Captain Leonard Furlong

The Philippine Constabulary boasts of many heroes and legends among its ranks. Here is one American officer that is recognized and honored as a warrior by one of the world’s fiercest warriors, the Moros — the Muslin natives of southern Philippines.

Leonard Furlong was a slim, dark American, always impeccably and carefully groomed. Because of his slight frame and slender wrists, he seemed ill-adapted for service in the Philippine Constabulary — an organization of rough fighting men who took the jungle in their stride. Furlong was to develop – in the opinion of many – into the greatest warrior of them all. His short, wild life was assumed by many to have been an unhappy one. There could have been no other reason for that dashing, frenzied career of battle that he waged in Mindanao.

Decades after Furlong had fired his last shot, he is still remembered by wrinkled and ancient Moros on the very sites of some of the Cotabato battles that the brave Captain of the Constabulary participated in. The Moros talked of the old days of murder, piracy and ambush, when the kris had been the law of the land and the measure of a man and his courage. Talk of battles and conflicts and you have the ear of an eager Moro audience.

They recall many of the great names that serve as milestones in their recollection of their many battles against the Constabulary; the great campaigner Allan Fletcher of the Scouts, called “Papa” by Moros, Filipinos and Americans; the prodigiously strong Lieutenant Whitney; the brave Lieutenant Cochrun; and a young and valiant soldier named Jesse Tiffany. With each name, a nod, a smile, a confirmation of acknowledgement of great courage and combat skills – the greatest praise a Moro can bestow on another man.

The name Furlong brings a glint of recognition, respect and admiration to the eyes of the Moros. AS they talk of Captain Furlong, they give homage to this great American fighter, a soldier respected by the very warriors he fought. And they labeled him “the most desperate fighting man of all.”

Furlong had no peer among the earlier combat officers of the Constabulary. He fought all over the Moro country, having been stationed in Davao, Cotabato, Lanao, Siasi, Cagayan and Dansalan, to mention a few. His record shows six years of combat without a single furlough. He is recognized to have been one of the greatest combat officers to see service in the Philippines.

A Relentless Fighter

Since early 1904, Furlong began to acquire a reputation as a relentless fighter. it was said that he would lead a force of half a dozen constabulary men where a company of infantry would hesitate to penetrate.

In July 1904, Second Lieutenant Furlong of the Cotabato Constabulary was stationed in Kudarangan. In the camp were also three companies of infantry and two of Scouts. Every time the soldiers ventured out from the camp, it was inevitable that the Moros would ambush the patrol, kill and maim the soldiers, and leave, as silently and swiftly as they came, with the soldiers’ rifles. As a result of these forays, General Leonard Wood ordered a scouting party be sent to determine the strength of the Moros.

The surrounding grounds of Kudarangan were swamp grounds, with the wild tigbao grass reaching ten to twenty feet in height, and criss-crossed by narrow, barely perceptible trails. It was a terrain perfectly suited for ambush and silent death. A handful of men who knew the trails could lie in wait and massacre a hundred with hardly any loss on their part. A few weeks prior to the issuance of General Wood’s directive, Company F of the 17th Infantry was ambushed and decimated by the Moros. Out of a total of thirty six men, the Moros killed two officers and seventeen soldiers. Reports stated that the infantry barely saw the attacking force that almost entirely annihilated them.

Leonard Furlong commanded the scouting detail ordered by General Wood. Leading a force of fourteen raw Constabulary recruits, he penetrated seven miles in the territory of Baba ni Manikup, one of Datu Ali’s premier generals. Furlong and his men killed the defenders and captured several rifles. In the ensuing battle, he lost two of his men, and, despite the distance and repeated skirmished, brought their bodies back, fighting all the way to the very edge of Kudarangan encampment. His service record is filled with dozens of such daring exploits and battles.

Loved and feared

Furlong was loved and feared by the Moros, by those who served under him as well as those who fought against him and his men. He was also known as a remarkable pistol marksman. He had a fine eye for the details of the terrain and was the best map maker in the Constabulary. Although frail in appearance, his endurance on the trail was not surpassed by an officer of the corps. His recklessness in combat gave him the reputation of leading a charmed life. The Moros believed him to possess a powerful anting-anting that protected him in battle against bullets and blades.

Because of his customary method of entering a field of battle ahead of his men and then go berserk fighting the Moros at close quarters, he was equally credited with possessing supernatural powers and was unbelievably feared by the Moros as an unearthly being — a devil-warrior. He was one of the few men who saw service in the Philippines that was revered and admired by the fierce kris-wielding warriors.

Among the legends surrounding Furlong, his campaign hat had a legend of its own. Furlong would approach the walls of a hostile cotta (a Muslim fort) followed by his own fierce and loyal Moro soldiers. Inside the walls of the cotta would be hostile Moros, eager and waiting for battle. Furlong would throw his campaign hat sailing clear over the walls of the miniature fort with the understanding that anyone who recovered the hat became its owner. For both the attacking and defending forces, the sight of the hat flying over the walls signalled the beginning of battle. Furlong and his soldiers vied against each other in scrambling over the walls, engaging the enemy ruthlessly, and recovering the much coveted campaign hat. In all his years of fighting in the jungles of the Philippines, Furlong had never lost his hat.

In the history of the Constabulary, Furlong is the only man to be recommended for the Medal of Valor on four different occasions. In July 1906, Furlong was ordered to apprehend or kill the murderers of Pvt. McDonald of the 19th Infantry. Information received identified the killers as belonging to a force of Muslims commanded by Sultan Dimbara and were located at the barrio of Bugasan in Cotabato.

Against Incredible Odds

With a force of five Constabulary, two Scout soldiers and four Moros, Furlong arrived at Bugasan at daylight on July 9. His entire force had only six rifles between them. They surrounded the house where the killers were reported to be hiding and Furlong ordered the inhabitants to surrender.

Furlong and his men found themselves confronted by a group of 100 armed bandits who immediately surrounded them. In one of the most dramatic and bloody hand-to-hand fighting of the period, Furlong personally killed six of the attacking Moros. He was able, miraculously, to extricate his force without a single loss or injury. Leading his men, he fought, shot and hacked a passage through the wall of screaming, fanatical krismen. Fighting hand-to-hand, in extreme close quarters, Furlong and his men fought bravely despite the incredible ten to one odds against them.

Furlong’s implementation of his duties was exemplified by his elimination of Kali Pandopatan, the Sultan of Bulding. The Kali had been double dealing with the American government. Furlong, accompanied by a dozen Constabulary, went to kali’s cotta for a conference. Once inside the fort, they were set upon by the forces of Kali. Armed with barongs, the Moros rushed at the soldiers. Backing his party into an angle of the fort walls, Furlong used his limited resources to the maximum and fought bravely. After wave upon wave of bloody engagements, Furlong and his men emerged victorious.

Records show that on April 28, 1907, Furlong was in the Taraca Valley of Lanao in an advance on a cotta. AS the soldiers crossed the open country before the walls of the fort, First Lieutenant James L. Wood, received a bullet piercing his left thigh, knocking him to the ground. A group of barong wielding warriors began their wild charge toward the soldiers. Corporal Malaco stood by the lieutenant’s side and fought off the attackers. Furlong, with his customary dash and daring, led his men to the rescue and dispersed the attackers.

A few weeks later, another encounter occurred in the same vicinity. Furlong’s men, divided into two columns, were fired upon from a cotta on the left flank. Leading one column, Furlong led the advance through a thicket of bamboo. The fort was defended by a wall fifteen feet high and protected on three sides by a deep moat with the fourth wall along the bank of the Rumayas river. The walls were reinforced with sharpened bamboo stakes.

Medal of Honor

Furlong’s order to surrender was greeted by taunts and jeers from the Moros and renewed rifle fire. The gateway of the fort was selected by Furlong as the point and focus of the attack. Using a battering ram, Furlong with Corporal Malaco and four privates attempted to break in. They were fired upon by the Moros, resulting in the death of one soldier and the wounding of two others. The attacking force was able to make it to the top of the walls but were repelled by the defenders. Furlong and his group retreated and reassessed the strength of the fortification.

A private was sent to reconnoiter and probe for weaknesses in the fort’s structure. Crawling through the underbrush, the soldier found an opening in the protective wall on the river side. A general assault was made with Furlong being the first through the opening and into the fort. The defending Moros were overcome by the unexpected attack from within and behind. Seventeen Moros were killed in ensuing battle and Furlong’s forces suffered three more casualties. On September 2, 1907, Furlong and Malaco were awarded the medal of Honor.

In 1911, as attempts to disarm and control the natives of southern Philippines were renewed, cotta warfare flared anew and the juramentados wrought havoc on the American soldiers. Under a state of siege from the individual fanatics was Jolo, the Moro capital. In one incident, a single juramentado penetrated the protective city walls through a drainage and killed seven soldiers in the streets of Jolo before he was stopped by a barrage of rifle shots from the troops.

During this period, Furlong was approaching the nadir of his dramatic career. The new standard bearers for the Constabulary were Whitney, Tiffany, Crites and Cochrun. Leonard Furlong was burned out physically and he was harassed and placed under strain and tension by the charges leveled at him by his superiors in Manila. He was charged with unnecessary brutality in his famous Taraca Valley expedition. Furlong immediately terminated a short vacation to return and defend himself. He was indicted of the charges and tried. Furlong, however, was vindicated of any wrong doing and was, instead, recognized for his exemplary courage and leadership and was promoted to captain.

A Military Fighting Genius

Detailed as Senior Inspector in lanao, Furlong still demonstrated the skill and talent that made him a military fighting genius. But his old vitality had faded and gone. He was tormented by the thoughts of his pat trial and the publicity it generated. Despite his acquittal, many rumors and innuendoes plagued and haunted the American warrior. A strange, sensitive man, Furlong broke down under the strain and pressure of responsibility and the cumulative effect of many years of fighting in the Philippine jungle. On June 21, 1911, he was sent to Manila for observation and treatment.

On the evening of July 9, Furlong dined with his fellows officers at the mess, giving no outward sign of the depression that had cast it shroud and darkened his life. At nine o’clock of the same evening, he greeted two officers he passed on the way to his quarters. A few moments later, a single gunshot reverberated through the halls of the officers quarters. Rushing into Furlong’s room, the officers found him dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Furlong was certainly one of the most daring and unquestionably one of the greatest, individual fighting men who served their country and dared pacify and subjugate the islands of the Philippines. In his short, full life, Furlong lived and fought a dozen lifetimes. He died and ended his life like his battles. For when the fighting is finished, when the din of battle is but a memory replaced by the haunting silence of the dead and dying, when the blood encrusted kris lies fallen to rust and dull, it is time for a soldier to leave… never to return.

Leonard Furlong’s memory will live forever in the archives of the corps he served so well, and in the memory of the Filipino people he so bravely and gallantly fought with.. and against.

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