When the Gringos Came to Town

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BY ELMER ORDOÑES

Born on December 26, 1890, my father David, was nine years old when he saw the first American soldiers enter the town of Villasis. They were carrying what he later learned were Krag rifles, and wearing dark shirts with khaki trousers, debursigue shoes with canvas legging, and wide brimmed dark brown felt hats. As they marched by David’s house, a bahay na bato with thatched roof, he caught the stench of Caucasian sweat and the odors of mules carrying army supplies—in a parade of some hundred foreign soldiers whom his Spanish-speaking elders called gringos. The townspeople were out in the streets gawking at these gringos whom the young ones started calling kano.

The last of Aguinaldo’s troops had already retreated northward after defending the ridge outside of town, taking potshots at the invaders crossing the shallow Agno river. The bridge had earlier been destroyed by the Filipino soldiers, so the gringos had to wade across the river with their mules harnessed with supplies. An hour earlier the retreating Filipino troops in rayadillo and armed with Mauser rifles passed through the town shouting “Viva la independencia!” on their way to the next town of Urdaneta to set up another line of defense.

ILLUSTRATION BY PERRY GIL S. MALLARI

The American troops proceeded to the town plaza and set up a bivouac of tents in the wide courtyard of the church. The officers occupied the municipio and made it their headquarters. There was no one left in the municipio for the Republic officials and employees had gone to their homes to await developments. With the Americans was a platoon of Filipinos in rayadillo and khaki who spoke in Pampango. Armed with Mausers and Krags they had an American lieutenant as platoon leader and a Spanish non-commissioned officer who divided the platoon into four squads of six to seven members, three of which were each led by a corporal and the fourth by the sergeant. The squads were sent out in four directions as reconnaissance teams to check if the town was free of insurrectos. By late afternoon the teams returned, with one towing a carabao loaded with sacks of rice, and the rest lugging chickens or pulling reluctant pigs on leash. The reconnaissance turned out to be a forage mission. That evening the Americans feasted on roasted chicken, barbecued pork and boiled rice — cooked by the Pampango speaking Filipinos with them. There was singing of their marching songs one of which went “Damn, damn, damn the Filipino / Pockmarkedkhakiacladrone / Under the starry flag, civilize ‘em with a Krag / And return to our beloved home.” (It was a song which David remembered but whose lyrics he only learned as an adult).

That afternoon was spent by the American soldiers setting up their pup tents in the churchyard and cleaning themselves up. There was a queue at the artesian well in the plaza. Without much ado they stripped themselves leaving nothing on, and poured water on each other after soaping their sweaty bodies. They were in full view of the houses around the plaza, and David noticed people peeping through their barely closed windows. The women were scandalized. One image David could not quite forget was when a naked soldier picked up a stone to throw at an ingratiating dog—with the thing dangling between the soldier’s legs and swaying like that of a horse as he hurled the stone at the dog.

After supper that evening the soldiers celebrated with more singing and drinking basi which they purloined from a Filipino store and sanga song among others which began with “There will be a hot time in the hot town tonight. . .” (which David learned laterwas a political party song in the United States.)

David could hardly sleep that night hearing the soldiers carousing and laughing. He thought he also heard a woman’s voice or two in the merriment that lasted up to tenwhen he heard a bugle sound a mournful tune he later learned was called taps. Thus he fell asleep. He woke up at dawn to the bugle rousing the soldiers up. The artesian well was busy and the smell of strange breakfast food wafted through the plaza and into their homes. Only the smell of coffee was familiar. By early light he could see from his house adjacent to the plaza the soldiers in formation with their packs and rifles on their shoulders. About two companies and the platoon of Macabebe scouts (as the Pampango speaking soldiers were called) moved out following the road to the north. More American soldiers with cavalry and mountain guns arrived from the southand followed the advance contingent to the north. A company was left behind as garrison of the town of Villasis.

The garrison commander, a Captain Anderson, called for the municipal captain and other officials to a meeting in the municipio. David’s father was the justice of the peace (since the Malolos Congress in September 1898) went with other officials to attend the meeting.

David’s father told the family what transpired in the meeting. Captain Anderson spoke in English and was translated to Spanish by another American who came from Texas.

To be continued . . .



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