Military Service


In 1916 Col. Sam served as a scout for Gen. John I. Pershing's army when it went into Mexico in pursuit of Francisco (Pancho) Villa. On one of his scouting trips in 1916, Robertson was joined by Tom James, an old acquaintance. Both seemingly vanished. After two months, Robertson reached the U.S. border at El Paso, barely alive. Bandits had killed James during a skirmish in the state of Jalisco. They dragged Robertson behind a horse with a rope around his neck until he was believed to be dead. As one of his attackers dismounted to make certain, he grabbed the machete he held upright and managed to escape on the bandit's horse.

Robertson lost most of his holdings in the hard times of 1914. Without regret, he relinquished control of the San Benito Land & Water Co., which had to be financed. Once again he took the adventure trail, this time in Mexico. He acquired some valuable mining property but development was suspended because of uprisings by revolutionists and sporadic banditry. On his trips he also served as intelligence officer for Colonel R. L. Bullard of the 26th U.S. Infantry stationed at Fort Brown. Once he was ambushed and had to fight his way out, aided by a young goatherder named Salomon Lerma. To escape reprisal, the boy crossed the river and sought Robertson's protection. Salomon became a mascot for troops on duty in the Valley during the 1915-16 bandit disorders. (During World War I, he went with the A.E.F. to France where he died of service-associated pneumonia.)


Sam still had rope burns on his neck when he volunteered for service early in 1917. Commissioned a major and sent to Detroit, he recruited and organized the 16th Engineers, one of the first regiments to go to France. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel the next February and was transferred to command the 22nd Engineers in charge of light railway construction. He built railway shops at Abainville and laid track to within 3,000 yards of enemy lines. During one four-day period his outfit, while under German fire at St. Mihiel, built 16 miles of front line tracks. He was repeatedly cited for competence in building light rail lines to the front trenches under shell fire. The Distinguished Service Medal was among the awards he received. He came home in July 1919 a full colonel, after helping salvage, and rebuild German railroads following the Armistice.