Timeline of the 1st Battle of Bud Dajo - 1906 (continued)
At first light, a platoon of the 19th Infantry led by 2nd Lt. H.H. Bissell and a Navy machinegun squad attack the cotta. After a brief but fierce firefight, the cotta is taken. Sixty-seven Tausugs, die, the only reliable body count that was taken. The senior American officer, Major Omar Bundy, orders a final sweep of the top of the mountain. In his report he wrote "No living Moro was found." At mid-morning General Wood and General Bliss arrive at the summit.
An odd thing happens. Wood orders all of the soldiers to immediately evacuate the mountain by the West trail, taking their dead and wounded with them, and all those not from the Jolo garrison to board the transports and return post haste to their posts in Mindanao. The field commanders, Lawton in particular, vehemently protest that they have not been able to search for survivors, make a body count, lay the dead out for retrieval by their relatives (the normal practice), and collect weapons left on the battlefield. Further, there have been rumors of other Tausug bands in the area bent on avenging their brethren. Regardless, Wood summarily ignores the protests and orders the troops down off the mountain post haste. Only Major Bundy, a few Constabulary soldiers, and a dozen hired Moro cargadores stay behind, ordered by Wood to throw a thin covering of dirt on the bodies. Colonel Duncan, anxiously awaiting news at the bottom of the mountain, does not learn that his command has evaporated until late in the day. The bodies of the Tausug dead, while eventually re-buried, were not retrieved from Bud Dajo and remain there to this day.
The news of the battle is splashed across the headlines in the morning news of March 10. But the source is a terse cable from General Wood to the War Department echoed by a few heavily censored rewrites from the cable wire services. Irrespective of strict censorship of cable content imposed by Wood, leaks soon occur. On the morning of March 11, the Sunday New York Times splashes the headline "Women and Children Killed in Moro Battle...Nine Hundred Persons Killed...President Wires Congratulations to the Troops." The dearth of facts coming from Zamboanga simply stirs up speculation, and pro-and anti-administration newspapers and periodicals quickly break out into open warfare, largely on the basis of political and/or ideological bias. Wood, reflexively defensive, fans the flames furthers by leaking false stories to friendly correspondents; claiming among other canards that the assault on the mountain had repeatedly been suspended under a white flag to plead women and children be sent down the mountain, but that instead Tausug men had held their children in front of them as shields.
March 15-April 17
Congress jumps into the fray and the battle quickly becomes a partisan issue as well; dividing a Republican Senate from a Democratic House in vitriolic debate. The Socialist Party (a significant third-party at that time) go nearly rabid and the left fabricates its own counter dark version of sadistic, crazed doughboys bent on murder. Resolutions are passed by both houses demanding the War Department supply detailed field reports, communications, and all official documentation, which Wood, with the War Department's tacit agreement, sits on. The Anti-Imperialist League and Veterans groups (a huge constituency dating back to the Civil War) add to the cacophony on opposite sides. President Roosevelt's own minister, the prominent Reverend Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church, denounces him from the pulpit.
At 51:12AM on April 18, 1906, one of the most horrific natural disasters in American history occurred--The Great San Francisco Earthquake. Bud Dajo is immediately relegated to the newspaper inside pages and, within days, disappears altogether. Public attention and in turn Congressional attention pivots to the new drama as the tragedy half-way around quickly becomes yesterday's story.
In a personal letter to President Roosevelt, General Wood reflects with noticeable satisfaction, "I see most of the blackguards in public as well as private life have let up on the Mount Dajo business. Work of this kind...has its disagreeable side, which is unavoidable killing of women and children; but it must be done, and disagreeable as it is, there is no way of avoiding it." Wood finally forwards the battle reports and other documents to Washington, but the War Department, taking advantage of the waning of attention, ignores the Congressional resolutions and simply squirreled them away in basement vaults. They are kept quarantined from public scrutiny for another quarter century.
January 25, 1907
As almost a postscript, a reprint of a shocking photograph accompanied by a scathing editorial suddenly appears in a newspaper, the Johnstown [PA] Weekly Democrat. The photo, taken on March 7 only an hour after the assault on the East summit, is of one of the two trenches where 400 Tausug men, women, and children died (see photograph in a later page which follows). The Anti-Imperialist League immediately reprints and mails out 3,000 copies to newspapers across the country. Although clearly a "smoking gun", neither the press, the public, nor the Congress pay further attention. The story is truly dead.