by Ron Norman
There were many factors that caused the United States to enter into what would become known as the “Spanish American War” in 1898. Many cite the so-called “yellow journalism” of the newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. They tried to outdo each other with their sensational reporting of the problems that the Cubans were having with Spain and the mysterious explosion and sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. All of these were cited as reasons for the United States to enter into war with Spain.
Ultimately, the United States entered into a war that would find troops deployed to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines — though the conflict lasted only a few months.
When Spain surrendered, both sides met in Paris, France to agree to a treaty. An agreement was finally reached in December 1898. Negotiations concluded with the United States agreeing to pay Spain $20 million for the Islands of the Philippines.
And so, the US Government became the owner of the Philippines. The United States annexed the island, and under President McKinley, set up a provisional government. William Howard Taft (later, a U.S. president) became the first Governor General of the Philippines.
THE PHILIPPINE CONSTABULARY
For whatever reason, Taft wanted a Constabulary to implement the laws, rules, and regulations of the new government of the U.S. Philippines rather than a police force or the Army. He established the Philippine Constabulary to do this in addition to dealing with the many problems with pirates, outlaws, and native tribes in the country’s many islands.
With the new government, immediate problems emerged, especially with the Filipinos who wanted Spain out of their county. They also wanted the U.S. to get out. In a short period of time, they went to war with the U.S. in an attempt to end the occupation. Whereas the “Philippine Insurrection” was officially declared over in 1902,in reality, it continued for almost another 10 years.
The principal officers of the Philippine Constabulary were Americans who had come to the Philippines during the Spanish American War with state or federal troops. The enlisted personnel were primarily natives.
In the attempt to continue the flow of American officers into the Constabulary, programs emerged to encourage American college graduates to come to the Philippines to become commissioned officers in the Constabulary. As part of the efforts to induce Americans to join ranks, the Constabulary adopted elaborate and distinctive uniforms and accouterments.
BELTS UNIQUE TO THE CONSTABULARY
Among the first known Constabulary orders with Hartley Graham in New York for 5,000 Remington 12 Ga, single-shot shotguns was a contract for 5,000 leather cartridge belts with 2-piece brass buckles. They were tongue-and-wreath style with the letters “P C” in the center of the tongue.
Later contracts were made with the Mills Company for a similar belt and buckle but furnished in Mills Company’s distinctive web material. A third style 2-piece sword belt existed with a fancier tongue and wreath around the letters, “P C” — very similar to the emblem on the scabbard of the rare Philippine Constabulary Officer’s sword. As of this writing, this latter style is considered extremely rare.
In U.S. Martial Web Belts and Bandoliers (published in 1993),author R. Stephen Dorsey supposed that the belts other than the Mills variety were possibility done at the Maestranza de Manila in the Philippines. Further research by both Dorsey and Archer was published in an article for Gun Report in 1999. In it, Dorsey reported that they had determined that the Hartley & Graham contracts of 1901 and 1902 for shotguns also included the 5,000 leather belts with the P.C. buckles for shotguns shells. The pair were not able to identify who manufactured and furnished the belts to Hartley & Graham, however. It is thought that a New York manufacturer produced the belts and P.C. buckles and shipped them to the Philippines.
Early photographs datable to around 1904 of the Philippine Constabulary depict men wearing the P.C. belts. Apparently, by around 1915, the new officers do not have the distinctive P.C. belts or swords. Rather, the photographic evidence shows them wearing the then-current, standard U.S. Army swords and belts.
CLASSIFYING THE PC BELTS AND BUCKLES
Type 1. Delivered under the Hartley & Graham contracts, this type of belt buckle is more stippled and rounder shaped. The leather belt was the first and earliest P.C. belt used.
Apparently, Type 1 belts were issued configured for 12 gauge shotgun shells, but because the arsenals in the Philippines often re-configured accouterments, various examples are known converted for rifle and pistol cartridges. Original stitching holes are usually visible on the majority of leather belts that have been changed. Occasionally, these Type 1 belts have been stripped of their cartridge loops and have added sword belt hangers.
Type 2. Buckles are the flatter style, Mills-made type with the more ordinary “P.C.” on the tongue. In reality, these are much scarcer than the first type.
These are usually found as sword belts in the original web material but many photographs show these in leather. It is not known if Mills furnished any of these in leather. They may have been converted to leather belts at the arsenals.
Type 3. The third type is very rare and is only known as a sword belt in leather. At this time, only two complete sword belts and one buckle set with no belt are known to exist. There are a few period pictures that show officers are wearing this belt including the well-known, Captain Cary Crockett (relative of Davey Crockett).
It would appear, that from the beginning 10 to 15 years, the Constabulary had their own distinctive accessories. After that — during the Mexican Border conflict and World War 1 period —the Constabulary appears to have relied on standard U.S. equipment and insignia of the period.
Because of the early use, limited numbers of officers, harsh climate in the Philippines, and then the occupation by Japan during WWII, very few of the original belts, buckles, and swords remain. They are truly rare and little-known collectibles from the first attempt of the United States to become a world colonial power.