Read HOW I SAW AGUINALDO of Bamboo Tales , free online book, by Ira L. Reeves, on

An Army Officer’s Curious Experience in Luzon. A Tight Place and a Close Call.

It was during the early part of the month of June that my company was doing outpost duty on the north line at San Fernando, one of the largest inland towns on the Island of Luzon. We had been on the south line, but on the morning on which this incident took place, were directed to relieve a company of another battalion of the same regiment on the north line.

Our arrival at the outpost was very early in the morning; so early that it was impossible to distinguish a man from a high stump at a distance of 100 feet. The lay of the land was new to me; I hadn’t the slightest idea of the contour of a foot of the ground to be covered by my company. After getting my men properly stationed along the line, guarding a front of about 1700 or 1800 yards, I took an old, reliable sergeant with me and proceeded to reconnoiter the territory to my front, and to make a rough sketch map, showing on it what I could of the Filipino trenches and their outposts.

We started just as the sky began to turn a deep red in the east, and the “chuck me” chameleon, the harbinger of the early dawn, began his morning challenge. Our progress was very cautiously made through the cane-fields, banana groves, and bamboo jungles, halting and investigating the slightest noise, the rustling of a leaf or the breaking of a twig not escaping our attention. First, I would take the advance and then the Sergeant. When we passed through cane-fields we found the plowed grounds but little less than marshes, for the rainy season had just begun with torrential showers. Our bodies were soon soaked to the skin, for the leaves of the cane and banana stalks were burdened with water. The cane was a trifle higher than our heads, and the wide-spreading leaves of the banana hid the sky from view.

After wading and splashing along toward the Filipino lines for about 1400 yards, we suddenly and very unexpectedly came upon a well-traveled road, fringed with bamboo on either side, with quite a stretch of open ground beyond, in which was lying at the farther edge, the trenches of our enemies, which seemed to be at the time swarming with dusky soldiers preparing their morning meal.

Believing ourselves not have been observed, we withdraw a short distance from the bamboo fringe into a banana grove, a position that afforded us concealment as well as an opportunity to make observations of the position of the trenches and location of the outposts of the rebels.

I was busy making copious notes and my maps, while the Sergeant, with my field-glasses, was making most wonderful discoveries of masked batteries and gas-pipe cannon, when, all of a sudden, a cavalcade of insurgent officers, followed closely by a large body of foot soldiers, appeared down the road to our left, where there was a slight curve, not more than 200 yards away.

What were we to do? At that short distance from our open-eared and alert rebellious fellow-citizens, we could not beat a precipitate retreat, or an orderly one, without disclosing our presence; and that fact once known to this body of armed men meant almost certain death, or worse, to be taken prisoners by this half-savage band. We held a hasty council of war in whispered tones, and decided to hold our ground till the danger passed.

It was but a moment till the little steeds and their haughty riders were directly in front of us, not fifty paces away, and, to our intense surprise and discomfort, halted. There they stood, with the first ray of the rising sun resting full upon them, seventeen horsemen, officers, and just back of them about 5,000 infantrymen, all within a stone’s throw of us. What made our position all the more precarious, the infantry was standing at a “rest,” and were, as all soldiers do when first halted, looking in every direction in search of something an enemy, fruit, a stray porker or a fowl. Our chances of being discovered were becoming momentarily greater. We could plainly see them, so naturally, if they would but look in the right direction, they could see us. What may not five hundred busy eyes discover?

The danger of the mounted men seeing us was not so great, for they had discovered something interesting in our lines and were active with their glasses looking over our heads.

Sixteen of these officers were dressed in light blue uniforms of some thin cloth, wide-brimmed sombreros, russet leather leggings, and clanking sabers dangling by their left sides, almost trailing the ground, while the trappings of their horses were enough to make the eyes of a militia major snap with envy. The other officer, who rode at the head, and the recipient of the most obsequious attentions, a man about middle age, with close-cropped hair, small restless eyes, and somewhat lighter complexioned than the average inhabitant of those far-away tropical islands, wore a neat-fitting uniform of khaki cloth over his diminutive body, and a helmet of the same color upon his well-shaped head. His mount was a beautiful dapple gray Filipino stallion, some larger than the average-sized native animal, and much more gorgeously caparisoned than the charges of the other officers. This pompously equipped commander wore at his left side a most handsome saber, and on his right he carried a revolver and field-glass case.

The foot soldiers were of the famous Corps d’Elite, Aguinaldo’s body-guard. We knew them by their bright red uniforms. Where Aguinaldo goes, there they go also. They are his constant attendants. They were, of course, all armed with Mauser rifles and laden with ammunition.

We were so interested at the sight of this picked regiment of Tagalos, of which we had heard so much, that we almost forgot our danger, and actually raised our heads higher in order that we might have a better view of them. Just as we were craning our necks and straining our eyes to their utmost capacity, we were suddenly brought to a realization of our terrible danger by the officer in khaki dismounting, throwing the reins to an orderly, and advancing to the edge of the bamboo just in front of us. Like a flash the others followed him, and stood at attention just in his rear, gawking and peering in our direction. This was a trying moment for us. There stood the flower of the Filipino Army, facing two almost helpless servants of Uncle Sam, and, for all we knew, were deciding our fate, for they were discussing some important subject in the Tagalog tongue, all of which was Sanscrit to us. Our hearts were in our throats and kept up an increased throbbing in their new positions. Had we been discovered? Were those snapping, half-savage eyes now resting on us, and was the mode of our death being discussed? We knew not. Our faces were being pushed in the mud till our ears were begrimed in our mad efforts to conceal ourselves. We felt it would be but a matter of seconds till our hides would be perforated with Mauser bullets, or we would be bound, hand and foot, prisoners of a revengeful enemy.

Their talk became excited. Something was being discussed with great interest and moment. The suspense was awful. Minutes passed as hours. Our skins would cringe when the thought of a volley liable to be fired into our bodies at any moment occurred to us.

Would they never leave? Their conversation warmed. The khaki-clad officer said a word, and then they faced about, reentered the road, and passed down it out of sight, one officer alone remaining with the foot soldiers, who gave some directions to the orderlies, and the horses were led across the road and hitched. We slowly raised our mud-besmeared faces. The infantry, still looking and chattering in the twangy language of their tribe, were holding their ground. We heard the officer in command say something about “aqua” in Spanish, then a few words of command followed. They instantly came to the “attention,” moved forward till the center of the column was opposite us, wheeled to the right by fours, and stacked their arms. “Aqua”; that meant water. We knew they would soon break ranks and go some place, we knew not where, to replenish their water-bottles. So far, then, we had been unobserved. But we remembered that just a few yards to the rear of us, and in a direct line from our enemies, was a rippling stream of crystal water. We exchanged looks. Oh, what looks! The Sergeant’s expression was awful, and I knew mine to be none better. Here they came; 500 of them were moving toward us. Was it too late to run? No. I whispered, “Come on.” We were about to rise and make a wild dash for life, when a sharp blast of a trumpet was sounded to our front. All stopped in their tracks. Another trumpet-call a rush to arms. The officers came tearing back and remounted.

We waited for the volley that was to send our souls into eternity. That we had been discovered we were sure.

Boom! A loud report from our rear. It was unmistakably a cannon shot. An instant later a shrieking shell passed over our heads and tore its way through a stone sugar storehouse, 100 yards ahead, rending demolition everywhere in that vicinity.

The officers madly spurred their diminutive mounts in a wild effort to secure speed. Off they rode at break-neck rate over rice-paddies and small ditches in the direction of the bamboo thickets beyond the open.

But the infantrymen remained steadfast! They kept their close formation, facing us. I ventured to raise my head a trifle higher when I noticed the Sergeant putting his face through a series of grimaces that would tend to make it as muscular as his brawny arms. His struggle was in vain; he could not help it he sneezed, not once, but twice, and once again.

Five hundred ears pricked up, and as many pairs of eyes were thrown upon us. It was but a second till a dozen rifles were raised to as many shoulders, the muzzles all pointing in our direction.

As a last effort to save our lives, I yelled to the Sergeant to follow, and started a disorderly retreat toward our lines.

Boom! Was it a volley? No, another shot from the cannon. The shell struck between our enemies and ourselves and exploded. The sky was filled with everything. We looked back over our shoulders, but could not see the red uniforms for flying debris.

An instant later we heared a crying, screaming, terror-stricken mass of humanity breaking through the bamboo on the farther side of the road. We halted. There they went, over dykes and ditches. All organization had fled with the winds in their wild efforts to escape the next shot from our artillery.

Now we were safe, and sauntered lazily back to the company, giving our hearts an opportunity to resume a normal state of affairs.

When we reached our lines we found that a recruit battery of light artillery had come out from the city that morning for target-practice. An experienced non-commissioned officer fired the first shot, which hit the sugar warehouse, the target. A recruit gunner fired the second, which, falling short, saved our lives. They knew nothing of the presence of the Filipinos or of my little reconnoitering party.

The next day our native spies reported that Aguinaldo and his body-guard had come down from Angeles early the morning before, but had immediately returned.

I laughed when I heard this report, for I knew the circumstances.

The dapper little officer in khaki was Aguinaldo, and this is the story of how I saw him. Sunday Globe-Democrat.