Douglas V. Meed is the author of numerous books, including
Bloody Border and The U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-1848.
Soldier of Fortune joins his books that explore
along the Texas-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution.
The son of an army officer stationed along the border, Meed
grew up listening to tales of the revolution and events
along the "bloody border."
seventeen, he volunteered for the U.S. Army, serving in the
infantry and in an intelligence unit in Europe during World
After the war, he graduated from the University of Texas at
Austin with a degree in journalism, and later earned a
master's degree in history from the University of Texas at
While a reporter for the San Antonio Light, Meed won a
Hearst writing award, and has served as a reporter and
editor for numerous newspapers.
served as a foreign service office with the U.S. Information
Agency during the Cold War.
Douglas V. Meed lived in El Paso, Texas for many years.
He traveled extensively in Mexico and the southwestern
United States, researching border history. He and his
wife, Jeannine, live in Round Rock, Texas, where he
continues his research in southwestern history.
I drew these
tides of men into my hands and wrote my will across the sky in stars. --
Emil Lewis Holmdahl was the last of that fabulous breed of
soldiers-of-fortune who swashbuckled their way through
the wars and revolutions at the beginning of the 20th cen
tury before the romance of soldiering died in the muddy, blood-
soaked trenches of World War I.
Holmdahl was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, to a farming family of
Swedish immigrants on August 26,1883.  At an early age he thrilled
to Rudyard Kipling's stories of exotic battles in the Far East and to
the "dime novel" adventures of cavalrymen and lawmen in the
American West. But unlike most boys, he turned his childhood
dreams of martial glory into an exciting, if dangerous, reality. 
Escaping his rustic origins, from age fifteen to eighty, he swag-
gered his way across a score of battlefields. He soldiered in the
mountains and jungles of Asia, through the swamps and crumbling
ancient cities of Latin America, in the ferocious battles of the
Mexican Revolution, and in the hell of World War I trenches. He
fought Filipino insurgents under the Stars and Stripes, overturned
Central American dictators, battled alongside Pancho Villa, then
fought against Villa, and probably was the man who cut off Villa's
Holmdahl was condemned to a U.S. federal prison for gunrun-
ning until paroled to serve General John J. Pershing during the 1916
punitive expedition into Mexico. There, he guided a green Second
Lieutenant George Patton across the Chihuahuan desert to his first
bloody gunfight. After a pardon granted by President Woodrow
Wilson, Holmdahl fought as a commissioned officer alongside
American and British soldiers in France in World War I. There he
helped smash the last German offensive in 1918. As an aged senior
citizen, he was investigated by the Secret Service for smuggling gold
bars out of Mexico.
Although he had the hard-edged roughness of the professional
soldier and hardly any formal education, Holmdahl held the respect
and affection of generals and political leaders on both sides of the
U.S.-Mexican border. In some of his more introspective writings he
showed a touch of the poet. Surprisingly, for all his "rake-hell"
adventures, this tough and complex man managed to live to a ripe
It was through a few very fleeting mentions of his name in El
Paso newspapers during the years of the Mexican revolution that I
first came upon the Holmdahl story. Intrigued, I searched through
many histories, memoirs, and newspaper accounts of the revolution
and found only a few tantalizing tidbits of information. A thorough
mining of El Paso newspapers revealed little except stories of his
1915 trial for gunrunning.
His army records from his first enlistment in 1898 through
World War I were destroyed by a fire in the St. Louis Federal
Depository. Records of his service as a civilian scout and spy for
General Pershing have disappeared -- possibly destroyed on that
general's orders. Remaining are the personal letters of 2nd Lt.
Patton, General Pershing, and verbal reminiscences of those who
knew him. His reports to the War Department are preserved in the
While he gave a few contemporary interviews during the
Mexican Revolution to Chicago and California newspapers, for the
most part he was a secretive, furtive figure. This is not surprising
since he was often involved in gunrunning, spying, revolutionary
plots, and secret missions along the Mexican border. Like many of
the freebooters who fought in the Mexican revolution, there are
numerous legends about him sung in the corridos, the folk songs of
Mexican peasants. Surprisingly, many of them are true.
Fortunately, after Holmdahl's death in 1963, his nephew,
Gordon R. Holmdahl, bundled up his uncle's vast array of newspa-
per stories, United States and Mexican government documents, and
diary jottings. These, in addition to other records he held, cast much
light on his uncle's sometimes flamboyant and often shadowy life-
time adventures. Those records and a large number of photographs
were donated to the Bancroft Library at the University of California
at Berkeley. My wife and I flew to Berkeley and were the first, and
perhaps the only, persons to examine the material. At his home in
California, Gordon Holmdahl provided other insightful material and
a treasure trove of photographs.
This is the story of that fabled man, Emil Lewis Holmdahl. He
was the last of the great soldiers-of-fortune who roamed the world
fighting under different flags for money, adventure, sometimes for
principle, but mostly just for the hell of it.
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