When the members of the First Company Governor’s Horse Guards voted in 1911 to apply for membership in the Connecticut National Guard they could not have foreseen that five years later they would be loading their horses and equipment for a long train journey to the Mexican border.
Following raids by the Mexican revolutionary Francisco Pancho Villa, National Guard troops from several states, including Connecticut, were Federalized and ordered to the border by President Woodrow Wilson to protect American interests in the area. And so, re-designated Troop B 5thMilitia Cavalry in June, and without six months of training at Camp Niantic as anticipated, the cavalrymen from Connecticut found themselves in Nogales,Arizona, under the command of Brigadier General Edward H. Plummer, pitching their tents at Camp Steven Little, then referred to as Cemetery Hill.
On July 31, General Plummer’s staff visited the Connecticut camp and reported back to the General that the Troop, “in the manner of health and sanitation was the best outfit in Nogales. The General immediately issued a bulletin with such a finding thereon, and ordered it read four times to every one of the 10,000 men in Nogales.” As recognition “for being properly equipped with ‘healthy men, healthy horses, and able officers,” the General ordered the Troop to “evacuate without delay, and to take possession of a strategically important, unknown hamlet amid the mountains to the westward.”
On August ninth the Troop rode out of Nogales to establish a forward camp in the tiny village of Arivaca, some fifty-two miles to the northwest. First Lieutenant Clifford Cheney described the new camp in a letter home:
“We have arrived all safe and sound in our new station. We found a beautiful spot that had been selected for us to garrison….Arivaca is a little village of adobe houses and one store. There are several big ranches in the neighborhood and several big mines within a dozen miles. A river runs southwestward by us and flows eventually into the Gila River….There is one inn here, the Arivaca Hotel, kept by a woman named Carmen.We had supper there yesterday and a very good one. The only guests were Kelso, Morgan and myself and some cowboys. The latter were first rate fellows. They rode over to look us over and chew the rag. They wear leather chaps and high heel boots and big spurs and sombreros.”
Troop B remained in Arivaca for almost two months, patrolling the mountainous trails and checking ranches and mines in such picturesquely named locales as California Gulch, Ruby, Bear Valley, Warsaw, Austerlitz Canyon and Cerro Colorado. In off-duty hours, they also found time for the occasional baseball game against teams made up of miners. Lew Allen, An embedded correspondent for the Hartford Times described a typical mission:
“Tired and dusty, the troop returned to camp tonight after a 55-mile border patrol ride. Today we rode over thirty miles of mountain country and were in the saddle from 7 o’clock in the morning until nearly 6 o’clock at night with but an hour’s rest at noon.…the troop taking a mountain trail and the wagons a direct route to the ranch at Tres Bellotes.
"We then went south to the border and met our first armed Mexicans. As the trail ran alongside a border fence we struck a blockhouse, probably a customs station, on the Mexican side, with a group of horsemen riding around in front. Two of them were Mexican cavalrymen and rode beautiful ponies. They carried rifles…As the Troop passed, Lieutenant Hughes and detachment remained behind just around from the Mexican soldiers, until the main column was a safe distance away, and then followed as a rear guard…
"We passed through the California Gulch mine and the miners were glad to see us. At Montana we saw a sign stating that $150,000 in gold had been taken from one lode…We got home just ahead of a thunder storm which flooded our little creek into a river which we could not have forded if we had been an hour later.”
On October 8, the Troop received orders to leave Arivaca and return to Hartford.When they arrived home on October 22, only one man was absent: Private Thomas Carter, who had succumbed to blood poisoning at the base hospital in Nogales.
Origins and Fortunes of Troop B was published in 1921 describing the campaign through participants’ colorful accounts, official documents and numerous photographs.
The story of the troop’s service on the border has always been a seminal part of the history and traditions of the First Company Governor’s Horse Guards, and in January 2011, three members made an expedition to retrace and explore the areas and landmarks described in Origins and Fortunes of Troop B. Meeting in Tucson, Arizona, on the morning of January 15, Captain Leonard Tolisano, of Avon, former Sergeant Howard Miller, of Cheshire, and Corporal John Cantelmo, of Simsbury set off on their journey to revisit the “hoof-printed
tracks” of their cavalry forbearers..
(To Be Continued)