University of New Mexico.

New Mexico historical review (Volume 17) online

. (page 8 of 33)
Online LibraryUniversity of New MexicoNew Mexico historical review (Volume 17) → online text (page 8 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ing to pass the time for Ralph, Papa would have Jack drive
the two of them to court. There, watching the court stenog-
rapher take down evidence became absorbingly interesting.

The new interest became known when the lad would tell
Papa, afterward, that those Mexican witnesses weren't
being taken down exactly enough. There ought to be another
stenographer ; someone who knew Spanish, he insisted. Mr.
H. B. Holt was a fine man but he didn't know Spanish yet.

Ralph began to make scratches which he called Spanish
stenography. Characteristically he was secretive about it.



RALPH ELMO McFIE 71

But Papa helped, and it became more or less of a nightly
game, while court was in session at 'Cruces, testing Papa's
wonderful memory against Ralph's stenography.

When he was strong, school began in earnest for by
then the College was a going concern, and its big tall brick
McFie Hall, built by old man Bogardus, was standing like
a sore thumb on a bleak, sandy hill two miles south of town.

I was in the very necessary "Preparatory" department
and Ralph was in Mr. Lester's business college. We drove
down every morning, with lunches, in the cart. Babe
whizzed us along at breakneck speed. We were not only a
menace to all other traffic on the road, but a worry to all the
community. We only laughed.

Babe took us down that dreadful, sandy road in exactly
seven minutes, yet I remember only one accident. To avoid a
mudhole once, Ralph ran too far up the side of a mesquite
bush hilled halfway up by drifting sand, and someway the
branches caught the wheel. I was spilled out so hard that
I landed clear across the way, in another mesquite briar
patch.

I was too plump to be bruised even, but was I furious.
We staged one of our cat and dog fights then and there, to
the huge enjoyment of the Ford and Newberry tribes, close
friends, who were trudging along on foot. Big, pretty Belle
Hall of the Newberry clan brushed me off and smoothed
my ruffles, and my ruffled dignity, as well. And Pinkie
Ford shared her lunch with me, I remember. They lived
nearer College.

But this is my brother's story. Those were difficult
years. Account of the Fountain killing, of my cousin Sam's
murder, of the advent of the Fall aggregation, and other
matters will be given at another time. My father's fortunes
teetered. He went out of office, for in Territorial days the
judiciary, as everything else, was appointive. President
Chester A. Arthur had put Papa on the bench ; when a demo-
cratic president went in, Papa was "bounced."

In passing I will say that Judge Fall did not stay on



72 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

the bench long. Although a Republican, my father was re-
instated, and promoted to the first district at Santa Fe, the
capital.

Papa had learned to depend on my brother and the
chicken scratches which he called Spanish stenography. By
now, Ralph knew much of law. He had begun to study
papa's books before he knew the meaning of the hard words.

In his mind Ralph was torn between wanting to be a
legal light, like Papa, or a cowman like his range friends.
He felt a proper man when on horseback. He could forget
his limp. His dear friend Johnnie Riley was another whose
kindness helped life.

When the move to Santa Fe came, however, the die was
cast. Ralph went with Papa in a court capacity, and began
serious study of law.

All too soon came '98 ; the Spanish American War, and
when Teddy Roosevelt asked our Territory for part of the
experienced horsemen to make up his regiment of Rough
Riders, Ralph was among the first to enlist. Because of his
lameness and efficiency with his pencil, he was appointed
troop clerk of his company, Troop E.

I remember tense waiting to know whether he would
be accepted. And he might not, had there been more men
pressing to join the company, and more time before they
had to entrain. Ralph's friend Willie Schnepple and my
brother stood side by side at the little station. Ralph was the
happiest man in that long, irregular line of volunteers.

Tampa. Then Cuba. Col. Roosevelt was playing a wait-
ing game with the Spaniards. The two lines were some dis-
tance apart. The nearby city was Santiago, a tall hill inter-
vened, San Juan Hill. One night Ralph was on guard duty.
He lay on a ridge, not quite on top lest the outline betray his
outpost. It was a neglected plantation, rank and wild, and
the tall grass scratched chigger sores up and down his long
legs. His long Mauser rifle was on the wet grass beside him.
Not a sound but crickets around him.

But suddenly came stealthy creeping noises and the



RALPH ELMO McFIE 73

click of armed men's gear. Presently he knew that a small
detail of Spaniards was being stationed on the brow of the
hill just above where he was. They were being given final
instructions for a surprise attack at dawn upon the Ameri-
can camp. Ralph had no way of knowing what hour it was,
but the night was well spent. It was a matter of instinct for
him to grip pencil, an old letter, and jot down what was
being muttered to the Spaniards above him. Then he crept
noiselessly downhill, and ran pellmell for camp.

Fortunately "the Major," who happened to be strol-
ling in the pleasant night, was the one who sighted the limp-
ing, wildly excited figure coming into the big camp, using
his Mauser to help him over the rough ground.

"Ralph!" Captain Llewellyn grabbed my brother.
"You've left your sentry duty. They'll courtmartial you,
shoot you. Get back, boy."

"Take this to Colonel. They're attacking at dawn,"
he gasped.

A thousand times "Major" told the story, giving it
always a comic twist: Ralph really excited for once in his
sober, serious life ; the consternation in Teddy's tent at the
news, and its acceptance only after Roosevelt had looked
sternly to Llewellyn for confirmation; then the puzzlement
at Ralph's stenography which none could decipher, and how
Major suddenly began to chuckle: "By God, it's Ralphie's
Spanish code. Send for him, Colonel." And, a much im-
pressed leader did just that.

It made a good story, but we were used to Major's dra-
matics. We paid no attention to it, and Ralph said nothing
either. But there came a memorable Rough Riders Reunion
at Las Vegas, which their beloved Colonel (then president
of the United States) attended.

In the course of his formal address at the banquet
which ended the festivities, the President pointed to my
brother, sitting with my father down the long table. "There
is the boy whose quick wittedness and initiative gave me the
jump on the Spaniards. Through him we were able to spring



74 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

the surprise that won San Juan Hill and the course of the
whole war, gentlemen ! Stand up, McFie !"

Papa gasped. Ralph stood up, his blond face aflame
with embarrassment.

"My boy, with your knowledge of Spanish, and your
peculiar system of shorthand, you can be a valuable man to
your country. I am sending William Howard Taft to our
island possessions, the Philippines, as governor-general.
I am going to tell him to take you with him."

When the hearty clapping had died down, character-
istically, Roosevelt added, in mock scolding: "You're a son-
of-a-gun, McFie. I've been here two days and you've not
paid your old colonel your military respects yet!"

The clapping became furious. It was "Teddy" at his
best, and a home boy coming into his own ! Whoopee reigned
for several minutes, Papa said. Nor was that all that the
warm-hearted president did for Ralph. Not long afterward
a personal letter came for Ralph to present to Taft.

His parting gift to me was the Rough Rider insignia.
It is a silvered circle with crossed guns topped by a large
U. S. Ralph went with patriotic enthusiasm uppermost in
mind. He fully intended to return to New Mexico to practice
law with my father when Papa should retire from the bench.
For years, in all the full descriptive letters home, always
that intent shone through.

The long voyage was thrilling, with stops in Hawaii,
Japan, and China. At Manila finally, Ralph found himself
brought up sharply with the irresistible challenge of mixed
races, delightful old Spanish culture and architecture which
was so familiar. Congenial too was the tropic climate and
the easy quiet mode he liked.

The city swarmed with office seekers, many of them
known New Mexicans. Too, Taft immediately organized a
legal emergency body to free the vast rich estates which the
Catholic Church had acquired through the centuries. The
"Court of Friar Land Claims" it was named, and Ralph



RALPH ELMO McFIE 75

found himself chief clerk, with a delightful Illinoisan, Judge
Ickes, as justice.

It was a congenial, familiar job. But it was monu-
mental, too, for it was to occupy several years during which
the court traveled by every imaginable mode of conveyance,
over the whole island world. They went wherever there was
one of these estates to be taken over and the land redistribu-
ted, but general headquarters were at Manila.

For recreation, my enthusiastic brother would spend
evenings and holidays grubbing out the veritable cesspools of
tenement quarters of the city, and eliminating areas of
deadly danger along the river front in the old walled city,
with the Sanitary Commission boys who were his chums.

From them he learned the vital importance of careful
living. He drank only bottled waters ; ate only cooked food ;
used native remedies for simple needs. From the first his
greatest pain was the loss of friends who would not be as
cautious in eating and drinking. Especially the latter, for
he had contempt for liquor.

As the court began its sessions with witnesses from
many races, the old challenge of bungling translation of the
language confronted Ralph. Out came his pencil and note-
book, word for word he took the testimony. Judge Ickes, a
generous spirited gentleman, was merely amused when
gradually the witnesses would turn to my brother as their
interpreter rather than to the regular official.

In connection with the court were native interpreters.
Gradually Ralph became conversant with the six native
tongues. In time other courts would borrow his services
which made him very proud indeed. This language business
was his bit toward the civilization of the Islands. Not for
effect, however ; justice to the underdog was the mainspring
of his life.

It was something like the third year before Ralph's
letters changed. It was during a memorable visit of the
Court to Davao on the southern end of Mindanao Island.
Here he found what seemed an earthly paradise. Here he



76 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

would build an hacienda and become a planter. My parents
sighed, naturally, but John Junior was coming along in
years and showing decided talent for law.

But 'way down in Mindanao ! Why, it was the one spot
generally conceded impossible of civilizing in all the archi-
pelago. It was a thousand miles from Manila by inter-island
boat travel ! It was violently volcanic by nature. There were
no whites on that whole enormous southern half of the next-
to-biggest island. Its native tribes were the Moro head-
hunter cannibals, fiercest and wildest of all known groups.
The Moros and Igorotes were still wildly antagonistic and
treacherous toward the whites. Aguinaldo, up in the moun-
tains of Luzon, was mild by comparison with the little black
men of Mindanao !

Yet this was where our Ralph had decided to make his
home. In vain my parents wrote quoting to him from his
own descriptive letters: "Even the Catholic Friars have
lived with boats always moored to their wharf, at the first
sign of danger to sail away until it was quiet again/' And
"Of all the island world, this church land is the poorest, most
undeveloped."

But it took a third of a year's time for letters to bring
back an answer. Ralph, in partnership with young Harry
Ickes, brother of the judge, had bought the vast estate and
Ralph was to be its manager Harry having had more
money to invest than Ralph. Then, too, Harry thought he
could be chief clerk of his brother's court. That suited Ralph
too.

It must be said, however, that on that first visit to
Davao, Judge Ickes did his best to deter the two younger
men. Harry was put "on probation" in Ralph's position,
and Ralph was to spend only part of each year on the haci-
enda besides being on call at anytime if needed by the Court.
Simply the Judge knew he could not spare Ralph's services.

In a few months Ralph was called back to his old job
in Manila. And within the year, alas, gay young Harry died
violently of bubonic plague right there in Manila.



RALPH ELMO McFIE 77

To go back, however, to that first venture of the court.
To be safe the court had a chartered boat on which to live
when going about the wild portions of the islands. Davao
proved to be a small, typical village of a few miserable,
fever-ridden degenerate Spaniards who had clung to their
small holdings against the natives because of the protection
of the Church and its vast property earnings. Their grip
would be gone with the opening to sale of the lands on which
they had worked and lived for generations.

However, since the War, there had been a steady influx
of Japanese. To outward appearance, Davao was a town in
Japan! The Spaniards had lost out anyway. Ralph wrote
enthusiastically about the new fields around the dead little
village, and the finest, longest staple hemp in the islands. He
was all in a fret to get his wide acres under cultivation. The
Japs were alright, he said; industrious, quiet as so many
field mice, perfectly acclimated. This, however, was before
he had won their enmity and his long fight began.

The Court had difficulty in forcing the natives to attend
sessions. They were scattered in the mountains, or living
on cane pole raft houses out in the water of lagoons and
marshes. The men were puzzled. It was not until Ralph
went to live there that he found the reason : they were in a
great deal of awe, and in very great fear of the Japs !

The Court did not linger any longer than necessary. All
food had to be bought from the Japs, even the fish, although
fishing was the task of natives. After one poisoning it was
discovered that all the fish had to be examined. Mysterious
spiders, venomous serpents, made their appearance on their
houseboat obviously slipped on board "by the natives" as
the apologetic Japs would say. And the court officials be-
lieved it. All in all, Judge Ickes moved on to the next place,
glad to be alive.

Yet Ralph and Harry had gone inland and been
charmed. Ralph, too, had been interested by the Moros and
Igorotes. He sensed their need of a protector, although he
could do nothing except make them listen to him talk. He



78 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

did a canny thing, however. He took a miserable little native
boy back to Manila with him. When he came next to Davao,
he had the Igorote language, and a healthy, nimble-minded
body servant. The boy refused to leave Ralph's side, which
for a time did not make him friends among the natives.

Ralph's first great sorrow at Davao was the death of
this boy. It seemed to have happened because he fell asleep
on a limb in the sun and one of the many fifteen foot python
snakes got him.

Ralph heard, very much startled, the beating of native
drums in the wooded slopes of the mountains. All night they
beat, many of them. The tribes were assembling in the hills.
At dawn, here came a long procession covered with mud for
mourning, black, volcanic mud on head and breast. Ralph
thought his end was near.

On the contrary, it seemed the python had given the
boy a new existence translated him bodily to the Igorote
heaven. They were thanking him ! Ralph had had no idea
how very much on probation he had been. Next time he
walked off his estate he found barriers removed from trails
to their villages.

The alert mind of the boy had been an eye opener. Ralph
decided he did not want too many Japs on his hacienda ; he
now decided to employ natives, if they would work. The
Japs, departing, showed their teeth. They laughed at the idea
of a native working. He would soon see, they said mali-
ciously. He passed several bad hours when, with walking
cane tipped with an iron cap to kill snakes and marsh rats,
he followed one of the dark funnel-like trails to an Igorote
town in the deep jungle.

Having been raised in Apache Indian country, he was
aware that he must be surrounded by silent danger at every
step, both in the dense wood and by traps underfoot. But
nothing happened and he noted that he was received with
astonishment. The headmen took him to their ceremonial
house, up three ladders to a dizzy height, every step an



RALPH ELMO McFIE 79

immediate risk to a man of his height and weight. But again
he arrived atop safely.

Here he was handed a ceremonial cigar, one of the
usual foot-long family size. He wondered if it might con-
tain some narcotic or deadly herb, so, taking care to attack
the more wrapped end of the huge thing, he took one drag.
Then, explaining with a smile that in his land among the
Indian natives it was polite to take only one draft, he passed
it on to the next in the squatting circle. It had worked. The
cigar, drugged, of course, was quietly put aside.

Ralph then took his life in his hands. He stumbled
along, but he made them understand that he had come to
stay ; that he was mild, understanding, and incurious about
their private matters. He needed them for friends; he
needed them to help him open roads into Davao, and to keep
them open all the year around. Davao was seven miles from
his place, it would take many men working all the year
around to keep the roads open, wouldn't it? Was he an
enemy that they wouldn't help him ? It wasn't against their
religion ?

Ralph said the most tense moment of his whole experi-
ence was sitting on that rickety, swaying cane platform
with ten other men. Below was the sheer fall into marsh
water waist deep, a veritable ooze of deathly pollution.

They chattered like so many monkeys, gesticulated like
the million monkeys in his forest which made day and night
alive with their noise. But in the end each headman chose a
young man. All reserve being down, they told him he had
walked like a superman over the magic number of their pit-
falls ; that he had smoked their drugged cigar without pass-
ing out ; that there now remained no reason why he should
not be their neighbor and friend.

"We need you against the little brown devils. You need
us too," they said, as the strange procession at Ralph's back
took the trail to his new place.

They knew that form of work and did it willingly. He
gave them rice, he paid them every Saturday night, and



80 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

made them rest on his Sunday. In the dusk he saw them slip
away, gripping their precious silver coins some of them fin-
gering- the money as if it were a complete curiosity to them.
All Sunday, as he and his two Luzon "boys" rested and ate,
they wondered if the Igorotes would return on Monday.

Monday at daylight, there stood the ten below Ralph's
porch. Their money spread across their girdles in a stiff
row, two holes bored in each coin and a stout hemp cord
tying the silver to the cloth. My brother told them they were
very good looking, and they grinned happily.

"The monkeys cannot steal our wages. Nor the Japs,"
they explained.

Before long, they trusted him to keep their money, a
simple credit system. Barter, rather, for he soon was bring-
ing goods from Manila, and from then on he never lacked for
food which they knew how to raise or learned from him to
raise. Ralph was as proud as punch over "his" Igorotes. 3

The Moros were another problem, however. To them
his blood would win them a place in paradise. Had not his
Igorote boys been on guard day and night, his life would
have been forfeit before he had even known anything about
it. I can't seem to remember how he won them, but he did.

And it was the favorite topic of my parents, who made
two trips to visit Ralph in Davao, to recount the annual trek
of the Moros to Ralph's hacienda on New Year's day to offer
an animal, pure and spotlessly white, to show him their
white thoughts toward him. Some years it would be a dove ;
others a pony, one of the tiny variety of Filipino horses ; or
a rooster.

Meanwhile, Ralph had earned the anger of the Japs.
However, when he went back to Manila (which occurred
very soon after the peace talk was made) Ralph left word
with the alcalde at Davao that if anything went wrong with
his place or his Igorotes, he would bring back the Court
from Manila on them. So nothing happened.



3. In 1906 at the request of the government, he brought a band of them to the
World's Fair at St. Louis. Their loyalty to him was like worship.



RALPH ELMO McFIE 81

The inter-island boat came to Davao once in three
months. When it brought the call from Judge Ickes, he left
with few misgivings, for he was leaving nothing but a hand-
ful of Igorotes.

He had no idea when he might be able to return and
he arrived in Manila to find his moneyed partner dead !

Not for a whole year was he able to return to Davao.
Having spent all he could raise for his share of the estate, he
was now cumbered with the need to reimburse Harry's
widow. From then on great pressure for money was on his
shoulders, the mercy being that understanding court offi-
cials, realizing his desperate circumstances, raised his sal-
ary and gave him other concessions that helped out. They
needed him, and said so.

But it was a year before he was able to get another
partner. The two spent several hundred dollars in equip-
ment: plows, tools, window glass, etc. The little boat was
damaged and nearly capsized in a typhoon so heavily was it
loaded with their stuff. When the captain limped into the
first port of call, on the northern part of Mindanao, he threw
their freight off the boat, and sailed away before they could
get down to the wharf to ask what he was doing! They
stood there cursing the day of that captain's birth. The
blank beach where they stood was scarcely more of a place
than Davao town. Robinson Crusoe had nothing on them,
they felt.

However, they spent all they had in buying carabaos
(water buffaloes) and rickety carts. Their journey was
going to take them three weeks, but that was not troubling
them. Nobody knew how far it was. Once going they were
so weary and depressed they didn't care. The thing was to
get there before Christmas which was when Ralph had
promised to return to Manila . . . and it was September when
they were "ship wrecked !"

They had ten carts, twenty pair of water buffaloes. All
went well, that is, until they were crossing the very last
little stream. Here they made camp over night, and swarms



82 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

of Igorotes stood guard over them as they slept they had
the habit of sleeping on top of carts.

At dawn a loud wailing awoke the two Americans.
Every one of the forty creatures lay dead. Several dogs
accumulated on the trek also lay stretched out on the bank.
The Japanese had indeed taken a bitter revenge. The two
were flat broke again. Still worse, Ralph's new partner went
raving crazy.

Disaster followed disaster. In five years, my poor
brother had five partners, every one of whom died on his
hands! His home letters were indeed grief stricken ones.
Had he not been so well known in Manila, so completely
trusted by governmental officials from splendid Governor
Taf t down to the Filipino alcaldes and the very policemen on
their beats, "most anybody might have reason to call me a
murderer." I remember Mama crying bitterly when she
read that letter.

Papa kept sending money, and another man would offer
to go into partnership, so wonderful were the hemp and
copra from Davao. And at last, Ralph got on his feet so that
he was able to resign from the court, and go to live at Davao.
In the back of his mind was to develop the bay so that large
steamers could and would stop there. He had been able to
interest four other men to buy great haciendas in that re-
gion, and his hopes were high.

Gradually his house grew. Solid mahogany it was, with
furniture of lovely carving. The one thing he required of
an overseer was the ability to keep from drink, and to have
a hand for carpentering ; cabinet making, rather.

His "boys" learned to cook as he wanted it done; he
even had a boy who made his suits of cool rajah silk. Ralph's
dream now was wife and home. But she had to be from
America. He wanted her to have energy, life, vim. He was
so tired of Jap medicine for he had to use it at Davao.

But by now there were rich Japs all over the Islands.



Online LibraryUniversity of New MexicoNew Mexico historical review (Volume 17) → online text (page 8 of 33)