The 1st California
Infantry at Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Relations between Mexico and the United
States became strained shortly after the abdication of the caudillo-president
Porfiro Diaz in 1911. The United States had been given good opportunity
to exploit Mexican oil and mineral resources. Mexico's problems
were not only associated with the United States. Great Britain
and Germany had shared large influence in her economy. With some
complicity from American diplomats, the anti-American, newly
elected president, Francisco Madero was assassinated by Huerta
operatives. Not aware of this at the time, President Wilson adopted
a policy of watchful waiting and reversed established policy
of recognizing de facto governments. Americans living on the
border were impatient that the government turned a blind eye
to property rights and lives of citizens were not being protected.
On April 9, 1914 Mexicans attacked Americans
at the oil center port Tampico. Eleven days later President Wilson
asked Congress for the authority to intervene militarily in Mexico.
Diplomatic relations were severed and war seemed imminent. In
California Governor Hiram Johnson received telegrams and letters
requesting the national guard be sent to the border to stop the
raids by bands of Mexicans. Governor Johnson's decision was a
profitable election year move. On April 23, two days after the
bombardment of Vera Cruz, the Los Angeles Battalion of the 7th
California Infantry, under the command of Col. W. G. Schreiber,
was directed to the border town of Calexico, California, to protect
lives and property. Adequate protection on the border could not
be provided by an army with too few of numbers.
The San Diego water system seemed vulnerable
to sabotage. As these events occurred, San Diego's based units,
5th and 8th companies, coast artillery corps, California National
Guard, and the 3rd division of the California naval militia were
ordered to active duty. These units took up positions at the
various reservoirs and water conduits. Troops discovered two
tons of dynamite found near the Sweetwater Reservoir and a large
amount of cyanide of potassium missing, believed to be in the
hands of Mexican Guerillas. The national guard had been given
notice of was Mexicans smuggling guns across the border. The
state military forces assisted the regulars in guarding all roads
and trails leading into Mexico from the San Diego-Yuma post road.
When sixty Mexican prisoners escaped from the Point Loma refugee
camp, it was the amateur soldiers who caught the vast majority
of them within a two-day period. To facilitate communication
a radio station was placed on Red Butte, a mountain just east
of the city and was connected with Camp
Otay by field telephone. This was the first time radio was
used by the California while in active service. Now the forces
could be spread with greater flexibility. Comparative peace and
quiet prevailed. On May 11, after some eighteen days on active
duty, the San Diego based units were withdrawn.
It was in early May that Argentina, Brazil
and Chile, otherwise known as the ABC powers, assisted Wilson
and Huerta to negotiate a settlement. In July Huerta appealed
to President Wilson's pressure and voluntarily went into exile.
Wilson had to reluctantly accept the popularly elected Carranza.
Hurt in the process was Francisco Villa who now actively rebelled
against the new government. Villa chose to spill American blood
at Santa Ysabel and Columbus, New Mexico where seven American
soldiers were killed and seven more wounded. Brigadier General
John J. Pershing was immediately directed to lead an expeditionary
force into Mexico for the purpose of catching and punishing Villa.
The incursion had the half hearted support of Carranza while
the ABC powers had suspicions about the behavior of the United
States. Even though Villa evaded capture, several of his lieutenants
New repudiations came to the Americans
on the border with Pershing's units away from their posts. Civilians
and soldiers, without provocation, attacked in Texas leading
to several deaths. President Wilson on May 9, 1916 called up
the national guard in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to ward off
further aggression. Yet even more force was necessary to patrol
the long difficult line between the United States and Mexico.
On June 18, 1916 President Wilson activated a large part of the
militia and national guard in the other states. 135,000 officers
and enlisted men were rapidly sent to mobilization camps. Governor
Johnson directed the officers and men of the California National
Guard to assemble at the armoires immediately. They were ready
to entrain within twelve hours of the scheduled times.
Two weeks earlier the National Defense
Act of 1916 had just become law of the land, yet, national guard
organizations had not expected to have to comply with its provisions.
The act established uniformity in periods of enlistment, conformity
to Federal regulations, dual oath of allegiance to the Federal
and the State government, higher officer service and more tactical
units. To implement the new policy would lose precious time.
Adjutants-Generals of the states were instructed to disregard
the act for now and instead transfer units to the border, once
reasonably equipped for the field.
The mobilization of California troops
from Sacramento to Nogales began on July 1, 1916, was conducted
in secrecy. This continued for the next week so that the entire
operation of mustering and transporting the California National
Guard to defensive positions had been accomplished within a two-week
California National Guard and State militia
fared better than the other states. Each of the infantry regiments
was made up of 1,050 officers and men. Well above the nation
average, 4,487 of 4,600 troops transported to mobilization camp
and sent to the border. The minimum was quota was 6,954 officers
and men, which put California effective strength at 65% minimum
National guardsmen did not understand
President Wilson's policy with Mexico but, then, most Americans
did not understand it. The men in uniform expected to be put
into service just as the regulars under Pershing had been used.
It did become clear as the guard and militia were used in daily
depressing details of drill inspection and police in the heat
and dust. President Wilson had no intention to use the troops
on the border in any other way. Morale had to be affected. A
minority of guardsmen began to demand to be relieved from active
duty and sent home. Most of these men had dependents and were
non-commissioned officers. A letter campaign helped to obtain
their wish. Others were sent home because of disabilities, which
brings into question the quality of physical examination taken
at the Sacramento mobilization center. To prevent further need
of dependency discharges, Congress voted two million dollars
to be used to help alleviate family hardships. The conditions
of the army without corporals and sergeants must have made this
There was one tense incident on August
4th, shortly after 1:00 am. It looked as if the California National
Guard might get the moment it had been waiting for. A sentry
from the 12th US Infantry was shot by a sniper hidden on the
Mexican side of the Santa Cruz River. Members of Company C, 5th
California Infantry, on patrol duty in the vicinity returned
the sniper's fire. Soldiers on both sides of the river prepared
for battle. It looked as if large bodies of Mexican soldiers
were going to cross the international bridge, but cooler heads
prevailed. The US Commander demanding restraint from the men
issued orders. A formal request was made to General Callas, Mexican
Commandant of Sonora for a full explanation of the shooting.
There was no further incident.
Newspapers provided false hope for when
soldiers would return home. This led to severe treatment to rumor
mongers. It was September 1, 1916 when the first state troops
returned to their home station, among these were the 5th California
Infantry. Yet, other California units remained on the border
and spent several weeks in intense training maneuvers.
On September 9, 1916 the 1st California
Brigade was ordered to march fifty miles to Fort Huachuca for
target and field practice. The routine there continued for three
weeks. They returned back to Nogales in two days less time being
now campaign hardened. On October 18, 1916 orders directed many
of the units including the 1st Brigade, to mobilization camp
in Los Angeles to muster out of federal service. On October 20
the brigade established its head quarters at Exposition Park.
Other units followed out extended over the next five months.
It is not easy access the accomplishments
of the national guard on the border. The presence of 150,000
state troops discouraged further depredations on American soil
by Mexicans. It numbers over awed the Mexicans clamoring for
war with the United States. By the end of August it was clear
the national guard had served its purpose. Volunteers, good men
became prepared for the larger role they would play in World
Officers of Company
L (Santa Ana's Own), 7th California Infantry at Fort Huachuca,
Captain J.L. McBride
and Lieutenants Nelson M. Holderman and A.K. Ford
Colonel) Holderman would received the Medal of Honor in World
War I and serve as the Commandant of the California Veterans'
Company Number 1, Nogales, Arizona, 1916
Machine Gun Company,
5th California Infantry, Nogales, 1916
Wilferd Earl Leggett with the Camp Flag of the 2d California
Infantry. Mexican Border Campaign, 1916. Image courtesy of Private
Leggett's granddaughter, Susie Grohs.
Cavalry on the Border
Troopers of the the
1st Squadron, Cavalry, California National Guard in the field
A trooper prepares
to go to the field. Notice the traditional saber at the soldier's