On March 12, 2022, Columbus, NM celebrates the 23rd annual Cabalgata Binacional. This is arguably the biggest village event of the year, at times attracting upwards of 3,000 attendees to this village of 1600. But it all started with a chance meeting in front of the Columbus Historical Society Depot Museum more than two decades ago.
R.L. Curtin and Allen Rosenberg were chatting in front of the depot when they met Alex Orozco, a member of the Mexican-American Planning Association of Chicago, who was visiting the Museum. Curtin was a recent transplant to New Mexico and an experienced re-enactor, lending a hand on Old West period productions such as Dances with Wolves. Rosenberg was president of the Columbus Historical Society. Orozco mentioned that Mexican riders had been hoping for years to cross over into Columbus as part of their rides recreating significant events in Mexican history. Villa was a famous Mexican Revolutionary whose Villistas crossed the US border in 1916 and boldly raided the Village of Columbus on the night of March 9.
Their problem was that riders could not cross into the US without an official government invitation. After asking if an invite from the village would be sufficient, the group walked over to see then Mayor Ken Riley, who agreed immediately. Once the letter was typed and sent, things moved fast.
Curtin and Rosenberg were joined by retired Special Agent US Customs Service, Robert Clarke. Together, they formed the 13th Memorial Cavalry, in memory of the soldiers who had been stationed at Camp Furlong (now Pancho Villa State Park) during the raid. They continued their work with Orozco and others to further the cause of that first event.
“They asked if we wanted to come down to Mexico for some planning meetings,” said Rosenberg. “We were going to drive down and come home the same day. We were there for three days!”
They started realizing this was a much bigger event than they had anticipated at the first meeting. “I thought maybe we were talking about 10 horsemen. Then we went to the first meeting and there wasn’t enough room to hold everyone—they were spilling into the hallways. I asked, who are all these people?’ and they said, ‘The riders!’”
The Mexican municipalities were already planning their routes and the supports needed for the Cabalgata. They took the three Americans to the one location of engagement between the US Cavalry on their punitive expedition against Pancho Villa’s forces, in San Geronimo. Rosenberg made a an off-hand comment to their hosts about how the site had been left to the elements. “I said, this is such a significant piece of your history! It’s a shame that it’s not more well-cared for. The guy asked if I would be willing to say that to someone who could make a difference. Next thing I knew, we had an audience with the Governor of Chihuahua!”
The Americans spent time with Governor Patricio Martínez García discussing the Cabalgata before heading home to Columbus to organize.
“The entire town was involved in making this a successful event for our visitors. The Gomez family roasted a whole cow for the barbecue, fed the riders and did a lot of coordination. The national park organized a reading of names ceremony. The 13th Memorial Cavalry got extra horses and gave away commemorative t-shirts. Everyone wanted to be a part of this historic event.”
Not all the riders had the paperwork to cross and horses were not allowed that year due to USDA regulations. R.L. Curtin ensured those that did cross had a borrowed horse for the ride into town. The Cabalgata marched up Route 11 from the border in a somber parade, the same as they have every year since. This year’s Cabalgata is hoping to cross 100 horses with funding and administrative support from outside agencies.
Rosenberg is the last of the original 13th Memorial Cavalry founders that made possible the last leg of the journey of the Cabalgata into Columbus. “It’s the thing I’m most proud of in my life,” he said.
The Columbus portion of Cabalgata festivities begins on Saturday, March 12 at 9:30 am and run all day in the center of town. Allen Rosenberg will be honored by the Columbus Chamber of Commerce for his contributions to the Cabalgata Binacional during the main stage ceremony which starts at 11:30 am.