A Philippine Adventure


Grandad’s Foot Locker . . . .

This little handmade trunk was utilized by Ernest Sylvester Ullery as a foot locker when he served in the U. S. Army stationed in the Philippine Islands.  Constructed of mahogany, with crude metal strapping as reinforcement, it has little adornment other than rusting metal handles on each end and a brass plate around one keyhole.  The brass plate is missing from the keyhole on the left side, but two brass lock mechanisms are positioned in the interior of the trunk behind the keyholes, indicating it locked from both ends.   The brass tacks across the front of the trunk are purely ornamental.  Today, the trunk contains my father’s photographic equipment, including cameras, bags and a variety of lenses that I am too sentimental to part with now that Dad is gone.


The cavalry man and his horse . . . .

My grandmother’s handwriting on the back of this photograph states: “After Ernie became bugler he rode the white horse in front of the 50 black horses.”  He served in Troop H, 14th Regiment Cavalry and was enlisted at Fort McDowell, California February 10, 1908 at 20 years of age.  He remained in California doing training and maneuvers for a period of time at Herbert Hoover Ranch and the Presidio.  He left by ship for the Philippines December 2, 1909 where he served until December 15, 1910.  He was officially separated from the U.S. Army January 19, 1911.

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One of Ernie’s coats – U.S. Army . . . .

Almost 100 years preceding September 11, 2001 and the war on Islamic terror, the U.S. military was engaged in a bitter, drawn-out struggle with a ferocious Muslim insurgency in the islands of the southern Philippines.   The Moro War, which is little remembered today, was fought from 1902 to 1913 against guerrillas who knew the terrain of islands, lakes, rivers and swamps and enjoyed popular support of their people.  Suicide attackers, malaria, dysentery and other disabling diseases plagued the U.S. troops.

Author James R. Arnold wrote in The Moro War : “The Moros had one essential ingredient to wage successful guerrilla operations: a large pool of utterly devoted fighters.  But they lacked almost everything else.  They possessed neither safe havens within their lands nor foreign sanctuaries across the border.  Time and again, U.S. infantry, Philippine Scouts and the Constabulary found ways to penetrate Mindanao’s jungles and swamps, thereby demonstrating that anywhere the insurgents could go they could follow.  On a larger scale, horses and steam power gave government forces superior strategic mobility and delivered the supplies to nourish a protracted campaign.”


Polo, anyone? . . . .

All was not gritty warfare.  Troop H of the 14th Regiment was encouraged to enhance and maintain good horsemanship by playing polo.  They also had a baseball team and a brass band.  Ernie is positioned above between the polo mallets.  At 5 ft. 1/2 in. he was small but mighty.


Goat rodeo? . . . . nah

The inscription on this photograph says “masqueraders and champion rooters of 14th Cavalry.”  Wish Ernie was here to tell us what all the fuss was about.  Another photo features a parade of musicians carrying the “goat” banner across the parade grounds.


Dressed to kill . . . .

Ernie is far right, second row, holding his bugle.  According to Arnold’s book on the Moro war, during the entire stretch of Moro campaigns, “combat casualties were remarkably low.  Only 107 regulars and 111 Philippine Scouts died in action or from mortal wounds, while 270 and 109, respectively, were wounded.  The Philippine Constabulary suffered significantly higher losses.  From 1901 to June 30, 1911, 104 officers and 1,602 enlisted men became casualties . . . Non-battle-related casualties from disease and accidents–drowning being the most common accident in a combat theater comprising islands, rivers, lakes, and swamps–were appreciably higher than the deaths and incapacitations caused directly by battle . . . Years after discharge, veterans of the Moro campaigns continued to suffer from disabling diseases, including malaria.”  Generals Adna Chaffee, John Pershing, George Davis, and Leonard Wood were key military figures presiding throughout the Moro campaigns.


Stotsenburg, P.I. –  Ernie second from left

Troop quarters for the 14th cavalry.  Not exactly home away from home, but when in war . . . .  “The decade-long war against the Moros was largely forgotten to Americans.  A veteran of Wood’s 1904 campaign returned home to receive his $16 mustering-out pay and little else.  There were no bands to welcome him . . . from 1903 to 1913, the average yearly strength of U.S. regular army troops in the Philippines Islands was twelve thousand men, while the average yearly strength of Philippine Scouts was five thousand,” wrote Arnold.  When Ernie mustered out January 19, 1911 he received $25.22, barely enough to travel home to Indiana.  He never spoke of his military service to the family and he died when I was 15 years old.

The Rest Of The Story . . .

The little trunk Ernie had built for his foot locker made it home to Indiana and then in 1918 to Wyoming where it suffered a perilous journey to the family dump.  I found it lying in a variety of pieces, tossed in a gunny-sack in a bushel basket in Dad’s old garage in the early 1990’s.  What I was rummaging for at the time escapes my memory, but I was intrigued enough to drag it into the house and inquire.  Dad said he found it tossed out in the weather and gathered up the pieces.  It had been collecting dust in the garage for quite some time.  He gave me permission to haul it home to Denver where I began trying to reconstruct it.  A carpenter friend helped me ease the corners where the tongue and grooves had parted.  I nailed the tin strips back, sanded and coated it with a wood preservative and it is still in use today.  If only it could tell me about Ernie’s Philippine adventure.


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