FAST BACKWARD: American Guns of Colonization

Fast Backward by Antonio V. Figueroa

Guns play a vital role in conflict, especially in colonization when the new masters have to deal with the vanquished people. The weapons are not just used to harm enemies; they are employed to secure population from unwanted threats. When the Americans arrived in Davao in 1899 and later opened hemp plantations after their discharge from the military service, guns were also used for hunting game and warding off tribal and Moro incursions.

For instance, Rev. Robert F. Black, the first Protestant pastor to arrive in Davao in 1903, took a photo of a native hunter carrying straw-mat backpack and armed with a Winchester carbine, instead of the usual bolo and spear. This appeared in the April 1918 issue of Envelope Series.

Marketed as ‘The Gun that Won the West,’ the Winchester rifle, named after Oliver Winchester and built by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. of New Haven, Connecticut, was developed in 1848 by Walter Hunt of New York and in 1860 improved by Benjamin Tyler Henry rifle. Remodeled versions later surface with more effectiveness. Through a series of acquisitions, the gun’s patent ended with Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson of the famed Smith & Wesson.

In the upkeep of peace, the American government also organized police forces to maintain peace in the district of Davao, which at the time had only five towns.  The 1907 Report of the Governor General of the Philippine Islands described the guns the cops used:

“The town of Davao has 3 policemen armed with Remington shotguns, who are employed mainly to guard prisoners doing night work; otherwise they are useless. Lieut. J. R. Youngblood has recently been appointed chief of police of Davao, and the force is shortly to be increased to a strength of 1 lieutenant and 6 men. In addition, however, there is a district police force of 25 men, who have proved themselves really valuable in running criminals to earth.”

In its 48-year control of the country, the Americans introduced numerous calibers of handguns, shotguns, and rifles. Aside from the M1911 pistol that was brought in to deal with Moro juramentados, they also introduced Springfield M1884 Trapdoor rifle, Colt-Browning M1895 Machine Gun, Krag-Jorgenson Bolt Action Rifle, and Winchester Model 1897 Slide Action Shotgun. 

The Springfield M1884 was an improvement of the 1893 model. Certain improvements were adopted the highlight of which was the new rear sight designed by Lt. Col. Adelbert R. Buffington of the U.S. Army. It also had a carbine version. Later, in the 1890 model, a rear barrel band and rear sight protector were added.

The Krag-Jorgenson Bolt Action Rifle, meanwhile, was designed in the nineteenth century by Ole Herman Johannes Krag and Erik Jorgensen, both Norwegians; it was later adopted by Denmark, Norway, and the US as standard arm. Its characteristic feature is the magazine, which is an integral of the gun’s receiver, that part of the rifle housing the operating parts.

Several Colt models, i.e., M1873 Single Action Army, M1878 Double Action Army, M1889, and M1892 Double Action Revolver, were also introduced during the American period. The M1903 Springfield, on the other hand, was the main rifle of the Philippine Scouts; it was also used by Filipino and American guerrillas during World War II.

Two other guns that also figured in the American colonization of Mindanao, particularly in regions populated by the Moros, were Hotchkiss and Gatling.

The Gatling gun, invented by American inventor Richard Gatling in 1861, is a rapid-fire spring-loaded, hand-cranked weapon deemed as the precursor of the machine gun and rotary cannon. On the other hand, the Hotchkiss gun, developed by Benjamin B. Hotchkiss in 1872, is a rotating-barrel armament with only a single firing pin.

Interestingly, Filipinos who fought the Americans resorted to creativity in battling the enemies by inventing crude guns, or the hand cannon. The weapon, first seen in 1900, “was muzzle-loaded and the charge was set off by applying fire to a touchhole in the side of the barrel.”

Later, with the legalization of gun ownership in the country, stores started to import weapons for personal security. On an annual basis, depending on the number of guns imported and based on the 1921 tariff, dealers were required to pay between P120 and P200 as tax, and between P100 and P150 per annum for selling ammunition. 

For dealers and manufacturers of explosives, they were taxed P200 annually, while shotgun licenses cost P10 each. Licenses for air guns cost P20 each; rifle license, P100; and revolver license, P50. The annual hunting permit was pegged at P5, while a forfeiture was imposed on dealers who failed to renew their licenses within thirty days after expiry of licenses.