The Charge of the Wood Brigade
By Datu Jamal Yahya Abbas
Guest Contributor

 One hundred years ago, on August 20, 1899, Brigadier General John C. Bates, representing the United States of America and His Highness Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram II of the Sultanate of Sulu signed what has since been known as the Bates Treaty. US President McKinley approved the treaty two months later. The Sultan agreed to acknowledge the sovereignty of the US while the Americans agreed to respect the rights and dignities of the Sultan and the datus, not to interfere with religious matters, protect the Sulu archipelago from foreign waters and even pay the sultan and his privy council monthly salaries.

The treaty was a great tactical move by the US as its generals were able to concentrate their might in Luzon, where the Tagalogs under Aguinaldo were giving them a good fight. The US policy of attraction was such a success that the normally combative Taosug datus became complacent. 

But then came General Leonard Wood. Mr. Wood , a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, who was famous for organizing the Rough Riders and for capturing the celebrated Apache chief, Geronimo. He was appointed Governor-General of Cuba in 1899. A few years later, he became the first governor  of the Moro Province. He immediately imposed a "mailed fist policy". He had no intention of treating the Moros as equals. He immediately worked for the abrogation of the Bates Treaty. In June 1903, he ordered that all Moros should pay a cedula tax of P2.00 (two pesos) per head.

Paying tribute to a foreigner was anathema to the average Moro. It was a sign of submission. The Sultan pleaded not to enforce such a policy. But General Wood insisted. At first, the Sultan offered to pay the tax for all his subjects. But Wood wanted the Moros to live by his (Wood's) law. He put a stop to slavery and ran to the ground piracy. He also forbade the Moros from carrying arms -- pistols or blades. (Non-Moros could carry gatling guns if they wish to.) A Moro without a kris!  The Moros cried "foul" and took up arms -- in Lanao, in Maguindanao, in Basilan, and in Sulu.

Battles, massacres, assassinations, sieges, uprisings etc. are too numerous to mention. But there were some that caught the attention of the US press. One of them was the Bud Dajo massacre.

In 1906, the Taosugs were quite disenchanted with their Sultan and prominent datus. They hated the Americans and their man-made laws. When the US military patrols come to collect tax, they ran for cover. Bud (Mt.) Dajo is a lava cone of an extinct volcano at an altitude of 2100 feet. The crater in the summit has a circumference of 1800 yards. The crater was a natural fortress; hence, a favorite shelter or hide-away for Moro "tax evaders", who were mostly poor people. Soon families were staying in the crater. By March 1906, more than a thousand Moros -- men, women and children, made their way to the crater. Gen. Wood would not have any of their nonsense. He ordered his officers to gather in Jolo. Col. Duncan with about 800 officers and men from the 6th and 19th infantry, the 4th Cavalry, the 28th Artillery Battery, the Sulu Constabulary and sailors from the gunboat Pampanga, with mountain guns, rifles, bayonets, fast-firing pistols and grenades launched the assault on March 5. The thousand or so Moro men, women and children were armed with kris, barungs and spears. By March 7, the smoke of battle has cleared. The people in the crater fought bravely, to the last Moro. There were no survivors. The Americans lost two dozen men and some seventy wounded. It was a complete massacre.

Gen. Wood reported to the Secretary of War the success of his mission -- the Moros losing 600 men, women and children while the US lost only 18 men and 52 wounded. President Roosevelt immediately sent a note to Wood: "I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brave feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag." But there were protests. The New Orleans Times-Democrat called the event "a frightful atrocity". The Boston Post exclaimed: "..if this is imperial expansion….heaven save us from anymore!" The Democrats called the affair a "horrible massacre" and "an assassination."

Americans wrote editorial letters, pamphlets and poems denouncing the massacre. C.E. S. Wood dedicated an emotional poem to the President, the Congress and to General Wood. The poem starts with : 

" Six hundred Moros have been slain -- all -- all -- all -- 
Fathers and mothers and boys and girls and black-eyed babes. 
It is a glorious victory. 
I weep for the little children who shall never play again; ….."

In the US Congress, Rep. Williams read a satirical poem (adapted from Charge of the Light Brigade):
Chased them from everywhere 
Chased them all onward 
Into the crater of death 
Drove them -- six hundred. 
"Forward, the Wood Brigade; 
Spare not a one," he said; 
"Shoot all six hundred."***** 

Flashed all the sabres there 
Flashed as they turned in air, 
Sabring the women there, 
Charging the children, while 
All the world wondered. 
Stifled by the cannon smoke, 
Men, women, children choke. 
Women and children 
Reeled from the bay'net's stroke, 
In death not sundered; 
Families slaughtered there, 
All of six hundred. ********** 

What shall such bloodthirst slake? 
Go ask Hell Roaring Jake 
Whether Wood blundered. 

Honor the charge they made 
Honor the Wood Brigade, 
For that six hundred. 



In 1921, Leonard Wood was appointed Governor-General of the Philippines. He served as such until his death in 1927.

US Army men inspecting their handiwork --The Bud Dajo Massacre, March 5-7, 1906.
[Photo provided by Braulio Agudelo who has an original copy of the photo.]

About Our Guest Contributor:

Datu Jamal Yahya Abbas belongs to a royal family of  Muslim Datus in Marawi, Lanao. His great grandfather was an Arab adventurer/explorer originating from Yemen who ventured into the Minadanao Muslimland and got married there. He has an extensive educational background ranging from petroleum engineering, business management, petroleum economics, alternative energy R&D, and computers. His detailed resume  is posted at URL:



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Philippine-American War Centennial Initiative (P.A.W.C.I.)