A biography of Wallace Hume Carothers , b. 1896, d. 1937, entitled "Enough for One Lifetime", Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon, will be published by the American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, late in March 1996. The book celebrates the centenary of the inventor's birth, April 27, 1996. The author is Matt Hermes.
I have been researching off and on for ten years the life and career of George Cupples Carothers, who was a U.S. consular agent resident in Torréon, Mexico in 1910. During the Madero Revolution of 1911 he reported to the U.S. State Department on events there and elsewhere... During the Mexican Civil War of 1913-1915, Carothers was the U.S.representative and intelligence agent appointed to accompany the forces of Francisco "Pancho" Villa. He was born in San Antonio, TX, in 1878 and as a young lad was taken to Mexico, where he grew up muy simpatico; some of the more chauvinistic yanquis resident there considered him a "traitor to his race". Because he was U.S. consular agent, he was in place and because he was known to be friendly to the revolutionists, he was readily accepted by Villa as as compañero. GCC continued to accompany Villa until the Villistas' defeat in the spring of 1915 by Carranzista forces commanded by Alvaro Obregon. In the event, the Villistas were driven back to the Arizona border and his forces were finally dispersed after the Battle of Agua Prieta in October 1915. At this time the Wilson administration recognized Villa's opponents, the Carranzistas as the de facto government of Mexico. After the defeat, Villa and a few hundred men, withdrew into the Sierras, to emerge on March 9,1916, making the Columbus Raid. After Carothers left the Villista forces he continued to roam the border, while residing in El Paso, TX. It is not clear when he ceased to be an active intelligencer but he remained friends with Gen. John J. Pershing, who, before he had commanded the Punitive Expedition, had been the border patrol commander at Fort Bliss, El Paso, TX. They kept in touch until GCC's death. Subsequently, GCC's widow, Minna Hall Carothers, continued to keep in touch with Pershing until his death. I have mined the Pershing papers in the LC for all relevent materials on GCC. Minna Hall died in the 1950s.
Both Carothers are listed in the NYT Obituary Index. GCC 3 times. He even rated a front page article in the NYT. So many people came to his funeral that they had to stand in the street. All in all, a once popular and well-known man but now forgotten in the mist stirred up by subsequent events of the Great War and after. GCC's early life and career is well documented in State Department personnel files, and his reporting and revolutionary career is well summarized in Larry Hill's Emissaries to A Revolution.
There are scattered mentions of him in both Obregon's and Villa's memoirs; the former did not favor him because he was considered to be on the other side, even though that was his assigned duty, and Villa, who seems by inference to have been influenced heavily by GCC in dealing with the crisis caused by the Vera Cruz occupation in 1914, and the English cattleman Benton's murder by Villa's right hand man, Fierro, would have been reluctant to publicly say so.
In the event, Carothers never returned to Mexico to live, and ended up by the twenties in New York City, where he was in business and married Minna Hall, a businesswoman in her own right. In 1920 he was living in Rochester when he testified about the Columbus Raid before the Fall Committee investigating Mexican "raids and
Carothers never appeared in the 1910 Census and was not important enough at the time of compilation to be included in a Directory of American residents in Mexico which is on Microfilm in the LC. GCC does appear in various NYC Manhattan Directories and in the 1925 NY Census but little detail is to be gained there from. I could not find him in any El Paso sources of the time except for an address.
GCC was married while resident in Torréon and had one son. But in accord with the custom of the time she is always referred to as "and wife". No record have I found gives her name. I had originally thought she had died, because several sources said she was sickly, and searched cemetary and death records for the period but when I got GCC and Minna Hall's marriage certificate, it stated GCC had been divorced. Although it is not really important to the story, I really want to find the first wife's name and what happened to her and the son. The obituary stated that he was in Buenos Aires, Arg., but a check of recent phone books revealed nothing of the name. There were supposed to be a brother or cousins in 1943 living in Mexico.
I intend to write his biography and want to fill in the last twenty years of his life and to find his personal papers, if indeed they still exist.
His existing reports in the National Archives reveal an intelligent and
hail-fellow-well-met type who enjoyed life and remained life long friends with many persons of renown.
*The watcher reference is to the Highlander TV series.
Carter Rila can be contacted at email@example.com
Added June 13, 1999
You can send me email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 1997-2006 Donald E. Carothers, All rights reserved.
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Odd Man in Intelligence, June 1, 2001
El Cutachero (MD USA) - See all my reviews
While researching in the State Department files on the activities of George Cupples Carothers, who was the US State Department representative accompanying the army of Pancho Villa (Division del Norte) in 1914 and 1915, I kept coming across telegrams and reports signed "Cobb". Cobb was the US Collector of Customs at El Paso, TX, and El Paso was the hub of US intelligence gathering, a main base for reporters, and the main port of entry for supplies and munitions going south to Villa's forces as they moved toward Mexico City in opposition to the Federalistas under Gen Huerta. Likewise, it was the point for the export of Mexican products north whose sale was vital to the support of Villa's forces. Thus Cobb held the valve which could stop the flow of goods in both directions. As it was, Cobb, an appointee of Woodrow Wilson, was an enemy of Villa, but so long as the Wilson administration did not choose to recognize one of the two contending Constitionalist leaders, Villa, or Carranza,and there were State Department observers with both factions in the North, Cobb had to let the pipeline flow, though once, he was able to choke off Villa's advance by holding up trainloads of coal for Villa's trains. As Villa's fortunes waned after the battles in early 1915 and he began his long retreat north, Cobb became more and more active in intelligence matters. Judging from the traffic he acted as a de facto reciever of messages from others as well as gleanings from his own network. This was entirely ex officio as the Treasury Department had no intel functions then except for gathering information on smuggling. It appears Cobb was one of those fellows who gravitated to the action and was unwilling to sit by and count rail cars as they rattled across the Rio Grande to Cuidad Juarez. There is much traffic in the State Department files signed by Cobb concerning the hunt for Villa after he dispersed his forces in late 1915 subsequent to the defeat at Agua Prieta, Sonora. Villa's forces finally reappeared to raid Columbus, New Mexico, on March 9, 1916, thus precipitating the Punitive Expedition led by John J. Pershing. Cobb fell out of political favor in El Paso after his term and left for California where he spent the remainder of his life. This study is everything I wanted to know about Cobb and now I will not have to write him up. :)
Pancho Villa is STILL causing problems for us foreigners. Nah… not the “Frente Pancho Villa” marxist groups here in Mexico City… just thinking about the guy. I’d set out to write Mexican history years ago, but bumping into folks like Pancho can lead to some strange detours into folklore and modern legends, Masonic conspiracy theories, Woodrow Wilson’s family tree and… Hollywood!And to think all I had to do was translate an obituary about an old Zapatista. Zapata - Villa… can’t talk about one without someone bringing up the other. Lynn Keelan send along her remininces of an encounter with Luz Corral, Villa’s “official” widow (probating the will of a man with 23 wives, 320 children and several mistresses must have taken some doing). James B. Baker’s 1967 account of his adventures as a hacienda manager for the Hearsts, and his own encounters with Villa and Luz Corral are the source for the photo of young Luz. Luz in 1974 is from “Calfornia Native Newsletter”, a link included in Lynn’s original piece for Lonely Planet Thorn Tree.
Not all Villa’s press in the United States was favorable. William Randolph Hearst, the media mogul of his day, also owned extensive cattle ranches in Chihuahua and Sonora. Villa financed his army through cattle sales – the cattle belonged to Hearst. Driven across the border into Arizona, the cattle were sold to small ranchers who didn’t ask questions, and didn’t like rich California newspaper owners either. In Hearst’s newspapers, Villa was nothing but a bloodthirsty bandit.Hearst’s greatest rival was the New York Times. To the Times, Villa was a Mexican Robin Hood. George Carrothers, the Times reporter, was treated more as a foreign ambassador than a war correspondent. With good reason: Carrothers had a cousin named Woodrow Wilson: Villa was hardly the simple bandit chief he sometimes seemed. His staff included social reformers, anxious to try out new theories in Villa controlled territories, politically astute civilians, competent financial advisors, adventurers, military men (Villa paid his army regularly, and attracted willing soldiers and professional officers to his side), and more than a few cold-blooded killers.
But what impressed Carrothers’ cousin Woodrow about Villa was that he was winning, and Wilson concluded someone – anyone – would run Mexico better than Huerta. And Wilson had seen the pictures of Villa in action. There had been battle photographers before 1910, but cameras were too bulky to carry. Most war photos were staged after the battle. Portable cameras, and movie cameras were available by the time the Mexican Revolution started. Also, there had been advances in printing, so photographs could now be printed in the newspapers. Finally, people had begun going to the movies. People were still amazed to see films of President Wilson taking a walk. A real battle was something only soldiers (and a few adventurous tourists – or unfortunate bystanders, like those in El Paso) ever saw. Raoul Walsh, a pioneering Hollywood film director, claimed he only wanted to bring the reality of war to the people. The closest battlefield to Hollywood was just across the border from Arizona, where Pancho Villa was attacking the Federal Army. Walsh found a cooperative Pancho Villa ready to help. Walsh’s The Life of Pancho Villa was one of Hollywood’s first international hit. Who used who is an open question, but Villa did become the world’s first film star.
When the light at dawn wasn’t good for Walsh’s cameraman, executions would be rescheduled for later in the morning. When Walsh wanted to film a battle scene, Villa was willing to oblige. Furthermore, he added that the Federal Army would cooperate, so they could stage a battle. Unfortunately, Villa just didn’t have enough ammunition to make the thing look real. If Walsh could just buy the ammunition, they would have a great newsreel.
Villa, of course, hadn’t told the Federal Army a thing about the “staged” battle. With the cameras rolling, the Division of the North overran the Federal positions. It was an unimportant battle, and as bloody as any in the Revolution, but notable for being the first battle ever captured on film and, the first battle most moviegoers ever saw. Villa’s staff showed real creativity on several occasions, not just when the cameras were rolling. They employed a “Trojan Horse” strategy when they captured Ciudad Juarez.
Taking over a telegraph station, they convinced the Federal garrison in the city that they were Federal reinforcements. It was imperative to keep the tracks clear. The Army cleared the tracks, and Villa’s forces arrived in record time.
Villa fought brilliantly, but what exactly he fought for was not always clear. “Exterminating justice” is what Villa told John Reed. Social and economic reforms introduced in Villista-controlled territories were usually successful, but did not seem to follow any particular plan or philosophy. The reforms in Villista territory seemed to have as much to do with whether the person in charge read socialist or communist or capitalist literature as anything. Or if they even read. In some places, “justice” meant destroying the debt records in the local hacienda office and lynching unpopular businessmen and priests.
Originally, Villa had rebelled to avenge Madero. But, as the Revolution dragged on, he ignored his putative leader, Carranza, and joined forces with Zapata. The Zapatistas had some social program and it looked, for a time, that either Zapata or Villa would become President. Zapata didn’t want the job. There is a famous photograph of the two, and their aides, gathered around the “throne” Porfirio Diaz used in the Palacio Nacional. Villa is sitting in the chair, laughing at the joke. The unsmiling Zapata was asked to also sit in the chair, but suggested instead that the burn it.
For Zapata, “justice” worked from the bottom up. To Villa, “justice” came from the man in charge. A few years later, the Russian Revolution ran into the same conflicting visions in the fights between the “soviets” (village units) and the Communist Party. Foreigners have always expected Mexico to follow European models, and forget that Europeans sometimes follow Mexican ones. John Reed, the American Communist, saw the Villa-Zapata forces as Communists. So did a lot of American businessmen. Villa certainly attracted Communist supporters, and is still seen as a Communist revolutionary.
More important than the political labels was the simple fact that the Constitutionalists were winning. The United States began shifting support to Carranza.
Zapata was eventually murdered, and his rebellion collapsed. Obregón turned his attention to destroying Villa, reducing his armies to guerrilla bands. Villa eventually launched attacks on the United States, which ended his foreign support. Eventually, he was persuaded to end his rebellion and retire to a hacienda. Psychologists have speculated on Villa’s mental condition. He could kill people without a second thought, even civilians. How many he personally murdered is still unknown. Perhaps hundreds. On the other hand, the man betrayed very real emotional depth. At a memorial service for Madero, he broke down and wept. His admiration and love for the little landowner was genuine. He loved women – all too much. The stories of him raping rich men’s daughters and wives are exaggerated, but he was sexually hyperactive. He married again and again and again. He went to the trouble to obtain marriage certificates for at least 23 wives, making him one of the champion bigamists of all times. None of his wives ever spoke of him as anything but loving and gentle. His many children, both by his wives, by several girlfriends, and one-night stands, all remember a particularly fond and doting father. Villa loved children. It wasn’t unusual for wealthy Mexicans then – and to some extent now – to shelter and educate homeless children. Melchor Ocampo, who was abandoned as a baby on the local hacienda’s doorstep, was unusual only in inheriting his foster mother’s fortune. Madero had 12 orphans living on his hacienda. Part of Villa’s “retirement package” when he agreed to surrender to the new Constitutional government included a hacienda. He brought a trainload of street children from Mexico City – 300 of them – to the hacienda to be given a decent home and the Villa name. And, most importantly to Villa, an education: never having a chance to go to school, the “Mexican Robin Hood” took to education with a vengeance. Adult literacy was Pancho Villa’s last campaign. He had always understood the value of propaganda. Photographs of the ex-guerrilla leader taking classes along with the children, or reading to them, were used across Mexico to advertise educational programs.
Villa’s life is largely a mystery, and so is his death. He had made his hacienda a model farm along the lines of Madero’s visions. It had the schools, clinics, decent housing, its own electrical plant, and telegraph office. Like the old haciendas, it had a company store, but with a twist. The hacienda was too far from Parral for the workers to go shopping, so the hacienda bought wholesale and sold items below retail to workers and neighboring villages – a sort of Revolutionary “Sam’s Club”. Obregón’s last surviving important rival was regularly featured in the press, and was hardly forgotten. When the government, hoping to revive the economy, offered to lease some old haciendas to American companies, Villa’s loud and public objections to the anti-revolutionary idea forced the government to change its mind. And, Obregón’s government hoped to re-establish diplomatic relations with the United States: one minor issue with the United States was lingering resentment of Pancho Villa. His attack on New Mexico, and a few raids into Texas, could not be forgiven. After all, he had successfully attacked the gringos, and might still cause problems.
So, what happened in Parral on July 20, 1923 isn’t a complete mystery. Villa was driving home from a christening when an unknown group of men – in a house rented the day before, then barricaded – opened fire on the car, killing all 8 occupants. The men rode out of town on horseback, and were never seen again. What happened three years later is even stranger. Someone dug up Villa’s body and cut off the head. Who, or why? Theories range from probable (old enemies still out for revenge – and their own ideas about “justice — or ghoulish souvenir hunters), to implausible (a favorite with American newspapers of the time had Villa’s head stolen by California gangsters in the pay of an Oklahoma spinster with an unrequited love for the ex “movie star”). There are other gringo suspects: Yale University and Laurel and Hardy.
A story that has taken on popularity since the 1990s is that the head was taken by members of Yale’s ultra-secret “Skull and Bones” society, which uses a human skull in its rituals. The society is connected with the York Rite Masons (Poinsett’s “Yorkistas”) and both George Bushes are members of the organization. Prescott Bush, father of the first George Bush, was also a member, and was inducted a few weeks after the head disappeared. How anyone would have known that the student joining the organization in 1926 would have a son who ran the CIA and later would be President of the United States, and a grandson who would also be President, is never quite explained. It is known that Villa fascinated, among many others, Stan Laurel, the early film comedian. Periodically, Laurel went to Mexico to get drunk, away from public scrutiny. According to one legend, Laurel looked up from his gin bottle in a Parral hotel room just in time to witness Villa’s murder. That implausible story leads to the even stranger rumor that Laurel — with or without Oliver Hardy’s assistance – took the head. Woodrow Wilson would seem a likely culprit, but he was a bed-ridden invalid by this time.
 It didn’t help Villa’s reputation any when Ambrose Bierce, a respected North American author, Civil War veteran and Hearst reporter, disappeared while searching for Villa’s army. Bierce was elderly and depressed. He may have committed suicide, he may have simply died, he may have gotten lost in the desert, or he may have been killed after joining the revolution - the possibility Carlos Fuentes used for his novel, “The Old Gringo”. Early films tended to “bleach out” the actors, and dark haired, dark-skinned men like Villa had an advantage. The first major Hollywood stars were the south Italian, Rudolph Valentino and the Mexican, Ramon Novarro. Valentino died before sound was added to films, and Novarro’s thick accent made it hard for him to continue working. He became a civil rights activist, fighting for Mexican-American rights in the 1940s, and gay rights in the late 1960s. Ramon Novarro
 Communist banners in Mexico often show Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Pancho Villa. Unidad Habitacional Allepetlalli in Xochimilco includes streets named for Marx, Engels, Stalin and Villa. One story, possibly exaggerated, has Villa calmly gunning down an off-key singer who interrupted him during a newspaper interview.
… and now, the REST OF THE STORY… (courtesy of Lynn Keegan)Pancho and “official” wife, Luz Corral (E. Bryant Holman, ca. 1920)
In 1971, I was at a party in Boulder, Colorado. One of the asst. professors at CU was dancing with me and he mentioned that he had just returned from a short trip to Mexico. He went there to interview Pancho Villa’s widow. The following summer, Jim and I were in Durango and I kept noticing so many old women (dressed in long black dresses and veils) begging for alms outside the churches. Jim told me that they were the widows of the revolution. It occured to me that that era was coming to a close and I asked him if we could stop off in Chihuahua to visit the Villa Museo on our way home. I recalled watching an interview with Anthony Quinn on TV (Dick Cavett Show). He was telling stories about watching his father riding atop a train in northern Mexico with a bunch of other Villa soldiers as they headed into battle. At this time, I didn’t know diddly or squat about much Mexican history, but the Revolutionary War era sounded very romantic to me. I wanted to follow up.
We arrived in Chihuahua by bus, walked past a large prison, and finally located the Villa Museo. We walked inside, couldn’t find anyone around. So I continued to try to find a person to pay or to ask permission from. That’s when I saw a very old woman sitting in a rocking chair in a dimly lit room of the house. She didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Spanish, so I got my husband to translate for us. That’s when he told me that she was “the lady of the house”…. the widow Villa.
I asked her if she would speak to us for a little bit. She was in no condition to be the “hostess with the mostess”, but she was agreeable. She was feeble and kind. She looked like all the other widows (dressed in total black, shawl, veil, dress and stockings). Her eyesight was nearly gone and that probably explained the darkened room. After looking up on the internet for some info about Villa’s widow, I should note that I found an article and photo of Luz Corral. She doesn’t appear to be blind at all. Perhaps she wasn’t feeling well on the day we met. In this photo taken in 1974, she appears to be healthy and alert. I also noticed that she’s wearing a print blouse (not black).
Here’s the rub….. understand that we were very young and very inexperienced. My questions to her were very superficial, and I was dealing with a translator (hubby) who was feeling very embarrassed about my nerve. He felt like a trespasser and didn’t feel comfortable about doing this at all. I didn’t take any notes and can’t remember a thing she told us. We spent about 20 min. with her. In the back of my head I kept thinking about the fact that Villa was a womanizer and that he had several wives (about 8 I think), so I wanted to be very careful about what I asked. To this day, I don’t know where she fit into the time-line. All I knew was that she got the house and she was the only widow still around. Anybody who knows me, knows that I always travel with my camera. Problem was that it wasn’t the same one I have today. It was a cheapo kodak camera with cube flash on the top. Therein lies the second rub….. I asked her if I could take a pic of her. She said “that would be fine”. My cube was used up and there was no light in the room. So I have no notes… and two completely blackened photos to show for it. The Museo is still in Chihuahua, but as far as I know, all the Revolutionary widows are deceased. The bullet riddled car that Pancho Villa was riding in when he was assassinated is still parked in the patio of his former home.
The article says that Dona Luz Corral de Villa was awarded the great sum of 10 pesos per day for her military pension. That’s approx. 75 cents.