On May 5, 1916 Mexican bandits associated with Pancho Villa raided the small village of Glenn Springs near the Big Bend area of Texas. As word spread across the country, it was widely reported that the United States government was “greatly surprised”, believing that the Mexican government led by General José Venustiano Carranza “had control against outlawry.”1
At the time, President Woodrow Wilson already had his hands full, vowing to keep the United States out of the war in Europe and dealing with a potential war with Mexico. On March 9, 1915 about five hundred Villistas had attacked and burned down the town of Columbus, New Mexico. American troops caught up with the bandits, killed about two hundred and drove them back to Mexico.
On March 14, Wilson authorized the so-called “Pancho Villa Expedition”, led by General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, to either capture or kill Villa. The small towns of Glenn Springs and nearby Boquillas, however, were mostly unprotected. On the night of May 5, “in a little adobe house nine cavalrymen made their fight for life against the seventy of more Villista bandits at Glenn Springs.”2 Three soldiers were killed during the raid as well as a young child.
The raid occurred on a Friday night, yet many newspapers weren’t reporting it until Monday the 8th. Even forty-eight hours later some of the facts remained unclear or were mis-reported. Whether or not these reports were ever corrected is unclear, since even a Brewster County (Texas) history book (Mirages, Mysteries and Reality: Brewster County Texas, the Big Bend of the Rio Grande) published in 1972 repeated some of the same mis-reported facts.3
Who Was the Young Child?
I came upon the story of the Glenn Springs raid awhile back as I was researching a friend’s ancestry. I wrote another Tombstone Tuesday article about my search for his birth father’s family and the research techniques I employed (see article here). Primarily through the use of death certificates and one short obituary I was able to uncover a part of this piece of history that was in fact mis-reported at the time and apparently perpetuated since then. The raid occurred ninety-nine years ago today – it’s time to clear up some of the mis-reported facts.
While I haven’t thoroughly researched the background facts surrounding the raid, but have a general knowledge as to the upheaval and unrest known as the Mexican Revolution, I do know who the young child was. His name was Oscar Garnett Compton, Jr., the son of Oscar Garnett and Civil (Grant) Compton, as recorded on his death certificate. Oscar, Jr. was born on October 3, 1911 in Nolan County, Texas.
At the time of the raid, Oscar, Sr. was reported to have been a clerk at a Glenn Springs general store, but curiously the newspapers never mentioned his wife Civil. Whether she was there with her family is unclear. That day was of course “Cinco de Mayo” and it was reported that Mexican residents of the village held their traditional celebration that day. Apparently the bandits had arrived at some point and mingled among the crowd without little notice paid to their presence. Around eleven o’clock that night after everyone had gone to bed, a small group of armed Mexicans knocked on the Compton’s door and asked whether any soldiers were stationed in Glenn Springs that night.
Compton told the bandits there weren’t any soldiers in the town that night, although that was not true as there were nine soldiers sleeping in tents nearby. Perhaps he thought the Mexicans, who detested American soldiers, would simply leave town quietly if he lied about their presence. That, however, turned out to be a wrong assumption.
About thirty minutes later, the Mexicans rode into the village crying, “Viva Carranza, Viva Villa!” This, of course, roused the soldiers who knew they needed to find a better place than their tents to fend off the raiders. A firestorm of bullets ensued and the small group of soldiers (nine), huddled in an adobe building, were able to hold off the Mexicans for a time. After two or three hours, the Mexicans set fire to the thatched roof of the building, causing the soldiers to flee for safety. Three soldiers were killed and four were either wounded or severely burned as a result of falling, flaming debris.
Before the raid had commenced and probably just after the Mexicans had knocked on his door, Oscar, Sr. decided to take his young daughter to the home of a Mexican woman who lived about a half-mile from his house. He left his two sons alone, apparently thinking the bandits had left town and it was safe to leave them alone. Big mistake.
Not long after he left the bandits came into town and raided his home, finding the two young boys alone. Newspapers around the country reported that his young ten-year old son was killed by the bandits, but didn’t report his name. Some newspapers reported that the young child was a deaf mute while other newspaper reports made no such claim.
The truth is Oscar, Jr. was killed that night at the age of four years, six months and two days as noted on his death certificate. The reports of his being a deaf mute were perhaps either mis-construed or mis-reported due to the media frenzy the attack caused. It was bad enough that a young child had been killed, but to report that he was a deaf mute sensationalized it more so.
Newspapers reported that the little boy, son of Oscar Compton, was deaf and dumb, and the bandits had killed him because he couldn’t answer their questions. Furthermore, it was reported that Oscar, Sr. had been captured with another man, carried across the Rio Grande and their throats slit. The May 9 issue of the Idaho Statesman reported, however, that Oscar had arrived in Marathon on Monday afternoon.
What about the reports of young Oscar being a deaf and dumb mute? Again, these were jumbled facts apparently. Clearly, according to the death certificate, Oscar, Jr. was about four and-a-half years old. Some reports claimed that the other son was named Tommy. Neither report was true.
The other son was my friend’s father Howard Compton, a deaf mute who was just a few months over six years old. The Brewster County history book recorded his age as ten (which is the age the newspapers were reporting as Oscar, Jr.’s age). It was surmised that Howard wasn’t killed precisely because he was a deaf mute and the bandits were superstitious – it would have been bad luck to harm or kill a “loco” or handicapped person.
Fifty years later, the Victoria Advocate (Texas) remembered the horrible event writing that Oscar, Sr. had reached Marathon by automobile from Glenn Springs, carrying the bullet-ridden body of his son. Oscar, Jr.’s death certificate was rather succinct. Written across the cause of death section were the words “Killed by Mexican Bandits”. He was buried in the Marathon Cemetery and Oscar, Sr. later left the area and lived in San Antonio.
Twenty-five years later the facts were still muddled as the Kerrville Mountain Sun (Texas) reported that “an eight-year-old white boy, son of the Comptons who lived there” was killed by the bandits.4 Oscar, Sr. was often referred to as “O.G. Compton”, although some sources would identify him incorrectly as “C.G. Compton”.
In 1991, The Paris News (Texas) wrote a series of articles about the Glenn Springs raid. More details were presented, although the facts continued to be muddled:
With the soldiers dispatched, the raiders turned their attention to the home of C.G. Compton, who had taken his daughter to the home of a friendly Mexican family across the gully from the factory. One bandit hammered in the door of the home with his rifle butt and another fired into the house, the bullet ricocheting off the door frame and killing seven-year-old Tommy Compton. Tommy’s brother Robert, a deaf-mute somehow wandered through the streets during the whole affair. None of the Mexicans would fire at him because they believed it was bad luck to harm a loco.
It doesn’t appear it was ever proven which bandit shot and killed young Oscar, although it was thought that Lt. Col. Natividad Alvarez had fired into the house. He alluded conviction on that charge but was convicted of robbing the store. At first, many believed that Pancho Villa himself had led the raid but that was also later disproved.
Even as late as 1991 the facts about the young son of Oscar, Sr. were mis-reported. Ninety-nine years to the day, I hope I’ve set the record straight. I also ran across an interesting side note.
On January 16, 1920, headlines across the country read something like this one from the Bisbee Daily Review (Arizona):
WAR AGAINST RED TERROR LOOMS ON HORIZON OF EUROPE
The United States was becoming increasingly concerned with the rise of Bolshevism, believing that radicals had spread their propaganda to Mexico. Another headline on the same page noted that Mexican President Carranza backed the Reds. It was also reported that the previous day a Senate sub-committee had convened in San Antonio, Texas to hear testimony regarding those claims.
A traveling salesman who worked in Mexico and declined to be identified for fear of reprisal testified that he had seen clear evidence that Carranza had sided with the Bolsheviks. Clearly, the sub-committee’s was focused on the rise of bolshevism, but at some point it was reported they took a a break from that line of testimony and heard from O.G. Compton of San Antonio. Oscar testified about the Mexicans crossing the border that night, riding nine miles into Glenn Springs to attack, and how he and the soldiers held off the raiders until daylight.
Stop by tomorrow for a Ghost Town Wednesday article and more on the history of Glenn Springs.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!