Historical accounts written by military historians and authors who took interest of the Philippines after it became a US colony have discrepant records on the date the Americans set foot in Davao soil. In part, the disparity could have been due to the difference in time between the East and the West and the erroneous datelines reported in US publications.
In his book The Philippines: The War and the People (1901), Albert Gardner Robinson wrote that the American troopers sailed from Manila for Davao on board the ship Manila on the morning of December 13, 1899. Other accounts placed the US arrival in Davao region a day thereafter.
Counting the days it took to travel by boat from Manila to Davao Gulf, the vessel could have taken a week to reach the destination given that its route was interrupted by occasional stopovers in other islands to drop off military men and supplies.
When the Americans arrived on December 20, 1999, the town of Davao was “the most isolated garrison yet established.” It was placed under Major Hunter B. Liggett, head of the 31st Company of Infantry Volunteers. Their arrival was preceded by the raising of the American flag. Robinson made an account of this event: “Upon arrival the American flag was seen to be already flying there. The Jolo influence had reached even there and a flag had been obtained and raised. A delegation of the people extended a hearty welcome.”
Historically, this was the first time that an American flag was raised in Davao region.
After securing the troops, Major Liggett, who later became military governor of Davao, boarded again the steamer and transported his remaining troops to Davao Oriental. He also visited Baganga on December 22 where he was cordially welcomed by residents and officials.
Troop reinforcements did not come until January 2, 1900 when companies “K”, later stationed in Davao, and “M” arrived. The latter was sent to Baganga, arriving there on January 8. Fourteen members of the same contingent were stationed at Dapnan, a village six kilometers away north of the town. That same day, most of the men belonging to Company “L,” except for an officer and 25 enlisted men, were transferred to Caraga.
When the new colonists arrived, Davao town was home to approximately 2,000 wild people who were “peaceful and submissive to local authority.” The population was divided into two classes, namely: the Christians, who were “of mixed and Spanish extraction, Tagals, Visayans, etc.,” and the Muslims and native tribes who were collectively called as the salvajes, or savages.
Robinson wrote: “These [salvajes have] seventeen different groups or tribes in the immediate neighborhood, all speaking different dialects.”
The arrival of the Americans also meant the departure of the Spaniards from Davao in February, 1899. With the old colonists on their way out, local residents created self-government to instill order and instability and set up a 30-man military police, half of it armed with rifles.
The town was not entirely bare when the Americans set foot in Davao. It already had a school building, church, barracks, and a handful of public and semi-public structures. There were also “very good residences” owned mostly by the heirs of early Christian pioneers.
The town, moreover, was served monthly by a steamship service, which brought in mails, supplies, and other commodities from Manila.
Meanwhile, a Jesuit priest, who was already serving as the spiritual adviser of Catholics, was working in a new political environment that slowly shaping into ”a new society.”
Local historian Ernie I. Corcino, in A Thomasite’s pupil: Remembering Davao, wrote:
“When the Americans arrived in Davao in 1898 they found a well-established church supported parochial school. It took some [time] for the American school to start classes because the church-sponsored school was patronized by [community] leaders… who were [also] religious and church leaders. They helped campaign for the attendance of indigenous tribes to those schools. The leaders did not want to appear disloyal to their commitment to their Catholic Church’s school. These leaders did not want to break with the Church leadership who had long been their co-workers in promoting Christian precepts among the various native tribal groups. Some of the religious leaders suspected that the American would be promoting their protestant beliefs among the parochial students. It had taken another American Catholic Chaplain to convince the local community leaders that the American educators would not so such change in the children’s beliefs.”
Another interesting remark was the account about hemp, described as “the staple produce of the region and a considerable quantity,” which was already a major crop in the area. This observation came out seven years after Juan Awad, a Maronite Chrsitian from Syria, opened his first abaca plantation in Lapanday.
From Davao, Robinson chronicled, the visiting contingent took a southward route in the direction of Cape San Agustin before turning north towards the town of Mati where a garrison was already existing, manned by a battalion of American troopers.
At the time, Mati and its peripheral areas were already home to around 1,000 Christian settlers, exclusive of a huge number of people collectively called by visitors as salvajes. Generally, the township was observed by the Americans to be “in bad condition and its buildings much in need of repair” though the place was “generally healthful.”