Saturday, July 9, 2011

History of Mindanao, Part XIII: The Last Spanish Garrison Departs from the Phillipines, Jolo Island, 1899

The last Spanish military garrison lowered the Spanish Flag on May 27th, 1899 in what is now Jolo City, on Jolo Island, in todays Sulu Province. As the flag was lowered, and Spanish officers wept opely, the American soldiers from the 13th and 23rd Infantry Regiments were ecstatic. Little did they know how difficult the next decade would be for themselves and those who would relieve them. The following excerpt is taken from a memoir of a soldier from the 23rd IR (Infantry Regiment) who composed it just 12 months after these events transpired. The book, "A Soldier in the Philippines," by N.N. Freeman (New York/London:F.Tennyson Neely) (1901) is a wonderful, but little known record of this hugely important juncture in Mindanowan, not to mention Philippine History as a whole.

Freeman was one of thirteen children born in 1874 to a poor farming family from Barrettsville, Dawson County, Georgia in the American South. In 1895, at age 19, young Mr.Freeman left home to find work as a farm labourer in Alvarado, Texas. Not satisfied he soon found work on a demolition crew for the Santa Fe Railroad, lasting 12 months before he simply picked up and left. By 1897 Freeman had found work in a cotton mill in Dallas, Texas but after less than a month landed a job as a motorman with the Dallas City Trolley System. It was here, making what was then the tidy sum of $45.00 a month that Freeman decided to chuck it all away and enlist in the US Military for less than $15.00 a month.

After a difficult Basic Training (when is it not) at Camp McIntosh [sic] in Laredo, Texas, on the Mexican border, Freeman is deployed to Company A of the 23rd IR and shipped out to New Orleans with tenative deployment to Cuba as the tension between Spain and America began rising exponentially. It is in New Orleans though that Freeman learns he will instead be deploying to the Philippines. Leaving New Orleans by train to Oakland, California Freeman drinks himself into a stupor for much of the long ride, finally arriving in Oakland on May 31st, 1898. A ferry brings his regiment across the bay to San Francisco and there Freeman learns that the life of an infantry soldier is one of mind numbing boredom, 99% of the time. Biouvaced in San Francisco's Camp Merrit, Freeman spends 5 months subsisting on US Army Rations. Soldiers whining about MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) today have nothing on the American soldiers at the end of the 19th Century. As officers stole all the donated food Freeman and his mates were left to eat canned horsemeat, often with innards and eyeballs compressed along with the meat. Very rarely, for a treat, the soldiers were given years old cans of uncleaned, compressed salmon (Filipinos won't be familiar with that word. It is a cold water fish with an oily, rich red meat).

Catching a camp plague Freeman spends more than a month in the camp hospital. When he is finally released, hoping to speed up his deployment, he requests assignment to his regimemt's E Company whom he hears will be shipping out post haste. Almost as soon as he unpacks his gear in his new tent he learns that his former unit, A Company, has just received its much desired deployment order for Manila. Three months later, in October of 1898, Freeman finally gets his wish and deParts for Manila, by way on Honolulu, Hawaii aboard the Transport, "Senator." An uneventful trip until the China Sea and the approach to Luzon in the Philippines. Freeman, who prior to his shipping out from San Francisco had never seen the ocean, discovers starfish, porposises and what he swears was a mermaid. She raised her naked cgest three times before submerging and what most likely was a manatee disappeared from sight.

Arriving in Manila Bay at the tail end of 1898 he is baptised into combat on February 9th, 1899 when Emiliano Aguinaldo penetrates Manila's walls and tries to capture the capitol. I will desist in discussing much more for the sake of brevity and will instead begin my excerpt;

Chapter IX:

On the 17th of May (1899) the 13th Regiment and two battalions of the 23rd Regiment went on board the Spanish Transport, "Leon," and sailed for the island of Jolo.

I was a member of one of the battalions of the 23rd. We boarded the "Leon" under a Spanish Flag. The "Leon" was a large vessel of rapid speed and made the run from Manila to the island of Jolo in little more than 48 hours, a distance of 800 miles south of Manila (ALMOST 1,100 KILOMETERS). Land was in sight almost the entire voyage. We passed through straits and seas, by Iolio on the island of Panay, Cebu (HE IS OBVIOUSLY MISTAKEN), Negros Island, through the Sea of Jolo to Zamboanga on the island of Mindanao and to Jolo. The group of islands forming the Sulu Archipelago are the southern islands of the Philippines. The "Leon" sailed into Jolo Bay in the evening of the 19th of May. A large force of Spanish soldiers was stationed in the town performing garrison duty. Our force was to relieve them, amd they were to return to Spain on the Transport "Leon." On the 20th of May we went ashore. The Spanish soldiers seemed very glad to be relieved and return to Spain.

The garrison was short of rations and the soldiers were living very hard when we relieved them. These Spanish soldiers were the last who left the Philippines for Spain.

We were landed in small boats which could not carry very many men. The boats were rowed by Chinese. All supplies have to be carried by those on small boats. It is a very slow and tedious piece of work to land the contents of a large ship and requires several days to do the work.

Captain Pratt was in command and Company E was ordered out to the blockhouse (THE AUTHOR'S COMPANY), which stands about 1,000 yards (1,000 METERS) back of Jolo (JOLO CITY), and towards the mountains. A guard detail was made out, and the Spanish soldiers were relieved. I relieved the first Spanish soldier of his post at Jolo. When I approached him he began to speak in Spanish and tried to make me understand what I supposed were his orders he was turning over to me. I could not understand him and told him to go. Of course I had enough orders without his, if that is what he was trying to explain to me.

The Spanish went to work with a rush getting everything ready to leave. Thet had been there for a very long time. I learned that thr commanding officer, who was an old man, had been there 28 years. In the evening at 2 [sic], the Spamish Flag on the blockhouse was hauled down by the Spanish soldiers and the Americans unfurled to the breeze the Stars and Stripes (THE AMERICAN FLAG). The Spanish seemed to be very grieved, the officers wept. The Americans were jubilant. Everything passed into our hands! And the various responsiblities of the place with all its dangers also passed to us. The natives, who belong to the Moro Tribe [sic], are treacherous. We know nothing about them and their intentions. Guards were put on duty at once, six being around the blockhouse so that a Moro could not get in if the attempt were made to enter it and thus made it a place of security to our troops.

The Moros a few years ago massacarred more than 100 Spanish soldiers in the blockhouse Astora [SIC] (FORT ASTURIAS). It was a cruel and treacherous piece of cunning of savage barbarians. The Moros had been warring against the authority of Spain and causing the Spanish troops much trouble. At last apparently tired of rebelling, the Moros agreed to make peace with the Spaniards. According to an ancient custom of the Moros, when making peace with an enemy they would give pearls or some other gift to their enemy. The Captain of that Moro Company ("COMPANY" IN THE MILITARY SENSE) was going to make peace, according to this custom.

Taking some fine pearls and a bodyguard of 100 of his men he entered the enclosure where the Spanish soldiers were lined up in two columns with unloaded weapons to receive them. The Moro Captain and his bodyguard marched between these lines, and as the guard neared the Spanish Captain the Moro advanced with his pearls and getting near the Spaniard, instead of giving him the pearls he quickly drew his sword and dealt the Spanish Captain a death blow. The Moros who understood the prearranged treachery opened fire on the Spaniards, who were helpless with loaded guns and the entire garrison of more than 100 men was massacared except for one man who in the noise and consternation suceeded in crawling into a sewer pipe, and then through it into a stream of water and escaped without injury. The Moros gave the Spanish a great deal of trouble, probably as much as any other tribe of the Philippines. The Moros have a bad record. I believe that I had rather fight the other tribes than the Moros. They are more treacherous than other tribes. They go armed all the time with a bolo, a large knife carried in a wooden scabbard (APPARENTLY THE AUTHOR DIDN'T REALISE THAT "BOLO" MERELY REFERS TO MACHETES AND NOT TO THE FINE BLADED CUTLAS, OR "KAMPILAN" HE DESCRIBED). From the oldest man down to the little boys, they all carry the bolo or big knife. I have seen old men, so feeble they could scarcely walk, carrying a fine bolo. They will not part with them day or night, but keep them as their only friend, refusing to let anyone take them from their hands to merely look at them. These arms are very fine and range in cost from 5 to 50 Dollars. They are manufactured of the finest steel and the handle of many of them is made of silver and very finely engraved. The edge is kept very sharp.

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