At the start of the 20th century during the American occupation of the Philippines which was then an unincorporated territory of the United States, the Americans were able to bring stability and order to Luzon and the Visayas Islands. But in some parts of the island of Mindanao, the Moros, its indigenous Muslim inhabitants, were not about to submit to the American regime, and preferred to live according to their own traditions, religious belief and tribal rule. The Moros’ distrust and animosity to outsiders came to a head in the Lanao Province when Maranao Moros killed two US soldiers from the 27th Infantry Regiment and stole their Krag-Jorgensen rifles. Lieutenant General Adna Chaffee, the American military governor of the Philippines, gave ultimatum to the Sultan of Bayan to surrender the perpetrators along with the stolen rifles or face adverse consequences.
With an order from Brigadier General George Davis, the commander of Philippine Department, Colonel Frank D. Baldwin, the Commanding Officer of the 27th Infantry Regiment prepared a force to launch a punitive expedition on the strongholds of recalcitrant Moros. He organized his troops numbering 1,025 infantry from his own unit and 65 men from 25th Field Artillery Battery. This was augmented by 10 six-mule teams, 40 packs mule ran by civilian packers, and 300 hired Maguindanao Moro porters to help carry some of troops’ supplies and equipment. Six hundred men from the 10th and 17th regiments were temporarily moved to Malabang, to occupy the base left behind by the 27th Infantry and to act as reserve of the operating troops. It was an arduous trek for the operating troops from their base in Fort Corcuera in Malabang, Lanao to their objective in the southern shores of Lake Lanao. They had to cut through thick forests, waded seemingly bottomless mud and endured the bites of malaria causing mosquitoes.
Along the way they lost their Maguindanao porters because they refused to carry food provisions containing pork and they were replaced with 40 pack mules. On May 1, 1902, the Americans reached their objective after a trek of 17 days that covered a distance of about 32 miles. Col Baldwin then put up a camp. Beyond their location at the lake, they saw on the high ridge two cottas, one at Binadayan and the other at Pandapatan with red battle flags signifying that their occupants were ready to do battles. They could also see figures of combatants carrying rifles on the wall.
On May 2, 1902, Colonel Baldwin sent an ultimatum to the Sultan of Bayan who he believed to be at Cotta Binadayan to surrender before 12 noon. But the ultimatum fall on deaf ears as the Sultan did not reply to the ultimatum until it expired at the specific hour, and an armed confrontation was inevitable. The Americans first attacked Cotta Binadayan which was pounded by artillery fires followed by infantry assault. The cotta’s weak defense enabled the Americans to easily overcome the few defenders manning it with only one killed on their side. They later found out that the Sultan of Bayan and his main force of about 600 men including 150 sent by other datus had moved to the other cotta for their ultimate fight.
At around 4 PM of that day, the Americans made a siege on Cotta Pandapatan. After passing through a valley, they had to overcome obstacles of layered trenches and some concealed pits filled with sharpened bamboo sticks. Advancing with support of artillery fires, the Americans cut down some Moro defenders at the wall. Their lack of scaling ladders prevented them from penetrating the cotta. When they attempted to breach the main entrance, the Moros launched a counter attack. A close up hand-to-hand combat ensued between the two opposing sides. The creeping darkness, the thick fog and the heavy rain made the situation difficult for the Americans and they had to retreat. Although they were beaten back, the Americans inflected heavy damage to the cotta as well as to the morale of the Moros defending it.
Amid darkness, rain and flashes of thunder, the Americans reconsolidated their forces at the cotta in Binadayan to prepare for the next attack. In the meantime, the troops of the Field Artillery Battery took the task of retrieving the dead and the wounded soldiers.
In the morning of the following day as the Americans prepared for their final assault, they noticed that the red battle flags of Cotta Pandapatan were replaced by four white flags indicating that the Moros were now willing to negotiate peacefully with the Americans instead of fighting it out with them till the end. But the Americans attacked the cotta anyway. Their superiority in armaments was brought to bear against their enemies. In the fight they killed the Sultan of Bayan and his brother. They also captured 83 remaining Moros. However, they reported that of Moros who surrendered only 9 were left because the rest were killed while attempting to escape. The cottas were dismantled by the American soldiers and they took with them kampilans and kris as souvenirs of the battle. At the site of the battle, Camp Vicar was established by the Americans the next day. The name of the camp was in honor to Lieutenant Thomas A. Vicars who was one of the American soldiers that was killed in the battle. Captain John J. Pershing was designated as the commander of the camp.
The result of the battle was a lopsided win for the Americans. The Moros took a heavy casualty of about 400-500 killed, 9 captured and 39 escaped combatants. Total casualties of the Americans were 11 dead and 42 wounded soldiers.
When report of the battle reached President Theodore Roosevelt Jr., he sent a message congratulating the troops for their combat achievement. Behind the scene, however, he was mad at Lieutenant General Adna Chaffee, the military governor of the Philippines for opening up a new front of an armed conflict in the south when he was about to declare that the Philippines was already pacified.
On the part of General Chaffee, he thought that Colonel Frank Baldwin was impetuous, somewhat insubordinate and incompetent. He thought that had Captain John Pershing not developed friendly and cooperative relations with the Datus on the northern shore of the lake, they could have made a grand coalition to fight the Americans in Bayan. In fact, they stayed neutral and stood down during the battle. Not long thereafter, Col Baldwin was promoted but General Chaffee saw to it that he should be shipped out from the Moro land. Captain John Pershing took over Baldwin’s command.