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Did the Punitive Expedition influence the start of the Immigration and Naturalization Service/U.S. Border Patrol?

Dustin Smith
Sahuarita, Arizona

The history of border security predates the Punitive Expedition by several years. As a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Asians were often smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico. Also, there was a lot of smuggling of American goods into Mexico after the Mexican government placed a high tariff on U.S. goods.

us army punitive expedition eighth machine gun cavalry true west magazine
The U.S. Army Punitive Expedition’s Eighth Machine Gun Cavalry was ready to thwart an invasion across the American-Mexican border in April 1916.
— Courtesy Library of Congress —

Mounted horsemen, known as Mounted Guards, for the Department of Commerce and Labor were patrolling the border as early as 1904 to deal with illegal entry. Mostly they dealt with the smuggling of Chinese workers. In March 1917 Congress authorized separate border guards, still primarily to deal with Chinese immigrants. Along with horses, the guards used boats, motorcycles and automobiles. This coincided with Punitive Expedition. The military and the Texas Rangers (along the Texas border) also acted as border security. The National Origins Act of 1924 authorized the establishment of the Border Patrol to prevent illegal entry on both the Canadian and Mexican borders.

Most of this comes off the top of my head from living here and having family from the Texas-Mexican border country around Del Rio. But the short answer to your question is yes, the Texas, New Mexico, Arizona Rangers and the military would have had an influence on the creation of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at

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