard might get the moment it had been waiting for. A sentry from the 12th US Infantry was shot by a sniper hidden on the Mexican side of the Santa Cruz River. Members of Company C, 5th California Infantry, on patrol duty in the vicinity returned the sniper's fire. Soldiers on both sides of the river prepared for battle. It looked as if large bodies of Mexican soldiers were going to cross the international bridge, but cooler heads prevailed. The US Commander demanding restraint from the men issued orders. A formal request was made to General Callas, Mexican Commandant of Sonora for a full explanation of the shooting. There was no further incident.
 
Newspapers provided false hope for when soldiers would return home. This led to severe treatment to rumor mongers. It was September 1, 1916 when the first state troops returned to their home station, among these were the 5th California Infantry. Yet, other California units remained on the border and spent several weeks in intense training maneuvers.
 
On September 9, 1916 the 1st California Brigade was ordered to march fifty miles to Fort Huachuca for target and field practice. The routine there continued for three weeks. They returned back to Nogales in two days less time being now campaign hardened. On October 18, 1916 orders directed many of the units including the 1st Brigade, to mobilization camp in Los Angeles to muster out of federal service. On October 20 the brigade established its head quarters at Exposition Park. Other units followed out extended over the next five months.
 
It is not easy access the accomplishments of the national guard on the border. The presence of 150,000 state troops discouraged further depredations on American soil by Mexicans. It numbers over awed the Mexicans clamoring for war with the United States. By the end of August it was clear the national guard had served its purpose. Volunteers, good men became prepared for the larger role they would play in World War I.

Officers of Company L (Santa Ana's Own), 7th California Infantry at Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Captain J.L. McBride and Lieutenants Nelson M. Holderman and A.K. Ford
Lieutenant (later Colonel) Holderman would received the Medal of Honor in World War I and serve as the Commandant of the California Veterans' Home
 
California Ambulance Company Number 1, Nogales, Arizona, 1916
 
Machine Gun Company, 5th California Infantry, Nogales, 1916
 
Private Wilferd Earl Leggett with the Camp Flag of the 2d California Infantry. Mexican Border Campaign, 1916. Image courtesy of Private Leggett's granddaughter, Susie Grohs.
 

California Cavalry on the Border
 
Troopers of the the 1st Squadron, Cavalry, California National Guard in the field
 
A trooper prepares to go to the field. Notice the traditional saber at the soldier's knee


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