Before dawn on March 16, 1916, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa led several hundred of his rebel soldiers across the Mexican border into the southern county village of Columbus. The invaders raided and burned much of the town, causing many residents to flee to the desert. Although the raid completely surprised everyone in the town, it also awakened 350 United States Army soldiers at Camp Furlong at the edge of town, who defended the town with two machine guns. The fighting continued until dawn, when Villa fled back across the Mexican border, five hours after invading and approximately ninety minutes after attacking the town. Despite the U.S. Army's counter "Mexican Expedition" into Mexico, Villa was never caught; he died seven years later at the hands of an assassin.
Eighteen Columbus residents and U.S. soldiers were killed in the raid, while approximately seventy-five of Villa's soldiers were killed. This raid was the last invasion of American territory until the Japanese invasion of Attu Island during World War II.
Today, Pancho Villa State Park is located in the village of Columbus. It features beautiful cacti and the ruins of "the U.S. Army's first greaserack".
There were 9,397 households out of which 33.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.60% were married couples living together, 12.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.80% were non-families. 26.40% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.64 and the average family size was 3.20.
In the county the population was spread out with 30.00% under the age of 18, 7.60% from 18 to 24, 22.70% from 25 to 44, 21.50% from 45 to 64, and 18.20% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 95.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.20 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $20,784, and the median income for a family was $24,252. Males had a median income of $25,008 versus $16,883 for females. The per capita income for the county was $11,218. About 27.20% of families and 32.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 46.80% of those under age 18 and 15.80% of those age 65 or over.