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Francisco “Pancho’’ Villa, born Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula, was a Mexican bandit who became one of the most powerful and influential generals of the Mexican Revolution and remains one of the most famous Mexicans of all time. Due to the near constant power shifts and changing factions of the Mexican Revolution, he fled Mexico after escaping from prison in 1912 and then returned to Mexico in 1913 where he formed the Division of the North (Division del Norte) to fight against General Victoriano Huerta who had seized power after the assassination of President Francisco Madero. Villa was the governor of the northern state of Chihuahua in 1913-1914. In alliance with Venustiano Carranza and General Alvaro Obregon, he ousted Huerta. However, Carranza and Obregon then turned against Villa, and he returned to Northern Mexico where he was at times effectively in control and continued fighting against Carranza and the Constitutionalist government. Villa and his men were
in part supplied with American arms and ammunition paid for through various sources, including the German government. The German government supported Villa as part of their efforts to keep the U.S. out of World War I by keeping the U.S. focused on the tensions along the southern border. Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, Saunders Norvell of the Shapleigh Hardware Co. in St. Louis was a board member of the Mississippi Valley Trust Co. in St. Louis. The bank held two accounts run by Felix A. Sommerfeld who was a double agent working for both Villa and the German government. The accounts were funded by the German government and were used to purchase over $380,000 in arms and ammunition from the Western Cartridge Company across the river in East Alton, Illinois, in 1915. Those munitions were shipped to Hipolito Villa, Pancho Villa’s brother, in El Paso and then smuggled into Mexico for Villa’s forces.
Shelton-Payne of El Paso was the address of most Colt firearms shipments of the period to El Paso leading Wilson to suspect “there was a specific purpose for this shipment to City Loan & Jewelry Co.” In fact, he indicated that a search of the records found no other listings for Colt Single Action revolvers being
shipped to that company although there is one other for “City Loan Company” recorded in 1920 that was also shipped to Shapleigh Hardware and thus may have been destined for El Paso. Wilson theorized that the City Loan & Jewelry Co. was chosen as an easier and less conspicuous route to get the revolver to Villa. Per Wilson, Luis Gaxiola, a known agent for Villa, had received the ammunition from Western Cartridge Co. in 1915 and was located “about 600 feet from City Loan & Jewelry Co.” at 109 South Sante Fe Street in El Paso.
City Loan & Jewelry Co. was a pawnshop in the rough and tumble border town of El Paso, an area swarming with both
U.S. government agents and Villa’s allies in the period. The city directory lists the company as pawn brokers at 405 S. El Paso. Joseph B. Ravel (1884-1957) was the shop’s proprietor. The shop was just one of several businesses owned by the Ravel family in the area. His brother Max owned the similarly named Chicago Loan & Jewelry Co. nearby at 204 S. El Paso, and another brother, Erman, operated the East El Paso Fuel Co. listed at 3117-31
Rosa. The Ravels were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire where anti-Semitic pogroms were
all too frequent. The brothers were part of the first generation that settled in El Paso, and Sam Ravel and his brothers were the next to follow. Joseph B. Ravel is known to have sold arms to Pancho Villa. In an interview with the Institute for Oral History
in 1968, Dr. Vincent Ravel indicated that his father, Joseph B. Ravel, had ”opened up City Loan and Jewelry, a pawnshop, in South El Paso...” which he said was “rough and it was tough,
and there were shootings and robberies, and murders...He told one time that a Mexican walked into his pawnshop and bought some guns and pistols and some ammunition...And while he was waiting on this Mexican, a crowd gathered in front of the store. And my father left the customer, and he went outside, and looked around, and couldn’t understand what was going on, but he went back and finishing selling this man the rest of his stock. And when the man - the man paid him in cash and left... And then the Secret Service came in and wanted to know what
the transaction was, you know, what had happened. And my father told them...And they said, ‘Do you know who that was?’ And he said, ‘No.’‘Well that was Pancho Villa.’ ...He knew Pancho Villa, and had further business dealings with him, all of which were recorded through the federal authorities.” Ravel was also arrested for smuggling munitions in 1915 and 1920. By this time, smuggling of munitions had been common, but the authorities had begun to crack down on the activities following years of violence along the border, some of it directly targeting Joseph Ravel’s nephews in Columbus, New Mexico.
Villa had been defeated at the Battle of Celaya (April 6-15. 1915) by Alvaro Obregon’s Constitutional Forces. In the long battle,
the Division del Norte suffered an estimated 6,000 men killed, another 6,500 captured, and 5,000 wounded out of his estimated force of 22,000 men. Additional losses essentially ended the Division del Norte’s power and forced Villa to return to guerrilla fighting. Thus by the end of 1915, Villa, once one of the most powerful men in all of Mexico, had lost much of his power. The United States government led by President Woodrow Wilson
had also recognized his rival, President Venustiano Carranza, and even aided the Constitutionalists in their fight against Villa. He continued to fight on, but his men needed supplies. Around one year before this revolver shipped, Villa and the Division del Norte attacked the fairly isolated small town of Columbus, New Mexico to the west of El Paso. There have been several motives suggested over the years, and the most likely explanation is that a combination of these led Villa to attack. The Ravel family and others have widely reported that Sam Ravel was the target of the raid. Historian Thomas Boghardt suggested the raid had multiple purposes such as revenge against President Wilson and the American government for recognizing and supporting President Carranza and demonstrating his own will and that of his men to continue fighting on. He also writes, “Moreover, Villa appeared to have had a very personal motive for choosing his target: the city of Columbus was home to an arms dealer, Sam Ravel, who, Villa felt, had betrayed him in a transaction.

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