Bumpus and Betron

Company C carried a new type of rifle, the 1898 Krag-Jorgensen, using the first using smokeless powder to be adopted by the US Army.  A .30 calibre weapon sporting an 11 -1/2 inch bayonet, it featured a fixed five-shot magazine that was loaded through the breech. A cut-off would disable the magazine feed and, in normal use, bullets would be loaded and fired one at a time. This practice remains to this day, when boot-camp soldiers are told to keep their M-16s on single fire to avoid wasting ammunition and indiscriminate firing. It also had a trigger lock, enabling the gun to be cocked but not fire.

For anyone unused to the weapon it was easy — especially under the stress of being under attack — to accidentally lock the trigger while trying to release the magazine feed.  But by August of 1901 the officers and men of Company C were well acquainted with the Krag, and were prepared to use it.

Bumpus settled into his own routine in which his main duty was to act as post quartermaster, overseeing official government supplies.  He ran a small commissary in the municipal hall, and also acted as summary court officer – soldiers accused of infractions would be subject to his judgment unless the matter was serious enough to elevate to the attention of Connell.

Meanwhile, during the first week, Connell struggled to implement his cleanup program, with Sergeants Randles and Betron bearing the main burden for getting the program underway.

On the first day, some fifty men showed up for the work detail — but they are mostly old and feeble and their work, such as it was, hardly made a dent in the problem.  By the end of the day there was no discernable difference in the profuse undergrowth that reached to the edge of the plaza.

He called in Abayan and Abanador to his office in the convento.

“Gentlemen, this is not acceptable.  At this rate we will all be old men by the time the town is secure and sanitary.  It is not sufficient to simply have the old men of the village do the work.”

“But the young men–”

Connell silenced him with a look, then walked to the window of the convento and looked out on the Plaza.

Bumpus, watching from a seat to the side of Connell’s desk, felt that he could read  Connell’s thoughts.  The Captain was, it seemed, debating his approach.  He turned, then, and affected an air of reasonableness.

“Gentlemen, this is, I realize, a new situation and it requires some adjustment for you.  Let us consider today to be a false start, and begin again tomorrow, this time with a sincere attempt to address the concerns I have raised.  We’ll just forget about today.  How is that?”

Abayan’s response: “We will try to provide a better workforce.”

“Very well.  You may go.”

After they left, Bumpus was alone with Connell.

“They are like children, Ed,” said Connell.  “Pure sulking children.  You can see it in their eyes.  Especially the tall one.  They are resisting and will have to be taught a lesson.  But they will learn.   Make no mistake, they will learn.” 

It was clear to Bumpus that Connell, accustomed to giving to orders to his own troops on whom he could count to implement them or face a court martial, the failure or inability  of the Filipinos to properly implement his directives was vexing.   

On Tuesday of that first week a third officer, Major Surgeon Richard Griswold, joined Company C. Born in 1869 in Waterbury, Connecticut, he was the oldest officer with the company by far, and was a good humored adventurer who had requested postings to Ilo-Ilo and then Samar whose amiability appealed to Bumpus, and the two became easy comrades within a few days of Griswold’s arrival.

For Bumpus, quartered in the convent adjacent to the church, the early days were uneventful other than the specter of Connell trying, unsuccessfully, to get the locals to “police up” the town. A typical day began at seven o’clock with a shower accomplished by hoisting a large tin can  filled with water above his head with small holes cut in the bottom to produce a shower-like effect.  He had breakfast, usually with surgeon Griswold, at half-past seven, then inspection of the men, their arms and quarters, at eight o’clock.   He and Griswold would then walk about the town to view the progress of hygienic improvements, before returning back to the convent at 9:30.  From half past nine until lunch at 12 he would attend to his quartermaster duties, then lunch, followed by a brief siesta and more quartermaster duties, then retreat at six o’clock, followed by reading, chess with Griswold, and more reading until bedtime between ten and eleven. 

Bumpus made himself available to Connell as his position as the company number two required, but unless his opinion was solicited, which happened rarely,  had little to say to Connell and kept a respectful distance.  Griswold, however, was under no such constraints and had more than a few laughs at the expense of his uptight, humorless commanding officer, sometimes within earshot of the butt of his humor.

Sergeant Frank Betron was the second ranking NCO of the company.  A New Yorker in his late 20s,  he had fair hair, clear blue eyes, and was a natural leader, respected by the men he led.  He found the Philippines fascinating, a fact he wasn’t afraid to acknowledge.  He had joined the army after the death of his widowed mother. 

For Betron and the rest of the enlisted men, beginning at 9am each morning there were drills to be accomplished and guard duties to be performed, while townsfolk watched, the children mimicking the soldiers while the young women of the town giggled until chased into the shadows by their elders.   

Twice during the first week Betron took patrols into the surrounding countryside.  On the first, he took fifteen men for nearly three miles along the coastline through swampy areas that were almost impassable.  A second patrol up into the jungle covered hillsides to the north proved a difficult hike in spite of better footing. 

Neither patrol produced any sign of the enemy. 

Two activities outlawed from the beginning by Connell were drinking and fraternization with local women.  Neither ban completely succeeded, but discretion was a necessity for anyone attempting to circumvent the rules. 

Some of the men discovered tuba, the fiery local brew made from he juice of the blossom of the coconut.  As he became aware of the mysterious “tuba” concoction, Betron worried precisely what it was that the men were drinking, and investigated. His investigation, which included a moderate amount of sampling,  led him to a general understanding of the process by which tuba was produced, and to the conclusion that if consumed in moderation, it produced a result that was stronger than wine, but weaker than hard liquor.

While tuba became a discreet fascination for some of the men, others attempted with very limited success to undertake dalliances with local women, many of whom were an attractive ethnic mixture that reflected Balangiga’s position as a coastal town with centuries of Waray, Spanish, and Chinese influence.  The men were to learn that the young women of Balangiga were far different and far more conservative than their counterparts in Luzon, and as a result garrison life for the men of Company C in Balangiga was vastly different from garrison life on Luzon.  There, the typical enlisted man spent a great deal of free time in local brothels obtaining cheap sex and, inevitably,  venereal disease.  On Luzon many of the men succeeded in finding live-in companions from among the poorer girls, for whom for whom the financial benefits of such an arrangement were substantial for both the girl and her extended family, with whom she would share the wealth brought forward by the American.

But while discretion demanded that the pursuit of tuba and local girls be pursued quietly and out of sight of the officers, not so the other great passion, baseball, which was universally played by all the troops throughout the Philippines whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

In Balangiga, the men took to the town square with bat, ball, and makeshift gloves for games that drew dozens of curious onlookers from the townsfolk.  When either team was shorthanded, it was not uncommon to press into service one or more of young men of the town, who had little idea what the object of the game was other than to catch, throw, and hit and be guided in their baserunning by screaming, laughing soldiers who eventually resorted to exaggerated pantomime to get the local players to understand what they were supposed to do — the hilarity of which was not lost on the gathered townsfolk, who seemed to enjoy the attempts to get their menfolk to run the bases properly.

Betron considered the baseball to be a good outlet for the men, and he took it upon himself to make sure that regular games took place.

One late afternoon, at the same time a baseball game was going on, Police Chief Abanador used a corner of the Plaza as a venue for training his police officers in Arnis.  Ever curious, Betron dropped out of the baseball game and watched the Samarenos work the twin sticks in unison to commands given by Abanador.  At Abanador’s invitation, Betron and two others took up a set of sticks and attempted to follow along, the others without much success — but Betron was intelligent and persistent and by the third session was beginning to get the hang of it.

As one of the ranking NCOs it fell to Betron to remind the men of the rules and keep an eye out that the rules were followed — up to a point.  Judgment entered into it and none of the senior NCOs attempted to achieve one hundred percent enforcement of Connell’s rules. To do so would have provoked a mutiny in a matter of weeks.  Rather they kept enough pressure on the men to cause the “illegal” activities to stay largely underground, and to be attempted in reasonable moderation. 

It was near the end of the first week that Betron himself became caught up in the stirrings of a potential relationship with one of the local women.  He did not know her name.  She lived in the house diagonally across from the Salazar house where Betron was billeted, and each day, as many as a half dozen times, she trekked from the house, across the Plaza, to the Church — and after a period at the Church, back to her home.  She was a tall, fair skinned mestiza with raven hair that flowed to the middle of her back.   The girl had an intelligent demeanor and grace about her that grew on Betron until he found himself timing his own appearances in the Plaza to coincide with hers.  At first she hurried past him, averting her eyes.  But eventually she made eye contact and smiled – a lovely smile that lit up Betron’s spirit. 

Discreet inquiries uncovered that her name was Cassiana Nacionales.

Once, on September 18,  Captain Connell had addressed the townsfolk in the church and informed them that he was levying a 20 centavo tax on all able-bodied males over eighteen,  and that he was banning cockfighting, which he considered to be immoral. Afterwards Betron had caught up with the girl as she neared her house and had managed to exchange a few words with her.  It had been a hurried conversation, with Betron trying out schoolboy Spanish and Cassiana responding in halting English.

Betron found her utterly charming, and was smitten.

She, in turn, seemed to find the American worthy of at least an occasional smile and eye contact.

It wasn’t precisely a relationship — but there was undoubtedly a spark between the two.

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