The American War Department doubted that blacks:
if brought face to face with their colored Filipino cousins could be made to fire on them.
In the end it sent over 6,000 black soldiers. Fagen was one of them. He was a corporal in the 24th Infantry, a black regiment based in his home town of Tampa, Florida. It left San Francisco in June 1899, sent to help crush Philippine independence.
White soldiers called the war “nigger killing business”. They called the Filipinos “niggers” and other names day after day. They spat on them, pushed them off the streets, kicked them, hit them, felt no need to respect them. They burned down their houses and drove them off their land into “protection zones”, where thousands died. They shot down men, women and children.
Black soldiers wrote home calling the war “an unholy war of conquest”, “a gigantic scheme of robbery and oppression”. One informed Booker T. Washington that:
These people are right and we are wrong and terribly wrong.
The future of the Filipino, I fear, is that of the Negro in the South.
This was at a time in America when two blacks on average were being lynched every week.
Twenty blacks deserted - surprisingly high compared to past wars. Some had even served in the army for 20 years or more. And they did not simply desert: many joined the Philippine Army. One effect of this was better shooting on the part of Filipinos, who were poorly trained compared to Americans.
Five black deserters were later caught:
- Lewis Russell – hanged
- Edmond Du Bose – hanged
- Garth Shores – life in prison at Fort Leavenworth
- William Victor – life in prison at Fort Leavenworth
- John Dalrymple – “killed while escaping custody”
Fagen deserted on November 17th 1899. For two years he fought under General Alejandrino. After a year he made captain and led 350 to 400 men, who regarded him as a hero. He spoke Tagalog and had a Filipina wife.
He fought the Americans at least eight times, particularly against General Funston, who wanted his head. One time Fagen took 20 Americans prisoners. Another time he led 150 men to take an American river boat and made off with its guns.
He made the front page of the New York Times, which informed its readers that he was:
cunning and highly skilled guerilla officer who harassed and evaded large conventional American units.
In 1901 when General Alejandrino at last had to surrender he refused to give up Fagen:
The surrender of Fagan is an infamy I cannot commit because I know that if you get to catch him, you are capable of dousing him in petroleum and burning him alive.
Alejandrino gave Fagen 12 rifles and Fagen disappeared. Into the mountains of Nueva Ecija.
Funston put up wanted posters in every town of Nueva Ecija. He offered a reward of $600, “dead or alive”.
Fagen was never found.