One hundred years ago last month US soldiers left Mexico and ended a skirmish that had begun in January 1916 when a train carrying US workers was stopped by forces loyal to the Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Fifteen passengers were executed. Shortly thereafter on March 9, 1916 the Mexican revolutionary crossed the Mexico/US border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. What does that have to do with Columbus, Ohio? Those attacks prompted President Woodrow Wilson to call on the National Guard to prepare for a punitive expedition and possible war with Mexico. In response, the State of Ohio built a military encampment on the same land that was to become the city of Upper Arlington. The encampment was known as Camp Willis.
Development of the village had already begun. Houses had been built; streets had been laid. Thus the camp caused significant disruption to the early development of the village and hampered the free access of the early residents to their own homes. No one knew how long the camp would be there. Fortunately, a full war with Mexico did not come about and the camp was closed for good in September 1916. At that time construction resumed, plans were reconstituted and the growth of the village went on as it had started.
If this little-known aspect of Upper Arlington history interests you, you can read more about it in the following sources. Photos and letters of some of the soldiers are included as well as a profile of one of the more colorful characters of the camp, Major Harold Montfort “Hellroar” Bush.
Feel free to contact a Reference Librarian by phone, text, email, or in person for assistance in using our databases and print materials.
- Selection of images from Camp Willis, accessed via UA Archives, 21 February 2017
- “The United States Armed Forces and Mexican Punitive Expedition”, Mitchell Yockelson, Prologue Magazine, Winter 1997, Part 1, accessed via National Archives, 21 February 2017
- “The United States Armed Forces and Mexican Punitive Expedition:, Mitchell Yockelson, Prologue Magazine, Winter 1997, Part 2, accessed via National Archives, 21 February 2017
Ohio Room resources:
- “Our Late Unpleasantness with Mexico - The Ohio National Guard on Border Service”, Timeline, May –June 2002, page 40
- “Camp Willis: When Upper Arlington Was Drafted”, Columbus and Central Ohio Historian, No 1, 1984; pp. 19 -27 REF. OHIO COLLECTION 977.1305 CO
- “Chasing Pancho Villa”, David A. Norris, Internet Genealogy, October/November 2014, p. 20, accessed via Hobbies and Crafts Reference Center database 21 February 2017.
- “Mexican Punitive Expedition”, John Crain, American History ABC-CLIO, 2017, accessed via ABC-CLIO American History database 21 February 2017
- “We Must Protect The Border” New York Times, March 13, 1916, p. 1, accesssed via ProQuest Historical Newspapers 02/21/2017