Published on May 9th, 2017 | by Mark Chesnut


Where is Pancho Villa’s Head? (And How Does That Affect Your Mexico Vacation?)

Even if you don’t know much about Mexican history, you’ve probably heard the name Pancho Villa. But did you know that his head is missing? During my recent visit to the fascinating city of Chihuahua, Mexico (on assignment for TravelAge West), I learned about this, one of the most legendary and bizarre mysteries in Mexican history.

One of the most famous men of the Mexican Revolution, Francisco “Pancho” Villa was born in 1878 and served as the provisional governor of Chihuahua in 1913 and 1914. He led several military maneuvers, including one that ousted Victoriano Huerta from the presidency in 1914. And he continued to fight in various parts of the nation. He even led an incursion into the United States.

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Finally, in 1920, Villa reached an agreement with the Mexican government. He turned a hacienda near the town of Parral, Chihuahua into a military settlement for his former soldiers and supposedly settled down.

But that’s not the end of the story. Villa decided to get involved in politics again, just before presidential elections in 1923. He became a target. On Friday, July 20, 1923, he was driving his Dodge automobile in the town of Parral with some associates. A group of seven riflemen ran into the middle of the road and fired more than 40 shots into the car. Villa died instantly. The names of all those responsible for his assassination has never been verified.

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The next day, thousands of people gathered at Villa’s funeral in Parral, following his casket to a grave at the Parral city cemetery (even though he had built a mausoleum for himself in the capital city of Chihuahua). Things got stranger. In 1926, someone stole Pancho Villa’s skull from the grave. Some said that an American stole it, to sell it to some rich guy who collected the heads of historic figures. Some stories claim that George W. Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a member of a group of men who bought the head.

Villa’s remains were reburied in 1976, in the Monumento a la Revolución (Monument to the Revolution) in Mexico City. His skull was never found.

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Today, you can learn quite a bit about Pancho Villa’s life — and the mystery that transpired after his death —  in the city of Chihuahua. This metropolis, which is set scenically against desert and mountains, is a popular taking-off point for the Chepe Copper Canyon railway. And it’s also always been an important place to learn about Mexico’s independence and revolution. The Museo Histórico de la Revolución (Historical Museum of the Revolution), is a must-see, and it’s housed in Pancho Villa’s elegant former home, built between 1905 and 1907.

The Museum is a fascinating place to visit. Some rooms are decorated with period furnishings from the early 20th century, while others feature historical exhibits. There’s even a room dedicated to items and reporting from Villa’s assassination (complete with his death mask). The very Dodge that he was driving during the assassination is parked permanently in one courtyard, still riddled with bullet holes. There’s also a statue of Pancho Villa in the city that’s good for photo opportunities. If you’d like to feel like you’re actually meeting this legendary figure, sign up for a Chihuahua city tour led by a company called Chihuahua Barbaro, that include performances by an actor portraying Pancho Villa, on site at his former home.

We may never know exactly what happened to the head of Pancho Villa. But it is definitely an interesting experience trying to figure it out.

For more information about Chihuahua, visit the state’s tourism site or the Mexico Tourism Board site.

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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