The Punitive Expedition had been an exercise in frustration for General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing. Pancho Villa, predictably, had eluded the Americans, refusing to stand and fight. Thirty year old Second Lieutenant George S. Patton had been an aide to Pershing. Requesting a chance to command troops, he was assigned by Pershing to Troop C of the 13th Cavalry. In that capacity Patton took part in efforts to locate Captain Julio Cardenas, commander of the elite bodyguard of Villa, the Dorados, “Golden Ones”.
On May 14, 1916 Patton was on a mission to buy corn, his force consisting of a corporal, six privates and a civilian interpreter, all in three Dodge touring cars. Learning from locals that Cardenas might be present at a ranch, which Patton had searched the previous week, near the town of Rubio, Patton decided to investigate. Leaving two cars to block the southwest exit from the ranch, Patton, a driver, the civilian interpreter and a private took the remaining car to the northwest exit. Patton advanced on the ranch with the civilian interpreter. He spotted an old man and a boy butchering a steer near a fence. Suddenly three horsemen charged out from the ranch.
Initially they rode to the southwest. Encountering Patton’s soldiers they then charged to the northwest, estimating presumably that the odds were in their favor against the lone American officer.
The Mexicans opened up at 20 yards. Ignoring their fire, Patton coolly aimed his Colt single action pistol at the lead rider, knocking him off his horse. Patton fired at the two remaining riders as they rode past him. He then ducked around a corner of the ranch house and reloaded. Patton brought down the second horseman. Patton waited while the bandit freed himself from his dead horse, Patton only shooting him when the Mexican attempted to fire rather than surrender. The third bandit was brought down in a hail of fire from Patton and two of his soldiers who were now joining the fight.
The first bandit Patton had shot, got to his feet, made the mistake of going for his pistol, and was quickly brought down by the Americans.
The first bandit was identified as Captain Julio Cardenas, the second as Juan Garza and the third was never identified.
Patton had the bodies strapped to the hoods of the car and brought them to Pershing who ordered their burial. Pershing thereafter referred to Patton as “Bandit”. When Pershing went to France as commander of the American Expeditionary Force, he took Captain Patton with him as his aide.