Theodoros Kyriakopoulos occupies a unique place in the modern history of North America and Mexico. As a wide array of published accounts, interviews, and living memory continue to report, Kyriakopoulos played a sustained but largely under reported role in the Mexican Revolution. Also known as the Mexican Civil War, this bloody conflict extended from 1910 to 1920. As all sources attest Kyriakopoulos was an ardent champion of freedom but was also an active supporter of one of its leading figures, Pancho Villa (1878-1923).
Villa, born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, was destined to become a guerilla leader who became a Mexican revolutionary general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution. Scattered across the pages of history, Kyriakopoulos’ unique role in this people’s revolution has yet to be fully understood and assessed.
On October 18, 1874, Theodoros Kyriakopoulos was born in Kalamata, Greece. It is rumored that Kyriakopoulos may have sought adventure and fortune when venturing to South Africa prior to his emigration to Mexico, where he would invest in manufacturing before moving to the United States. While rumors do abound surrounding Kyriakopoulos’ early years we do know that just prior to his arrival in the United States he was a partner in a soft drink business in Jimenez, Mexico.
On June 12th, 1908, Kyriakopoulos immigrated to El Paso, Texas. Once in El Paso, Kyriakopoulos met, through an unidentified Greek friend, his future wife Antonina (Nina) Triolo, who was an American citizen of Sicilian decent. His father in-law, Chaz Triolo, owned many business properties in and around El Paso. As a wedding present he gave his daughter and Kyriakopoulos the Emporium Bar, which was connected to the Roma Hotel, another of Triolo’s properties. All accounts agree that Kyriakopoulos spoke fluent Spanish and proved to be an exceptional businessman.
Settled on the American side of the border, Kiriakopoulos quickly became connected with the Constitutionalist Movement that was sweeping Mexico, and the revolution that soon erupted. Given Kyriakopoulos’ sustained involvement with Villa and the Mexican Revolution information about him and his actions are scattered across a host of news articles, books, personal recollections, and even YouTube accounts. Yet, having said that, there is little to no agreement about how to spell either his first or last name. In quoting from public sources I have elected to standardize the spelling of his name to ‘Theodoros Kyriakopoulos’.
One notable account of Kyriakopoulos’ life and involvement with the Mexican revolution was written by none other than his wife Antonina and can be found in ‘Pancho Villa. Intimate Recollections by People Who Knew Him,’ edited by Jessie Peterson and Thelma C. Knoles (New York, Hastings House, 1977).
Among the most accessible sources on Kyriakopoulos and his long-term relationship with Villa and the Revolution is Elias Neofytides’ interview with Rick and Donna Villarreal, titled ‘Theodore Kyriakopoulos and the Mexican Revolution with Poncho Villa and the Triolo Family’ for Macedonian TV of the USA that can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.
The Villareal couple moved into Kyriakopoulos’ home at 510 Prospect Street in El Paso’s famed historic neighborhood, Sunset Heights not realizing, initially, who the Kyriakopoulos/Triolo clans were in relationship to the history of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution. The Villarrela couple soon began their own investigations into the unique involvement of the former owners of their home with the Mexican Revolution. The extended conversation between Neofytides and the Villareals offers an especially fine introduction to Kyriakopoulos and his extended family’s involvement in the Mexican Revolution.
As we learn from a variety of published sources Kyriakopoulos, not long after his arrival in El Paso he was situationally an extremely successful business man, mercenary, weapons dealer, smuggler, and real estate tycoon. Kyriakopoulos proceeded in building a small empire and powerful network going into a variety of businesses that would span distances from California to Louisiana.
Through the extended Triolo family, Kyriakopoulos became not only a very close friend of Pancho Villa but also one of his major benefactors. The extended Triolo/Kyriakopoulos families readily supplied weapons, tactical intelligence, and manpower in clandestine operations to Villa and his supporters. I must confess that while an array of sources readily contend that Kyriakopoulos was not simply a businessman but also one of the leading supporters of the rebel Junta in El Paso, exactly how the U. S. Neutrality Law allowed him to so freely operate as such with impunity still escapes me – especially when Pancho Villa and his wife, Luz Corral, frequently stayed in Kyriakopoulos’ house, on Prospect Street. Accompanying such reports were those by Texas U.S. agents and Texas Rangers who regularly reported that Hipolito, Pancho’s brother, would often be in the presence of the Kyriakopoulos family.
As in any open rebellion, Kyriakopoulos’ support of Villa was not universally accepted as we hear in the report that: ‘Theodore Kyriacopulos, head of a rebel junta, today in the lobby of an El Paso hotel stabbed but not fatally wound A.S. Fernando, a Spaniard. Kyriacopulos said he had fought because a crowd of Spanish refugees had yelled, ‘lynch the supporter of Villa!’ He was arrested,’ (Great Falls Tribune December 15, 1913 pp: 1; 2).
As one might expect, Kyriakopoulos is very well remembered in El Paso. Although not mentioned by name, in the following account, you will recall that the Kyriakopoulos couple received the Emporium Bar as a wedding present. The following account with a photograph of the Emporium Bar were on the Internet and attributed to the El Paso History Alliance (November 13, 2014).
‘PANCHO VILLA AND THE EMPORIUM BAR MEET BURGER KING!
The Emporium Bar, or ‘Mexican Club’, once located at 423 South El Paso Street, was where spies, revolutionaries, and counter-revolutionaries planned many of the intrigues of the Mexican Revolution. Newspapermen carefully observed the Mexican visitors. One frequent patron was Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa, who resided next door at the Hotel Roma. Although Villa abstained from alcohol, he could often be seen drinking his favorite strawberry soda at the Emporium. One day in 1913, Villa was enjoying a soda when he was approached by German Colonel Maximilian Kloss, who offered support for the revolutionary cause in exchange for the right to establish German submarine bases off the coast of Mexico. Although nothing came of the offer, and Villa soon left for Mexico to start the famed Division of the North, this was typical of the dealings that took place in the Casablanca-like atmosphere of the Emporium Bar during the Mexican Revolution. The bar was razed in 2003 and replaced by a parking lot for a new Burger King!”
Long-term friendships, much like revolutions, have their ups and downs. And as we have seen, Kyriakopoulos’ tenacious dedication to the Mexican revolution is documented by any number of eye-witnesses and published sources. Nonetheless from our distance in time and place we must view these past events as the documentation presents itself and not through the rosy glasses of hero-worship.
So, we read the following: “A Mexican named Francisco Villa, alias Francisco Villa, alias Pancho Villa, lost a suit in the 65th district court Friday afternoon. Because of urgent business in Mexico the defendant was unable to be present in person but was represented by his attorneys. The suit was filed against the Mexican by Teodoro Kyricopulos, a former friend of the Villa person who alleged that he had advanced monies and had otherwise assisted Villa and that the said Villa had failed to repay him, much to his surprise and disgust. The jury returned a verdict for $900 in favor of Kyricopulos and against Villa, the suit having been for $5,000,” (El Paso Herald May 6, 1916).
American journalists actively sought Kyriakopoulos’ comments and perspective following the assassination of Pancho Villa. Antonina mentions how deeply saddened her husband had become upon hearing the news.
On December 31, 1954, Theodoros Kyriakopoulos was struck by a hit-and-run automobile while crossing the street in front of Sacred Heart Church in El Paso. Kyriakopoulos and his wife are buried at Saint Francis Cemetery in Maricopa County, Phoenix, Arizona. The Kyriakopoulos couple had two children, Rebecca and John. Various accounts report that today, living descendants of Kyriakopoulos’ business partners, his nieces, and remaining members of the Triolo family freely share a wide array of stories concerning Kyriakopoulos during the days when his fortune was made, of his direct assistance to Pancho Villa, and his sustained support of his friend after the Mexican revolution.
Publications written over the last 100 years, in English and Spanish, allude to a gravely different outcome had Kyriakopoulos’ role during the Mexican Revolution gone uncalled upon. Whatever else may be said about this Greek-American immigrant one can declare with confidence that Theodoros Kyriakopoulos is a forgotten hero of the Mexican Revolution.