SOLDIER OF FORTUNE -- ADVENTURING IN LATIN AMERICA AND MEXICO WITH EMIL LEWIS HOLMDAHL
Chapter 11: Young "Blood and Guts"
The punitive expedition, more than 10,000 strong, invaded Chihuahua on March 16, 1916. Pershing had three cavalry regiments, two infantry regiments, a battalion and two batteries of field artillery, plus the usual support units. His force included the army's First Aero Squadron, consisting of eight rickety! airplanes. The expedition entered Chihuahua in two columns, one coming from the railhead at Columbus and the other further west from Culberson's Ranch in New Mexico. The two columns met about 100 miles south of the border at the American Mormon settlement of Colonia Dublan.  There, Pershing hired Mormon guides, whose knowledge of the countryside proved invaluable.
In addition, it was hoped that the army's aircraft could spot Villa's troops and report back swiftly on their tactical maneuvers or escape routes. It was, however, to be a vain hope.
If Pershing hoped that his aircraft could emulate those of the European powers which routinely carried out bombing and strafing missions, spotted for artillery, photographed enemy positions, and reconnoitered their troop movements, he was to be bitterly disappointed.
The ill-fated First Aero Squadron, Aviation Section, Signal Corps, consisted of eleven officers, eighty-four enlisted men, eight Curtis JN-2 "Jennies," ten trucks, and a touring car. The aircraft were not supplied with accurate maps, reliable compasses, machine guns, bombs, or reliable engines. The "Jennies" were underpow-ered, had inadequate control systems, and were usually unstable in any but straight, level flight.
Although the squadron's commander, Captain Benjamin Delahauf Foulois, and his brave and capable pilots repeatedly risked life and limb to carry out reconnaissance missions, the obsolete aircraft proved useless. Their sole capability proved to be as messengers carrying dispatches to widely separated units and occasionally in locating stray U.S. cavalry.
On the squadron's first reconnaissance mission, which was to aid cavalry units hunting Villistas, Foulois had to report failure. The plane's ninety-horsepower engine lacked the power to take it over the peaks of the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Further flights resulted in a variety of equipment failures, navigation errors, abandoned aircraft, and teeth-jarring crashes, so that within a month, six of the eight planes were reduced to junk scattered over the Chihuahuan desert, and by the end of April the squadron was no longer operational.
In June, however, four new 160-horsepower Curtis R-2s arrived at Pershing's headquarters. Sadly, assembled hurriedly, they were missing essential parts. Pilots found their laminated wooden propellers often came unglued in the dry heat of the Mexican desert country.
After suffering many crashes and painful injuries, surprisingly, none of the pilots were killed. But, by August 1916, the First Aero Squadron came to its inglorious end. All the more need for men like Holmdahl who knew the enemy country. 
The expedition's main problem was not Villista troops but supplies. Villa realized he was too outgunned, outnumbered, and under-supplied to meet tough American regulars in conventional battle. Also, his troops were not the tightly disciplined fighting men of the Division of the North, as many were untrained youths drafted from small villages raided by Villa. They rode with him only because they had the choice of joining his band or being shot on the spot. Avoiding fights whenever possible, his men scattered into small bands, hiding out in the vast wastelands of Chihuahua.
The Americans were prohibited by the Mexican government from using the Northwestern Railway which bisected western Chihuahua. To supply the expedition they would have to depend on the inadequate Mexican road system. To sustain itself in enemy country, the expedition daily needed 100 tons of supplies to feed and equip the troops and 110 tons of forage to keep horses and mules healthy. Water was always a problem in this desert region.
It soon became obvious that the horse and mule-drawn wagons of the army could not possibly supply the expedition over the broken, rock strewn trails called roads in Chihuahua. General Hugh Scott, now chief of staff of the army, quickly purchased more than 600 trucks. He had to hire civilian drivers and mechanics to operate the motor fleet, as these trades were virtually unknown in the army. For staff use and reconnaissance, he purchased a dozen Dodge touring automobiles.
In the searing heat of the desert and chilling cold of the mountains, many breakdowns occurred, but the civilians managed to keep supply lines open. Supplies were always tight, but there was enough to enable the expedition to probe 250 miles deep into Mexico. As important as the transport were the civilian scouts who knew the water holes, grazing lands, and trails since hired Mexican guides proved unreliable. Often they led cavalry patrols into the mountains on wild goose chases. The population was hostile and merchants usually refused to sell supplies to the Americans, not that they loved Villa -- many despised him -- but they hated the presence of foreign soldiers on Mexican soil.
For the first two months, Holmdahl's activities are unknown. The reason for this void is that many records of intelligence operations conducted during the expedition are missing. It is possible they were destroyed in the 1920s, on the orders of General Pershing, then Chief of Staff of the United States Army.
There is evidence that Pershing hired two Japanese cooks to poison the elusive Villa but the mission failed. In those naive days assassination was not considered "cricket," so it is highly likely that when Pershing became head of the army, he purged the files of all relevant documents. This included any reports relating to other assassination plots and intelligence operations. 
This purging of documents gives additional credence to a statement made by Holmdahl in a 1962 interview with historian Bill McGaw. Holmdahl told McGaw that sometime in 1917, after Villa had successfully eluded the expedition's efforts to capture him, he was ordered to report to the office of General Bell, commanding officer at Fort Bliss in El Paso. According to Holmdahl, General Pershing and one of his officers, Colonel Herbert Slocum, commanding the U.S. 13th Cavalry Regiment, gave him three $20.00 gold pieces for expenses to travel to El Paso.
At Fort Bliss, Colonel Slocum met with him in General Bell's office and offered him $100,000 to go back into Mexico and kill Villa. Slocum stated that payment would not be from government funds. The $100,000 would be paid by Russell Sage, Slocum's millionaire father-in-law. Holmdahl said he turned down the offer for three reasons. First, he said, "I liked Villa personally, even though I fought against him." Second, he said, "I am not a assassin." Third, he admitted, "If I killed Villa, I never would have gotten out of Mexico alive." Holmdahl's career suggests the third reason seems the most creditable. 
While many of the exploits of Pershing's civilian scouts are lost to history, a few have been recorded. Art Leibson, the biographer of Sam Dreben, recounts how that daring mercenary, disguised as an itinerant Syrian peddler, hitched up a wagon-load of miscellaneous goods and traveled through Villista country. During his travels, he picked up valuable information on guerrilla movements, which he sent back to Pershing's headquarters.
His adventures nearly came to an abrupt end in a small village, when he was recognized by a Villista with whom he had previously soldiered. When the man gave the alarm, Sam leaped on his horse and galloped away, outdistancing pursuers who would surely have shot him if they had caught him. During his escape, to the delight of the villagers, he abandoned his wagon load of pots, pans, bolts of cloth, and various colored ribbons. It was probably the only bonanza the poor villagers ever received from the revolution. 
Villa continued to elude the Americans; however, he was shot in the leg during a skirmish with troops loyal to Carranza. In great pain, the general was carried by his ."Dorados" to a cave in the Sierra Madre mountains. Later, some of his men recalled, a troop of U.S. cavalrymen camped on a road directly below the cave entrance.
Sitting around their campfires, in the chill of the mountain evening, the Americans sang repeated choruses of the British Army's favorite marching song, "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary." Villa, listening, with little knowledge of English, thought the words sounded like the Spanish, "Se jalo buey con tapadera," which he translated as, "The ox got drunk with blinders on." "A strange song," he muttered to his amigos, "I wonder what it means"? 
In mid-April 1916, the expedition made its deepest probe, reaching Parral, 250 miles south of the U.S. border. Near the border of the state of Durango, the town was to be the scene of a number of events in Mexican history that were both blood), and bizarre. On April 12, after receiving permission from local authorities, Major Frank Tompkins, commanding two squadrons of the 13th Cavalry, rode to Parral with an advance party of eight officers and twelve enlisted men. 
While Tompkins and an aide talked with the alcalde, the rest of the party lounged in the city square. Suddenly a crowd formed, led by a beautiful, blonde, green-eyed German woman named Elsa Griensen. The woman, waving her arms and speaking in a strident voice, whipped the crowd into a frenzy of hatred against the Americans. She challenged their manhood and urged them to attack the lounging cavalrymen. 
The mob advanced on the Americans throwing horse dung and rocks, screaming "Viva Villa" and a varied array of Mexican curses. Tompkins rejoined his men and, rather than fire into a crowd of civilians, he ordered a withdrawal. The cursing mob, led by the green-eyed blonde, followed.
They were joined by Mexican soldiers loyal to Carranza rather than Villa. They, however, opened fire on the Americans, shooting a sergeant through the head and killing him instantly
After seven more cavalrymen were shot, one fatally, Tompkins had had enough and ordered his men to return fire. Crack shots with their deadly Springfields, the troopers of the 13th killed thirty-two persons, wounding twenty-five. Tompkins then ordered a withdrawal. 
In May 1916, Holmdahl again appeared on the scene, improbably involved with a young subaltern named Patton. After two months in Mexico, Second Lieutenant George S. Patton, Jr. was spoiling for a fight. Although an aide to Brigadier General John J. Pershing, he had been sent on many a dangerous ride, carrying orders to different columns of cavalry searching the Chihuahua desert for the fast moving Villistas. When the punitive expedition was formed, Patton badgered Pershing for a job as aide-de-camp. When he got the appointment, he became the most eager beaver on that demanding officer's staff. Thirty years old, tall, slender, aristocratic and good-looking, he was popular not only because of a likeable personality, but also because he would take on any dirty or difficult job with determination and enthusiasm.
By May, Pershing had established his headquarters near Rubio more than 200 miles deep in Chihuahua. Feeding men and horses in that barren countryside was more difficult than fighting the occasional skirmishes with stray Villistas. Since that part of Chihuahua could hardly feed its own population, it could much less provide fodder for the gringo invaders.
When intelligence sources reported that corn could be purchased at nearby Rubio and Coyote, Pershing called on his all-purpose aide, Second Lieutenant Patton, to take a small party of three automobiles and ten soldiers on a corn-buying expedition. Before departing camp on May 14 in three big Dodge touring cars, Patton surveyed his little band. There were two civilian drivers, ten infantrymen armed with the famed Springfield Model rifles, and two civilian scouts. One, a tall, lanky man, was Emil Holmdahl, who leaned against one of the cars with a saturnine grin and a big Colt .45 strapped to a gunbelt.
Holmdahl, by then, was a legend among the war correspondents and mercenary soldiers who had been reporting on or fighting in Mexico since 1910. Perhaps Holmdahl's grin was in anticipation that the young, and as yet combat-untried lieutenant would order his men to carry sabers. For if there was one flaw or eccentricity in Patton's makeup as a soldier, it was his dedicated belief in the value of charging with old-fashioned cavalry sabers. Patton had, in fact, designed the saber issued to U.S. cavalry regiments and constantly preached a doctrine of the arme blanche to anyone who would listen.
Most officers, including Pershing, only smiled at the young officer's declamations. They often pointed out that a line of cavalry each firing seven shots from the recently issued Model 1911 Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol had much more shock power than troopers leaning from their saddles trying to stick or slash an opponent. That morning, however, there was no mention of sabers, and the little group climbed into the three cars and drove twenty' miles down the bumpy trail to Coyote. There Patton bought a few bushels of corn, Next they drove a few miles further to Rubio.
Entering the town a few minutes before noon, Holmdahl spotted a number of men loitering around the plaza. Although they were unarmed, he recognized some of them as Villistas he had soldiered with in campaigns against Huerta. "They are Villa's men," he whispered, "and they are a bad lot." As the men sighted Holmdahl, they' drifted away down the crooked side streets of the town. Holmdahl's warning, however, set off alarm bells in the young lieutenant's mind. Colonel Julio Cardenas, former leader of Villa's elite troop of "Dorados," was rumored to be in the area.
Patton remembered that twelve days earlier on May 2, he had accompanied "H" Troop of the 11th Cavalry on a swift approach to the San Miguelito Ranch, eight miles north of Rubio. There the wife and mother of Julio Cardenas were living in a large hacienda. At that time, the troop deployed around the hacienda and swooped down upon the walled main house only to find it deserted. But Patton had a premonition about the place and he studied the buildings and terrain, just in case he might return there another day.
That morning, he reasoned, if Villa's men were in Rubio then Julio Cardenas might be holed up at the ranch. Driving a few miles north of Rubio, Patton called a halt and briefed his band of fifteen men. The hacienda was built in two L-shaped wings with a walled courtyard encompassing the entire structure. There was a horse corral a few dozen yards beyond the main gate.
Windows in the wall faced out, but there was only one gate from which a horseman could ride out and escape. The hacienda was 200 yards east of the road that Patton had followed from Rubio, and on tl1e side opposite the road was the main gate. If the Villistas attempted to escape, they would have to gallop out of the gate, cross the road, and ride for the mountains to the west.
Patton's plan was for the first auto, in which he rode, to drive past the hacienda and then make a quick stop. Patton and two men would leap out of the auto and run to the northern end of the structure. Holmdahl and the driver would remain in the car and cover the north side of the walled area near the corral.
The second and third cars were to stop on the road south of the complex. Three men from each of those cars would dismount and dash to the southern end of the building. They would intercept anyone trying to leap from the windows. The two men remaining in each of the cars would be able to stop others running from the building and, if necessary and terrain permitting, to drive in pursuit of any fleeing bandits.
As the three cars drove up by the ranch buildings, Patton spotted three elderly men and a young boy skinning a cow in the front yard. The boy eyed the braking autos, turned, and ran through the front gateway waving his arms and yelling. Seconds later he returned and calmly' went back to helping his elders skin the cow.
Patton said he "jumped out [of the auto], rifle in my left hand" and ran to the northern end of the hacienda, while the men from the other cars rushed to the southern end of the complex," He later wrote, "When I was about 15 yards from the gate three armed men dashed out on horseback ... I drew my pistol and waited to see what would happen if they were Carranzistas." 
Patton yelled, "Halt." Hearing his yell, the riders wheeled their horses and galloped directly at Patton and his men. Patton later recounted that when the horsemen were about twenty' yards away', "All three shot at me, one bullet threw gravel on me. I fired back with my new pistol, five times." Two of the bullets found their mark, one hitting the first rider in the arm and another rupturing the belly of the other horse.
At the sound of gunfire, Holmdahl, on the other side of the building came on the run, shooting rapidly. To get out of the line of friendly fire, Patton leaped around the corner of the complex, as three Villista bullets, possibly fired from one of the windows, smacked the wall by his head and showered him with adobe dust.
As the young lieutenant caught his breath and reloaded his pistol, he spied Holmdahl and one of the drivers sprinting toward him. Patton swung back around the corner of the wall and recalled, "I saw a man on a horse come right in front of me, I started to shoot at him but remembered that Dave Allison had always said to shoot at the horse of an escaping man and I did so." 
Dave Allison, a noted Texas law officer and range detective, had met Patton and exchanged a few drinks and tall stories with him while Patton was stationed with the 13th Calvary, Regiment at Sierra Blanca. The advice proved sound, as Patton's bullets "broke the horse's hip and he fell on his rider." "Impelled by misplaced notions of chivalry," Patton wrote, "I did not fire on the Mexican who was down until he disentangled himself and rose to fire." Holmdahl had no such inhibitions, and as the man staggered to his feet, the scout shot from ten feet away, killing him.
The Mexican, whose horse had been gutted by Patton's first shot, was now up and running. Patton recalled, "I saw the man about 100 yards off, I shot three times at him with my rifle, four or five others fired also and he went down."  Meanwhile, the man who Patton had shot in the arm as he fled through the gate, wheeled his horse and rode back into the hacienda courtyard. Easing himself out of the saddle, dripping blood from his shattered arm, he ran into the ranch house and dashed to the back windows.
Pulling himself through the window, he dropped to the ground, and firing his pistol with his good arm, he ran along a fence at right angles to the road. He was 300 yards away, when Patton spotted him and yelled to one of the troopers. The soldier calmly wrapped the sling of his Springfield about his arm, took a bead on the running man, and fired. The trooper shook his head and cursed as his first bullet missed. Aiming again, he fired and the man dropped. Turning to Patton, the trooper held up one finger and smiled. Patton later remembered, "It was remarkable how cool the men were during the fight." 
The wounded man, lying face down, lifted his head and with an effort raised his left hand in a gesture of surrender. But as Holmdahl strode toward him, the man's face twisted into a grimace of hate as he recognized the former Villista officer. With a final effort, he raised his pistol and fired.
Holmdahl, his sardonic grin never changing as the bullet sped past his ear, drew his pistol, and coldly shot his old saddle-mate, Colonel Julio Cirdenas, late commander of Villa's "Dorados," through the head. William Walker, one of the civilian drivers, later charged that Holmdahl was an adventurer who "killed for pleasure."  Cutthroat though he may have been, Julio Cardenas died game. Aside from Patton 's bullet that broke his right arm and Holmdahl's coup de grace to the head, the Villista officer had been hit with two other bullets that ripped through his lungs. The trooper's first shot did not miss after all.
Not lingering over the blood), body of the dead colonel, Patton made a quick survey of tl1e scene. Believing Cardenas might have as many as thirty men with him, he realized his troops were vulnerable to fire coming from the crenelated roof of the hacienda. Spotting a dead tree trunk lying against the wall of the house, he ordered two troopers to prop it against the side of the building.
Holstering his pistol and slinging his Springfield over his shoulder, Patton shinnied up the tree trunk and stepped out on the roof. As he did so, the roof collapsed under him, and he dropped down through the ceiling to his armpits.
Wiggling free, he perched on the shaky roof and scanned the deserted courtyard. Satisfied that there were no more Villistas lurking about, he climbed down, and, as his men gathered around, he ordered a room-to-room search of the ranch house and its out-buildings.
Patton ordered the three men and a boy, who throughout the fighting had ignored stray bullets whizzing by them, brought to him. Pushing the cow skinners before him, he used them as a movable shield as the Americans searched the labyrinth of rooms in the large hacienda. Finding the rooms locked, Patton used his revolver to shoot off the locks of each room before entering.
In one room they found, silent and tight-lipped, the wife, now the widow, of the Mexican colonel. She was holding his infant child in her arms. His mother stood beside her, staring defiantly at the intruders. In another room, they found two old women whimpering in a corner. A final search turned up a saber and a silver-mounted saddle, confiscated by Lt. Patton as trophies of war. The troopers collected the weapons of the three dead Villistas and stowed them in the autos. Then they hoisted the bodies, one to a car, and spread-eagled them over the hoods, tying them down. Suddenly, Holmdahl gave a shout and pointed to a body of approximately forty horsemen heading their way at the gallop. Patton, putting discretion before valor, weighed the odds and ordered his Dodge caravan to drive off at full speed. After a few miles when his pursuers were lost from sight, they halted.
Patton pointed to the telegraph lines paralleling the road. "Cut 'em," he ordered. A trooper climbed a pole and severed the wires with a bayonet. As they drove through Rubio on the way to Pershing's headquarters, the young lieutenant did not want a reception committee waiting for him. As it was, the trio of Dodge cars got some hateful stares as they passed through the town. Arriving at Pershing's headquarters about four o'clock that afternoon, they created a mild sensation. The little caravan bearing the bloody bodies stretched out on the hoods drove through the camp like a band of proud deer hunters displaying their kills. The two corpses, other than Julio Cardenas, were soon identified as Captain Isadore Lopez, a Villista veteran, and Private Juan Garza. On a plaintive note, in Lopez's shirt pocket they found an unfinished letter to his sweetheart.
Patton, in an ebullient letter to his wife back in El Paso wrote,
The General [Pershing] has been very complimentary telling some officers that I did more in half a day than the 13th Cavalry did in a week ... You are probably wondering if my conscience hurts me for killing a man. It does not. I feel about it just as I did when I got my swordfish, surprised at my luck. 
It seemed the West Point lieutenant and the hardened Holmdahl had much in common.
American newspaper correspondents assigned to the punitive expedition wrote gory dispatches that made the young lieutenant a national hero. One correspondent, Frank B. Elser of the New York Times, described the affair as "a fight that will go down as unique in the records of this expedition."  Patton, he pointed out, eschewed the regulation army Colt .45 automatic pistol and dealt out death with his personal ivory-handled six-shooter, But Patton ruefully reported to his wife that his fellow officers were teasing him for shooting the bandits rather than sabering them.
Ironically, Patton, one of the last of the romantic cavaliers charging on horseback with drawn sword, led one of the first American actions where cavalry dismounted from automobiles and fought on foot with rifle and pistol.
General Pershing, Patton told his wife, was jokingly referring to him as his "bandit." Other soldiers, after eyeing the Dodge autos with bodies dripping blood and gore, came up with another nickname. An old cavalry colonel, "Old Pants" Johnson, looking at the broken bodies of the Villistas remarked, "Look at the dirty bastards; look at the blood and guts on those dirty bastards."  And a legend and the nickname, "Blood and Guts," were born. Through it all, Holmdahl was said to have never stopped grinning.
At that time Holmdahl was still out on bail and was seeking a pardon for his federal conviction. He probably solicited the following letter from Patton:
Headquarters United States Troops Somewhere in Mexico May 20, 1916 To Whom it may concern:
This is to certify that Mr. E.L. Holmdahl was the Government Scout with the U.S. Troops under my command in an engagement with Villa Bandits, at San Miguel Ranch, Chihuahua, Mexico, on May the 14th. I have high recommended Scout Holmdahl for his coolness, courage and efficiency while under fire, he personally killed General Julio Cardenas, and Colonel Gildardo Lopez in a pistol duel. At that time Holmdahl fought in the open, without cover of any kind and shot with great accuracy and deliberation his action being that of a man at target practice.
I also wish to recommend him to any brother officer, who may wish a man who is thoroughly familiar with Mexico and its people or in any position of trust, as he is most reliable, and a Good Soldier.
(Sgd) Geo. Patton. 1st Lieut 10th, U.S. Cavalry. A.D.C. General Pershing. 
On July 10, Holmdahl was off on another scouting expedition for Pershing, as attested by the following pass:
Commander of the Guard Camp of Colonia Dublan
Please allow scout Holmdahl to pass the lines on Govt. business this date. July 10, 1916.
Respt. WW Reed Capt. 6th Cavalry Asst. Chief Staff 
Holmdahl was probably on a mission seeking Villa's whereabouts, and he may have succeeded. One can only speculate, but two weeks later he was back at Pershing's headquarters at Colonia Dublin where he was discharged. This coincides with Holmdahl's claim to historian McGaw that after he traveled to El Paso, a Pershing aide offered him $100,000 to assassinate Villa. His orders read as follows:
Headquarters Punitive Expedition, US. Army. In the Field, Mexico, July 24, 1916. From: The C.O. Hdqrs. Det. Punitive Expedition, Dublan, Mex. To: The Quartermaster at the Base, Columbus, N.M. Subject: Guide Holmdahl
1. Guide E.L. Holmdahl has been discharged and will leave for the border on the first transportation. Please pay him for services as guide from July 1st 1916 to date of his arrival at Columbus, N.M., Rate of pay One Hundred and Fifty Dollars, ($150.00) per month. He is entitled to transportation to El Paso, Texas.
M.C. Shallenberger 1st. Lieut., 16th Inf, ADC in charge of guides and scouts. 
Shallenberger was also the officer in charge of the expedition's intelligence operations.
Whether Holmdahl was discharged in anticipation that he would accept the assassination offer, and it was expedient for the army to sever all official coru1ections with him, is not known. But by the end of July, Pershing was increasingly frustrated by the limitations put on his command by Washington, D.C after Carranza, following the Parral fiasco, demanded the expedition be withdrawn from Mexico.
Pershing wanted Villa badly, and it seems he was not particular how he got him. Holmdahl's refusal to accept the mission to kill Villa may have angered Pershing, and he well might have refused to let Holmdahl re-enlist as a scout. Holmdahl disappears from view during the next four months, but in December while in El Paso, he received a curious telegram from the commanding officer of the Southern Department of the U.S. Army, based in San Antonio, Texas:
Received at 107 North Oregon Street, El Paso, Tex-s E.L. Holmdahl
Your telegram twenty sixth offering your services is at hand. Your name has been given to intelligence officer who is keeping track of all persons like yourself who might be of great assistance in case of a general movement into Mexico Thanks for your offer.
Frederick Funston Major General 
The general probably saw a kindred soul in Holmdahl, who received the following telegram:
Dec 26 1916 To: Scout Holmdahl Hdqts 606 Brigade
You are ordered to scout out around the Mesquite and report best location for next meeting of the staff. Should you encounter any of the enemy shoot on sight.
By order of Cmdg General Flynn Adj. GW [last name undecipherable] 
By this time, the United States and Mexico were very close to war, as Carranza increased his demand for the immediate withdrawal of the punitive expedition. In mid-June, Pershing, fearing an attack by the Mexican army, received information that a large force was building up at the railroad town of Villa Ahumada, about eighty miles south of El Paso. If war broke out, those troops would be on his left flank rear and could threaten his supply route from Columbus. Pershing issued written orders to Captain Charles T. Boyd, an experienced West Point-trained cavalry officer, to reconnoiter the area and specifically to "avoid a fight." It was said, however, that Pershing had a secret private conversation with Boyd before he departed.
On June 20, while camped at an American-owned ranch, Boyd announced that on the following morning he would ride through the little town of Carrizal, heavily garrisoned by Carranza troops. When his two fellow officers and a civilian scout protested this would not only violate his written orders but would precipitate a battle, Boyd muttered something about "In the morning we will make history."
The next morning he attacked Carrizal, eight miles west of Villa Ahumada. Boyd dismounted his eighty cavalrymen and charged on foot across 300 yards of open ground into 400 veteran Carranza soldiers sheltered in an irrigation ditch. The Carranza forces were armed with Mauser rifles and two machine guns. Tactically, it was like meat fed into a grinder. Boyd and one other officer were killed, two dozen more were wounded, and twenty-three were captured. The rest fled west across the desert until picked up by U.S. patrols during the following days. It was the sole defeat suffered by the expedition and it came not at the hands of Villistas, but by troops loyal to the Federal government. When one studies this fiasco, one can conclude that either Boyd had taken matters into his own hands or that perhaps Pershing had whispered unofficial orders in his ear.  Chafing at the restrictions placed on his command, Pershing may have wanted to create an incident that either would lead to war with Mexico or encourage Washington to lift the restraints and enable him to further pursue Villa. The truth will never be known. Although hotheads on both sides of the border clamored for war, cooler heads prevailed, and negotiations for the expedition's withdrawal were conducted by the American and Mexican governments. As a result, Pershing pulled in his patrols and drilled his troops in camp.
As Pershing's cavalry pushed deeper into Mexico during March and April of 1916, Villa and most of his band scattered and retreated into southern Chihuahua. Reconstituting his forces there, Villa was able to raid Chihuahua City and spread havoc as far south as Durango. But while he was still a regional menace, his ability to seize power in Mexico City was broken.
In later years he became more of a nuisance than a threat to the central government. By 1920 he had alienated many in his Chihuahua strongholds, and President Adolfo de la Huerta was able to purchase his abdication from politics with a generous gift of land and money.
Many considered Pershing's expedition a failure because he did not kill or capture Villa; but Pershing was not a sheriff and the U.S. Army was not a posse.
Driving Villa and his men far from the American border successfully protected American towns and properties from further raids. This, in fact, was the major strategic purpose of the expedition. Also, breaking up Villa's main forces early in 1916, enabled the Carranza government to consolidate its power over Mexico and begin to introduce political and economic stability.
It can be argued that the worst possible outcome of the expedition was to kill or capture the elusive Pancho Villa. To have killed him in action would to have made him a martyr with the United States being the chief villain. To capture him would have been worse. He would have been taken to New Mexico, tried for murder, convicted, and subsequently hanged in the back yard of the Deming, New Mexico jail, along with the other Columbus raiders. His execution would have been a lasting symbol to rally hatred against all Americans.
In preparation for war against Germany, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the expedition to return to the U.S. In January 1917, the expedition began to pull back across the border. By February 1, all American troops had been withdrawn from Mexico. 
On April 6,1917, the United States declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. On May 10, Pershing was summoned to the office of General Hugh L. Scott, the army chief of staff, and told that he would command the American troops who would be sent to France. 
Meanwhile, Holmdahl was eager to get into the Great War. But as a convicted felon no longer working for the army, he was in danger of having his bail canceled and being forced to Serve out his eighteen-month sentence in a federal prison. Using all the influence he had built up over the years, he increased his campaign to get a presidential pardon.