America’s 1st Attack From the Sky: The Bombing of Naco, Arizona

A Dodge touring car destroyed by Patrick Murphy in Naco, Arizona, in April 1929.

World War Two and Sept 11, 2001 are well-known time periods when America was attacked from the air, but what about the first bombing in 1929?

It is 1929, just before the economic conditions of the United States would turn their darkest. On the border between the United States and Mexico are two hot desert sister towns, Naco, Sonora, a little village on the border of Mexico and Naco (population of about 800), in southeastern Arizona. Both fairly small communities, however, Naco, Mexico having the gambling and drinking saloons, it had the rather seeder reputation. The spring of 1929, strange events would occur to put the other Naco, Arizona on the map.

Mexican Rebellion

The early part of 1929, there was the Cristero or Escobar Rebellion (protesting the heavy taxation and general discontentment with how the country was being run) in Mexico. The Mexican Federal troops dug in around Naco, Sonora, Mexico and under severe attack by the rebel forces in April of that year. The battles became a spectator sport on the Naco, Arizona side. Sightseers gathered to watch the various skirmishes. Now and then a stray bullet would send the sightseers escaping for cover. However, both sides in the conflict were careful to avoid excessive firing coming across the border for fear that the United States military forces would step in and retaliate.

Enter Patrick Murphy – Aviator

With the battles only during the daylight hours, visitors from nearby towns like Bisbee (eight miles away), drove over to Naco, Arizona to watch; sitting in their wagons, vehicles or on the makeshift benches that were provided. One adventurous individual, Patrick Murphy, also knew of the events in both Naco towns. He had his own bi-winged airplane and was somewhat a barnstormer, an aerialist, who performed almost any trick or feat with an airplane.

Before he was in Arizona, Patrick earlier had been charged with 2nd degree manslaughter in Alabama after his mechanic died in a plane crash. Patrick suffered a crippled leg from the crash and continued to walk with a limp. Those charges were later dropped.

At the end of March 1929, after a few whiskey drinks at the saloon in Bisbee, Murphy thought he had a plan for assisting the Mexican rebels in their revolution. He proclaimed, “I’m going to make some homemade bombs, load ‘em into my ‘Jenny’ airplane and fly down there to Naco to help out those poor under-equipped and overrun revolutionists.”

The Mexican rebels accepted the offer of this barnstormer from the United States to bomb Naco from the air for which he would be amply paid. Using pipes filled with dynamite, scrap iron, nails and bolts and then stuffed into several old leather suitcases, the bombs were quickly ready. Note some believed his homemade bombs were contact-fused artillery shells fitted with tail fins.

Patrick Murphy made his first and second bombing attempts on between March 31 and April 1st, however both tries the bombs did not explore. On the third attempt the bomb hit the customhouse, but it also sprayed spectators watching the battle from the American side who were sitting on railroad cars. Murphy landed his plane and hastily made four more bombs.

American Soil Bombed

Now on his next attempt he released many more bombs between Thursday, April 4th and Saturday, April 6th. His first bomb landed south of the border in a Mexican federal trench, killing two soldiers; however the other three bombs landed north of the border on the American side. One landed on Charles Newton’s garage, with windows broken in the nearby Naco Haas Pharmacy, another on the local Phelps Dodge Mercantile, along with severely damaging a Dodge touring car and the third on the United States Post Office. Newton did suffer a splinter in his hand. In spite of Murphy’s many efforts, he was a terrible bombardier. Murphy included some special flying stunts, like flying sideways and upside down with his ‘Travel Air‘ plane.

The subsequent day, the U. S. government troops arrived and disabled Murphy’s plane before he could drop anymore bombs. The Mexican General Topete of the rebel forces promised American officials there would no further bombing incidents, especially over the border. Murphy escaped safely behind Mexican rebel lines. He crossed back on April 30th over the American border when the rebellion ended. He felt that was wiser than possibly facing a firing squad under the victorious federal Mexican government. Murphy was then arrested by U.S. officials for violating U.S. neutrality laws and taken to jail in Tucson, Arizona. However, he was not prosecuted and later released. He also was never paid by the Mexican rebels for his aerial efforts.

Yankee Doodle Escadrille

Patrick Murphy, an American, would go down in history as the first person, working for a foreign country, to bomb the U.S. mainland from the air. Only Patrick Murphy was not the only American soldier of fortune working for the Mexican government or rebels in that 1929 rebellion. There were several other men, termed, “Yankee Doodle Escadrille”, who were hired by the opposing Mexican forces to drop bombs or fire on the enemy positions. Some of other mercenary filers were Capt. Richard H. Polk from Tennessee, B. M. Cole, Colonel Art Smith, George Koehler, Jon Gorre, and Phil Mohun. But it is Patrick Murphy’s name that is recalled in legend whenever it is questioned when and where the first bombs were dropped from the skies on United States.


  1. “Nogales: Life and Times on the Frontier” by Jane Eppinga (2002 Arcadia Publishing) and Ardmore Public Library, Ardmore, OK.