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

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  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

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

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

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

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

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

    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

    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

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

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

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

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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The Fight Against Poverty, Disease and Abuse
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