The Glenn Springs raid of 1916 confirmed the fears of Texas residents living along the Rio Grande during the chaotic early years of the Mexican Revolution. In the second decade of the twentieth century rumors of impending incursions by Mexican bandits or soldiers of Francisco (Pancho) Villa and Venustiano Carranza were common. In June 1915 Governor James E. Ferguson asked President Woodrow Wilson to station troops in the Big Bend to protect citizens from bandits; Wilson forwarded Ferguson's request to Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston, the commander of the United States Army's Southern Department, who denied it. Funston argued that combating banditry was a state responsibility.
Events soon caused a revision of that policy. In January 1916 Villista soldiers stopped a train near Santa Ysabel in Chihuahua and shot eighteen American mining engineers. On March 9, 1916, 485 rebels attacked Columbus, New Mexico, on Villa's orders, killing seventeen Americans. Wilson sent a punitive expedition of 6,000 men under Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing across the border in pursuit of Villa. The expedition remained in Mexico until January 1917 but failed to catch its quarry.
The Glenn Springs raid took place late on the night of May 5, 1916, when two groups of Mexican raiders under Rodríguez Ramírez and Natividad Álvarez attacked the villages of Glenn Springs and Boquillas in southern Brewster County. Estimates of the number of raiders ranged between sixty and several hundred; at any rate, they greatly outnumbered the nine soldiers of Troop A of the Fourteenth Cavalry who had been stationed there to provide protection from this sort of attack. The soldiers abandoned their tents and took shelter in an adobe building, where for several hours they exchanged gunfire with the Mexicans, but eventually the raiders set fire to the roof of the building, forcing the soldiers to flee. Three of the nine soldiers were killed attempting to escape the fire, and four more were wounded. Also killed was the young son of storekeeper C. G. Compton. The raiders themselves suffered few losses.
While all this was happening in Glenn Springs, another party raided Boquillas, twelve miles east of Glenn Springs on the Rio Grande. Álvarez was captured, but his men took storekeeper Jesse Deemer and his assistant, Monroe Payne, hostage before fleeing back across the Rio Grande. The raiders also robbed the Puerto Rico Mining Company of its payroll.
The army believed that Villa was behind these latest outrages and organized another punitive expedition, under the joint command of Col. Frederick W. Sibley and Col. George T. Langhorne. They left Marathon on May 8 and assembled at Deemer's store in Boquillas on May 11. That night Sibley sent an advance force across the Rio Grande under Langhorne. This group consisted of eighty men, two wagons, and Langhorne's personal chauffeur-driven Cadillac touring car. Sibley and the rest of the force followed two days later. The Mexicans, who had established a base in the Coahuila village of El Pino, tried to negotiate with Langhorne. They sent him a note from Deemer indicating that the bandits would return the two Americans in exchange for Álvarez and others. Langhorne piled twelve sharpshooters into his Cadillac and headed for El Pino, but the bandits scattered, leaving Deemer and Payne behind in the care of a local rancher. The troops returned to Texas on May 21 with the two hostages, but without having caught the raiders themselves.
The raid led to the reorganization of the American military presence in the Big Bend. President Wilson ordered troops of the national guard mobilized to reinforce the army, and by the end of July 1916 an estimated 116,957 guardsmen were stationed along the border from California to Texas. In addition, permanent cavalry camps were established at more than a dozen locations in the Big Bend, including Glenn Springs and La Noria, near Boquillas. In August 1920, however, the Big Bend Military District was discontinued and the camps abandoned; the threat of banditry had ended. W. D. Smithers, a former muleteer for the troops at Glenn Springs, said that after 1916 there was little for the soldiers to do except "watch for bandits and play baseball." Construction of the permanent barracks at Glenn Springs was never completed.
In May 1919, perhaps in fear of more raids, Ellis sold his Glenn Springs property and his claims to the Mariscal Mine on nearby Mariscal Mountain to William D. Burcham. A number of local residents believed that Jesse Deemer had not actually been kidnapped by the raiders, but had in fact been in league with them. Shortly thereafter Deemer sold his store in Boquillas and moved to California.