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Ben Viljoen

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Title: Ben Viljoen  
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Subject: South African diaspora, History of New Mexico, Afrikaner people, South African American, Battle of Ciudad Juárez (1911)
Collection: 1869 Births, 1917 Deaths, Afrikaner People, History of New Mexico, Members of the Volksraad of the South African Republic, People from the Eastern Cape, People of the Mexican Revolution, South African Diaspora, South African Emigrants to the United States, South African Expatriates in Mexico, South African Members of the Dutch Reformed Church, South African People of Dutch Descent, South African People of Huguenot Descent, South African Prisoners of War, South African Republic Generals, South African Republic Military Personnel of the Second Boer War, South African Writers, White South African People
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Ben Viljoen

Benjamin Johannes Viljoen
General Ben Viljoen (seated) and his Secretary (Mr. J. Visser)
Born (1869-09-07)7 September 1869
Varkiesdraai, Wodehouse district,
 British Cape Colony
Died 14 January 1917(1917-01-14) (aged 47)
La Mesa,  New Mexico
Allegiance  South African Republic
Years of service 1896–1902
Rank Assistant Commandant-General
Unit Krugersdorpse Vrywilligerskorps
Transvaal Burgher Force
Johannesburg Commando

First Boer War (1880–1881)
Jameson Raid (1895–1896)
Second Boer War (1899–1902)

Other work
  • Member of the Volksraad (Transvaal Parliament)
  • In 1902 wrote his autobiography "My Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War",[1]
  • In 1904 participated in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition
  • Civic life in New Mexico
  • Consul in Germany.

Benjamin Johannes "Ben" Viljoen (7 September 1869 – 14 January 1917) was a general in the Boer army. He was born in a cave in the Wodehouse district of the Cape Colony to Susanna Magdalena Storm and Wynand Johannes Viljoen. This was the temporary residence of the Viljoen family while their farm house was being constructed. He spent his early years on the Varkiesdraai farm near Umtata.[2] He attained the position of Assistant Commandant-General of the Transvaal Burgher Forces and was member for Krugersdorp in the Transvaal Volksraad.


  • Krugersdorpse Vrywilligerskorps and the Volksraad 1
  • Outbreak of War 2
  • Guerrilla war 3
  • Capture, imprisonment and war memoirs 4
  • Boer Colony in Mexico 5
  • United States and the Boer War Circus 6
  • Civic life in New Mexico 7
  • Perception of Viljoen by the English-speaking press 8
  • Notes 9
  • External links 10

Krugersdorpse Vrywilligerskorps and the Volksraad

In 1890 he moved to Johannesburg and in 1896 he founded the Krugersdorpse Vrywilligerskorps experiencing combat with the Jameson Raiders. On the Uitlander issue, Viljoen was an ally of Paul Kruger. He is famously attributed to saying in the Volksraad that it was time to put trust in "God and the Mauser".[3]

Outbreak of War

With the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War he first did service in the Colony of Natal. He led the Johannesburg Commando, the great nemesis of the Uitlanders and he fought at the Battle of Elandslaagte on 21 October 1899. When the front disintegrated, he joined up with other Boers to stop the British march on Pretoria.

When British General Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton crossed the Vaal River on 26 May 1900, Viljoen and his Johannesburg Commando confronted him with De la Rey and the Lichtenburg Commando.[4]

Guerrilla war

With the end of the conventional phase of the war, he formed a powerful guerrilla commando consisting of men from Johannesburg, Krugersdorp, Boksburg and the North and East Transvaal. His success resulted in him attaining the high rank of Assistant Commandant-General (November 1900). Viljoen's exploits included surprising a garrison at Helvetia in the Eastern Transvaal on 29 December 1900 and temporarily capturing 235 men and a 4.7-inch gun.[5]

Capture, imprisonment and war memoirs

He was eventually captured at Lydenburg on 25 January 1902 and remained prisoner-of-war until May 1902 at the Broadbottom Camp, on St. Helena. It was there that he wrote his autobiography, "My Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War". The book is a realistic description of the war from a Boer perspective. Unlike other Boer generals he was not a property owner and thus hesitated to return to South Africa. He returned to South Africa as a pauper but refused to take British citizenship, thus greatly reducing his chances of resuming a public career. He was also disillusioned by rumours claiming that he had collaborated with the British, and he felt that his contribution to the struggle was not recognised.

Boer Colony in Mexico

Ben Viljoen was one of the South African refugee officers who formed a farm colony in Mexico with the assistance of Theodore Roosevelt. Help with selecting and negotiating for the property were provided by two men hired by Roosevelt family friend Marshall Latham Bond and the husband of a Roosevelt relative Edward Reeve Merritt. It was located at Hacienda Humboldt in the municipality of Julimes, Chihuahua. [6]

United States and the Boer War Circus

He left for the United States in 1904 along with General Piet Cronjé (of Battle of Paardeberg fame) to take part in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis, Missouri) and the so-called "Boer War Circus" – portrayals of scenes from the Boer War. After leaving the fair, he settled down in the US. He separated from his wife, Lenie (née Els), who did not really want to leave South Africa and married an American woman, Myrtle Dickerson. Attempts to establish a Boer settlement in the north of Mexico ended in failure.

Civic life in New Mexico

He returned from Mexico to the US and was instrumental in organising Boer colonies in Albert Bacon Fall as part of a delegation promoting statehood for New Mexico. In April and May 1911, he fought with the Mexican Revolutionary Francisco Madero at the Battle of Ciudad Juarez.[7]

Viljoen was also influential in agriculture. He introduced new crops and farming practices to the Mesilla Valley. Viljoen was interested in the creation of the Elephant Butte Dam and developed irrigation systems for the valley.

For a short while, he was US Consul in Germany, and also acted as military advisor to Francisco Madero until Madero's assassination in 1913. He died in 1917, at his farm in La Mesa and is buried at the Masonic Cemetery in La Mesa, New Mexico.[8]

Perception of Viljoen by the English-speaking press

For an insight of Ben Viljoen during the Anglo-Boer conflicts (as perceived by the English-speaking press), see 24 December 1899 New York Times article, "With the Boers at War."


  1. ^ [1] Project Gutenberg
  2. ^ "Ben Viljoen, The Forgotten Boer War Hero", BHA News Number 139, Boksburg Historical Association, August 2006
  3. ^ Thomas Pakenham, "The Boer War", Abacus, Little Brown & Co., (UK), London, 1997, page 101.
  4. ^ Thomas Pakenham, "The Boer War", Abacus, Little Brown & Co., (UK), London, 1997, page 425.
  5. ^ Thomas Pakenham, "The Boer War", Abacus, Little Brown & Co., (UK), London, 1997, page 493.
  6. ^ Mexifiles: The Boer Colony in Mexico
  7. ^ Frank McLynn, "Villa and Zapata. A History of Mexican Revolution", Basic Books, 2000, pg. 95
  8. ^ [2] Masonic Cemetery, La Mesa, New Mexico.

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