The Old Army in the Big Bend of Texas, 1911-1921: The Last Cavalry Frontier

The Old Army in the Big Bend of Texas, 1911-1921: The Last Cavalry Frontier

The Old Army in the Big Bend of Texas, 1911-1921: The Last Cavalry Frontier

The Old Army in the Big Bend of Texas, 1911-1921: The Last Cavalry Frontier


Even before Pancho Villa's 1916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico, and the following punitive expedition under General John J. Pershing, the U.S. Army was strengthening its presence on the southwestern border in response to the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Manning forty-one small outposts along a three-hundred mile stretch of the Rio Grande region, the army remained for a decade, rotating eighteen different regiments, primarily cavalry, until the return of relative calm. The remote, rugged, and desolate terrain of the Big Bend defied even the technological advances of World War I, and it remained very much a cavalry and pack mule operation until the outposts were finally withdrawn in 1921.

With The Old Army in the Big Bend of Texas: The Last Cavalry Frontier, 1911-1921, Thomas T. "Ty" Smith, one of Texas's leading military historians, has delved deep into the records of the U.S. Army to provide an authoritative portrait, richly complemented by many photos published here for the first time, of the final era of soldiers on horseback in the American West.


It is hard to overstate the significance of this book to the military history of the Texas Big Bend. Between 1911 and 1921, ten cavalry units, four National Guard units, and four infantry units rotated through more than forty different outposts to guard the border during the tumultuous years of the Mexican Revolution. Yet despite the hundreds of soldiers and horses and pack trains operating during the period, there has never been a comprehensive treatment of this complex and important time in our past.

As a result, histories of the region either gloss over the subject, or worse, perpetuate errors that have arisen in the historical record. It isn’t hard to do. in my own research, one thing that became apparent very quickly was that newspapers of the time, one of the predominant sources used by historians, are often misleading if not outright erroneous. and to delve into the primary documents, as I attempted to do, opens a whole new universe—one that for someone unacquainted with military records can prove to be a test of tolerance for frustration.

This was the problem I faced when I met Ty Smith. At the time, I was involved in four separate projects dealing with military occupation of the Big Bend—three of them archaeological in nature and one as part of a book I was writing about Pinto Canyon west of Marfa. But it was fieldwork at a cavalry maneuvering ground associated with Camp Candelaria that prompted me to reach out to him. I’m glad I did, because that simple query ultimately led him to conduct extensive research at four major archives in three states in addition to making field excursions to several of the outposts that he was researching. For a while, Ty sent almost weekly updates on his findings, all given as freely as if he’d been . . .

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