Harley-Davidson on the Trail of Pancho Villa

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In just two years, Harley-Davidson will be able to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the first HD motorcycles to be used in a US Military combat role.  Although the US Army had been testing motorcycles since 1913, it wasn’t until General “Black Jack” Pershing ordered them for use in the Punitive Expedition that they actually saw live combat.  Pershing thought that motorcycles would be the perfect vehicle for traveling through the rugged deserts of Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa.

At that time,  Harley-Davidson was producing the J-series motorcycle which were powered by a 61 cubic inch F-head engine and capable of speeds up to 60 miles per hour.  The US Army ordered these in a variety of configurations including standard motorcycles for troop transport, sidecar equipped motorcycles for command transport, sidecar equipped motorcycles with machine guns and sidecar equipped motorcycles to carry supplies and ammunition.

Pershing and the US Army were very impressed by the performance of those machines during the 11-month operation in Mexico.  This set the stage for an increased role for motorcycles in the US Military and their numbers soon swelled with the advent of WWI.  The Pershing Expedition failed to achieve it’s goal of capturing Pancho Villa, who coincidentally was also a motorcycle enthusiast.  His brand of choice was Indian and it is rumored that he used Indian motorcycles in some of his raids.  It’s interesting to think that Harley-Davidson and Indian not only competed on the race track, but also on the battlefield…


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