little village of Glenn Springs was a peaceful and productive but
isolated place in 1916 when it became part of an international incident.
Located at the southern end of the Chisos Mountains on the edge
of the Chihuahua Desert, it's part of Big Bend National Park now.
A spring-fed creek made Glenn Springs a popular site for centuries
in that harsh and arid land. Not by coincidence did the Comanche
Trail run through here, and it's no surprise that Comanches killed
the first white man who tried to settle there.
In 1916, Glenn Springs had a candelilla wax factory and a general
store. W.K. Ellis, who owned the wax factory, lived there as did
most of the workers. Nine members of the U.S. Cavalry were camped
in tents at Glenn Springs in May of that year as a measure of protection
from a revolution in Mexico that had spilled across the border into
When Pancho Villa's revolution first fired up in Mexico, Texas Governor
Jim Ferguson had asked President Woodrow Wilson to station U.S.
troops in the Big Bend, but the government denied the request, suggesting
that Texas should fight its own bandits.
As raids across the border became more frequent - and violent -
the government changed its position and sent troops to the region.
The nine soldiers at Glenn Springs were from Troop A, Fourteenth
Cavalry, and they were woefully unprepared for what was coming their
On May 5, 1916, somewhere between 100 and several hundred Mexican
raiders - accounts vary - slipped into Glenn Springs. A sentry fired
the opening rounds of what history knows as the Glenn Springs Raid.
The nine U.S. Cavalrymen, badly outnumbered, took cover in an adobe
building and held their own in a three-hour gun battle. In the early
morning hours, the raiders set fire to the roof of the building
where the soldiers were making their stand. The candelilla leaves
that served as a roof on the adobe building caught fire in a hurry,
forcing the men to make a run for it. Three of them died in the
attempt and four more were wounded. The young son of storekeeper
C.G. Compton also died in the attack.
A few miles away, in Boquillas,
another group of bandits attacked that undefended town. Somehow
or another, the townspeople managed to capture a Mexican officer
and some of his cohorts. The raiders took two hostages of their
own, storekeeper Jess Deemer and another man, Monroe Payne, a Black
Seminole with something of a reputation in Mexico as a gunfighter.
Deemer apparently took the raid in stride. He told the bandits he'd
been expecting them and even, according to one witness, helped them
clean out the shelves of his store and load the goods into their
wagons. According to the account, "The last seen of Deemer, he was
smoking his pipe, perched on a pyramid of goods that he was driving
in his own wagon drawn by his own horses across the Rio Grande into
tarried just long enough to rob a local mining company before skedaddling
across the river and deeper into Mexico with their plunder and hostages.
The cavalry, complete with a colonel's Cadillac and his personal
chauffer, took off in pursuit a few days later. The bandits sent
word to the soldiers that they would release their hostage if the
American released theirs. No deal. The bandits scattered and left
the hostages for the Cavalry to pick up at their leisure, which
In the aftermath
of the Glenn Springs Raid, President Wilson ordered more than 100,000
National Guard troops to the Big Bend region. The army established
more than a dozen "permanent" cavalry camps in the region, including
one at Glenn Springs, which went back to business of making wax.
By that time,
however, the trouble along the border was all over but the shouting.
W.D. Smithers, one of the early chroniclers of the Big Bend, served
at Glenn Springs as a member of the cavalry. He said that after
the raid, the soldiers has little to do except "watch for bandits
and play baseball."
By the time
the cavalry pulled out in 1920, the price of candelilla wax had
dropped, the wax factory closed, and Glenn Springs morphed into
a ghost town. What's left of the town, along with the graves of
those who died in the raid, remain as part of the park.
As for Deemer, the locals speculated that his "capture" was a ruse
- they claimed he was in cahoots with the bandits all along. Whether
that's true or not we can't say, but we know that soon after the
raid he sold his store in Boquillas,
lit out for California and never came back.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
January 4, 2016 column
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