Cauldron

Battle of Bud Dajo - the Moro Crater Massacre Mar 5, 1906 – Mar 8, 1906

Episode Summary

This time on Cauldron, let's go back to the island of Jolo in the Southern Philipines. Let's go back to the humid, sticky air of March 1906. To a mountain that sat among the clouds. A volcanic rock with cliffs so sheer a man had to crawl to climb. Let's go back to the crater where hundreds of native Moros, men, women, and children awaited their deaths. To the crater crest where Krag carrying modern U.S. infantrymen prepared to punish the desperate sword-wielding natives with terminal violence. Let's go back to March 5-8 1906 and the battle of Bud Dajo.

Episode Notes

"A place where empires go to die." Mike Malloy said this about Afghanistan, and there are plenty of examples to make his point. The British Empire, at its height in the late 19th century, suffered a genuinely smashing debacle of a defeat at the Khyber Pass, and could never really come to grips with the country. The Russians in the late 20th century made fools of themselves. They tried to overawe and outgun the natives only to be repeatedly humiliated and sent packing. Learning nothing from the failure of these enormous superpowers, the United States in the early 21st century found itself in the same jagged mountains and dusty countryside. Going on 20 years of fighting, thousands of U.S. personnel have died, countless injured or forever altered, and trillions in treasure has been spent. The cost to the native peoples can never be fully tabulated. All this has created what Gen. Petraeus termed a "Generational struggle." And it's not our first go around this particular dance floor. Not even close.

I can't think of a place more different in appearance from Afghanistan than Vietnam. But the thickly jungled South East Asian country has just as much claim to be the graveyard of empires as anywhere else. The Mongols, perhaps the greatest conquerors of all time, had a rough go in Vietnam. Various Chinese dynasties have made plays at controlling their southern neighbor, with varying degrees of success. Still, ultimately they could never conquer the country. Then the French tried to stake a claim, but at Dien Bein Phu, it became abundantly clear that continued colonial rule wasn't going to happen. As late as the 1980s, the Red Chinese government made a play, sending tanks and armor over their shared border. Again the Vietnamese sent them packing. And of course, there was the whole 20-year quagmire known in the West as the Vietnam War. A futile fight to pen in the spread of communism, the Vietnam War saw the United States go from humiliation to humiliation, even though it was one of two Super Powers at the time, and Vietnam was a far weaker opponent on paper. The key phrase there is on paper. By the wars end over 50k us soldiers had died, maybe as many as a million Vietnamese dead, and those numbers are up for debate and still changing. The war also broke the country's trust in its generals and military leaders. Ike, with all his integrity, led the people to believe generals would not lie or plot or cheat. Then Vietnam came and the false hope and out and out lies of progress, footholds, victory close by, an end in sight, flooded from the top brass to the rightfully skeptical press. Even more damning was, for the first time, the public got to peek into the mad, mad world of fighting an angry, insurgent riddled native population on their nightly news. It's out of these dark, steamy, damp Vietnamese jungles comes the insane line, "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,'.

The chaos inherent in that thinking, though, is by no means unique to Vietnam or the latter half of the 20th century. There is another place where empires have gone to die and where military minds were at a loss for how to win.  In this place, a decade's long struggle would kill and maim thousands, produce 88 medals of honor worthy tales, and see five future army chiefs of staff. Many of the famous names from WWI and WWII saw some time in this forgotten war, even though a quick google search today produces only a handful of books to be had on the conflict. Compare that to 10k and more for both the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan. This hellish place generated the same kind of deadly madness as the others as well. One U.S. official prophesied the paradoxical reasoning of the Vietnam era quote about destroying the village, saying of his punitive and brutal pacification methods "While these methods may appear harsh, it is the kindest thing to do."

This time on Cauldron, let's go back to the island of Jolo in the Southern Philipines. Let's go back to the humid, sticky air of March 1906. To a mountain that sat among the clouds. A volcanic rock with cliffs so sheer a man had to crawl to climb. Let's go back to the crater where hundreds of native Moros, men, women, and children awaited their deaths. To the crater crest where Krag carrying modern U.S. infantrymen prepared to punish the desperate sword-wielding natives with terminal violence. Let's go back to March 5-8 1906 and the battle of Bud Dajo.
 

Main Source

Music

Overcome by Ugonna Onyekwe


Art

terrybogard392@fiverr

Episode Transcription

"A place where empires go to die." Mike Malloy said this about Afghanistan, and there are plenty of examples to make his point. The British Empire, at its height in the late 19th century, suffered a genuinely smashing debacle of a defeat at the Khyber Pass, and could never really come to grips with the country. The Russians in the late 20th century made fools of themselves. They tried to overawe and outgun the natives only to be repeatedly humiliated and sent packing. Learning nothing from the failure of these enormous superpowers, the United States in the early 21st century found itself in the same jagged mountains and dusty countryside. Going on 20 years of fighting, thousands of U.S. personnel have died, countless injured or forever altered, and trillions in treasure has been spent. The cost to the native peoples can never be fully tabulated. All this has created what Gen. Petraeus termed a "Generational struggle." And it's not our first go around this particular dance floor. Not even close.

 

I can't think of a place more different in appearance from Afghanistan than Vietnam. But the thickly jungled South East Asian country has just as much claim to be the graveyard of empires as anywhere else. The Mongols, perhaps the greatest conquerors of all time, had a rough go in Vietnam. Various Chinese dynasties have made plays at controlling their southern neighbor, with varying degrees of success. Still, ultimately they could never conquer the country. Then the French tried to stake a claim, but at Dien Bein Phu, it became abundantly clear that continued colonial rule wasn't going to happen. As late as the 1980s, the Red Chinese government made a play, sending tanks and armor over their shared border. Again the Vietnamese sent them packing. And of course, there was the whole 20-year quagmire known in the West as the Vietnam War. A futile fight to pen in the spread of communism, the Vietnam War saw the United States go from humiliation to humiliation, even though it was one of two Super Powers at the time, and Vietnam was a far weaker opponent on paper. The key phrase there is on paper. By the wars end over 50k us soldiers had died, maybe as many as a million Vietnamese dead, and those numbers are up for debate and still changing. The war also broke the country's trust in its generals and military leaders. Ike, with all his integrity, led the people to believe generals would not lie or plot or cheat. Then Vietnam came and the false hope and out and out lies of progress, footholds, victory close by, an end in sight, flooded from the top brass to the rightfully skeptical press. Even more damning was, for the first time, the public got to peek into the mad, mad world of fighting an angry, insurgent riddled native population on their nightly news. It's out of these dark, steamy, damp Vietnamese jungles comes the insane line, "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,'.

 

The chaos inherent in that thinking, though, is by no means unique to Vietnam or the latter half of the 20th century. There is another place where empires have gone to die and where military minds were at a loss for how to win.  In this place, a decade's long struggle would kill and maim thousands, produce 88 medals of honor worthy tales, and see five future army chiefs of staff. Many of the famous names from WWI and WWII saw some time in this forgotten war, even though a quick google search today produces only a handful of books to be had on the conflict. Compare that to 10k and more for both the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan. This hellish place generated the same kind of deadly madness as the others as well. One U.S. official prophesied the paradoxical reasoning of the Vietnam era quote about destroying the village, saying of his punitive and brutal pacification methods "While these methods may appear harsh, it is the kindest thing to do."

 

This time on Cauldron, let's go back to the island of Jolo in the Southern Philipines. Let's go back to the humid, sticky air of March 1906. To a mountain that sat among the clouds. A volcanic rock with cliffs so sheer a man had to crawl to climb. Let's go back to the crater where hundreds of native Moros, men, women, and children awaited their deaths. To the crater crest where Krag carrying modern U.S. infantrymen prepared to punish the desperate sword-wielding natives with terminal violence. Let's go back to March 5-8 1906 and the battle of Bud Dajo.

 

 

At the turn of the last century, a strange kind of fever struck the adolescent United States. Empire building was the global game of the Old World, but the New World wanted to be dealt in. A little over 30 years on from the horrors of its Civil War, the U.S. felt strong and vibrant. There was an enterprising energy and a desire to finally take its place amongst the major players, the movers, and shakers of world events. There was a sense also that to be considered among the powerful countries, a nation needed colonies. Like a kind of global letterman's jacket, colonies showed precisely how far a state could exert influence or power. This, in turn, helped you to exert influence further out and gain more power and so on. The empire building of the age had an added twist; the growing fear that time was running out. The big players - Britain, France, Spain, and even baby Germany had, in some cases, spent 100's of years stringing colonies together to form Empires. Now the world was getting smaller, there was less land to claim, and what there was would be problematic, to say the least.

 

 

As a nation that had its very foundation built upon the repudiation of Empire, who's core values despised the very idea of colonies, establishing a U.S. empire would require some fancy diplomatic footwork and some serious ideological flexibility. The "White Man's Burden" reasoning, which explained away the evils of Empire via delivering the word of God, western laws, and the modern world, was at its peak in popularity in the 1890s. Even still, the United States needed more impetus than missionary work to start planting the flag on little far off islands. Beyond the fact that the country was born from the fires of a Revolution fought to escape the tyranny of Empire, the nation's foreign policy over the previous 100 years had walked a deliberately isolationist line. John Quincy Adams laid down the accepted national stance on international affairs, saying in 1821, "Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example." If the country wanted colonies, it would have to be clever about acquiring them. A combination of circumstances did the heavy lifting, and soon the U.S. found colonies plopped into its very lap.

 

In early 1898 the USS Maine shook Havana Harbor as it burst into a ball of flame and sank. The Cuban city was rocked by the massive explosion, and over 250 members of the ship's crew died in the blast. For years the fight between Cuban revolutionaries and Imperial Spain had been raging across the island. Atrocities of the most violent and heinous kind were committed by both sides, and the U.S. was in the uncomfortable position of trying not to pick sides. Many in the U.S. stood by Quincy Adam's speech, believing that sending an early version of thoughts and prayers to the revolutionaries was enough. Some thought it was ok for the U.S. to send aid and supplies and put pressure on Spain so long as there was no "boots on the ground intervention." Some in the U.S. wanted to unleash the Navy and unsheathe the sword on the decrepit Spanish Empire. T.R. under-secretary for the Navy was decidedly in the latter group. And still, others just wanted to make money. The incident in Havana Harbor provided this last group with precisely the fodder they needed. Hearst and Pulitzer mobilized their vast media networks, and in the age of yellow journalism, these guys were the best. A fever swept the nation, passed from person to person with cries of "Remember the Maine!". The people wanted Spain to pay, and the news moguls fueled the flames. Finally, the momentum proved too much, added with a push by powerful Democrats president McKinley signed a joint Congressional resolution that demanded Spain leave Cuba. Spain refused, cut ties, and declared war. The U.S. followed suit, and by late April 1898, a war was on. The mystery of the Maine is still up for debate, from 5th columnists to spies to the Spanish, everyone has been blamed. But I agree with the people that say it was an accident and bad design, of course, who knows!

 

The war that followed was more of a slap down than an actual fight. At Manila, the U.S. Navy under George Dewey completely crushed the outdated Spanish Navy. T.R. and his Rough Riders won their famous victory at San Juan Hill. At Santiago de Cuba again, the U.S. Navy emasculated the Spanish Navy. By August of 1898, just 3 short months after the declaration of hostilities, the war was over. Spain lost in those three months what had taken three hundred years to build and would never truly recover. The U.S. had shattered its opponent and now had the right to pick and choose her pelts. Cuba seemed like an obvious prize; a mere 90 miles away, it was thought by many the island could quickly go from colony to state someday. That very idea struck fear in the hearts of many Southern politicians. A US state with a majority black population would have made Jim Crow and other blatant systemic inequalities very hard to maintain. Added to this group was the sugar lobby, who feared the influx of Cuban crops. The combined concerned parties won out, and the Teller Amendment allowed for a two-year occupation of Cuba, and that was it. No colony. No statehood. No prize. For McKinley, this was no good.

 

In something of a bait and switch, President McKinley staked out another island as the real spoils of war. Or, more accurately, another chain of islands. 400 plus islands. He claimed for the United States the island system of the Philippines. With a population and landmass 3x that of Cuba, there was a lot to like about the islands, even if most Americans couldn't find them on a globe. The islands were rich in raw goods; more importantly, they would provide the U.S. Navy with vital coaling stations on the other side of the Pacific. The Navy's of the day could sail only as far as the coal they could carry, so a string of coaling stations around the globe gave immense advantages to a navy, as the Russians would find out in a few short years on their way to fight the Japanese. The islands would also function as a jumping-off point into China, whose markets and trade the U.S. has been lusting after for a very long time. But before China could be wooed, the Philippines had to be settled and governed. Really a series of island chains, the Philippines was no easy place to tame. The Spanish had failed, for the most part, to bring the melting pot of a nation to heel. They had, however, succeeded in making the majority of the country catholic, all but for the troublesome South. Where the Moros lived. The word Moro is a derivative of Moors.

 

Early on in its occupation of its new territory, the U.S. fought a nasty horrid resistance in the northern island group. This Philippine-American War was a three-year affair that forced the natives to their knees and gave the U.S. a taste of what being the colonial master was like. As this fighting in the North settled, the population of the southern islands grew restless. It's here that the catholic population dwindles, and the Koran becomes the book of choice. Off the southwest coast of Mindanao in between the Philippines and Malaysia lies the Sulu archipelago. The regional capital city Jolo is on the aptly named island of Jolo. This is the heart of Moroland.

 

The fighting in the southern islands was particularly violent and harsh, insurgent warfare that reminded many in the States of the recent Indian Wars. Bodies mutilated, deadly night raids, an enemy that melted into the terrain and used ritual and the landscape to deadly effect. All hallmarks of the fighting against the Sioux, Commanche, and Apache. One man that knew this kind of fighting personally was Major Hugh Scott. A genial, dutiful man, Scott was known as a capable soldier if not exactly a wunderkind. Before coming to the Philippines and governing over Sulu Province, Scott had fought in the Indian Wars. He'd been able to pick up languages easily and proved invaluable as a translator and diplomat.  Scott helped in dealings with Red Cloud of the Sioux. He even got the famous Chiricahua Apache of Geronimo fame settled for a time. His time with the Apache was spent getting them adjusted to their new lives and trying to help them get self-sufficient on the reservation. His outlook on natives as a whole changed over time, and he eventually rejected any notion of racial superiority going so far as to support the integration of the army. Scott was an empathetic and insightful man, and while fighting in Cuba, he was assigned to the exact opposite.

 

General Leonard Wood was a New Hampshire born doctor that went out West in search of fame and glory. He was contracted by the army in its fight against Geronimo. While running around the South West, Wood received a belated and highly controversial Medal Of Honor. It seems nobody is quite clear what he did to earn the citation or even really who put him up for it. Regardless, the country's highest commendation for bravery was bestowed, and Wood cashed in on the clout. Two weeks into the Spanish American War, Wood was a Rough Rider and fast becoming friends with the future V.P. T.R. This association propelled Wood's career over the next 20 years, more often for ill than good. After the war, Wood was in charge of the Cuban occupation, then-President McKinley sent him to be the military C.O. of the Philippines. At the same time, Wood was made the Civil governor of the Philippines, making him the law and the sword of the land. Clearly charismatic and confident, Wood was prone to grudges and could be insufferably self-righteous. This cocktail of personal traits would prove devastating in Moroland.

 

"I think one clean cut lesson will be quite sufficient for them, but it should be of such character as not to need a dozen fritting repetitions." said the newly arrived Governor Wood of his plan to whip the Moros into order. He planned to use brute force and subjugation to bring the unruly natives to heel by "thrashing them." During his tenure as governor, Wood planned to render the upstart Moro population impotent and afraid. Hugh Scott must have been horrified. Scott wanted to use local contacts and acceptance of cultural norms as a way of getting the natives to submit to outside rule. The Moros especially had a history of fighting oppressors; in fact, the Spanish seem to have just given up trying to control them. Scott's co-opting of community leaders and his turning a blind eye to some of the more backward local activities was by 1905 working. Then Wood intervened.

 

The cedula tax was a kind of head tax/I.D./census. It was meant to give the government an idea of how many men each datu (local leader) controlled. The payment was minimal, only a peso, and in return, the payer received a form, to be carried at all times, that said they had paid. It wasn't much, but it set off a whirlwind of anger and resentment. The Moros refused, rightly claiming the Bates Agreement of 1902 protected their local customs and exempted the Moros from the cedula. Because the rest of the Philippines province was dutifully paying the tax, General Wood didn't believe Moroland should get special treatment. He was determined to show folks back in D.C. that he could be the most productive, if ruthless, governor the Philippines had ever known. His reasoning was not wrong, the tax was going to be used on roads and schools, but the Moros wanted none of it. Taxation without representation and all that, you get it. Beyond the unfair nature of the cedula, there was a religious angle. Many Moros felt that taxes paid to anyone, but God himself was not just wrong but blasphemous. The very concept of taxation to them was unholy.

 

The cedula was so hated that the local strongmen of the Sulu province refused to collect it at all. They feared to lose their status among their people more than Hugh Scott. Pressure from Wood to raise the cedula mounted and Scott had to think on his feet to get things done. He eventually brokered a deal in which the datus would pay the cedula tax for each of their supporters. In return, Scott would look the other way on some of the local customs like the slave trade, wife stealing, and piracy. This was clearly a band-aide that was meant to solve the immediate issue. And it worked for a bit.

 

A Moro pirate raid on Borneo killed several British citizens, and the pirates fled to Jolo. While in hiding, the leader Pala, became something of a local hero, a rallying point for those unhappy with the cedula, with American rule, and most importantly with their datus. Pala exposed the datus as no more than American bagmen and lackeys, the henchmen of the oppressors. By spring 1905, dissident groups sprang up all over Jolo. Fighting both their datus and U.S. forces, these little bands were in a no-win situation. They were outgunned and quickly found themselves being rousted out of every hiding spot they could find. As the summer of 1905 went along, Scott became aware that some of these dwindling little groups were congregating on a nearby mountain, a place called Bud Dajo. He sent several local contacts up the volcano to negotiate and spy; by doing this, he learned there were some 500 plus people and maybe 100 guns in the crater. The position was strong with plenty of spring water and some well made defensive structures. But food was going to be an issue, and he hoped the Moros on Bud Dajo would be forced by shortages to come down of their own accord. Scott recognized that taking the position by force would be pointless and challenging, with little upside. He didn't see the point in sending Americans up there to risk death when time likely would solve the problem. Scott put it simply, saying, "After all, what would they be dying for? To collect a tax of less than a thousand dollars from savages?" This sit tight and play it out strategy was working, and by the end of 1905, less than 10 families remained atop Bud Dajo. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Hugh Scott had an unavoidable 4 month leave stateside that removed him from the picture. Almost as soon as he left, the shit hit the fan.

 

With Scott gone, theft and banditry spiked on the island of Jolo. The datus blamed it on the few remaining refuges on Bud Dajo, and American authorities believed them. Likely, some of these acts were indeed desperate moves made by the Bud Dajo people to feed themselves. Still, the majority were caused by clever datus. They understood Scott being away gave them the freedom of action they had been lacking, and they took it. Scott's interim replacement got jumpy and declared the vandalism and theft to be outright acts of war and terrorism. The whole thing could have been de-escalated had it been understood that the crimes were more cultural sport than terroristic in nature, as Scott likely would have seen. Instead, the information was sent back to Wood, who saw an opportunity to once and for all show the Moros who was in charge.

 

Something happened between December of 1905 and February of 1906, but the record is mysteriously blank. For some unknown reason, the population on Bud Dajo swelled from the 10 families when Scott left to almost 1,000 people. The exact cause is lost to history, but we can guess some fresh outrage or reckless policy renewed the Moro restlessness. There seems to have been quite a bit of record wiping in Wood's H.Q. and we will get to it, but there was already a culture of cover-ups. Regardless, the Moros were gathering on Bud Dajo, and Wood wanted them out. He had to act quickly too. The new president, Wood's old friend TR, had heard some minor grumblings about the general's health and mental state and wanted to hide him away for a time. T.R. planned to remove Wood by ostensibly promoting him to command a diplomatic mission to China. Wood received a direct order from the CIC to turn over command to his replacement Tasker Bliss as soon as he arrived. Wanting to present both Bliss and T.R. with a fait accompli, Wood ignored the orders and proceeded with his planned removal of the malcontents on the mountain.

 

All through late February, Wood sent envoys up and down the trails of Bud Dajo attempting to negotiate but without any real desire for peace. He wanted to draw things out while his forces gathered up and also get a better look at the Moro defenses and capabilities. The Moros, for their part, had no intention of leaving their volcanic stronghold. Wood's choice, it became clear, was not one of violence or peace, but of how best to demolish the Moros. A plan to surround the mountain and wait out the Moro supplies was put forth and rejected as impossible. It also would have taken to long for Wood's liking, remember he needed to get this done before anyone found out he wasn't supposed to be in command. The other option was to set fire to Bud Dajo's jungle-covered slopes and smoke the Moros out. This again was rejected as impossible but was pocketed as a possible back up plan of last resort. The third option was most to Wood's liking, and it's what he chose; a full-on assault of Bud Dajo by combined U.S. Army, Navy, and local Constabulary forces. His reasoning was that with overpowering firepower, his forces would swiftly breach any defenses, and the Moro would be finished off thoroughly.

 

As Joe pointed out in our T.R. talk Livestream Wood seems to have been a relatively unimaginative military mind, he was much better at politicking. To take Bud Dajo, Wood placed a Col Duncan in command and ordered him to send three fast-moving columns up the mountain's main three trails, assault the crater and remove the Moros. Now Bud Dajo itself is an imposing little geographical oddity. It's an inactive but not extinct volcano; in fact, last erupted in 1897. At 2,175 ft above sea level and 500 ft across with a 300ft deep crater, the mountain was deceptively squat. Even so, the peak was often concealed by puffy white cloud cover that hung low in the thick humid air. All the way around Bud Dajo are steep craggy sides, in some places, a staggering 60-degree incline leads up to the volcanic crest. The crest itself was more like a knifes blade, thin and unforgiving to the inattentive climber. On the mountain top, there were three separate summits, the terminus for each of the three main trails Wood intended to use. These trails were in places little more than cuts in the dense foliage of vine, brush, and trees. The fauna could and would provide excellent cover to attackers coming out of it as it was so thick the attacker could go unseen until they burst forth from the jungle hacking and screaming. Narrow, steep, and straight these trails would be easy to defend. Lined with booby traps and crisscrossed by smaller paths known only to the Moros, these trails were more like deathtraps than attack routes.

 

What the Moros had in natural defenses they lacked in armament. There may have been as many as 1k natives on Bud Dajo, but there probably was only somewhere around 3-500 that were armed and willing to fight. Of these, there would have been some rather old men and young boys, and a small number of women. Nowhere near the latter claims that all the women and children fought. Sprinkled amongst the fighting force were single-shot Remingtons, a few modern Krags, and some antique muskets, all told a total of some 100-150 long arms. Added to these were 60-80 pistols of all sorts. Ammo was again of varying quality and caliber and most crucial in minimal quantities. The Moro had no real artillery or mortars to speak of, but they did have a kind of jerry-rigged anti-personal gun. The Lantacas were old swivel cannons used to clear boarding parties from ship decks. The South China Sea and the waterways around the Philippines had a long history of piracy, and the Lantacas were likely taken from some local pirate vessels. By the 20th century, these antiquated deck guns would have been considered museum pieces, but in the jungles, they could still be deadly. Packed with musket balls, rocks, glass, even oyster shells, they could be hidden and set with a tripwire. When set off, the Lantaca would fire its load in a short but powerful fan burst, like a giant shotgun. Anyone close-by would be shredded. The Moros on Bud Dajo had maybe 6-8 Lantancas total. The rest of their weapons would have been short swords called krises and borongs, both designed to cut deep slash and gash type weapons. Also daggers, spears, and when desperate boulders, rocks, or anything that could be rolled or thrown down the mountainside.

 

The Americans for their part came to Bud Dajo loaded for bear. Each of the U.S. Army infantrymen carried the 5 shot bolt-action 30-40 caliber, Krag. An excellent rifle, the Krag is capable in the right hands of putting down a withering almost continuous hail of fire. And each man had plenty to keep the shooting up, they carried with them 200 rounds per person. With the Constabulary forces (which were a sort of militia/police force/foreign legion used as an ancillary force by the American occupation), there were some Krag carbines and some older Springfield model 1889s. Among the officers, there were Krag Carbines, some nasty but deadly pump-action shotguns (their effectiveness in close combat caught Pershing's eye, and he made sure to bring some to the trenches in France some years down the line) and most officers had a 38 caliber revolver as a sidearm. No old-timey swivel cannons for the Americans, they brought along 4 small 75mm mountain guns or potato guns. These were more akin to modern-day mortars than actual artillery and were of dubious effectiveness at Bud Dajo, but nevertheless, they threw some substantial lead into the air. And by the battle's end, Bud Dajo would indeed introduce the Moros to the modern age when the U.S. forces dragged 3 30 caliber colt automatic slow rate machine guns. A far cry from the human scythes of the Western front, these colts were still deadly. Against a mass of half-naked Moros with nowhere to run or hide the Colts, Krags, shotguns, and carbines proved horrifically capable killers.

 

On March 4th, 1906, just a tick under 800 joint U.S./Constabulary infantrymen and officers trekked from the capital city of Jolo to the foot of Bud Dajo. The small cavalry contingent of Col Duncan reconnoitered the base of the volcano and located the trailheads for each column. They also noticed some ambuscades and cotta the Moro had erected along the trails. Ambuscades are relatively stable Wood and rope defensive structures, think of a cross between a palisade and a Napoleonic anti-cavalry fence. Cottas are not quite villages, but small groups of stout little buildings often connected to create little defensive bastions. Both the ambuscades and cottas proved hard-points of contact for the two sides, and abrupt battles within the battle were fought over them. To take out these Moro positions and capture the mountain itself, Col Duncan planned, again very imaginatively, to send a column of infantry up the east, West, and south trails. As a reserve, he kept a flying column at Bud Dajo's base with the ability to move in support of success or shield in the case of failure. By the afternoon of the 4th, Col Duncan's forces were in place, and his men beheld a sight that is straight out of an adventure movie like ZULU. All along the volcanoes crest red flags or war, and resistance flapped lazily in the sticky jungle breeze. From out of the crater, the sound of war drums and gongs came down the rocky slopes and met the Americans as they prepared their camps. Along with the thudding and clanging came chilling screams and howls, the war cries of the Moro warriors willing themselves to fight to the death.

 

The 5th saw all three columns begin to climb. The east trail column was first to engage one man saying, "The enemy opened fire… with rifles and lantacas which we returned, and a short engagement followed." On a small hill, a battery of the mountain guns was dug in and prepared to lay down covering fire. AT 600lbs, these guns weren't ideal for the steep climb and loose dirt of Bud Dajo. They proved unreliable and weren't able to help the columns very much on the first day. As the fifth moved along, all three columns slowed and stalled out. The grade of the climb and the need to stop regularly to deal with traps in the ground and Juramentadoes springing out of the jungle killed any momentum the columns might have had. Juramentadoes are fascinating warriors that deserve their own episode but, in short, think of a modern-day suicide bomber. Different from the amoks of the region who would go wildly into any crowd with the intent to kill as men before dying (where we get the modern term "running amok"), Juramentadoes had a purely religious angle. They would ritualistically shave and cleanse their bodies and then use strips of cloth to tie off all their appendages. Wielding two blades, they would then find a group of Christians to target and rush in for the kill. With the ties on their limbs working as tourniquets, American soldiers found them very difficult to kill. Often it would take 3,4, or even 5 rounds from the 38 caliber pistol to put a Juramentadoes down, which, as the story goes, is why the colt 45 would become the sidearm of preference. The idea of screaming whirling sword-wielding fanatical warrior springing forth from the deep dark jungle running right for you chills the blood. It must have made the hike like some kind of horror movie for the men trekking up Bud Dajo.

 

To keep this moving along, I'm going to telescope in and highlight a few key actions over the next couple of days. The fighting on Bud Dajo, in general, is a confusing mess, but we can still get the flavor by diving in on some details. On the 6th, Col Duncan was in a panic. He had been told to take Bud Dajo by Wood but hadn't been told that Wood wanted to be on hand and in person before the fight began. Basically, Wood wanted to supervise without having to tell his commander that. So Wood is hustling to Jolo and then to Bud Dajo to take over.

Meanwhile, Duncan is trying to figure out what the hell is happening up on the mountain. Communication was proving slow and useless. Telegraph and signals were out as an option because the jungle and volcano made them impossible. That left runners, but because of the distances and terrain, these guys had their work cut out for them. Up and down, down and up all day while still worrying that at any time, a Moro could come out of nowhere and attack. Not a great job; it was difficult for the officers to find volunteers, which meant they had to just select reluctant natives from the baggage handlers or Constabulary forces. All this meant that orders were snail-like, information was frequently stale, and the whole day was a jumble of contradiction and confusion. The fighting that did happen was sporadic and indecisive. One U.S. sniper came under Moro fire from the volcanoes crest, he wrote of the engagement that there "came a sputtering of rifle fire soon answered by our sharpshooters, who at a range of two or three hundred yards began picking Moros off the entrenchments on the skyline - like shooting crows out of a tree." The Moros were perfectly silhouetted against the sky and made easy targets for the expert marksmen. Even with these small successes, the constant need to stop, clear a defensive spot, wait for further intel or orders, scramble up the slope at times using roots and vines to climb made the day another slow affair. One column went a mere 75 yards in 6 hours of sweaty effort. The battle was not moving at the speed Gen Wood needed it to. That was about to change.

 

Dawn, on the 7th, saw the Constabulary force make a move on the south trail. On the 6th, Duncan had ordered all three columns to take the summit simultaneously. It was soon realized this could have ended with a Mexican standoff, a circle of U.S. infantry shooting each other dead as they all came over the crest firing. The slow movement gave Duncan time to rethink this idea. So on the seventh, he decided to have each column push, and then whichever was finding success, he'd reinforce that one. On the South trail, Constabulary Captain John White and his men moved on one of the densely spiked log and bamboo ambuscades. As he tried to push his men over or around the low wall crossing, the trail Moro fire would come in hot and heavy from a cotta wall 75 yards away. It became clear to him that the only way was to go through the structure. Hacking and sawing like fiends White's men finally cut a little hole through, but now White faced another problem. He had to get his 50 men through the gap and across the 75 yards killing ground. As he shoved men through the opening, he recalled a "storm of bullets…it seemed they were killed or wounded almost as fast as I could push them through." Each man that did make it through alive faced the scramble uphill under heavy fire. The goal was the relative safety of the cotta wall from where the Moro were firing. If they could reach the base of the wall, U.S. snipers could keep the wall clear of Moros from firing over and down at them. When they got to the wall, White's men weren't totally safe, though. The cotta walls had little firing holes, like gun ports on a ship, from which the more could peep out aim and shoot. White and his force had to make sure they stayed well clear of these holes while they moved along the cotta walls base. Seeing all his men through the hole and at the bottom of the cotta wall, White himself went through and recalled seeing "look of blank astonishment" on the man in front of him. The poor soul had tripped a lantanca, and the shrapnel had shredded his arm entirely. Shaking it off, White sprinted tot he cotta and the rest of his men.

White took stock of the situation and organized his men into climbing parties. Each group started to scale the wall but came under heavy attack. Even while taking accurate, deadly sniper fire, the Moros mounted the wall and fended off the attackers with spears, swords, and anything they could toss over. White had a heart-stopping moment when his shotgun jammed right as a Moro warrior swung a rifle and a pistol around aimed at his chest. Both shots went wild, and White was able to deftly clear the jam and unload a full round of buckshot directly into the Moro man's torso. A 22-year-old observer of White at that moment was buck private Vinton B. Hill, he said of his C.O. "This White was a very nervy man."

 

Seeing that the tide was turning, two companies were rushed up to support White and his men. Then a strange, haunting sound came from the other side of the wall. The Moro defenders had begun to chant and wail and sing. White recognized it immediately and called out, "They're singing their death song…this is the time to go after them!" The time to push the attack had come. White jammed a chunk of nearby Wood into one of the cotta walls gun holes, and he began to climb. An enemy spear whistled over his head, sending White sprawling backward and to the ground. As he fell, the plugged hole exploded. The Moro behind it had fired into the chunk of Wood and into White's leg. He recalled the moment he was wounded, "a bullet from within pierced the wood crock…I saw the splinters fly and pass through my left leg just above the knee." The pain was excruciating, and White was dragged from the fight and put into a ditch a safe distance from the cotta. In incredible pain, he remembered hearing the din of battle reach a crescendo followed by an American yell, "They're coming over, bolo rush!" The Moro fighters knew they had lost and were trying to die in glory or breakout or just getaway. Vinton Hill was still in the fight, and when the suicide charge came on, he saw the Moros as "they leaped over at us, and they charged first. But we beat em back and killed most of em right there." Not all the Moro warriors carried weapons only. In a bit of foreshadowing, White was told later that one Moro man had mounted the cotta wall "with a baby in his left arm and his Barong in his right hand … both were killed." The moment was shocking enough for Vinton Hill to remember it 74 years later in 1980, saying, "I remember seeing Adam die. He Jumped over those breastworks with a little baby under one arm and a kris … I'll bet you a dozen bullets hit him before he ever hit the ground."

 

While White and Vinton fought there way up the south trail, the other two columns did the same. Eventually, all three were making steady progress towards Bud Dajo's crest. Mid-afternoon on the east trail saw the three colt machine guns unleashed on a series of Moro trenches and cottas. Lawton, the C.O. of the column, wrote later, "the opening up of this gun had a fine moral effect on the whole command, who cheered repeatedly and showed themselves eager for the charge." The blanket of fire put down by the colts forced the Moros into the trenches and ditches on the crater side of the summit. With the Moros now out of sight and unable to fire on them, the Americans formed up into a loose assault line or skirmish line. They advanced the final 50 yards to the summit through some of the densest vines and growth.

Hacking and cutting, sticky with sweat and grime, the Americans were exhausted, but they could tell things were coming to ahead. Just before them, the blue and khaki-clad infantrymen from Ohio, and Mass, and California could almost touch the clouds. On hands and knees, using anything and everything to grab and drag themselves up, the Americans reached their side of the summit and halted. 25 yards away on the other side unseen lay roughly 400 Moros in their most elegant dress. Brightly colored sarongs, feathered headdresses, western-style shirts, and pants. The Moros had dressed to die in their finest. Less than a third had rifles, most had some kind of a blade, even the children. They sang their prayers to Allah, and they hummed death chants up to the sky. They were not seeking death, but if it came, they wanted to be ready.  On either side of this volcanic craters crest, hundreds of people sat or squatted, unable to see each other, but prepared to deliver death. Then the peel of a bugle rang out into the heat of the late afternoon sun, and destruction came into the crater.

200 Krag rifles and carbines, shotguns and revolvers, and even some of the machine guns poured into the crater below. Accompanied by the shouts and hollers of elated men that could taste victory, the weapons of a thoroughly modern world opened up on the huddled Moro mass. From 20-40ft away, the U.S. forces delivered a constant devastating barrage into the screaming howling mob. Moments before the Moros in their best were now a writhing multitude of blood and chaos. Moro warriors insane with anger and panic sprinted out at their tormenters to no avail. The guns of the Americans kept the majority from ever reaching their intended target.  When a Moro warrior did sneak through, they used everything from their krises to there hands to their teeth to try and kill. Most were quickly finished off. An official report states, "being shot down in their tracks with terrible slaughter, so that the cotta and lip of the crater were soon piled up with dead, several bodies deep." In the ten minutes from the bugle to when Lawton called a ceasefire, according to author Robert Fulton, some 10k 30 caliber rounds poured into the Moros. Add to that total some 2-3k from the machine guns, and the amount of lead flying through the air is hard to imagine.

 

The Moros in the final moments of carnage had killed ten Americans and wounded 25 but at a terrible cost. Almost all the huddled Moros had been slain by the unrelenting gunfire. There is a famous photo of the aftermath, and I can't stress enough how important this is to understand what happened on Bud Dajo. It's disturbing and will undoubtedly shake you, but please seek it out. The picture is black and white, it shows a group of tired disheveled U.S. infantrymen standing around resting. At their feet is a trench with a log crossing the top. In the ditch are dozens of corpses, so many that it's impossible to tell where one body and ends and the other begins. The most horrific aspect is in the center of the frame. A woman lies clearly dead, but she looks almost as if she's leaning against the trench wall. In her lap, if you can stand to look long enough, you begin to see clearly the form of a baby or small child. Again I don't want you to see this to screw you up or make you sick. I want you to do this to fully understand the battle. I also believe that by seeing that mother and her baby, though they will forever be nameless, they will never be forgotten.

 

As the dust cleared, the other two columns climbed into the crater. No prisoners were taken as the U.S. forces secured the area. The victorious side bivouacked on the battlefield that night, and it must have been an eerie experience. When the sun rose on the 8th, the mop-up began. All the huts, cottas, crops, and any structure was put to the torch. Nobody count was taken for the sake of expedience and likely to keep things vague in the reports. Suffice it to say one report stated: "no living Moro was found." Bodies were dumped into ditches or just left in the trenches where they fell. A small detachment of troops stayed behind to wrap up the disposal. Instead of burning the bodies, they hurriedly threw dirt over the piles and left. Out of a possible 900 to 1000 Moros on Bud Dajo, 700-900 died. The exact number will never be known, the architects of the massacre made sure of that. A smattering of survivors were found all over the mountain, but this amounted to 24-26 scared souls, mostly women, and children that had been hiding for days. The clean up was so half-assed and sloppy that years later, animals and degenerate souvenir hunters uncovered the bones and bodies.

 

The angling and spinning of the Bud Dajo tale began before the attack was even over. Wood berated Col. Duncan for acting without direct orders then he started constructing the narrative. The chaos and confusion of events leading up to the assault on the Moro stronghold helped keep things murky and ensured the truth was not likely to be uncovered. As soon as the US force and Wood returned to Jolo, the reports of a great battle hit the wire. In the style of the time, Bud Dajo went viral, lighting up newsrooms round the world. TR on hearing the news telegraphed his old army buddy, "I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American Flag." The first headlines hit the press, and Woods's fingerprints lay thick upon the story. "Band of Moro Outlaws Killed - Severe Fight" cried the Newport Daily News. "Moros Defeated in Fierce Battle -Leonard Wood Leads Spectacular Fight on Mountain 2,100 Feet High" the Fort Wayne News painted and adventurous picture. The painting of Wood as the architect of a brilliant military victory is less than subtle but, at the time, was backed by TR's telegraph. The people in the states just wanted the story, and the reports tried to give it to them, damn the facts. The Des Moines Daily News led the way in feeding false details with this outrage inducing headline "47 American Soldiers and Sailors Killed by Moro Band".

 

Then on the 10th and 11th of March, a switch occurred. The gory, sensational, glory touting banners of the significant newspapers changed. A more somber, questioning series of headlines appeared. The Racine Daily News simply let the numbers speak with this "900 Killed In Sulu Fighting". The Washington Post used a word in their headline that conjures in the modern mind Auschwitz, gulags, and Pol Pot. The WaPo read "No Moro Survived - Battle On Mount Dajo Was One Of Extermination." The NYT jumped in, and for the first time, the establishment and government are questioned: "Policy Caused The Needless Killing Of Moro Women And Children." As the outcry justice swelled, an investigation was begun by the Senate into the Bud Dajo events. This played out in the papers, "Senate Wants To Know About Moro Slaughter." The Daily Review. Even at this early stage, it was clear the initial story was lacking in some key facts, "Senators To Discuss Slaughter of Moros - They See No Reason For Any Proud Feeling Over 900 Deaths" New York Herald. Already the administration felt the pressure mounting, and then on the 13th, the blows came swift and strong. The identity of the dead or, more accurately, their sex and age started to leak out. "Children Are Shot. - Moros Use Them As Shields - Many Women Meet Same Awful Fate," The Marion Daily Star wrote. It still tries to paint the Moro men as the victimizers, but the dead woman and children enter the story. Every headline over the next days, across the nation, had some torrid little detail or some horrific picture of the deceased. To combat the twisting narrative, the administration and TR reach out to some friendly papers and receive some favorable ink in return. "Not Wanton Slaughter" read a somewhat defensive Titusville Morning Herald. A more meek bit in The Newport Mercury went "The Dajo Battle - Entirely Unavoidable."

 

On the 16th, the shame and guilt came to the forefront. "Woods Battle Called Murder In Congress" read the NYT. One particularly irate Virginian congressman used words like murder, assassination, shocking, and unnecessary to describe the debacle. He even took a shot at TR, "I am utterly unable to understand how the chief executive of this great country could endorse this horrible occurrence." This was followed by a mocking little poem form a Mississippian rep, a take on Tennyson called "The Charge of the Wood Brigade Or What the Heathen Call the Massacre of Mount Dajo. Dr. Charles Parkhurst of Madison Square Presbyterian Church, a powerful and respected voice at the time, said of the whole thing that it was "no more brilliant a feat of arms than smoking bees out of a hive." The analogies to another American tragedy came thick. Just 15 years before Bud Dajo in the twilight of the Indian Wars, men women and children of the Lakota were slaughtered by Col James Forsyth and his 7th Cavalry. Outraged by the bloodshed, Forsyth's CO General Nelson Miles demanded an inquiry, but the proceedings were a whitewashing sham, and no punishment was handed down. The wound was barley healed by Bud Dajo's time, and most of the nation strongly about it. TR, for his part, concluded, "The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhumane." Others believed any war for territory and culture should be one of annihilation. There were also plenty of people who thought of pacification through peace. Whether Wounded Knee or Bud Dajo, the Unite States split personality reared its ugly head, not for the last time.

 

By March 20th, the realization that the truth would never come and the facts would never be known was settling in. A campaign by Wood and his agents went to work, spreading stories about the "fake" events. The Bismarck Daily Tribune started it off with "Story of Massacre a fake - gen wood says manila reporters had no details and faked story of Moro women and children." "Fake," says general wood - calls story of Moro women's killing a newspaper fabrication" read The New Brunswick Times. Again everything new is old, even fake news. The disinformation continued with the NYT declaring "Many Moro Women Saved" without indicating by whom and from what. A defensive Washington Star joined in with "Not All Were Slain." Wading through the murky mistruths, some still sought out something real to grab on to. A March 23rd WAPO headline said the people "Wanted a Straight Story." An editorial inside cried out with reason and anguish in equal parts editorial "A war for civilization... Wood is civilizing the Moros on the idea that there are no good Moros but dead ones… There is no authority in the constitution to shoot civilization into savages on the other hemisphere… If we cannot govern the Moros without murdering women and children, better that we withdraw and let them govern themselves." And with this little bit of reflection and self-disgust, the story of Bud Dajo vanished. The earth under San Fransisco bubbled and cracked, bringing Armageddon to the bustling port city on the West Coast. Now the headlines read, "San Fransico is in flames; hundreds are dead" Syracuse Herald. "Earthquakes and a holocaust turn city of San Francisco into a chaos of doom" The Marion Daily Star. "San Fransico is reduced to ashes" Oakland Trib. And these continued for months and months wiping the memory of the far off Moro mountain holdfast from the public mind. Every so often, an article would pop up here or there, but for the most part, few ever thought about the massacre again. The nation moved on and left the exterminated Moros in their volcano crater tomb, shrouded by the clouds.