Jane Dixon’s style and grammar as a journalist are impeccable. Her words have been edited here only to comply with readability for a 21st century reader. For scholars, I have included a link to the verbatim transcript. As a writer who appeared largely in the social and fashion columns, I imagine that literary Dead Heads of her day might have remarked, “What in the world ever became of sweet Jane? She lost her sparkle you know she isn’t the same,” when they read the current piece of her interview with Pancho Villa, or perhaps her earlier article about the Soldaderas, the female war fighters in Mexico.
Here she presents a Villa who defies both the Hollywood version as well as the history book version of Pancho Villa. She describes man who loves music, even entertains his war fighters with love songs. Similarly, he is not eating beans out of a tin bowl, but rather feasting well at Torreon’s finest restaurant, Sternau’s, the Delmonico’s of Torreon, as she describes it.
Unlike James Creelman, the pompous dandy whose interview with the dictator, Diaz, gained him acclaim, Jane Dixon was closer to a war correspondent than any of her male contemporaries. Do not be dissuaded by her colorful descriptions of the General’s dress or that of his entourage as though it were an indicative of her career as, also, a fashion writer. Descriptions of this kind were necessary in 1915. Newspapers were entirely black and white. The Sun., April 25, 1915, FOURTH SECTION PICTORIAL MAGAZINE, Page 11
Gen. Villa Interviewed at Front by a Woman
Picturesque Mexican Leader Tells Jane Dixon the Proudest Moment of His Life Was When He Learned to Write His Own Name – He’s a Prohibitionist, He Says, and hopes to Make Mexico Dry
By JANE DIXON,
To be awakened at the heart of a war zone by strains of “You Are the Ideal of My Dreams” Is about as near the unexpected as could happen.
When the war zone happens to be in Mexico and one of the hits that made all Broadway hum is being played by the native military band of the head of an army. It is time to blink your eyes and ask what it is all about.
This was comparatively easy. The ebony and white porter told us with a smile which bid fair to crack his highly polished face from ear to ear that we were anchored on a side track alongside the station In Torreon and that Gen. Francisco Villa’s train was directly across from ours on the track.
At the word everybody jumped up, grabbed whatever wraps were available and made a rush for a window. Someone had spilled a rainbow outside our windows. It seethed and bubbled and rippled through the broad channel that divided our car from another bearing the magic word “Villa.” The band began playing “Hero Mine” from “The Chocolate Soldier” The crowd cheered and waved its hands in the air. It was then I discovered that the rainbow outside the windows was human. Fragments of the rainbow were Mexican serapes.
The Mexican does not wear a coat with sleeves, his cloak is a blanket drawn around his shoulders and thrown back across the left shoulder. Favorite color combinations for serapes are scarlet zigzagged with green and white, purple with orange and rose, red and black checks. The effect of a flock of these picturesque if startling.
Just then, the band swung into a national anthem and the rainbow went wild. It eddied and swirled around the car of the Idol of the hour In Mexico, It howled “Viva Villa” until its throat was hoarse. Then it did the best it could crying “Mi General.” All the time new blotches of color were being added to the fringe in the outskirts.
It looked as if some of the objects of our journey were about to be accomplished. A New York newspaperman had expressed a desire to visit Villa and get his own story of his life. Through his El Paso attorney, Gunther Lessing, the General had graciously offered a private car and an invitation to make up a party for the trip. On the way to Guadalajara, we received a dispatch [sic] from Gen. Villa saying the situation demanded his immediate presence in Monterey. We were to turn about face and follow him to Torreon.
We went north on the tail end of a troop train. Here we were, within hailing distance of the man who rumor says is the great bandit and fact that has proved to be a successful soldier – the man whose avowed ambition is to bring peace to Mexico by way of trenches, machine guns, and might.
While we were still busy with our regular morning eggs and chili – huevos rancheros, the Mexican calls them – Gen. Emilio Madero, brother of the assassinated President Francisco Madero and one of the most trusted men in Villa service, came in to tell us his General would be pleased to receive us at 4 o’clock that afternoon. Urgent military business required his attention until that hour. In the meantime, we were invited to be guests of Gen. Emilio Madero and Gabriel Madero at Sternau’s, the Delmonico’s of Torreon.
If there is any more finished than Mexican hospitality, I have never experienced it. There was a specially engaged native orchestra out beneath the palm trees In the patio at Sternau’s, playing the dreamy waltz songs and serenades of the south countries.
We lunched in a long, paved gallery opening on the patio. Men prominent in the army and in civil life, colonels, majors, consuls, rancheros, merchants, dropped in to meet the Americans and extend greetings.
At 4 o’clock, we started for Gen. Villa’s car under escort of Gen. Emilio Madero. The crowd in the yards had increased in density and intensity. It would have been impossible to reach the steps had it not been for the uniform and golden eagles of Gen. Madero. At his command, the excited populace fell back, leaving a clear path to the rear platform.
No sooner had we entered than we became aware of the dominant presence. From that moment until our departure, all personalities were subservient to the striking personality of Gen. Francisco Villa.
It was a long, roomy car, with leather-upholstered benches along the sides and a number of desks giving it the air of an ordinary business office. From one corner the notes of a typewriter came, and a dozen secretaries, members of staff and callers were poring over papers or engaged in animated conversation.
At the further end of the car a tall thickly built man with the most piercing eyes I have even seen rose at our entrance. For a long minute the eyes held you while they looked straight back into and back of your own.
They were dark eyes with hot flames that seemed to flare or die down with the thoughts und words of the thinker, but always the surface of these eyes was of remarkable brilliancy. They were eyes that questioned and commanded in the same glance. Fierce eyes they were, eyes that burned with passion or danced with laughter. It has been said that the power Gen. Villa wields over men is in his eyes. They seem to mirror rho souls of men. Once their gaze has been bent upon you, it is easy to believe this.
For the rest of it the General is swarthy skinned, with black, curly hair that always is a bit ruffled, thereby adding to the aggressiveness of his appearance; a black mustache left to follow its natural lines, an erect body, a jaw that brooks no dalliance, stubby hands and the small feet which distinguish the men of his country.
His rather tight trousers were innocent of the tailor’s irons. He wore a gray army sweater coat and no collar. The General is a consistent enemy of the collar and wears one only under violent pressure. He has no patience with the small formalities of society, bowing to them only when it pleases him to do so.
A staff officer smartly garbed in green-gray with military trappings came forward to greet us. He explained that the General did not speak English. Gen. Madero presented us. For each there was u handshake. Ono of the party with a few words of Spanish at his command broke the ice of first and formal meeting.
“Buenos dias,” he said as he shook hands.
Gen. Villa broke into a hearty laugh.
“Buenos tardes,” you mean, was his explanation. “Buenos dias is good morning, and it is now 4 o’clock.”
That anyone should not know his own language amused him, the more because he did not know English.
Then he motioned each member of the party to a seat. Gen. Madero announced that Gen. Villa bade us welcome to Mexico and that he would be pleased to answer any questions put to him.
‘”I do not know much about statesmen, but reason tells me they must be like soldiers in this respect. Alcohol is not a friend of my country. It is an enemy. I want every enemy of Mexico banished.”
Already Gen. Villa has begun to carry out his “dry” policy. For a week before any troop pass through a town, during their stay and for a week after their departure no liquor is allowed to be sold or even given away. In Torreon, through the influence of one of the party, we drank “diplomatic tea,” which was nothing more nor less than twenty year old wine served in china pitchers and coffee cups.
“Gen. Villa invites you to inspect his train,” said the staff officer after the conversation had become less serious. Of course, we nodded our acceptance and motioned our thanks to the General. At times like this, the sign language can be very efficient. The host himself led the way.
When women go to war, I choose to be a generaless. Soldiering in a moving house with a porcelain bath and all the pleasures of home has it all over soldiering on top of and underneath boxcars.
There was the General’s bed, with a coverlet of yellow satin damask and white embroidered linen pillows. Bedchambers tor members of his staff and his secretary adjoined. In the next car were the dining room and kitchen, the dining room with a regular table, serving table and chairs and the kitchen, with a modern range.
On the platform of this car, four or five live chickens were secured by means of roped legs. No Mexican considers travelling equipments complete without a few live chickens. Our own Mexican cook adhered to this habit religiously. Someone whispered that these particular chickens were gamecocks. Gen. Villa takes a keen pleasure in cockfights.
The third car was made up of a sort of antechamber containing a player piano, a barbershop with tilting chair and other professional accoutrements, a room with a couch where the General enjoys his siesta and a bath with shower attachments.
Our host was like a child with a new toy as he exhibited this final luxury a – bathroom. He turned the faucets to show both hot and cold water could be had and pointed with pride to the shower. Someone began playing the piano. The General chuckled, “That is one of eight pianos I have collected from the enemy,” he said. “I kept this one to make us glad sometimes while we are moving from place to place. The others have been given to friends of the cause.”
There was a farewell handshake as we were leaving.
“I am happy to have had the pleasure of conveying you safely to Torreon.” were Gen. Villa’s parting words. “If there is anything further you desire I wish to assist you. I hope you will say good things of my country and countrymen.
“My feeling for the United States and her people is that of sincere, friendship. You are considering going to Monterey. It is a fine city.
Our troop trains are leaving for there every fifteen minutes. My own train leaves to-night.
“I would be pleased to have your car attached to my train if you decide to go. There is some danger for the women, but my own belief is you will all be safe and no trains will be molested. When we meet again I pray my country may be at peace. Adios.”
Outside the crowd was still jostling and pushing in its efforts to get closer to the car. When the door opened, the crowd stood on tiptoes, craning necks for a glimpse of the inside and of the man who stands a fair show of winning in the game of war. I turned my head. Gen. Villa was smiling. The unquenchable lights of conquest were dancing in his eyes.
We had visited Villa without the exchange of a single shot. Nothing but the polite patter of sociability and the few forceful facts the General had time to give us had marked the visit to the man who, be he bandit or patriot, is the man of the hour In Mexico.