The American Military Occupation of Moroland - May 1899 to August 1903

Sultan Jamal-ul-Kiram II at center of the bottom row. Datu Tahil is on the bottom row to the far left. The American officer is believed to be 2nd Lt. John W. Norwood of the 23rd Infantry. In a 1912 memoir, Norwood describes a similar photo session in early 1900. Charlie Schuck, the invaluable German-born interpreter for the Americans is standing to Norwood's left, and the man with the hat at the back left of the photo is his older brother Eddy Schuck.  (Photo from Library of Congress).

    On May 19, 1899 only a few months after the Philippine-American War had begun three battalions of the 23rd Infantry, a total of 755 officers and men landed on the island of Jolo in the Sulu Archipelago to replace and evacuate a small and beleaguered Spanish garrison. But it was not until early August that Major General Elwell Otis, commander of the American expeditionary force in the Philippines, charged newly-arrived Brigadier General John C. Bates with the task of gaining recognition from the Moros for what he viewed was little more than a simple "transfer of authority" from Spain to the United States. Indeed Otis, like his boss President William McKinley, believed the notion that the Moros had long ago conquered and pledged fealty to the Empire of Spain. (To find out how the United States became involved in the Philippine Islands and Moroland in the first place, see the article on this web site "McKinley's Ghost"). Preparing for their mission, Bates and his staff scoured the Spanish archives in Manila and discovered that Spanish sovereignty had in fact been no more than a myth and a contrived fiction. Of greater significance, it was dubious Spain had ever had the "right" under international law to cede the lands belonging to the Moros as a part of their holdings in the Philippine Islands. This discovery prompted Otis to revise Bates mission to one of gaining acceptance  of U.S. sovereignty by the various Moro peoples, and a pledge for them to stay neutral and on the sidelines during the fighting to come, a daunting task.

    Despite odds against him, Bates succeeded. For the next four and one-half years the relationship between the Moros and the American government was largely peaceful and governed by a series of power-sharing agreements and understandings between the Muslim leadership and Army commanders. The best known of these agreements, although often mistakenly assumed as being the only one, was The Bates Agreement negotiated with the Sulu Sultanate. Under these arrangements, the Moros recognized the protection of the American flag and permitted the unrestricted occupation of their territories by American troops in return for the retention of local control by their hereditary leadership, non-interference by the Americans with their laws and customs, and  especially respect for and non-infringement upon the establishment of Islam. For their part, throughout the Philippine-American War the Moros avoided any alignment with or support to their Christian cousins in the north.

    Following Bates mission, Otis established the Military District of Mindanao and Sulu, headed by a series of four Brigadier Generals, the first being Bates. Bates and those whom followed him in the position were all nearing the end of their military careers and had fought with distinction in the Civil War on the Union side. All did an exceptional job, maintaining the occupation of Moroland with less than 3,000 troops and with minimal friction and bloodshed. In Spring of 1902, attempting to extend the occupation to the remote highlands surrounding Lake Lanao, Davis' overly pugnacious deputy, Colonel Frank Baldwin, clumsily precipitated The Battle of Bayan, the first hostile action between the Moros and the Americans. The subsequent fall out from the American incursion forced Davis and Sumner into the The Lake Lanao Campaigns of 1902-03. However, due to the astute management of Captain John J. Pershing, a clear majority of the Maranaos of the high plain of Lake Lanao were persuaded to peacefully accept the American presence. Diplomacy, rather than military action, was the hallmark of a successful occupation.


             John C. Bates - Sep 1899 to April 1900                 William A. Kobbe - April 1900 to Aug 1901


                       George W. Davis - Sep 1901 to July 1902      Samuel S. Sumner - July 1902 to July 1903