Close Window A Brief History of America and the Moros 1899-1920

A Brief History of America and the Moros 1899-1920

The tribes which inhabit the island of Mindanao and Sulu have attracted much attention because of their warlike character and their distinction as the only Mohammedan wards of the United States. As a governmental factor they are most embarrassing. The wild men [pagan tribes] are good raw material, and the [Christian] Filipinos are easily influenced in favor of good government, but the Moros, encased in the armor of Islamism, present a much more difficult problem. - Charles Burke Elliott, 1917


  1. The Empire of Spain and the Moros (1565-1899)

  2. The Spanish-American War (1898)

  3. The Philippine-American War (1899-1902)

  4. American Troops arrive in Moroland (May 19, 1899)

  5. The Bates Agreement (August 20, 1899)

  6. Occupation of Moroland (1899-1903)

  7. The Battle of Bayan (May 2, 1902)

  8. Pershing’s Lake Lanao Campaigns (1902-1903)

  9. The Proconsul - Leonard Wood (1903 – 1906)

10. The Battle of Bud Dajo (March 6-8, 1906)

11. General Tasker Bliss and the Moro Constabulary (1906 – 1909)

12. General Pershing and the Disarmament Campaign (1910–1913)

13. The Battle of Bud Bagsak (June 11-15, 1913)

14. Francis Burton Harrison and “Filipinization” (1914-1920)

The Empire of Spain and the Moros (1565-1899)

Like two large, opposing tectonic plates grinding against one another, the westward push of Christianity collided with the eastward thrust of Islam over 440 years ago in the islands we now call the Philippines. Although first claimed for Spain by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, it was not until 1565 that the Spanish conquistadores, with cross in one hand, sword in the other, began a conquest of the islands. Their goal was to extend the realm of their king, Philip II (whom they named the islands after), find riches, and save souls. To their consternation and rage, they discovered that many of the people they sought to subjugate were Muslims, believers in the same religion as that of their ancient and bitter enemies, the Barbary Moors of North Africa (present day Morocco). Only seventy-five years earlier, in a revolt lasting over hundreds of years, the newly-united Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon had overthrown the nearly seven-hundred year long rule of Muslim invaders over the Iberian Peninsula. Thereafter they referred to any practitioner of Islam as a "Moro" (or Moor), considered a hereditary enemy of their nation and religion, a target for their vengeance and destruction. But after 330 years of trying, by 1898 the Spanish had failed to fully conquer and subdue the southern Muslim homelands, known as La Tierra de el Moros, "The Land of the Moros". Despite extravagant claims to the contrary, by the time the Spanish were forced to abandon the Philippine Islands by the United States they had only come to control a handful of small, fortified port cities. Spanish sovereignty never extended beyond the parapets of these few miserable and remote outposts.

The Spanish-American War (1898)

In the pivotal year of 1898 war broke out between Spain and the United States as the result of a long-simmering feud over the island of Cuba. Improbably, the first battle of that conflict took place half way around the world in Manila Bay, when on May 1 a small U.S. flotilla led by Commodore George Dewey sank or captured most of the Spanish Far East squadron and their naval station at Cavite. The motive had been purely tactical; to destroy the Spanish fleet and then either blockade or seize the capital city of Manila, holding it as a bargaining chip for expected peace talks after the war. The original objective of the war was to remove Spanish power from Cuba, not the Philippines. Nevertheless an expeditionary force of 20,000 men was assembled and dispatched in stages to reinforce Dewey, creating an American beachhead on Manila Bay that would have future consequences.

The war with Spain, the shortest and least costly in U.S. history, ended only 3 ½ months after it had begun; the fighting limited to two one-day naval battles and two-days of storming of Spanish defenses at the city of Santiago in Cuba. No ground fighting took place between Spain and the U.S. in the Philippines other than a sham, pre-arranged "battle" in which the Spanish garrison turned over the capital city of Manila to the Americans in order to avoid surrendering to Filipino revolutionaries. A truce was declared the next day August 12, 1898, and a peace treaty signed December 10, 1898. Puerto Rico and Guam were ceded to the United States and Cuba was granted independence, although subject to two-year "transitional rule" by the Americans. But a last-minute, surprise demand from President William McKinley was made for the cession of the Philippine Islands to the U.S. McKinley was unequivocal: the Spanish must either sign over all their claims to the archipelago or go back to war. With great reluctance and bitterness Spain capitulated. America's new venture in the Philippine islands would signaled its entry onto the world stage and usher in an infatuation with the idea of building a new kind of empire by creating an entirely new nation in an American image.

The Philippine-American War (1899-1902)

The Philippine-American War began February 4, 1899, two days before the Senate narrowly ratified by one vote the treaty ending the Spanish-American War. Unlike the conflict just ended, the Philippine-American War (a.k.a. Philippine Insurrection) ranks among the nation's longest (3 ½ years) and nastiest. The point of contention was straightforward. Who would become the ruler of the former colony in the wake of Spain's departure? The United States or the Philippine Revolutionary Government (PRG)? The PRG was dominated by the largest ethnic-language grouping , the Tagalogs, and the largest island, Luzon? The President of the PRG and commander of its armed force, the Army of Liberation, was 29-year old General Emilio Aguinaldo and most of its civilian and military leadership were drawn from the "illustrado class", the country's landed and educated elite.

    Eventually the United States prevailed but in doing so more than 126,000 American soldiers would be "cycled through" the Philippine conflict  (the peak strength in 1900 was just over 71,000) in order to subdue the 30-40,000 man Army of Liberation, the military arm of the PRG. It was truly the first of the many of the "wars of national liberation" that would follow in the 20th Century in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, and in being such would set the pattern and provide the lessons for the multitude of conflicts that followed.

American Troops arrive in Moroland (May 19, 1899)

On May 19, 1899 as the war between the U.S. and the Filipino revolutionaries began in earnest, two battalions of the 23rd Infantry, 733 officers and men commanded by Captain Edward B. Pratt, were landed at the walled and fortified city of Jolo on the island of Jolo, to replace the Spanish garrison. The Spanish flag was ceremoniously hauled down and the Stars and Stripes "unfurled to the breeze" amongst weeping Spanish officers and jubilant Americans. The Spanish garrison was by then, because of desertions, down to 824 men, a fraction of its original size. In low spirits they trudged up the gangplank and left. The next day the equally depleted Spanish garrison at Zamboanga, on the island of Mindanao, was evacuated as well. But no American troops could be spared to occupy the city and Zamboanga was abandoned to a well-armed Christian Filipino militia aligned with Aguinaldo. Captain Pratt had been informed that in the event of hostilities his small command was "not to expect any relief or reinforcements as none were available." What he was to do in the eventuality of trouble on an island of 40,000 armed inhabitants was left unanswered.

The Bates Agreement (August 20, 1899)

The commanding officer of the American forces, Major General Elwell Otis, realized that he had not the resources to deal with both the war in the north and the "Moro Problem" at the same time. He delegated responsibility for Mindanao and Sulu to a newly arrived field commander, Brigadier General John C. Bates. Otis demanded four things from Bates: 1) keep the Moros from joining the war in the north, 2) avoid a separate conflict, 3) gain recognition of U.S. sovereignty and acceptance of the stationing of U.S. troops, and (4) set up the framework for a longer-term relationship.

It was a delicate undertaking, fraught with risk to the greater American mission in the Philippines. However, Bates succeeded in only a few months. On August 20, 1899, a written agreement was concluded between the United States and the Sultanate of Sulu. While smaller in land area than Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago was the homeland of the powerful Tausugs and the population epicenter of Moroland. In the agreement the U.S. would have the prerogatives and external responsibilities of a sovereign power over Sulu in exchange for defending its borders from foreign powers and promoting its trade and commerce. The American flag would fly above all others on buildings and on vessels. With it went the commensurate right to establish military garrisons and naval facilities, and move freely about the territory.

In turn, the Moros were entitled to continue governing themselves through their traditional datus and headmen and according to adat, their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. Traditional property rights and ownership would be respected by the U.S. Moros would be judged by Moros in Moro courts according to Moro law. Americans or other nationalities charged with offenses would be judged in American courts under American law, while taking care to respect Moro law. Of greatest importance, the U.S. pledged it would not attempt to displace or interfere with the practice of the religion of Islam. This was the deal-breaker/deal-clincher for the Moro leadership. It was a unique arrangement of shared power.

But a major issue was left vague and unresolved, slavery. The Moros believed enforced servitude was sanctioned by their religion. The Americans were but a little over one generation removed from having fought a cruel and wrenching civil war over the existence of slavery in their own country. In Article X of the Agreement, Bates proposed what he thought to be a pragmatic, reasonable, and acceptable compromise--a right of those in servitude to purchase their own freedom.  His intention was that individual manumission would then be funded in its entirety by either the U.S. government or private philanthropy. Either way it was an almost inconsequential amount for the Americans. The Sulu Sultanate accepted this solution. However the issue was too politically toxic for either McKinley or the Congress to take a stand. The Bates Agreement was approved by McKinley, but excluded Article X. It was a short sighted political response that would eventually work to undermine and destroy the American-Moro relationship.

Occupation of Moroland (1899-1903)

Despite later claims of certain revisionist historians, the Bates Agreement ushered in a relatively peaceful four-year occupation that benefited both sides. The US Army took over former Spanish outposts, established new ones, and freely traversed through Sulu, Cotabato, and the coastal areas of Mindanao and Palawan without firing a shot. The agreement permitted the U.S. Navy free rein to patrol the Sulu Sea and, with the assistance of the British in nearby North Borneo, prevent Malayan-based gunrunners from exploiting "the backdoor to the Philippines." The Moros not only stayed out of the Philippine-American War but often assisted the Americans. This aided Bates' successor, Brigadier General William Kobbe, in using his very limited resources to swiftly and decisively defeat Christian "insurrectos" in northern Mindanao in 1901.

Less than a half-dozen Americans and about thirty Moros died in incidents or altercations (but not formal combat) between the two parties during the period. In sharp contrast to the bitter centuries long conflict between the Moros and the Empire of Spain, the relationship between occupier and occupied was tolerant, and occasionally outright friendly.

The Battle of Bayan (May 2, 1902)

Brigadier General George W. Davis replaced General Kobbe. At Kobbe's recommendation, Davis entrusted Captain John J. Pershing, Kobbe's former Adjutant General, to attempt to bring the Maranaos of Lake Lanao American sovereignty, as General Bates had done in the rest of Moroland peacefully through diplomacy and negotiation. Pershing, who had become conversant in the Maranao language and studied their customs, made exceptional progress with the most powerful datus at the north end of the lake towards that end. Davis became convinced that, with sufficient patience, diplomacy could achieve American objectives.

    However, Davis had to contend with a newly-arrived, headstrong and stubborn second in command, Colonel Frank Baldwin, commanding officer of the 27th Infantry Regiment and three troops of the 15th Cavalry. Baldwin was no ordinary Colonel but an Army legend, one of the very few two-time recipients of the Medal of Honor (in the Civil War and against the Cheyenne). Baldwin thought Pershing's peaceful mission a waste of time. His instinct was not to parley but to show the Maranaos who was boss. He soon had the opportunity. On March 9 a soldier strayed off post into the jungle and was found dead with his rifle missing. Three weeks later a second soldier was killed and one wounded taking a second rifle. The assailants were alleged to be Maranaos from the lake.

Ignoring standing orders and his superior, completely unfamiliar with both the supposed enemy and the terrain, Baldwin nevertheless initiated the first major punitive military expedition in Moroland; although against whom and for what end he was unclear. Learning of the operation second-hand, General Davis cabled Baldwin, ordering an immediate halt and to avoid hostilities. Baldwin ignored the order and continued his march toward Lake Lanao. Davis put the dispute before his superior, Major General Adna Chaffee. Even though under orders from President Theodore Roosevelt to rigorously avoid any new military ventures on the eve of his intention to publicly declare the northern Philippine "insurrection" ended, Chaffee sided with Baldwin, and the march proceeded.

But by the time Baldwin's expedition reached the top of the trail, it had been whittled down to fewer than 600 riflemen, all on foot, as the trail had proved too much for the large cavalry horses, which were sent back.  His supply line was seriously overextended, unreliable, and vulnerable as nearly half of the original force either defended the trail or carried supplies up from the coast.

Finally reaching the lake on May 2, 1902, seven companies of the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry advanced toward the south edge of Lake Lanao, accompanied by the 25th Battery Light Artillery with four small mountain guns. Confronting them were two large cottas, or forts, of the Sultan of Bayan, one called Binadayan and the other Pandapatan. Binadayan, lightly defended, was quickly taken with the loss of only one man, but the assault on Pandapatan, across a small valley and about 700 feet (215 meters) distant from Binadayan, was met by stiff resistance. The light mountain guns proved of little effect against its thick, mud walls. Surrounded by a ten-foot deep moat and vertical earthen walls ten-twelve feet high, the American assault force of a little over 200 men became entangled in a maze of bamboo lattices and sharpened stakes, "forming an almost impenetrable barrier to an assaulting party." The final assault party against Pandapatan totaled about 300 infantrymen, all armed with bolt action, five-shot .30-.40 Krags.

Although failing to take Binadayan and losing more than half of one company in the assault, Baldwin and the 27th Infantry prevailed in the one-day battle when the defenders surrendered at dawn the next morning following the death of the Sultan and his principal lieutenants. From the post-mortem, it was estimated about 600 Moros had initially opposed the Americans, but with no more than 100 single-shot rifles and a few dozen ancient small-bore cannons between them. The number killed was claimed to be 300Ð400, but the body count was about 200. U.S. casualties were 11 killed and 40 wounded, most severely.

Although Baldwin exulted in his victory, Chaffee and Davis were appalled. Using eighteenth-century bladed weapons and tactics against a twentieth-century army, the Maranaos had inflicted serious damage on the attackers, despite the lop-sided American advantage in raw firepower. They surrendered only because they had run out of ammunition and their leaders had been killed. In outrunning his supply lines (and reserves), Baldwin had allowed his rations to run down to two days, failed to take along assault gear, such as ladders and scaling equipment, and left half his men stranded in no-man's land without ammunition for an entire night.

Chaffee had ridden with another brave but reckless soldier in the Shenandoah Campaigns during the Civil War. Like George Armstrong Custer, Baldwin had underestimated his enemy and placed his command alone in a hostile countryside, without viable backup. A major difference from the Little Big Horn, Baldwin was neither outnumbered nor outgunned, and this was the crucial difference. But this was Baldwin's inadvertent good luck, not his doing. As his expedition approached Bayan, Captain Pershing traveled to the lake country alone and unarmed and successfully persuaded the more powerful datus at the north end of Lake Lanao not to answer the pleas and entreaties of the Sultan of Bayan to join the fight. Had they one so, Chaffee and Davis realized, history likely would have repeated itself. Chaffee watered down his report to the War Department and painted it as a great victory, but carried away a sobering lesson. To approach the " Moro Problem" as if it were the "Indian Problem" carried the seeds of disaster.

The Muslim Imams quickly spread a story among the Maranao that, following the death of the Sultan of Pandapatan, the principal war leader, four angels appeared amidst a blinding flash of lightning and bore his body up to heaven on a chair, then inflicted a punishing rain and fog on the hapless Americans which forced them to withdraw from the cotta walls and spend a night in misery. The next morning a bright rainbow appeared, so the story went, signifying that the people of Bayan, by aggressively defending their part of Dar ul Islam (the realm of Islam), had greatly pleased God.

Herein lay the rub, the conundrum that would dog the Americans for the next many years. The Maranaos understood from the beginning that they were outgunned, and they did not expect to win. But, "so what?" From their perspective winning or losing was far less important than how you fought. And the more adverse and overwhelming the odds against one, the greater and more divine the personal glory. Life is fleeting and transitory, what mattered most was demonstrating to Allah one's willingness to die? In the first of many combats to come, the Americans and Moros would use different scorecards to measure success.

Pershing's Lake Lanao Campaigns (1902-1903)

Several days after the battle, General Chaffee summoned Captain Pershing to Camp Vicars, a newly established American outpost near Bayan, intended to become the center of an American presence in the Lake Lanao country. Pershing was startled to be told he was being placed in "temporary command" of the new camp, ostensibly reporting to Baldwin but in reality directly to Chaffee through Davis. Even more surprising he, a mere Captain, would command the equivalent of two battalions: two troops of the 15th Cavalry, three companies of the 27th Infantry, the 25th Field Artillery Battery, engineers, and hospital corpsmen, about 700 men in all. It amounted to an independent, self-sufficient, mini-army. Chaffee (and Davis) sensed this obscure junior officer was one of the few in the Army (and one of only two officers on their second tour in Moroland) who comprehended how this new challenge had to be addressed. He was the real, although unrecognized hero of Bayan even though he had not been on the field. The iron rules of seniority must be pushed aside to make way for a new generation.

Pershing's subsequent Lake Lanao Campaigns have often been erroneously described by historians as one of divide and conquer. But the Moros, by the very nature of their societal institutions and culture, were almost perpetually divided. Rather, Pershing focused on sorting out who were his likely friends, who were his likely enemies, and who were somewhere in between. He sensed that at some point he would have to fight some of the most recalcitrant datus, but unlike Baldwin, he knew he could not fight everyone and must forge enduring political/military alliances in advance and avoid at all costs making inadvertent and potentially permanent enemies. Pershing's one year of command of Camp Vicars would consist of eleven months of intense political activism and diplomacy and only two fortnights of fighting.

His military campaigns consisted of four expeditions, two in the Fall of 1902 and two in the late Spring of 1903. On average, they involved no more than 500 to 700 men, a mixed force of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and engineers. Pershing's objective was to demonstrate that he could capture and destroy the typical Moro cotta (an earthen fort protected by deep moats and fields of sharpened bamboo stakes and cannon), which the Moros believed impregnable. And he intended to do it swiftly, efficiently, and at minimal cost. Considerable time and practice was devoted at Camp Vicars to devising new tactics and implements to deal with the difficulties of direct assaults on the formidable earthen fortresses. Of equal importance, Pershing wanted to demonstrate discipline and restraint; killing no more Moros than was absolutely necessary and rigorously avoiding damage to their civilian, as opposed to their "war," property.

His expeditions captured over one hundred cottas, large and small. While hundreds of Moros were killed, he deliberately encouraged them to flee the battlefield and left escape corridors open. He sought to inflict psychological defeat rather than carnage. Afterwards, the defenses were destroyed and their structures burned to the ground. Prisoners were paroled rather than incarcerated. And he took the cottas with very few casualties among his own forces. Uppermost in Pershing's mind was that at the end of his campaigns it would appear to the Moros that, by their definitions, he had fought both honorably and fair, thereby avoiding entrapment in never-ending rounds of retribution and revenge seeking.

April 7, 1903, with red flags flying, two hundred men opposed Pershing's small force from a formidable cotta at Bacolod. Moving into the surrounding hills above the lake, the Americans gained the heights and their mountain guns rained fire down on the fortification. Since it was thought likely that women and children were inside, Pershing designated a clear escape route, a safe zone where no one fleeing would be fired upon. Of the estimated 200-plus persons in the cotta, more than half fled after the first day's bombardment.

A frontal assault was launched the next morning following a sustained barrage of cannon and rifle fire. A second lakeside cotta three miles away at Calahui surrendered after a day and night artillery bombardment and intense rifle fire killed 23 defenders and demoralized another 200 sufficiently to prompt a mass flight by boat and abandonment of the fort. Two dozen surrendered. At the Battle of Bacolod, as the dual actions at Bacolod and Calhui came to be called, 150 Moro fighters died fighting at a cost of one American killed and fourteen wounded. Along the route of the march, ten cottas had flown red flags in defiance, but white flags had waved in friendship from ninety-nine. The battle was captured in amateur photography by the Chaplain of the 27h infantry and later sold by the thousands in a booklet printed and distributed at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Captain Pershing returned to the U.S. in July of 1903 a celebrity.

The Proconsul - Leonard Wood (1903 Ð 1906)

Leonard Wood is largely forgotten today, other than through the major Army post of the same name in the state of Missouri. But in the early part of the 20th Century, he was seldom out of the public spotlight, for the most part because of controversy. Entering Army service as a contract physician in Arizona in the 1880's, he gained fame as the commander of the volunteer cavalry regiment known as the "Roughriders" with the celebrity politician Theodore Roosevelt as his deputy. Eventually he became the youngest Army Chief of Staff at age 49 in 1910, although President Woodrow Wilson bypassed him in 1917 to select John J. Pershing to lead over one million American doughboys in France in the First World War. In the 1920 Presidential election, Wood came within a hairsbreadth of becoming the Republican nominee, barely nosed out by Warren G. Harding. Under Presidents Harding and Coolidge he became the Governor-General of the Philippines, until his sudden death in 1927. 

    An aloof, distant, and cold personality, Wood was nevertheless charismatic, projecting a public image of a strong, decisive, capable and serious leader. But his underlying flaws were both many and serious. Above all he was obsessed with career advancement and the ruthless destruction of any and all perceived rivals. In the pursuit of personal ambition, he recognized no boundaries.

    Appointing Wood both civil Governor and Military Commander over Mindanao and Sulu, President Roosevelt and Governor-General William Howard Taft, allowed him to write his own position description. It was a one-man, barely-disguised military dictatorship. With direct back channel access to the White House, Wood was granted almost unchecked authority, which he exercised with at times unrestrained ruthlessness.

Between the end of November, 1903 and mid-May, 1905, Wood deliberately provoked disputes with the Tausugs of Jolo, the Maranaos of Lake Lanao, and the Maguindanaos of Cotabato with a view to administering "one clean-cut lesson", an overwhelming and punishing military defeat that would force them into total submission. In hundreds of battles and skirmishes, an estimated total of 5,000 or more Moros were killed. A high percentage of these were women, children, and non-combatants, versus 200+ American dead and half-again as many wounded. Several hundreds if not thousands of villages were looted and burned to the ground, crops destroyed, and livestock seized.

In a nearly two-year fruitless pursuit of Datu Ali in Cotabato, Wood came close to completely destroying the economy of the once-prosperous Rio Grande basin. However, despite inflicting enormous pain on the Moros, Wood never succeeded in achieving his "one clean-cut lesson." Getting the combative Moros to fight back proved as easy as hitting a wasp nest with a stick, but despite the pain they stubbornly continued to resist.

Unexpectedly, in mid-1905 Wood discovered he had a non-malignant, but life-threatening brain tumor, which mandated a return to the U.S. for an operation. Not entirely a success, Wood was left with partial paralysis and periodic seizures triggered by stress, and mental lapses, which he tried to keep hidden from the public, and even from the President. But shortly after his return to the Philippines, Roosevelt wrote a blunt letter informing him he had been made aware of his debilitating health issues. Unless he could furnish a strong argument to the contrary, Roosevelt stated he would be ordered home for an extended convalescence and reassignment. Within days and in secret he embarked on what would be the last and most controversial military venture of his entire career.

The Battle of Bud Dajo (March 6-8, 1906)

In the middle of June, 1905 a total of 610 persons, comprised of three separate bands of people whose datus and headmen had been killed, homes destroyed, and crops razed in the earlier fighting, had sought sanctuary atop a dormant volcano six miles from Jolo City named Bud Dajo. It was estimated that were 220 were men and they had brought with them 136 rifles. The remaining 390 were women and children, their families. The largest group, about 250 in total, were led by a Muslim cleric named Imam Harib, and had concentrated at the top of a trail leading to the summit from the East side. Another 200, also led by another cleric, Imam Sanuddin, had settled at the top of a trail on the West side. The remainder settled on the South side of the crater, at the terminus of another trail, and led by a former minor headman named Adam. Near the end of the year, all but a handful of the dissidents were convinced by the Governor of Sulu, Major Hugh L. Scott to come down off the mountain and return to their villages. But in early February, while Scott was absent on medical leave in the U.S., they suddenly returned to the mountain top and begun digging fortifications to defend against a rumored American attempt to dislodge them. By this time their numbers had swelled to at least 900.

    American English-language newspapers in nearby Zamboanga and more distant Manila decried the mountains occupation as an "affront to American sovereignty" and a "threat" to stability and order. Wood's Aide de Camp, Captain George Langhorne proposed a simple and unequivocal solution to deal with this large number of displaced persons, "exterminate them." Wood enthusiastically agreed. In complete secrecy (and in contravention of standing orders to secure advance approval for any such large-scale military operations) assembled and dispatched a strike force to Jolo with orders to "kill or capture" the people on top of the mountain.

    The initial American assault force, led by Colonel Joseph Duncan, totaled 752 officers and men. On the line were 372 infantrymen from the 6th and 19th Infantry Regiments, 220 troopers of the 4th Cavalry Regiment, and 52 Moro Constabulary soldiers led by 2 officers. 67 men of the 28th Field Artillery Battery manned four 75mm Vickers mountain guns, firing both solid and shrapnel rounds. Later, three Colt "potato-digger" machineguns with 8,300 .30 caliber rounds were added to the mix; one manned by a nine-man Army crew and the other two by eleven sailors from the gunboat USS Pampanga. Supporting were three surgeons and seven hospital-corpsmen, five Signal Corps, six HQ, and 150 mules driven by American civilian packers. A composite company of approximately 40 men were held in reserve in Jolo, but never called upon.

    The end result of the battle was a one-sided, nearly complete massacre of the 700-900 defenders (two-thirds of whom were women and children). Nevertheless, the American side did not get off lightly, with 21 killed and 73 seriously wounded, more than 20% of the number making the assault.

    The fall out in the U.S. when the news arrived by cable of what was quickly dubbed the "Battle of the Crater" was almost as furious and contentious as the battle itself. Despite a massive attempt by Wood and the War Department to suppress the details, some details leaked out, including that women and children were among the dead. It was decried as the "worst massacre in U.S. history, exceeding that of infamous Battle of  Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1891.  Wood was excoriated on the floor of Congress. However, the most scathing attacks came from the pulpits. In a fiery sermon, the Rev. Dr. Charles Parkhurst of New York's Madison Square Presbyterian Church, President Roosevelt's own personal congregation, castigated the administration. (The famous humorist Mark Twain wrote a satirical, stinging rebuke of Wood. But, contrary to popular lore, Twain never published his tract, nor was it disclosed until following his death in 1910).

    It quickly became a nasty partisan issue as well, with Republicans vehemently defending Wood, shouting "outrage" over what they termed was the "unfair besmirching of the honor of the U.S. Army." Blame was placed on the "Christian-hating Muslim fanatics", claiming that the women died because they were "dressed like the men", children had been held up as shields against American bullets, wounded Moros had leapt up from operating tables to kill American doctors seeking to treat them, and that casualties among women and children it had been due to "long-range artillery shelling" (all inventions); all despite any supporting evidence. On the opposing side, Democratic legislators in the House of Representatives demanded a full accounting from the Roosevelt administration, and threatened a Congressional investigation, blaming General Wood, but not the troops. The largest minority political party, the Socialists, took it much further, declaiming American soldiers as "sadists" and "beasts" who had intentionally shot down innocents for sport.

But as inconsistencies piled up, even many hard-core administration supporters soon became suspicious and raised their own questions. Had the controversy gone on much longer and especially if there had been an unbiased and open investigation, Wood and the Roosevelt administration would have been in big trouble. But fate intervened. Early on the morning of April 18, 1906, a gigantic earthquake tore San Francisco apart and killed over 3,000 people in a matter of a few minutes. For the next two weeks the destroyed city was seen burning in photographs headlined across the front pages of every newspaper in America. The Battle of Bud Dajo all but disappeared from print, as public attention turned to the great drama taking place in the nation's own backyard. Whatever righteous outrage had been stirred in the American breast at an avoidable tragedy inflicted on a distant, people evaporated overnight. Congressional anger dissipated even faster. Taking advantage of the major distraction, the field reports and other relevant files were locked away in War Department archives and made unavailable for decades afterwards.

General Tasker Bliss and the Moro Constabulary (1906 Ð 1909)

Earlier, a month before the Battle of Bud Dajo, General Wood had been elevated to command the entire Philippine Department, on February 1, 1906. At the same time he was instructed him to designate Brigadier General Tasker Howard Bliss as his replacement in Moroland, effective March 1. Had this been done there would likely have been no battle, or massacre, at Bud Dajo. Instead, Wood ignored the order and retained full control over both his old and new positions until April 1. He was his own boss. Bliss was forced to accompany the Bud Dajo expedition as a powerless "observer" of a situation in which he was given no say and was about to inherit. Understandably, it never sat well with him.

    Tasker Bliss was not a fighting general but highly regarded as one of the Army's leading intellectuals--the first head of the Army War College. Once in control, Bliss soon became aware of the full extent of Wood's activities and extensive abuses of his positions over the previous three years. In a private letter to his wife he expressed dismay over learning that Wood had needlessly "killed unknown thousands" of Moros and expressed fear that he might end up tarred with the same brush. "Sooner or later people will say that a military man, occupying both positions, does as a civilian what will give him prominence as a soldier."

    Analyzing the Wood campaigns, Bliss had concluded that, even when used properly, the Army had proved itself a blunt and unwieldy of a weapon for pacifying a civilian population. An axe when one needed a razor. Even though inferior in size and resources (Bliss commanded 5,000 officers and men of the U.S. Army, nearly one-quarter of those stationed in the Philippines ,versus less than 500 Constabulary), the far nimbler and less doctrinally rigid force had demonstrated a talent for nipping conflict in the bud rather than allowing it to fester. Importantly, it had far superior intelligence capabilities to the Army, owing to their soldiers being drawn from the same communities in which they operated and having close ties to the traditional Moro leadership. As significant, when Bliss used the Army for a mission, he reported to General Wood and subject to his frequent meddling. With the Constabulary, he reported to the more deferential Governor-General James Smith. For most of the Bliss tenure, the Constabulary took charge of maintaining law and order and the Army kept to the garrisons.

    The models for creation of the Constabulary had been the famed Texas Rangers and Northwest Mounted Police. Originally the civil government had requested the Army to supply officers on detached duty, as was done to staff the Philippine Scouts. But the Army refused, except for the top four positions. For officers, the civil government instead recruited among former Army non-coms, land-grant college ROTC candidates, private military academies, or from foreign armies.

This diversity in itself was an asset as was their own internal, specialized officer training academy, which put heavy emphasis on learning local languages, culture, law enforcement, and exercising independent judgment (their operating manual was quite thin). The result was a distinctly different leadership mindset from the Army and a flat, responsive command structure. Physical toughness and agility were equally emphasized (30 mile marches on foot over mountainous trails were the norm) and they were required to be dead shots, competent in the use of a barong, and know how to use their fists. Those not up to snuff were unhesitatingly weeded out, much like today's Special Forces. The Moro rank and file too were an elite group; much like the legendary Ghurkas of Nepal they were rugged, absolutely fearless in battle, and intensely loyal to their officers. Few were their peers in hand-to-hand combat.

Author Vic Hurley described Bliss's official three-year tenure the "peace era" and scholar Peter Gowing "The Velvet Glove", contrasting it to Wood's tour which he referred to as "The Mailed Fist." Indeed, the Annual Reports of the Philippine Commission and the War Department and the absence of the large and often well-publicized military expeditions of the sort mounted by Wood have led to the belief that the Battle of Bud Dajo represented a turning point in the Moro Campaigns and marked at least a temporary era of pacification. But such was not the case. There were nearly as many armed engagements between the Moros and the American government during the Bliss period as during Wood's tenure.

General Pershing and the Disarmament Campaign (1910Ð1913)

November 11, 1909 Brigadier General John J. Pershing returned to Moroland. After some initial fumbling, Pershing took firm control and began phasing the Regular Army out of the Province altogether, replacing them with Scout companies as the backbone of his military command, and gradually transitioning. A major innovation was the formation of the first two all-Moro Scout companies, one recruited in Lanao from among the Maranaos and one in Cotabato from the Maguindanaos.

At the same time Pershing reorganized and shook up the civil government, with far greater involvement by the Moro datus in resolving their many issues and grievances. Pershing's second year became one of progress, and his popularity soared. The Province moved closer to pacification, the local economy prospered, and many public works were initiated.

    But just as he seemed on a sound footing, an overreaction to an unfortunate incident inadvertently distracted and almost consumed his administration. Shortly after returning to Moroland, Pershing had taken a firm stand against a popular but ill-considered proposal advanced by the American civilian community to disarm the Moros. In a rare bit of unity, the Constabulary, Scouts, and Army opposed such a move, both due to the fear of igniting a new round of resistance and the near impossibility of implementing such a scheme.

However, on April 16, 1911, 1st Lt. Walter H. Rodney, a young officer of the newly arrived 2nd Cavalry, was viciously attacked and killed by a lone Moro while out for a stroll with his five year-old daughter on a public street in Jolo. Rodney was unarmed. An investigation placed the real blame on the post commander, who had neglected to enforce a long-standing order that officers and men were not permitted to leave the garrison alone and unarmed. However Pershing's detractors seized upon the incident to make trouble, claiming he was at fault for having been "over-lenient" with the Moros.

Under mounting criticism, Pershing abruptly reversed himself and issued Executive Order 24 for the complete and immediate disarmament of all Moros (not just firearms, but the far more ubiquitous bladed weapons as well) no later than September 8, 1911, only a few months distant. The men who had to do the disarming, the Constabulary and Scouts, were dismayed; but Washington and Manila signaled their endorsement and the local American community was ecstatic. Even though Pershing offered generous cash bounties, only a handful of rusty old rifles and pistols were turned in, and scarcely any blades.

As the crackdown on weapons accelerated, so did the level of violence when seizure attempts were made. An Army encampment was attacked by three "juramentados", or suicide warriors, amidst calls for a holy war from several more-radical Imams. Incensed, Pershing decided to make an object lesson of the most defiant locale, the eastern wards of Jolo. In mid-December as he began a sweep for weapons in several towns, an eerily dejaˆ vu moment occurred when between 500 to 800 Tausug men and women retreated with their weapons to the top of Bud Dajo and began to dig in.

 But instead of becoming a second massacre, the 2nd Battle of Bud Dajo, which took place between December 14-26, 1911 may have been Pershing's finest hour in Moroland. Discouraged and feeling under intense pressure from Governor-General Forbes, Pershing's initial impulse was to pull out all the stops and massively assault the mountain with overwhelming force. But a blunt message passed from the White House that President Taft would not countenance a second Moro massacre on the eve of his extremely contentious bid for a second Presidential term in 1912, proved sobering. Pershing's subsequent disciplined and measured use of force during the second battle of the crater was not only a superbly-executed maneuver, but delivered an unmistakable rebuke to Leonard Wood for his 1906 fiasco. Pershing adopted an identical alternate strategy that six years earlier Wood had publicly dismissed as unfeasible and foolish; a siege and blockade accompanied by a persistent campaign of persuasion.

 By Christmas Day all the women and children and a large number of hungry male fighters had been talked down off the mountain and sent home with bags of government rice. Only a small hard core of 75 defiant male warriors remained. Rather than use the US Army, Pershing brought in the newly formed 52nd Moro Scout Company to confront their fellow Moros. In sharp contrast to the first battle, in the final skirmish only twelve were killed and a small number wounded, the rest surrendering or fleeing. There were no dead and only three wounded on the American side. And, Pershing suspended disarmament enforcement for the duration of 1912, while one of the most contentious and divisive Presidential elections in U.S. history raged on the other side of the Pacific.

The Battle of Bud Bagsak (June 11-15, 1913)

However, following the election and inauguration of the new Woodrow Wilson regime, in March of 1913, the new Governor-General, William Cameron Forbes, pressured Pershing to resume disarmament. By now the Tausugs had coalesced behind a single, charismatic leader and Moro nationalist named Naquib Amil. At first the Americans were at buoyed by a dramatic increase in the number of weapons surrendered. But it soon became apparent that Amil and his followers had been collecting thousands of older, obsolete rifles, shotguns, and pistols, turning them in and then using the proceeds to purchase modern, high-powered, bolt-action rifles from arms dealers. Confronted by government agents over the discovery of a hidden a cache of at least 300 new, high-powered rifles, Amil simply shrugged and replied, "Tell the soldiers to come on and fight."

Pershing took up the challenge, sending three companies of Scouts, one company of Constabulary, a battery of mountain guns, and a troop of the 8th Cavalry to surround the small cotta of Amil's deputy Datu Sahipa, suspected of being the hiding place of the arms. Although greatly outnumbered, 65-70 well-armed Tausugs, led by Amil and Sahipa, put up a stiff fight, repelling the initial assault, and inflicting 20% casualties on the American side while killing the American commander. Although two-thirds of the defenders died, Amil, Sahipa, and many others escaped with the arms cache through hidden passageways while a second assault was being prepared. A few days later a ferocious night attack was made by eight juramentados, religiously motivated suicide warriors, on Camp Steever at Siet Lake. In the days that followed, snipers fired into the Jolo garrison at night, forcing Pershing to evacuate badly spooked American dependents from the island.

Amidst this fighting, an estimated more than 6,000 Moros loyal to Amil, almost ten times the number of those on Bud Dajo (two-thirds women and children), gathered on a second dormant volcano, Bud Bagsak. With five separate summits, Bagsak posed a knottier tactical problem than Bud Dajo. Governor-General Forbes urged Pershing to nip the insurgency in the bud with an overwhelming application of force, but Pershing feared it could turn into an inadvertent blood bath; a repetition of 1st Bud Dajo but on a much larger scale. Using the Sultan of Sulu and a number of the older datus as intermediaries a bichara was arranged with Amil. Pershing promised to suspend the disarmament effort if Amil and his people would leave Bagsak, return to the villages, and keep the peace. The tensions briefly subsided and Pershing quietly suspended enforcement.

However Governor General Forbes, seeking reappointment by the new Wilson administration and not wanting to appear weak, ordered Pershing to vigorously renew the disarmament campaign. Reluctantly, Pershing complied, but even many previously friendly Moros now refused to cooperate. Few firearms came in and the level of resistance ratcheted up.  In early June of 1913, Pershing received word that Amil had quietly returned to Bud Bagsak with between 300-400 well-armed men and built fortifications on its highest summit. Believing a showdown was now inevitable and fearing even more that there would soon be a pell-mell rush to the mountain by women and children to join the men, Pershing devised a secret plan to strike first.

Pershing secretly assembled an expedition of 883 officers and men and under cover of night surrounded the mountain. Over 90% of the force consisted of Philippine Scouts (including the two Moro companies). The only US Army contingents were 50 men of Company M, 8th Infantry and a 25-man demolition detail from the 8th Cavalry.

Pershing spent three days taking the smaller fortified peaks one-by-one and carefully maneuvering his forces into position for a final assault. On June 15, Captain George Charlton led the 51st Scouts, Maguindanaos from Cotabato, and the 52nd Scouts, Maranaos from Lanao through lines of trenches and barricades, straight up a steep, partly open , curving slope for 450 yards (415m) to eventually capture a large stone cotta at the top. The 51st and 52nd were backed up by the 24th (Ilocano) and 31st (Tagalog) Scouts, Christian companies from the northern Philippines. The intense fight lasted nine hours, and became the fiercest, hardest-fought (and most evenly-matched) military action to take place in Moroland during the entire period of direct American rule.

    Pershing wrote his wife Frankie a few days later, "It looked for a time as though we should not be able to carry itÉ. I am a wreck today." Despite the intensity of the battle, the American expeditionary force lost only fifteen dead (including Scout Captain Taylor Nichols) and twenty-nine wounded, roughly a 5% casualty rate. An official body count was not made of the Tausug dead, although it was latter reliably estimated that between 200 to 300 Tausugs were killed during the course of the five-day battle with at least a third escaping. Few rifles were recovered from the battlefield, most carried off.

    Perhaps because of few American deaths and the public focus on the upcoming transfer of political power, unlike 1st Bud Dajo the battle received scant attention in the American press. However one month later a former civilian employee of the Quartermaster Corps named John McLean got off a boat from Manila, went immediately to the offices of a small San Francisco newspaper, and leveled the charge that he had been present on Jolo during the battle, claiming as fact that 1,600 Moros, mostly women and children, had been massacred by (white) American troops. He further asserted Pershing had arrested three newspaper reporters in order to suppress the story. The front-page headline read "BUTCHERED MOROS HE SAYS." But other newspapers, skeptical of the source, were unable to verify his claims, proved false the charges of arrests of reporters, and refused to publish it.

    More gaping and suspicious holes were soon discovered in McLean's story. He had not been on Jolo at the time but was in Manila, having earlier been fired from his job and ordered off the island. He had skipped the Philippines under an assumed name, leaving behind more than one family and large debts. His former boss scathingly dismissed his story, "the truth is not in him and we never took seriously anything that he said." The story died. However, two months later, The International Socialist Review repeated the false charges in an inflammatory and dissembling article, without providing any new factual support. Ironically, this flawed article, its highly inflated body count, and the claims of a massacre, have been cited as factual by later historians and is often quoted on current-day Muslim separatist web sites as if it were true.

Francis Burton Harrison and "Filipinization" (1914-1920)

Arriving in Manila in mid-November of 1913, Woodrow Wilson's new choice for Governor-General, Francis Burton Harrison, was pre-determined to advance Philippine independence and re-write the chapter on America's venture into overseas empire, even though it was a low priority for the new administration. But the first issue to land on the plate of the young (40-year old) former Democratic Congressman from New York was the unresolved future of Moroland. The day Harrison arrived Pershing and Bell requested an audience. Although presented in a positive light, the two generals delivered a clear message--the Army not only wanted out of Moroland, it was non-negotiable. The civil government would have to take over the Province. They planned to leave as soon as possible. In addition, Pershing's tour of duty was about to expire in one month and the Army was not planning on a replacement.

The justification offered was that the Battle of Bud Bagsak had finally achieved pacification of the Moros. They were no longer a threat, the Province was peaceful, and the Army had achieved its original mission. This was, however, downright untrue. Datu Sahipa, Amil's second in command, had escaped from Bud Bagsak and continued to lead resistance to American rule in Sulu. Two major battles had occurred on Jolo less than a month after Bud Bagsak, one fought by the Scouts and one by the Constabulary. In October, the month before Harrison's arrival, several hundred Tausugs had gathered atop Mt. Talipao to face a combined Scout-Constabulary force in a one-day battle that was easily the equal of the one fought at Bud Bagsak. And there was still unrest and occasional fighting in Lanao. Pershing had once observed of the Moros, "If he takes a notion to fight, he will fight regardless of the number of men he thinks are to brought against him."

The real reason was that, for the Army, the long experiment in nation building had become a seemingly endless, thankless drain on scarce resources, with remote prospects for a satisfactory conclusion. The Army could ill afford to continue to grapple with such a remote, major and unproductive distraction while relations with neighboring Mexico deteriorated and war clouds gathered over Europe. Pershing had written confidentially to Colonel James Harbord, the acting head of the Constabulary mincing no words, "It means a great deal to the Army to have this Province unloaded." The Battle of Bagsak was not General Wood's "one clean-cut lesson", but rather perfect cover to declare victory and quickly leave the problem to someone else.

Partly wanting to believe in I himself, it fit his own preconceptions of his personal mission in the Philippines--hastening the day to final independence, Harrison first accepted and then embraced the idea. Immediately after, he embarked upon a policy of stripping Moroland of its separate status. He resolved to forcibly integrate the Muslims into the overwhelmingly Christian-oriented body politic of the Philippine territorial government. And that same Philippine body politic was also to undergo wrenching change. Harrison abolished the Philippine Commission and created an elected bi-cameral legislature, a Senate and a House of Representatives, shifting all legislative power into Filipino hands. In an action he described as "Filipinization", Harrison began the wholesale replacement of American civil servants with Filipinos at all levels of the Executive branch, including cabinet heads. The net result was to place the Nacionalista Party in effective control of the governance of the Philippines, and in turn in position to inherit the "guardianship" of their Moro cousins.

In December 1913 Pershing left on schedule and Harrison appointed a civilian administrator, Frank Carpenter, to succeed him as Governor of Moro Province. The next month, General Bell ordered all American Regular Army units to withdraw from Moroland, leaving behind a single battalion of Scouts in their place. At Pershing's recommendation, the civil government made up the manpower difference by more than doubling the number of Constabulary in the province. However, rather than expand the Moro Constabulary through local recruiting, the new government in Manila reassigned Christian Constabulary companies from the northern provinces, perpetuating what to the Moros was a "foreign" occupation. Carpenter was charged with overseeing a "transitional government" that would lead to Moroland coming under the control of the new governmental structure in Manila.

By all accounts, Frank Carpenter was energetic, honest, and devoted to his duties, and provided the Moros with the most efficient and effective government of the entire American period of control. He attracted private beneficiaries from the U.S. to open trade and academic schools among the Moros and was sincere in efforts to improve their lot. But for the next six years Carpenter's most important charge was to systematically work himself and the remaining Americans out of a job.

On May 5, 1920 the transition to control by the Philippine legislature was completed. Mindanao and Sulu were broken up into seven separate provinces, all separately reporting to the new bureaucracy in Manila. To help ease the transition, the leadership of the Nacionalista Party and the new Filipino Governors of the southern provinces, initiated what they termed a "policy of attraction" towards the Moros, the objective being to win them over to the new government. But this felicity did not extend t inclusion of the Muslims in the new power structure. They were only allocated three appointed representatives in the legislature and little real say in their own affairs.

In perusing Constabulary records from 1914 through 1920, it is notable that the number of battles and skirmishes in Sulu and Lanao saw little change over the next seven years of civilian government from that of many years of Army control. The first Americans to die in active combat with Moros had occurred in May of 1902. The last American death to die in combat in Moroland was 1st Lt. Charles C. LaRoche of the Constabulary in September of 1918, sixteen years later. The milestone went unnoticed while thousands of American doughboys were dying in France.

Dr. Sixto Aroso was a young doctor who in 1921 had been among the many ambitious and idealistic young northern Filipinos who went south to implement the "policy of attraction" with their "fellow Malays." But a half century later, in 1970, Aroso observed that the Moros had still not accepted the new Republic. "Nominally our Muslim brothers are governed by the laws of the [Philippine] Republic. In reality, however, their mode of life is directed in large part by the tenets of the Luwaran CodeÉ, universally acceptedÉand held sacred next to that of the KoranÉ. Many of their customs are given the force of law, and many laws have lost validity because they contradict the prevailing customs of the region."

    Despite wrenching changes imposed on their fate by the Spanish, the Americans, and subsequent regimes in Manila, the Moros clung to their identities. It was almost a parallel universe; a pattern that would continue though the rest of the 20th Century and into the 21st, the large majority of Christians and Muslims still living in two parallel, divergent, and seemingly irreconcilable worlds.

Copyright © 2012 by Robert A. Fulton.

All rights reserved including  the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

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