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Fort Bliss' Pershing House guests included Pancho Villa and Buffalo Bill

The Pershing House at Fort Bliss is named after General John Pershing.

EL PASO TIMES FILE PHOTO/TNS

By TRISH LONG | El Paso Times | Published: April 28, 2021

FORT BLISS, Texas (Tribune News Service) – The Pershing House on Fort Bliss was built in 1910. General of the Armies John J. “Black Jack” Pershing lived in the home at 228 Sheridan Road from 1914 to 1916 as then post commander.

In October 1911, the Pershing House was the scene of a historic event: The first 48-star flag was raised in front of the quarters to celebrate the pending statehood of neighboring New Mexico and Arizona.

During Pershing’s 1916 Punitive Exhibition against Francisco “Pancho” Villa, the house buzzed with activity as a command post. Villa had visited the house as a guest in 1914.

Host to military and civilian society

An April 20, 1985, El Paso Times article reports, “The house is of masonry construction, probably structural clay tile, with shingle-covered hip roof having a single dormer at center front.

“Names of the original architects and builders are unknown because Army records of the house have been lost. However, the cost is known to have been $16,378, a rather high price in 1910.

“Kerosene lamps were used until November 1911, when electricity was installed. Gas first was used in the house in July, 1928.

"Through the years, Pershing House has been host to military and civilian society. Arranged in a modified T-shape, the front and main portion of the house is a rectangle of two large rooms — living and dining — bisected by a wide stair hall.

Standing room for 300 guests

“There is more than adequate standing room for 300 guests at receptions, and 24 can be seated at a formal dinner in the dining room.

“At the rear of Pershing House is attached a wing housing kitchen, breakfast room, servants’ quarters and a washroom.

“Upstairs are five bedrooms and three baths. In the days before air conditioning, upstairs screened porches were used for sleeping.

“On the partially-screened downstairs porch is a sofa swing on chains, a probable copy of one originally made to order for Pershing from a field cot.”

Following is an article by historian Leon Metz which ran in the Times in October 2008:

History abounds at stately, expansive Pershing House

One of El Paso's greatest architectural and historic treasures really isn't in El Paso per se. It is at Fort Bliss, and we call it the Pershing House.

But in this instance, I am not specifically writing about Gen. John J. Pershing, as he was not the original occupant. Nor was the building initially named for him.

Bear in mind that the military always had numbers for practically everything, and on the drawing table this structure was primarily known as "Army Plan Number 243, Field Officers Quarters."

As originally developed, the structure had two stories and a full basement, architecturally falling into the category of Georgian Revival and Plantation elegance.

Built at a cost of $16,000

The original building, at a cost of $16,000, had large corner fireplaces in the formal front rooms, those having since been removed along with the chimneys.

Family quarters were upstairs, the area consisting of four large bedrooms and three smaller ones. The staff occupied the two bedrooms downstairs, altogether making this residence a nine-bedroom mansion.

There was a laundry room, a boiler room for heating, and a storage area in the basement. Electric lights were installed in 1911, illumination prior to that being by kerosene lamps. There were two bathrooms upstairs, and one bathroom in the downstairs staff quarters.

Although a multitude of well-off individuals have lived there, the most famous guest, and the one whose name still identifies the house, was Gen. John J. Pershing. But a date for when it officially became "The Pershing House" remains obscure.

Guests at the Pershing House, among many others, have been former Mexican President/Gen. Victoriano Huerta, Buffalo Bill Cody, Mexican Gen. Alvaro Obregon and Pancho Villa.

Of the latter two, Pershing noted that "Obregon impressed me very favorably as a man of considerable culture and ability."

But Villa made quite a different impression. "He wore civilian clothes, evidently having dressed for the occasion ... and he looked the part of the cutthroat that he was."

But Gen. Pershing also had his tragedies. He had traveled to Fort Bliss from the Presidio in San Francisco, leaving his wife, Frances, and their children temporarily behind. Helen was 9, Warren was age 6 and Margaret, age 3.

But on Aug. 27, 1915, while at Fort Bliss, Pershing learned that a fire had occurred in their quarters at Presidio, Texas, and his wife Francis and their three daughters had died of smoke inhalation. His young son was rescued. He had been sleeping in another part of the house.

According to locally accepted thought, his demeanor changed at that point, Gen. Pershing becoming distant from everyone, including his comrades-in-arms.

Lt. George S. Patton, an official aide to Pershing, in early 1916 introduced his sister, Anita, to Pershing, she and Pershing being immediately attracted to one another, although he was 55 and a widower and she 29 and unmarried. Still, although the relationship developed, they never became man and wife.

Following the death of Col. Frederick Funston, Pershing left Fort Bliss in February 1917, soon commanding the Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War I.

From there he became chief of staff from July 1, 1921 to Sept. 1924. He then retired, dying on July 15, 1948. Gen. Pershing was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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