Villagers dove into the narrow tributary hoping the water would shield them from
the gunfire. Others ran along the bank dragging terrified children behind
them, attempting to reach the Rio Malimba, where they thought
the current might carry them to safety.
Captain Baston cringed at the splatter of bullets striking flesh before his
eyes. He wished the villagers would just lie down and stop trying to
flee, maybe then C Company would end the slaughter. Baston wasn't naïve
enough to think these natives innocent. He believed as a race, all Filipinos
untrustworthy, and given the opportunity any of them would murder an American. Still,
these people were unarmed and hadn't done anything. For an instant he
considered calling the ceasefire. Four long blasts on his trench whistle,
and it would be all over, but he knew doing so meant the end of his career. At
the very least, Fighting Freddie Funston would have him court martialed, and
there was a better than even chance he'd be hanged.
Another volley. Eight more dead.
Lieutenant Alstaetter rested under a tree. Doctor Forrester had stitched
up his hand and given him a mild sedative. Awakened by the clamorous
return of the wounded ambush survivor, when he emerged from the shade, his
first view had been of Colonel Funston firing his pistol into the head of a
rebel prisoner kneeling on the sand before him. Then he saw the villagers,
all ninety-four of them, rise up in panic.
H Company's first platoon had been detailed to guard the villagers, a seemingly
simple task, but the situation had taken a sudden, tragic turn for the worse. Lieutenant
Alstaetter raced to the bank of the little river. When C Company opened
fire, it was a wall of lead. He himself had been almost cut down by
the withering hail of bullets. His men directly in the line of fire,
he shouted for them to get down, to take cover.
Another volley. Ten more Filipinos down.
The Kansans fired indiscriminately into the throng of panicked villagers. Alstaetter
wondered how many of his own men would be hit.
When Colonel Funston executed the rebel prisoners, David Fagen and Ellis Fairbanks
had been standing a few yards away, their rifles loosely trained on the frightened,
huddling Filipinos. Fagen had seen enough war by then that to him, the
field-expedient dispatch of prisoners was not so shocking as it once had been. He
still didn't like it and hoped he'd never get used to it, but it crossed his
mind those two had fared better than their comrade who'd been hanged from the
tree, and certainly better than those he'd seen endure the water cure from
When the villagers panicked, the H Company guard detail hadn't known what
to do. The Filipinos were on their feet, but clearly had nowhere to
go. Unarmed women and old men posed no threat. The American commander
had just executed two men before their eyes. They were afraid, who could
blame them? Fagen saw the muzzles flash, felt the zing-splat of bullets
and heard the pop of C Company's rifles. He didn't know who gave the
order to shoot or why, but obviously the Kansans weren't too particular who
was in their line of fire. To save himself, Fagen dove for cover behind
a dune and surprised, found Ellis Fairbanks already there.
"What's going on Davey?"
"They're shooting wild, Ellis. Are you all right?
"I'm all right, I guess," Ellis tried to shake the fog from his brain. "One
minute I was standing up there and the next thing I knew, I was down here. I
don't know what happened."
Fagen checked his cousin for wounds. Finding none, he low-crawled up
the dune to look around. At least forty villagers, mostly women and
children, lay dead on the sand before him, the rest ran terror-driven toward
the river. C Company let go another fusillade, and Fagen scrambled back
to safety. That's when he noticed the back of his cousin's blouse torn
and soaked with blood.
Fagen cut away Ellis' blood-drenched shirt and exposed a jagged laceration
across the middle of his back. "Looks like they nicked you Ellis. I'll
go for the doctor when those idiots across the river let up."
"It must not be too bad Davey. I don't feel anything."
Fagen didn't have to wait long for the shooting to stop. Just then
C Company opened up with its Gatling gun, and in less than one minute of hell
on earth there were no more Filipinos left alive. Within seconds, the
deadly machine gun ended the agonized cries of the villagers, and when over,
a macabre silence hung along the riverbank, and with it, the saccharin odor
of fresh blood.