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Fagen, David (1875-1 Dec. 1901 ?)

Fagen, David (1875-1 Dec. 1901?), captain in the Filipino nationalist army, was born in Tampa, Florida. Little is known about either his parents or his early life.
In the summer of 1899, just after
the United States ended the war with Spain, Fagen was a corporal
in the Twenty-fourth Infantry of Company I. He was among the
black soldiers of the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth infantries
and the Ninth and Tenth cavalries dispatched to the Philippines
in the U.S. effort to enforce territorial concessions granted
by Spain in a peace treaty signed in February 1899. Emilio Aguinaldo,
an ardent Filipino nationalist, led a guerrilla war resisting
what he considered the United States replacing Spain as colonizer.

Letters written by African-American soldiers to newspapers and
family members indicate that some of them sympathized with the
Filipino cause, and a few even joined its ranks. Fagen's actions
in the fall of 1899 mark the beginnings of an extraordinary expression
of African-American solidarity with Filipino nationalist aspirations
for independence. He defected from the U.S. Army, accepted a
commission with the Filipino nationalists, and participated in
a two-year guerrilla war against the American forces.

Prior to Fagen's defection, his company had clashed with Filipino
nationalists in the Nueva Ecija province on the island of Luzon,
pushing them out of the towns and into the foothills and mountains
on the outskirts of settled areas. Fagen "slipped away and mounted
a horse" on 17 November 1899 while his company was preparing
to relocate its station to another town. A U.S. Army report,
"Information Slip on David Fagen," states that he was assisted
by a nationalist officer who had a horse hidden near the company's
barracks. Fagen joined General Urbana Lacuna's forces, which
were located at Mount Arayat and in the surrounding area. His
immediate commander was Jose Alejandrino. Fagen is not known
to have written a statement detailing the reasons for his defection.
Military records note that he had "continual trouble" with his
company's commanding and noncommissioned officers and was often
assigned extra work duty as punishment. The tenacity of Fagen's
resolve to combat his former compatriots, however, suggests that
discipline problems were probably not the sole basis for his
decision. In fact, U.S. soldiers who clashed with him recall
that in the midst of raging, pitched battles, Fagen enjoyed shouting
"taunting boasts," some of which had racial overtones. On one
occasion he reportedly yelled, "Captain Fagen done got yuh White
boys now" (Ganzhorn, pp. 172-73).

Fagen's claim of captaincy was not mere self-indulgence. Indeed,
in September 1900 his nationalist commanders promoted him from
lieutenant to captain, and from that time until December 1901
(the purported date of his death), Fagen was engaged in a protracted
and relentless guerrilla war. The U.S. Army's inability to capture
Fagen swiftly earned him a reputation as a shrewd and cunning
adversary. John Ganzhorn, a member of General Frederick Funston's
elite scouts, recalls violent confrontations with Fagen. Ganzhorn
related that in one close encounter Fagen "ambushed two four-mule
wagons" (Ganzhorn, p. 172). After killing all but one of the
soldiers, Fagen and his men set the wagons on fire and ambushed
another group of American soldiers who were drawn by the smoke.

Perhaps out of embarrassment, American military leaders generated
various excuses for their inability to capture Fagen. Remembering
an incident when Fagen killed one of his comrades, Ganzhorn wrote:
"I've heard Fryburger's cry for me to kill Fagen. God I wanted
to! But when I could see to shoot, Fagen was not in sight" (Ganzhorn,
p. 177). Similarly, General Funston described a battle with Fagen,
"In this fight I got a fairly good look at the notorious Fagen
at a distance of a hundred yards, but unfortunately had already
emptied my carbine" (Funston, p. 376).

As time progressed, Fagen's comrades began to buckle under the
continuous onslaught of the U.S. Army and an embargo that prevented
them from receiving aid and supplies from abroad. Aguinaldo,
the charismatic nationalist leader, was eventually captured.
Fagen, unwilling to turn himself in, remained in northern Luzon
with a small group of nationalist soldiers. General Funston offered
a bounty of $600 for Fagen's head. On 5 December 1901 Anastacio
Bartollome arrived at Bongabong, in the Nueva Ecija province,
carrying a black man's head that he claimed was Fagen's. However,
U.S. military officers who reviewed the report of Fagen's death
were not totally convinced and referred to it as a "report of
the supposed killing of David Fagen." Historians have pointed
out that the question of whether Fagen survived the manhunt should
not overshadow the historical significance of his rebellion as
an expression of African-American militant resistance to American


Important sources at the National Archives include "Information
Slip on David Fagen," RG 94, Adjutant General's Office File 431081;
"[Filipino Nationalist] Infantry Captain's Commission in Favor
of Mr. David Fagen," 6 Sept. 1900, RG 94, Adjutant General's
Office File 431081; "Statement of Anastonio Bartollome," 6 Dec.
1901, RG 94, Adjutant General's Office File 431081; and Lieutenant
R. C. Corliss, "1st Endorsement [of the Report of the Killing
of David Fagen]," 6 Dec. 1901, RG 94, Adjutant General's Office
File 431081. Williard Gatewood, "Smoked Yankees": Letters from
Negro Soldiers, 1898-1902 (1971), is an excellent compilation
of letters written by African-American soldiers in the Philippines
articulating their varied sentiments about the Filipino nationalists
and racism in the U.S. Army. The most extensive overview of Fagen's
experience in the Philippines is Michael Robinson and Frank Schubert,
"David Fagen: An Afro-American Rebel in the Philippines, 1899-1901,"
Pacific Historical Review 44 (1975): 68-83. See also Scot Brown,
"The Dilemma of the African American Soldier in the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902" (master's thesis, Cornell Univ., 1993). See the New York Times, 29 Oct. 1900, and the Manila Times, 30 Oct. 1900, for examples of U.S. Army clashes with Fagen that received media attention in the United States and the Philippines. For personal
accounts of encounters with Fagen, see John Ganzhorn, I've Killed
Men: An Epic of Early Arizona (1959), and Frederick Funston,
Memories of Two Wars (1912).

Scot Ngozi-Brown

Scot Ngozi-Brown. "Fagen, David";;
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
Access Date:
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Messages In This Thread

Fagen, David (1875-1 Dec. 1901 ?)

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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