Swish of the Kris - Chapter 19

During the governorship of General Wood, American sovereignty was extended into isolated districts of Mindanao and Sulu that had never before felt the hand of the white man. Some of the problems encountered by the American administrators were extremely difficult in settlement, as they involved Moro tribal rights which had been in existence for centuries.

Although the Americans were ill-prepared by experience to govern these wild people, the pursuance of a middle course helped to enforce the law without treading too heavily upon traditional Moro rights. As mentioned previously, some facts rebounded not to the credit of America; there was too much bloodshed at times when a more careful diplomacy might have avoided the necessity of military operations.

The Moros, a proud, fierce people, had been almost wholly without law under the Spaniards. The abrupt transition from lawlessness to a condition of law an order was more than could be expected of these savage Mohammedans. The institutions of piracy and slave-trading were ingrained as a part of the Moro character. These institutions were a logical and, to them, perfectly reasonable part of their society.

So also, was the seeming disregard for human life held by the Moros. in the past, the red swish of the kris had sufficed to settle all arguments. For generations the Datus had preserved the privilege of putting inconvenient people out of the way with little formality and no accounting for their acts. The thought of subjecting themselves to an American criminal law which they did not understand was intolerable, as was the payment of the head tax as required by the cedula law.

The hot-heads broke away, in defiance of the law, and Mindanao and Sulu became the hunting ground of small intertribal units who operated in open rebellion against America.

In the latter part of 1905, Pala, one of the Moro malcontents, decreed a Holy War against the authority of America and called upon the Sulu Moros to aid him in rebellion.

While the American campaign against Pala was in the field, two Moro leaders named Sariol and Abdulla conceived a plot to murder the commanding officer of the American post at Siasi and seize the rifles for use in the defense of Pala.

A small force of Moros closed in upon the isolated station. In the jungle edge near the fort, the Moros drew lots with pieces of bejuco vine to determine who should have the honor of killing the American officer.

The privilege fell to Sariol.

Stripping himself to a breech-cloth, the Moro stealthily passed through the sentries and entered the quarters of Captain Hayson in the darkness of the night.

Noiselessly the Moro crossed the room to the mosquito-netted cot of the sleeping victim. One bloody flick of the kris without warning and another American officer had died in the conquest of Sulu.

The next morning, the unsuspecting sentry found his commanding officer tangled in his reddened mosquito netting and the company swiftly took the trail after the murderer.

The plot to seize the rifles went astray, for the Moro members of the dead captain's company remained loyal to the service. Sariol and Abdulla were run to earth at the edge of a swamp and captured and brought to justice by their own countrymen.

Sariol was hanged at Siasi and dawn on November, 20, 1905, and Abdulla died in prison while waiting execution. On the scaffold, Sariol warned others of the Moros not to follow in his footsteps.

"The punishment is just," he said as the noose was adjusted about his neck. "I have violated the Koran by killing without warning in the middle of the night and I am ready to die."

Early in the year 1906, Moro outlaws in the inaccessible mountains of Butig fortified themselves in hill-top strongholds under the leadership of Sultan Mamantun of Maciu. Under Mamantun, a great force of outlaws became established at rancherias and were responsible for terrible depredations throughout the district.

Government launches operating at the mouth of the Malaig river were frequently fired upon, with the result that a camp of men from the 15th Infantry was established at the river.

The Moros were invited in for parleys and many of them came in and abandoned the outlaw life to return peacefully to their homes.

A number of the Moros, however, chose to ignore the American request for conciliation, and after a perty commanded by Lieutenant Furlong was fired upon, an American offensive was undertaken. Sultan Mamantun was killed and his men turned to Uti, a fanatical Mohammedan priest, for guidance.

Uti forwarded a note to the American authorities:

"Do not come in the night, pigs. If you do, I will crush you. Come in the daytime so that the Moros can see the dead Americans. All of you that come I will give as Sungud (marriage portion) to the virgin. the kris that cuts fast is ready."

The priest was mightier with the pen than with the kris, for when the expedition swooped down to be "crushed" he speedily took to the hills. Lieutenant Furlong led several attacks on cottas in the district, killing a great many Moros and losing a few men in the process.

Colonel J. F. Hutton took the field at the head of three columns of troops in the Butig Mountains. The soldiers were fired upon from the cottas but after eight serious engagements all of the outlaws in the district were annihilated.

Upon completion of these operations in Mindanao, a short period of peace ensued, to be broken by rumblings in Jolo.

A large band of Moros fortified Bud Dajo and defied the authorities to subject them to any law. The American garrison at Jolo was reinforced by the addition of two battalions of infantry and preparations were made for a decisive assault on the Moros.

In Zamboanga it was realized that the capture of Bud Dajo would entail serious fighting. At seven o'clock of the evening of March 2, 1906, Colonel J. W. Duncan received a note from General Wood:

"Dear Colonel:
     I wish you would get two of your companies together and go to Jolo at once. Nothing but blanket rolls, field mess outfit, 200 rounds per man, seven days field rations, in haste. Regular orders will reach you later.

Yours truly,          
Leonard Wood."

American officers attending the weekly dance at the Overseas Club in Zamboanga found their party interrupted as couriers passed through the crowd, ordering them to withdraw to the fort and prepare for field service.

The next morning Colonel Duncan received his orders to command the party and Companies K and M of the 6th Infantry departed for Jolo on the transport Wright.

the causes contributing to the battle of Bud Dajo were resentment over the curtailing of slave-trading, cattle raiding and women-stealing privileges of the Moros of Sulu.

The mountain top fortified by the Moros was a strong position. Bud Dajo, a lava cone of an extinct volcano, has an altitude of 2,100 feet. The crater at the summit is 1,800 yards in circumference and is flanked with rocky promontories which made the approach of troops difficult. One thousand Moros took their stand on the top of this mountain, six miles from Jolo.

Before preparation for the actual battle began, Governor Scott called to him Panglima Bandahala and the Datus Kalbi and Jolkanin and asked them to ascend the mountain and induce the Moros to disband and turn in their weapons.

The three loyal Moros undertook the mission and spent two days on the mountain top orating to their countrymen. On the third day they came into Scott's office to make their report.

"They say that they will never submit to America," said Datu Kalbi, spokesman for the trio. "They say that they will fight until they can no longer raise aloft the kris."

Peace overtures having failed, Governor Scott ordered the mountain to be taken by assault.

The American assault preparations were very complete. Colonel Duncan commanded the attack, supported by Majors Bundy, Wilcox and Ewing. Detachments were commanded by Captains Atkinson, Rivers, Koehler, Chitty, Farmer, Bolles and Ryther. Thirty-one under-officers from all branches of the service led the enlisted men.

The assault units at Bud Dajo were composed of 272 men of the 6th Infantry, 211 men of the 4th Calvary, 68 men of the 28th Artillery Battery, 51 Sulu Constabulary, 110 men of the 19th Infantry and 6 sailors from the gunboat Pampanga. A total number of 790 men and officers was engaged.

The battle began on March 5. Mountain guns were hauled into position and forty rounds of shrapnel were fired into the crater to warn the Moros to remove their women and children.

At daylight on the morning of March 6, American troops formed into three columns and began the march up the mountainside. The crest was approachable by three narrow trails and the advance began from three sides with detachments under the command of Major bundy, Captain Rivers and Captain Lawton.

The movement up the mountainside was very slow and it was not until seven o'clock in the morning that the forces of Major Bundy encountered the first important Moro barricade. Bundy found the trail blocked at a point 500 feet beneath the summit by a strong wall of bamboo supported belatics.

The sharpshooters took positions behind rocks and picked off the Moros showing their heads above the barricade. The position was shelled thoroughly with rifle grenades and then taken by assault with bayonets. The Moros staged a terrific resistance.

Finding themselves in danger of being captured, they left the shelter of the barricade and sallied into the open with kris and spear. The fighting did not cease until the last Moro fell. Two hundred Mohammedans died here before the quick-firing guns and rifles of the attackers. The 6th Infantry suffered heavily, all of the casualties occurring in the last terrible rush of the krismen. Captain White was severely wounded in the knee and in the right shoulder while leading the charge that cleared the walls of the last of the Moros.

On the other side of the mountain, Captain Rivers encountered a similar obstruction, and after several hours of hard fighting he crumbled the walls by storm. Rivers was also seriously wounded by the last rush of a desperate amuk Moro.

The third column of attackers, under Captain Lawton, had meanwhile advanced along a bad trail, continually harassed by the Moros, who hurled huge stones down upon the troops. The hill was so steep that in many places the attackers were forced to crawl on their hands and knees. At regular intervals, they were rushed by krismen.

Lawton's column eventually succeeded in reaching the summit, where they took the trenches on the edge of the crater by assault. The Moros retreated into the crater and continued the resistance until night brought the fighting to a close.

During the night, the artillery was shifted to command the crater. The soldiers worked most of the night hauling the heavy guns up the mountainside. A few hours before dawn, the weary soldiers dropped into their blankets under a triple guard, and went to sleep to the accompaniment of the shouts of the maddened Moros in the crater.

At daylight the assault was resumed. The American troops held their position while the artillery poured a murderous barrage into the crater. The Mohammedans, armed principally with spear and kris, had no answer to this long range bombardment, but they held their position stubbornly and refused to surrender.

In the face of that terrific fire, the Moros had not a chance for life. A few of the more desperate scrambled over the crater edge, kris in hand, to charge the American trenches. They fell, riddled with bullets, before they covered half of the distance.

After the heavy bombardment had accomplished its purpose, the American troops charged the crater with fixed bayonets. The few Moros left alive made hand grenades from sea shells filled with black powder and fought desperately to stem the charge. But the straggling krismen were no match for the tide of bayonets that overwhelmed them and hardly a man survived that last bloody assault.

After the engagement the crater was a shambles. Moros were piled five deep in the trenches where they had been mowed down by the artillery and rifle fire. The American attack had been supported by two quick-firing guns from the gunboat Pampanga and examination of the dead showed that many of the Moros had as many as fifty wounds. Of the 1,000 Moros who opened the battle two days previously, only six men escaped the carnage.

Looking back twenty-eight years to the battle Bud Dajo, an impartial historical observer is struck by the fact that America did not cover herself with glory in this encounter. Perhaps it would be sufficient to remark that severe criticism was directed from the United States upon the military authorities ordering this slaughter.

By no stretch of the imagination could Bud Dajo be termed a "battle." Certainly the engaging of 1,000 Moros armed with krises, spears and a few rifles by a force of 800 Americans armed with every modern weapon was not a matter for publicity. The American troops stromed a high mountatin peak crowned by fortifications to kill 1,000 Moros with a loss to themselves of twenty-one killed and seventy-five wounded! the casualty lists reflect the unequeal nature of the battle.

The Moros had broken the law ans some punishment was necessary if America was to maintain her prestige in the East, but opinion is overwhelming in the belief that there was unnecessary bloodshed at Bud Dajo.

There appears to be no justification for the intensity of the bombardment at Bud Dajo, and many Americans who witnessed the battle concur in this belief.

In fairness to the American forces it must be said, however, that the situation was such that no compromise short of battle was possible. Had the Americans not forced this engagement, the Moro resistance would have been intolerably prolonged and probably a greater loss of life would have been the result in the end.

Certain it is that the Moros were not to be bluffed. War at its best is a grim business, and the strong opposition the United States encountered possibly justifies the horrible loss in human life that was concurrent with the taking of Bud Dajo.

 

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Original publication © 1936 E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.

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