Villa remained in the hills and mountains of northern Mexico, attacking small federal garrisons and eluding capture until 1920, when the political situation changed. In 1920, Carranza backed off a promise to support Obregón for president. This was a fatal mistake, as Obregón still had much support in many sectors of society, including the army. Carranza, fleeing Mexico City, was assassinated on May 21, 1920.
The death of Carranza was an opportunity for Pancho Villa. He began negotiations with the government to disarm and stop fighting. Although Obregón was against it, Provisional President Adolfo de la Huerta saw it as an opportunity and brokered a deal with Villa in July. Villa was granted a large hacienda, where many of his men joined him, and his veterans were all given mustering-out pay and an amnesty was declared for Villa, his officers and men. Eventually even Obregón saw the wisdom of peace with Villa and honored the deal.
Death of Villa
Obregón was elected President of Mexico in September of 1920, and he began the work of rebuilding the nation. Villa, retired to his hacienda in Canutillo, began farming and ranching. Neither man forgot about one another, and the people never forgot Pancho Villa: how could they, when the songs about his daring and cleverness were still sung up and down Mexico?
Villa kept a low profile and was seemingly friendly with Obregón, but soon the new president decided the time had come to get rid of Villa once and for all. On July 20, 1923, Villa was gunned down as he drove a car in the town of Parral. Although he was never directly implicated in the killing, it is clear that Obregón gave the order, perhaps because he feared Villa's interference (or possible candidacy) in the 1924 elections.
Pancho Villa's Legacy
The people of Mexico were devastated to hear of Villa's death: he was still a folk hero for his defiance of the Americans, and he was seen as a possible savior from the harshness of the Obregón administration. The ballads continued to be sung and even those who had hated him in life mourned his death.
Over the years, Villa has continued to evolve into a mythological figure. Mexicans have forgotten his role in the bloody Revolution, forgotten his massacres and executions and robberies. All that is left is his daring, cleverness and defiance, which continue to be celebrated by many Mexicans in art, literature and film. Perhaps it is better this way: Villa himself certainly would have approved.
Source: McLynn, Frank. Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2000.