LIGHTNING FROM THE CLOUDS:
THE U.S. ARMY AND THE MORO WARS
By Dirk deRoos
MAP AND UNIFORM DRAWINGS
BY GREG ROSE
“FIGHTING FOR THEIR RIGHTSÉ”
Lt. Ernest H. Johnson was a midwesterner. A graduate of the University of Nebraska, he had served with courage and distinction for two grueling years in this Asian jungle war. He must have wondered sometimes late at night in a dark jungle bivouac what had brought him and his country here. That December day of the ambush he may have thought about Christmas back home, with snow in the cornfields and carolers in the streets of Lincoln, Nebraska. But in the mud and humidity of the rainforest, where every shadow could conceal a cunning and fearless enemy, he mainly concentrated upon his job, leading a patrol through palm thickets and “cogon” grass to search out and destroy the enemy.
As the patrol slogged wearily forward through the tangled swamp, Johnson saw a dark-skinned figure in loose black trousers rise out of the “cogon” grass behind his men. He swung the muzzle of his weapon down on the stranger to be greeted by a straightforward look and a smile. Thinking that this was only one of the locals who helped carry supplies for the patrol, Johnson turned away. Suddenly he realized that the face was not familiar! He spun to turn back, but it was too late. The hurtling spear transfixed him, its three-foot blade plunging through his left arm, his chest, both lungs and his right arm. As he staggered, shots began to crack through the neck-high grass. Johnson’s junior officer pulled out the spear as Johnson continued to direct his men’s responses to the ambush. As the shots and screams sputtered out and the enemy vanished back into the jungle, Ernest H. Johnson lost consciousness.
Johnson lingered for four months before succumbing to his wounds at the Army hospital in Zamboanga. It was there that he told the visiting area commander, “Don’t be too hard on them, sir, they are fighting for what they believe to be their rights.” For Lt. Johnson of the Philippine Constabulary the Moro Wars were at an end. The year was 1913.
The enemy and the war were almost military secrets in 1913. Shadowed by indifference and design they have remained so. After all, “peace” had been officially declared by the United States in the Philippines in 1902. That not everyone agreed with this declaration was both embarrassing and troublesome.
AMERICA’S THREE WARS IN THE PHILIPPINES, 1898-1916
The United States had come to the Philippine Islands in 1898 on a crusade or a mistake, depending on your preconceptions. The Spanish colonial empire had, with supposed treachery, murdered our sailors and sunk the U.S.S. MAINE in Havana Harbor. That perfidy (to use a favorite word of the era) could not go unpunished. War followed between the United States and Spain. Politicians in the U.S. Congress had promised to liberate Cuba from Spanish tyranny and set her free. We publicly committed that we had no colonial ambitions in the Caribbean, but we made no such promise regarding our intentions to the Spanish colony of the Philippines.
And so, on May 1, 1898 when Commodore Dewey’s flotilla destroyed the Spanish Pacific Fleet in Manila Bay, Manifest Destiny had crossed the Pacific. The United States began its claim to a colonial empire. It also began the first of its three Philippine Wars between the years of 1898-1916.
These wars in total were not just brief, minor skirmishes against a decayed colonial relic, ineffective insurgents, or a few Muslim fanatics with sharp knives, as is often implied. The cultures and societies of the Philippines and the United States were both shaken by these confrontations which were bitter, fanatical, and often brutal on all sides. And the turmoil of war unleashed even more destructive forces of disease and poverty.
I have not found complete casualty figures for this period for the combatants, nor even for the United States, but a few statistics are sobering. Between 1898 and 1902, when “peace” was declared, the two major cholera epidemics killed over 100,000 civilians and combatants, while dysentery was killing U.S. troops at a rate 50 times that of the most disease-infested American theater of war in World War II. For the up to 70,000 American troops stationed at any one time in the Philippines after 1900, combat casualties fell at the rate of one dead to two wounded! The razor-sharp edge of the bolo or kris was meant to kill.
The first of these three wars was the pacific segment of the Spanish-American War. It ended with the defeat of Spain and the surrender of the Philippine Islands to the protection of the United States (on December 10, 1898). The U.S. replaced Spain as colonial overlord of the Philippine archipelago.
This transfer of power drew the United States into the second of its Philippine wars, this time against the Filipino Insurrectionists under Emilio Aguinaldo. Believing that they should be independent of any foreign control (and inspired by the philosophy and events of the American Revolution) the “insurrectos” battled Americans as they had Spaniards. Heroic, though ill armed and poorly led this rebellion gradually collapsed. On the 4th of July, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt declared that hostilities were at an end in the Philippines. Peace and prosperity and American ways could now flourish in our new empire. Bully!
Within six months the first of these new American ways was to be implemented with the declaration that slavery was at an end in the Philippines. That declaration ignited the third Philippine war for the United States, this time against the Moros. It was to be the longest and most savage confrontation of the three.
THE MOROS IN 1900
The Moros were, and are the inhabitants of the Southern Philippine Islands (see picture 1, 2). A Malay Muslim warrior elite, in 1900 they numbered 300,000 persons and controlled Mindanao, the second largest of the Philippine Islands, together with a scattering of smaller islands to the south and west of Mindanao known as the Sulu Archipelage (see map).
Polygamy and slaveholding were significant parts of Moro culture. All a Moro wanted was to be left alone to rob, plunder and fight. The rights for which Lt. Johnson believed the Moros were fighting were fairly straightforward:
The good old rule,
The simple plan,
That he should take who has the power,
And he should keep who can.
Those who denied him these “rights” were his enemies, and the Moro knew how to deal with an enemy in only one way. If the Americans wanted to abolish slavery let them come and try. The Moros were prepared to fight these new invaders as they had first fought the Spaniards nearly 400 years before. As General Pershing wrote in 1913, while still a captain in the Philippines:
The Moro is not at all over-awed or impressed by an overwhelming force. If he takes a notion to fight, it is regardless of the number of men he thinks are to be brought against him. You cannot bluff himÉ
The Spaniards had learned this the hard way. It was, in fact, the early Spaniards who gave them the name Moro, for “Moor” because of their intense Islamic faith. But culturally the Moros were Malays. Mixed with the blood of negro slaves, Filipino tribal hillmen, Chinese, and Dyak pirates the result was a unique and ferociously independent people.
The Moro’s only real allegiance, besides his religion, was to his “datu” or chieftain. These “datus” ruled as feudal pirate princelings from numerous fortified “cottas” (i.e., villages) scattered throughout their island domains. The “datus” in turn recognized a general advisory authority in the Sultan of Sulu.
As befits the lair of a robber baron, the “cottas” were heavily fortified, sometimes built of stone, and bristling with old Spanish cannon and brass wall-guns known as “lantakas.” A typical “cotta” would be nearly inaccessible wooden pallisaded village with open-walled thatched huts and perhaps a central one story loop-holed stone “keep.” One of the huts was invariably used as a mosque. Earthworks frequently surrounded the village.
From these jungle and hill-country stronghold a “datu” would lead his warriors forth in raids upon his neighbors (who were in turn raiding him), or on any unwary travelers or foolish foreign interlopers.
Warfare was a fact of everyday life for the Moro. He was proud, vain, and fearless. And war was more than just a mere pastime. It often had religious overtones.
The Moros believed that one who takes the life of an infidel increases his own rewards in paradise. The more infidels killed the greater the rewards in paradise. One fortunate enough to be killed while slaughtering the enemies of the faithful was guaranteed immediate transportation to the Seventh Heaven.
From time to time a Moro desiring a short road to glory would bathe in a sacred stream or spring, shave off his eyebrows, and after dressing all in white would take a holy oath before the village priest to die killing infidels.
Such a “juramentado” (From the Spanish for one who has taken an oath) then hide a kris or barong under his clothes and sought the nearest town. Once inside he snatched his weapon from its concealment and ran amok slaughtering every living being in his path until he was killed. So long as the breath of life remained in him he fought on, hacking and stabbing.
An each time a “juramentado” died slaughtering enemies of the faith, his friends and relatives celebrated, and always saw, just at dusk, the departed hero riding by on a white horse bound for the abode of the blessed.
The weapons and physique of the Moros were particularly suited to this slash and hack school of combat. Moro men were of medium height, and their physical development was often superb. They dressed in tight pants or pantaloons, vest, jacket, sash and small tight turban. Chain mail and plumed helmets were also worn widely, especially by “datus.” Rattan or woven fiber armor and hats, a legacy of the Dyak tribes, was sported by the less affluent Moro fighters. Their garments were gaudily colored, and often showily embroidered or ornamented in gold or contrasting colors. Clothing colors included pinks, purples, scarlets, blues, greens, and often contrasting stripes. “Juramentados” frequently dressed all in white, while it was common practice for warriors to don black trousers for fighting. One observer noted, however, a salient point about Moro dress and hygiene, “the more clothes a Moro wears the filthier he is.”
All males age 16 or older went about armed constantly unless prevented from doing so by colonial authorities. The Moros made their own steel weapons, which were often beautifully finished, and always admirably adapted to the purpose for which they were intended.
In close combat they usually trusted to a “barong” &endash; a weapon somewhat like a butcher’s meat cleaver with a thick back and a razor thin cutting edge. Normally only about 16-18″ long, it was capable of inflicting fearful injuries. To lop off a head, arm, or leg with a barong was merely child’s play. The strong and skillful warrior prided himself on being able to halve an opponent with a single blow.
The straight “kris” was a narrow bladed, 2-edge sword used for cutting and thrusting. The serpent kris with its wavy double-edged blade was used for thrusting and inflicting a horrible wound. The serpent kris was the classic Malay weapon.
Finally, Moros not infrequently used a straight edged, two-handed sword known as a “campilan.” The blade was wide at the tip and narrowed steadily towards the hilt. It was used with great effect for cutting and hacking.
If he was headed for serious fighting the Moro might also carry a large, brightly painted circular shield of lightwood or a broad-headed lance.
The Moro was crazy to obtain firearms, but seldom succeeded. Guns ranged from antique matchlocks and trade muskets to captured Remingtons, Mausers, Springfields and Krags. Colonial authorities severely restricted the supply and ownership of firearms by any Filipino. Gunrunning, in fact, was a very serious offense. In any event, the Moro was an abysmal marksman, and often had no ammunition for captured modern rifles.
Tactics were simple &endash; ambush and rush. Once close enough to use his weapons a Moro was nearly unstoppable.
“AN ARMY FOR EMPIRE” &endash; U.S. FORCES IN THE PHILIPPINES, c. 1900
From 1899 to 1916 a large number of regular and volunteer U.S. troops were rotated through tours of duty in areas inhabited by the Moros. No effort is made here to list all of these united, although specific reference will be made to some in the course of the following discussions.
At the end of the 19th Century a U.S. regular infantry regiment consisted of eight lettered companies armed with Krag-Jorgensen 0.30 caliber smokeless powder magazine rifles. Volunteers were usually armed with the older single-shot black powder Springfield 0.45/70 caliber rifle. A cavalry regiment comprised ten troops or half-squadrons, while each artillery regiment had 12 batteries. The battery was the basic tactical unit for artillery. American field pieces were 3.2″ quick firing breechloaders, and 3″ mountain pack howitzer. Hotchkiss machine guns, improved gattling guns, and other miscellaneous types of rapid-fire weapons were in use attached to infantry regiments.
As the 20th Century proceeded through its first decade this armament and organization evolved and altered somewhat. One of the main changes in armament was the replacement of the 0.38 caliber service revolver by the 0.45 caliber automatic pistol. The 0.38 couldn’t stop a determined Moro warrior in time to prevent him from wreaking havoc before he fell. The change to the 0.45 pistol was a direct result of the Moro war.
The 0.45 Colt automatic threw a slug that would stop a galloping horse in its tracks and could even slow down a “juramentado” rush.
The Philippine Scouts were raised at the turn of the century and officially designated in 1901. By 1904 the Scouts wore standard U.S. Army dress with a brass “P” on the front of their slouch hats. They were armed with the Springfield carbine. At least some Moros served in the scouts. In all, over 30 companies of scouts were raised. Captain (later General of the Armies) John J. Pershing began his meteoric rise within the American military while serving with the Philippine Scouts.
Perhaps even more famous than the scouts was the Philippine Constabulary officially authorized late in 1901. Technically the Constabulary was a civil police force officered initially by Americans and European adventurers. In reality it was a hard fighting strike force numbering about 7,000 men. Dispersed in company unites or smaller groups it was often the spearhead of the attack. “Outnumbered, always; out fought, never!” was its well-chosen motto. Over 1,000 casualties in its first five years of existence pointedly demonstrates that it was often in the thick of it. Some Moros served along with the pagan tribesmen that filled the ranks of the “P.C.”.
A typical expeditionary force moving against the Moros would consisting of a battalion or two of infantry, several troops of cavalry (mounted or dismounted depending on the country) a battery of mountain guns, a pack train, a few companies of Scouts or Constabulary and native or Moro auxiliaries or guides (usually few in number).
“KRIS VERSUS KRAG”
These two formidable adversaries, the young and expanded American “colonial” army and the ticklishly proud Moros were bound to clash with dramatic results.
On May 20, 1899 Capt. Pratt in command of two battalions of the 23rd Infantry received the peaceful surrender of the Spanish garrison at Sulu. By this act the United States succeeded to theoretical control of the Sulu Archipelago, the heart of the Moro’s domain. But the real power there had never the Spaniards. It was instead the dozens of local Moro “datus” and their titular ruler, the Sultan of Sulu. Through religious and feudal influence and the 10,000 armed followers he could summon-up the Sultan was a figure to be reckoned with. He was uneasy about these new foreigners, but only wanted a fight upon his own terms. So the Sultan was cautious. At his first meeting with Capt. Pratt he asked the Captain some questions:
Why do you come here? For land, you have plenty at home. For money, your are rich and I am poor. Why are you here?
The Captain’s answers may have been a bit vague. Negotiations dragged on until August of 1899 when General John C. Bates and the Sultan finally agreed upon a “treaty.” Under this agreement, American troops garrisoned a few coastal towns and villages and patrolled the interiors in a limited manner, usually on make-shift river gunboats. The Spaniards had also used gunboats, having a number of specially constructed vessels that patrolled Lake Lanao on Mindanao. But these had been sunk by their crews in frustration at the time of the Spanish surrender.
The American vessels were much more improvisational. A typical “gunboat” consisted of a retired Spanish cargo boat, perhaps an old side-wheel steamer, no more than 100 feet long, with a 30 or 40 foot beam, and of very shallow draft. The American would strengthen the deck with heavy timbers and add a turret or two of steel plates and two thicknesses of steel plate for upper deck armor. Three-inch naval guns or 1.65-inch Hotchkiss rapid-fire guns filled the turrets, with some secondary batteries of tripod-mounted Gattling or Colt machine guns bristling from the sides of this river-borne “dreadnought.”
Perhaps encouraged by the gunboats cruising through the heart of his realm the Sultan admonished his vassals to remain at peace, at least as the Moros understood that concept. Criminals accused of crimes not committed by Moro against Moro were to be surrendered to American justice. The Sultan for his part was to remain on his good behavior. The Americans for their part were to leave the Sultan, his vassals, and their traditions alone. It worked for three years.
U.S. forces were certainly in the middle of several Moro versus Moro struggles, and American soldiers and Moro warriors occasionally skirmished on some remote jungle path or river. To the Moros that was only natural. There were also some bloody incidents portending what was to come (one of which is described in SAVAGE AND SOLDIER, Vol. XII, No. 4, Oct-Dec, 198). But, in general, U.S. troops in the few existing coastal towns of the Moro islands lived a quiet, if cautious, garrison life.
However, by mid-1902 all pretense of peace had ended. Anyone who knew the Moros could not have expected otherwise. Slavery was a significant institution in Moro culture, and slaves the primary source of wealth. Any power claiming to prohibit slaver struck at the root of the Moro warrior and his raiding society.
Suddenly the Moros returned with a vengeance to the old predatory days of ambush, piracy and raiding. American patrols were routinely attacked and “juramentado” incidents increased. An so, another “perfidy” had to be punished. Preparations were made for punitive expeditions to put-down the Moros.
The first major American expedition against the Moros occurred on Mindanao in 1902. Colonel Frank D. Baldwin commanded a 1,500 man punitive force comprised of the 27th Infantry Regiment with an attached battery of maintain artillery. Some accounts indicate that a small cavalry contingent also accompanied the force (which would have been typical of such expeditions). Baldwin’s goal was the destruction of several “cottas” in the Lake Lanao region, which was a hot-bed of Moro recalcitrance under the fierce leadership of the Sultan of Bayang and the Datu of Bindayan. These were two particularly rough customers in a very difficult part of the country.
The 22-mile long Lake Lanao lies about 16 miles from the north coast of Mindanao. In 1902 its shores were dotted with Moro villages containing some 100,000 inhabitants. The area was a tangle of vegetation and swamps with no passable roads or tracks. Even the Spaniards who had claimed the area for several centuries had only undertaken its pacification in 1891, and then only with gunboats and a force of 4,000 regulars. The area “pacified” then consisted essentially of whatever was within range of the Spanish artillery at any given time.
In order to reach Lake Lanao Baldwin’s force had to literally hack and saw its way through the underbrush, building its own trail for 25 miles until it reached the realms of the Sultan of Bayang and the Datu of Bindayan and gazed upon their especially medieval looking fortifications.
These two “cottas” were surrounded by a line of defensive trenches and garrisoned by a force that included several hundred men armed with rifles. The walls of the “cottas” themselves were ten feet high, and several feet thick, and were cover4d by a thick thorny growth so sharp that it was impossible to scale the walls without ladders. Baldwin’s force had no ladders.
In the embrasures around the forts the Moros had installed several brass cannon which they knew how to use, and served with surprising efficiency.
After what proved to be an ineffectual bombardment by the American 3-inch pack howitzers against the several foot thick walls of the “cottas”, Baldwin launched his infantry into the attack. The 27th met a barrage of rifle and cannon fire, but despite severe casualties fought its way across the trenches and up to the foot of the walls. There without ladders they were powerless to go any further. Buglers sounded the retreat and to the derision and obscene taunts of the Moros the force pulled back. Baldwin had to content himself with surrounding the “cottas” and waiting until scaling ladders could be constructed during the night to renew the attack the next day. That night was not a pleasant one. As Colonel Baldwin stated in his report on the action:
We had met with very serious losses having had one officer and nine enlisted men killed and three officers and thirty-seven enlisted men wounded, a few of whom could be brought to the rear in daylight as the moment they showed themselves the bearers would be shot down. When night came it was intensely dark and it was found impracticable to move them until the following morning in daylightÉMedical officers were on the field attending to the wounded as best they could. Added to the misery of the situation both for wounded and men on the line, a heavy rain set in which lasted all night long. The suffering of these wounded men, having to lie on the battlefield as they did, could not be alleviated and would have been made more aggravated had an effort been made to move them to the rear during the darkness, as the country to be traversed was filled with pitfalls, sharpened stakes, and ditches covered with grass.
At daybreak, as the expedition faced another bloody frontal assault on the “cottas” Baldwin was amazed to see white flags flying over the walls of the surrounded fortress. The Sultan and the Datu had determined that there was no profit in this fight. After brief negotiations and promises to return to a peaceful life the Moros surrendered.
Many “datus” of the Lake region followed suit. They could, after all, go back to the old ways after the Americans, like the Spaniards, had departed. A few “datus”, however, remained belligerent in the area. In the four months after Baldwin’s expedition American garrisons near the Lake were attacked twelve times.
Thievery and raids also failed to evaporate, sometimes with comic consequences. Witness the following correspondence between an American military governor and the Sultan of Jolo regarding the theft of the cemetery gates from the American garrison:
To his Highness the Sultan of Jolo, from his brother the Governor of Tiange, Greetings:
Three nights ago the iron gates of the cemetary were stolen. Indications point to the Moros living in your territory as thieves. I desire to make a thorough search for said gates and have them returned and the thieves punishedÉI do not know who committed this theft; if I did I would not call on you but would act myself. The thief was a Moro; this being the case it is your duty to act. The graves of our dead are respected. This act was worse than any of the acts so far reported and it was to a certain extent a desecration of our dead and will not be tolerated.
Major 23rd Infantry,
The Sultan’s reply was as follows:
This letter comes from your son the Sultan Hadji Mohammed Jamalul, Kiram to my father the Governor of Tiange:
Your letter of the 23rd instant received and I understand its contents. I am very sorry indeed that the gates to the cemetary were stolen. It would have been better if the thief had robbed the property of the living, because they have a chance to earn more but the dead do not. Therefore aid me to think how to get rid of stealing in this country. Let us inquire at all places where there are blacksmiths. There are no blacksmiths in Maibun. Above all you must closely examine the blacksmiths in the Buz Buz and Moubu as these gates were too heavy to be carried a long distance. Very likely they are in these two places. I will have a search made in all places where there are blacksmiths. If we find the thief let us bury him alive. I did not tell the thief to steal nor did he do it with my knowledge. Your are an old manÉ.and perhaps you have pity on me. As for me I detest thievesÉÉ
Despite the earnest protestations of the Sultan of Jolo, the Moros admired a good thief, and a bandit leader was respected almost as a prince. One of the best (or worst) was Jikiri.
Jikiri enters history’s stage as betel-nut bearer for the Sultan of Sulu (betel nuts being a mild narcotic chewed by fashionable Malays). According to legend, Jikiri was hooted out of the Sultan’s service by His Excellency’s bodyguard due to Jikiri’s laughable ugliness, one eye in particular being remarkable for its size and protuberance. Driven to the life of an outcast, he draped a white cloth across his face (presumably to hide that eye) and began to make the most of a bad situation.
His debut as a pirate chief came with the capture of a Chinese merchant vessel off Jolo in November, 1907. One crewman escaped by leaping overboard.
On December 24, now with a hearty band of seven at his command, he hacked to death two American loggers and one of their wives within sight of the American base at Zamboanga.
By January, 1908, being on something of a “roll” he had eluded the Constabulary and 200 American troops pursuing him, and had vanished into the Lumapit Swamp on Jolo Island.
As the good news spread, Jikiri’s following, and boldness, grew. Soon he was regularly harassing coastal shipping, and boasting to the Americans in letters to the Governor that as soon as he had “cut down the hundred men I have sworn to kill”, he would “run ‘juramentado’ in the streets of Jolo.” When the American guard there was tripled he warned them in another letter to stay alert since he would “strike without warning.”
His following eventually grew to over a hundred well-armed Moro warriors. They were a formidable bunch. Jikiri raided into north Borneo where the British captured three of his colleagues. These prisoners were being towed in a canoe by a steam launch when one of them overpowered and beheaded the guard. He then boarded the launch and attacked the British Captain in charge.
The Britisher shot him six times with his service revolver at close range, knocking him off his feet twice. Each time the Moro got up and pursued the officer around his own ship. Having emptied his revolver the Captain grabbed a rifle but was knocked senseless by his pursuer. The Moro then began dispatching the Chinese crew when the officer came to an slammed five rifle slugs into the Moro. It took all five to do the job. The other escaped prisoners rejoined Jikiri’s band.
Jikiri continued his depredations; sacking villages, slashing an English planter “into 32 pieces,” attacking coastal vessels and generally wreaking havoc. U.S. Cavalry and Constabulary were again on his trail, as was the Sultan of Sulu who, made nervous by increased American forces searching for Jikiri (including 2 Navy gunboats, 3 Army launches and a chartered transport which ringed Jolo Island), had decided to help dispatch his ex-betel-nut bearer to his last account.
On July 1, 1909, Jikiri was finally cornered with the remnants of his band (seven men, four women and four children) in a cave inside an extinct volcanic crater.
Captain George L. Byram led troops A, B, and D of the 6th Cavalry, a section of mountain artillery, and a naval detachment with two one-pounder rapid-fire guns and two Colt machine guns against the trapped bandit.
An artillery bombardment and automatic weapons barrage seemed prudent. When the dust cleared the cave entrance was pulverized. Trees with six-inch diameters had been cut in half by machine gun fire.
The troopers approached the cave entrance to look for any unlikely survivors, but were greeted instead by Jikiri and his seven followers, barongs in hand. In less than 10 seconds sixteen Americans were down, then the odds caught up with Jikiri and his seven followers. Byram was “severely criticized” for the operation and three Medals of Honor were awarded.
Baldwin’s expedition and the pursuit of Jikiri are typical of the U.S. actions against the Moros. Punitive expeditions might force the surrender of a “datu” and his “cotta,” but with the expedition’s withdrawal the “datu” would be up to his old tricks. A bandit leader like Jikiri could be run to ground, but only with overwhelming force, and every Moro was a potential bandit chieftain.
The American response to continued Moro belligerency was to mount larger and more frequent expeditions, some with more success than others.
One of the more efficient U.S. leaders was Major General Leonard Wood. From 12 November through 21 November, 1903, Wood led an expedition which struck at the Moros under Panglima Hassan and Datu Andung, two nororious and powerful “datus” on Jolo Island.
The U.S. forces consisted of the 28th Infantry Regiment, a battalion of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, two troops of the 14th Cavalry, a battery of mountain guns, and a pack train. The expedition included a nasty assault on a “cotta” in a swamp, a mad-man charge by over 40 “juramentados” on a Cavalry troop (!) leaving 27 of the Moro fanatics dead, and a climactic full-blown assault on a mountain chain of eight heavily fortified “cottas.” Five hundred Moros died in the fighting, although the “datu” Panglima Hassan escaped to trouble the infidels again.
In 1904 General Wood again led an expeditionary force out into Moro country, this time against Datu Ali on the island of Mindanao. The force proceeding upriver on an assortment of river boats consisted of the 23rd Infantry, a single company of the 17th Infantry, one dismounted troop of the 14th Cavalry, one field gun, and a detachment of Marines and sailors.
After skirmishes with the Moros and several outpost actions the force arrived at the stronghold of Datu Ali near Serenaya. The stronghold was a masonry fort one-thousand yards long linked with a score of “cottas” joined together and bristling with “lantakas” and old Spanish cannon.
Wood’s artillery piece, augmented by some 3.2″ guns dismounted from the river gunboats, bombarded the stronghold to the crashing counterpoint of the responding Moro cannon. This continued until nightfall. Morning revealed a white flag above the fort and one wounded Moro within. The stronghold was otherwise empty. Five thousand men, women and children had escaped without a sound into the night and the jungle.
With results such as that, after eleven years of fighting the American level of frustration led to an increase in the intensity (and brutality) of combat. At Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak on Jolo Island forces including Philippine Scouts and Constabulary led by John J. Pershing trapped hundreds of Moro warriors and their families in mid-1913.
After several days of intense artillery bombardment on the extinct volcanic craters which shielded the Moros, bayonet charges annihilated the survivors, all of whom it should be noted were armed and dangerous.
The annihilation of whole “cottas” eventually eliminated large-scale and organized Moro resistance. By 1916 routine warfare had subsided as a daily occurrence. But the individual Moro remained a formidable and unpredictable foe. Periodically, a “datu” would anger U.S. authorities sufficiently to prompt a smaller scale expedition. References to attacks on “cottas” by U.S. and Philippine troops continue sporadically throughout the 1920’s, with at least one expedition occurring as late as 1936! The Moros’ war on the infidels seems not to have really ended, it just became a fact of life ignored by the rest of the world.
The American attitudes to these warriors who so fiercely resisted the “benefits” of civilization were widely divergent. Colonel O.J. Sweet who served as a military governor in Moro country wrote:
É(the Moros) are bound up in traditions and to do anything their ancestors did not do would be wrong. In many things they are inferior to the American Indians and I know of no trait in which they are superior. The Sultan stands on his dignity and quotes erroneously from the Koran as to his duties of Sultan towards his people. So far I can find no case where he lives up to his model.
Lt. Johnson had a different view of the code of honor and jungle morality of his warrior opponents. Besides being a good soldier the Lieutenant was also a poet. In his poem depicting the fierce defiance of a Moro chief tried by an American judge for killing one of his followers, Johnson sets out a different view of the Moro warrior code:
I slew a man. Ye say I broke the law;
That law the White Man built to rule the Brown.What of our laws?
The laws our fathers ruled Were just and right! The laws by which we lived A thousand years and never felt their lack!
What know ye of our law, Oh Lord: Think ye To break in ten short years the code that held For centuries before we saw thy face?
I slew a man. A man, ye say! I laugh.
A base-born slave who dared to lay his hand Upon my bride. And at my Katri’s cry, Like lightning from the clouds, I smote him down.
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Feest, Christian. THE ART OF WAR. Thames and Hudson, Hong Kong, 1980.
Herbert, Ted. HANDBOOK FOR COLONIAL WARGAMERS. Victorian Military Society Special Publication, No. 1, 1976.
Hurley, Vic. SWISH OF THE KRIS: THE STORY OF THE MOROS. Dutton Publishing, New York, 1936.
Jerram, Charles S. THE ARMIES OF THE WORLD. Lawrence and Bullen, Ltd., London, 1899.
Mawson, H.P. and Buell, J.W., (eds.) LESLIE’S OFFICIAL HISTORY OF THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR. War Records Office, Washington, D.C., 1899.
Schellbach, Paul. “Massacre on Samar Island,” SAVAAGE AND SOLDIER, Vol. XII,
No. 4, Oct-Dec 1980, pp. 10-13.
Sexton, William Thaddeus. SOLDIERS IN THE SUN. Military Services Publishing Co., 1939.
Stickney, Joseph L. WAR IN THE PHILIPPINES AND THE LIFE OF ADMIRAL DEWEY. J.L. Stickney, 1899.
Stone, George Cameron. A GLOSSARY OF THE CONSTRUCTION, DECORATIONS AND USE OF ARMS AND ARMOUR. Jack Brussel Publishers, New York, 1934.
Worcester, Dean C. THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS AND THEIR PEOPLE. The Macmillan Co., London and New York, 1901.
In addition to the author’s excellent bibliography, the editor would like to add the following from his own collection or sources which some of you may find of particular interest to this subject.
Blount, James H. THE AMERICAN OCCUPATION OF THE PHILIPPINES, 1898-1912. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1913.
Cloman, Lt. Col. Sydney A. MYSELF AND A FEW MOROS. Doubleday, Page & Co., Garden City, New York, 1923.
Halstead, Murat. THE STORY OF THE PHILIPPINES. Our Possessions publishing Co., Chicago, 1898.
Hobbs, Colonel Horace P. KRIS AND KRAG. Privately published, 1962.
Kolb, Richard K. “Campaign in Moroland; a War the World Forgot,.” ARMY. September 1983, pp. 50-59.
Sawyer, Comm. Frederick L. SONS OF GUNBOATS. U.S. Naval Inst. Press, Annapolis, 1946.
Scruby, Jack. “Asiatic Colonial Wargames.” THE MINIATURE PARADE. October, 1968, pp. 3-6.
Smith, Cornelius C., Jr. DON’T SETTLE FOR SECOND. Presidio Press, San Rafael, 1977.
Smythe, Donald. GUERILLA WARRIOR; THE EARLY LIFE OF JOHN J. PERSHING. Scribner’s, New York, 1973.
I’d also life to recommend the 1939 film THE REAL GLORY, starring Gary Cooper, David Niven and Broderick Crawford. Though the film is one of those “patriotic Hollywood-ish” films of the immediate pre-WW II era, the uniforms of the U.S. and Constabulary troops and their weapons are well-researched and presented. Additionally, the Moros, their dress, weapons and “vintas” (canoes) are excellent. Even the “juramentado” scenes are realistic.