The Bandit War, or Bandit Wars, was a series of raids in Texas, started in 1915 before finally culminating in 1919, that were carried out by Mexican rebels from the states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila, and Chihuahua. Prior to 1914, the Carrancista faction was responsible for most attacks along the border, but in January 1915 rebels known as Seditionistas drafted the Plan of San Diego and began launching their own raids. The plan called for a race war, to rid the American border states of their Anglo-American population, and the annexation of the border states to Mexico. However, the Seditionistas were never able to launch a full-scale invasion of the United States so they resorted to conducting small raids into Texas. Much of the fighting involved the Texas Ranger Division, though the United States Army also engaged in small unit actions with bands of Seditionist raiders.
The height of the fighting was in 1915. On January 6, Basilio Ramos and a group of his followers drafted the Plan of San Diego, in San Diego, Texas, to try and bring the American border states under the rule of President Venustiano Carranza. Calling themselves the Seditionistas, the rebels then began attacking small American outposts and settlements along the Rio Grande, many of which were guarded by United States Army soldiers. The first attack took place on July 4, 1915, when a band of approximately forty mounted rebels crossed the border and raided Los Indios Ranch in Cameron County. The first bloodshed did not occur until five days later though, on July 9, when an employee of the King Ranch killed one of the raiders near the Norias Ranch. On July 11, two Mexican-American police officers were shot, from a distance, near Brownsville, both died . American authorities said "the Mexican officers knew of the plans [Plan of San Diego] of their fellows before the real beginning of the operations and that this was the cause of the several efforts to assassinate them." Over the next two weeks there were various reports of raids, attacks on police officers, and assassination attempts on local land owners. By the end of July, the raiders were trying to cut off communications to the people in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and disrupt railroad transportation. On July 25, they burned a bridge belonging to the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway and then cut some telegraph wires near Harlingen. A few days after that, the Governor of Texas, James E. Ferguson, sent the Texas Ranger Captain Harry Ransom into the Lower Rio Grande Valley to lead a "pacification campaign." According to author John William Weber, Ransom was in charge of an "assassination squad" that conducted a "scorched-earth campaign of annihilation" against both guilty and innocent Mexicans.
Some people suspected that the current fighting would ignite a full-fledged war between the United States and Mexico. One South Texan wrote; "I have never been satisfied with the Alamo and Goliad events, and always have felt that there was something yet due the Mexicans from us, and if there is a second call and for a war, the Mexicans will certainly get what is due them from the Texans." On July 29, a Mexican named Adolfo Munoz was killed near San Benito for "scheming to rob a local bank and having connections with armed raiders." Cameron County Deputy Sheriff Frank Carr and the Texas Ranger Daniel Hinojosa arrested Munoz but, according to the officers, when they were leaving San Benito a party of eight armed men, wearing masks, forced them to give up Munoz. On the next day, Munoz's body was found about two miles from town, "riddled with bullets" and hanging from a tree. The lynching, whether perpetrated by the rebels or by the Texans, created an atmosphere of distrust among the local Mexican population for the Texas Rangers and other American police forces. J. T. Canales said; "every person who was charged with a crime refused to be arrested, because they did not believe that the officers of the law would give them the protection guaranteed them by the Constitution and the laws of this State." A lawyer in San Benito, named William G. B. Morrison, said that Munoz's lynching was "the spark that fired the flame among the white people." However, a federal investigator said that the lynching was "an expression of the indignation of the people against the repeated failure to enforce the laws."
John William Weber says that "personal conflict" was the cause of some of the violence. Weber says the "most important example" was that of Aniceto Pizana, the owner of Los Tulitos Ranch. Pizana's neighbor, Jeff Scrivener, was known for wanting Pizana's land so in early August he told American authorities that Pizana was in league with the rebels and had harbored some of them during one of their raids. Despite this accusation, no evidence suggests that Pizana ever had any significant ties with the rebels, though he was a friend of Luis de la Rosca, a known raider who owned a store in Rio Hondo. In response to Scrivener's claim, a force of about thirty Texas Rangers, United States Army soldiers, and some deputy sheriffs attacked the Los Tulitos Ranch on August 3. During the gunfight that followed, one soldier was killed, and three other people were wounded, including two deputy sheriffs and Pizana's son. Pizana himself got away and according to Weber he joined up with Luis de la Rosca after the attack on his ranch. From then on Rosca and Pizana became the "primary military leaders of the Plan [of San Diego]." On August 6, Luis de la Rosca led a raid on the town of Sebastian, killing A. L. Austin and his son Charles. Austin formerly served as the president of the Law and Order League which, according to federal investigators, "had driven several bad men out of that section [Sebastian, Texas]" and was therefore an ideal target for the raiders who thought of him as a racist. Within the next few days after the deaths of the Austins, several local Mexicans were killed by either the Texas Rangers or vigilantes. A posse led by the Texas adjudant general, Henry Hutchings, and Captain Ransom killed three people alone. Meanwhile, the rebels were destroying railroad property by ripping up tracks, burning bridges and attacking the repairmen who were sent to fix the problems.
The "most daring" raid during the Seditionistas' campaign occurred at the Norias Ranch, the headquarters for the southern most division of the King Ranch. On the night of August 8, somewhere between forty-five and seventy rebels attacked Norias which was defended by a squad of American cavalrymen, a few policemen and a few ranchers. During the two-hour battle that followed, at least a dozen people were killed or wounded and possibly many more before the rebels retreated back towards Mexico. Another battle was fought on the next morning when the Mexican raiders encountered a force of Texas Rangers and soldiers as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande. The Americans reported that as many as twelve more rebels were killed and that very few made it across the river. For the next few weeks western Texas was plagued by "almost daily killings", the most notable of which occurred on October 19. That day a band of raiders derailed a train six miles north of Brownsville and killed several white people on board, leaving the Mexican passengers unhurt. When Captain Ransom arrived at the scene he found four Mexicans in the vicinity and executed them all. On October 21, Rosca and Pizana led in between twenty-five and 100 rebels in the last important raid of the Seditionista campaign. Like most of the raids it was a failure for the rebels. This time a squad of eight army signalmen were besieged by the Mexicans at Ojo de Agua until being relieved by twelve men from the 3rd Cavalry, under Captain W. J. Scott. At least seven rebels died as result of the battle and at least seven others were wounded. The Americans suffered one civilian death, three soldiers killed and eight wounded.
By December 1915 the threat of Mexican raiders was slowly diminishing but in the summer of 1916 a series of minor attacks began, all them occurring around Laredo, Texas. That year Luis de la Rosca recruited his Villista cousin Jose Morin to capture San Antonio but a baker in Kingsville, known as Victoriano Ponce, informed the Texas Rangers who arrested both men in May. The two were apparently murdered by the rangers because they were never seen again after their arrest. According to United States Army investigators, over 300 Mexicans had been killed during the Seditionistas' campaign.
- Utley, Robert M., Lone Star Lawmen: The Second Century of the Texas Rangers, Berkley (2008) Chapter I: The Border 1910-1915. ISBN 978-0425219386
- ODMP memorial Deputy Constable Falcon and Deputy Sherriff Cuellar
- Plan of San Diego | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)
- Weber, pg. 79-94
- Pierce, pg. 97
- Investigation of Mexican Affairs, pg. 1247
- Norias Ranch Raid | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)
- Weber, John W. (2008). The shadow of the revolution: South Texas, the Mexican Revolution, and the evolution of modern American labor relations. ProQuest. ISBN 0-549-96152-6.
- Pierce, Frank Cushman (1917). A Brief History of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Menasha, Wisconsin: George Banta Publishing Company.
- Investigation of Mexican Affairs. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1919.