Blackened finger, mummified as if about to pull a trigger.
Blackened finger, mummified as if about to pull a trigger.

Trigger Finger of Pancho Villa

Field review by the editors.

El Paso, Texas

Francisco "Pancho" Villa, a Mexican revolutionary whose fondness for crossed bandoliers inspired years of south-of-the-border caricatures, died in a hail of gunfire in 1923. Protective of his image -- his reported last words were, "Don't let it end this way; tell them I said something important!" -- Villa even played himself in a few D.W. Griffith-produced silent films. To this day his mustachioed likeness can be found on murals across Mexico.

When icons unnaturally perish, they're sometimes remembered with posthumous souvenirs. Crucifixion relics, stakes from Joan of Arc's bonfire, pill bottles from celebrity ODs, all are collectible. Villa, who was both famous and infamous, reportedly had his corpse dug up and dismembered. Some of the pieces went to Americans, perhaps as spoils of war (He had, after all, invaded the U.S. in 1916). Villa's head is supposedly displayed at Skull and Bones, the notorious secret society of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Pancho Villa's index finger was bent from years of gunfights.
Pancho Villa's index finger was bent from years of gunfights.

For those of us not as well-connected, a more visible Villa option is available at Dave's Pawn Shop in El Paso, Texas. Displayed in the storefront window, nestled in a reliquary bed of fluffy cotton among abandoned class rings and silver dollars, is Pancho Villa's withered, blackened trigger finger.

"It's been there longer than I've been around, and I'm 38," said Clay Baron, grandson of Dave and current manager of the shop, which has been owned by the family since 1950. Whoever pawned the finger has been long forgotten, but may have come from Mexico, whose border is only a few blocks away.

Elvis statue suggests that this is not a normal pawn shop.
Elvis statue suggests that this is not a normal pawn shop.

The shriveled digit, smaller than you might expect, is crooked -- as if Pancho was about to fire his six-shooter in his last, desperate moments. "It gets a lot of attention," said Clay, who judged the grisly memento to be "more celebrated than reviled" to Texans. One of the Pawn Shop's proudest possessions is a snapshot of First Lady Laura Bush, peering in the window at the finger.

Its price tag -- $9,500 -- seems more obligatory than serious. Would the Pawn Shop really sell the finger, even if someone walked in with the cash? Clay was coyly noncommittal. "There might be some tears," he said, but we hope that he would find an excuse not to sell what has become an unofficial icon of El Paso -- and the defining property of Dave's Pawn Shop.

The Shop has gradually developed a reputation for buying marvels from the more esoteric collections of down-on-their-heels Southwesterners, from two-headed ducks to mermaid carcasses to a necklace of human ears. "We don't really do lawnmowers or leaf blowers," said Clay. A shrunken head now belongs to a member of ZZ Top, thanks to the store. "We have a mummy; I think it's Peruvian," said Clay. "Somebody was getting a divorce and didn't want their wife to take it, so they sold it to us." Clay also pointed to the shop's "variety of human skulls," and "a pig with a tattoo," preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. The tattoo is a little heart with the words, "Mama Tried."

The finger is visible just to the left of shop manager Clay Baron.
The finger is visible just to the left of shop manager Clay Baron.

The finger, however, remains the alpha relic. It has undoubtedly helped revive Dave's Pawn Shop, which has helped revive its downtown neighborhood, which has helped revive all of El Paso. It is the key body part of the city's best-known historical celebrity. Villa may have had ten digits, but he had only one trigger finger.

About 100 feet away on South El Paso Street is a bronze statue of Pancho Villa, ready to shake the hand of his sometimes-ally American General John Pershing. This tribute to cross-border friendship stands outside the entrance of the historic Hotel Paso Del Norte, whose balcony in 1911 offered onlookers a view of Villa's forces fighting the Mexican army in Ciudad Juarez. The sculpture depicts a dignified Villa -- bandolier-free -- just moments before the handshake. His trigger finger is curled ever so slightly, just like the one in the window down the street.

Statue handshake between Pancho Villa and John Pershing. Note the telltale finger curl.
Statue handshake between Pancho Villa and John Pershing. Note the telltale finger curl.

Also see: Pancho Villa Handshake Statue

Trigger Finger of Pancho Villa

Dave's Pawn Shop

Address:
216 S. El Paso St., El Paso, TX
Directions:
Dave's Pawn Shop. Downtown, one block east of S. Santa Fe St. On the east side of S. El Paso St. between E. Overland Ave. and E. San Antonio Ave.
Hours:
M-Sa 8:30-5:30 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
915-533-3334
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Pancho Villa Handshake StatuePancho Villa Handshake Statue, El Paso, TX - < 1 mi.
Pile o' Gators Statue (Plaza de los Lagartos)Pile o' Gators Statue (Plaza de los Lagartos), El Paso, TX - < 1 mi.
Boy and the BootBoy and the Boot, El Paso, TX - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Big Rooster, Fabens, TX - 26 mi.

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