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Forget Your Darling Far Away

by P.N. Abinales
© 1996 by P.N. Abinales
All rights reserved

To most Filipinos familiar with Muslim history, John Pershing was the American officer who pacified the Maranaos by launching a series of military campaigns against their cottas. For his exploits, Pershing was promoted directly from captain to brigadier-general, bypassing 862 more senior officers. According to Peter Gowing in his class book, Mandate in Moroland: The American Government of Muslim Filipinos, 1899-1920, this unusual promotion was "widely applauded" by both Americans and Filipinos. Pershing, described as a "man of vision," was later appointed governor of the Moro Province and administered southern Mindanao from 1909 to 1913 before the U.S. Army withdrew in favor of Filipinization.

What Gowing had neglected to say was that Pershing's promotion was neither solely the result of his so-called prowess nor of his achievements. It was also due to his careful nurturing of his political connections in Washington and Manila. Earlier in his career, Pershing had already ingratiated himself to Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. To ensure that all bases were covered, he married Helen Frances Warren, the ambitious daughter of Wyoming's Sen. Francis Warren, who coincidentally happened to be chairman of the powerful Military Affairs Committee. Even before he launched his "Moro campaigns," Pershing probably already had the brigadier-general promotion in his pocket.

But Pershing did not get his remarkable promotion without any opposition. Gowing also failed to mention that the so-called "popular acclaim" over Pershing's promotion was tarnished by reports that Pershing had fathered two children by one Joaquina Ignacio while assigned in Zamboanga. Not much is lnown about Ignacio and her family except that they owned a beer canteen. One of their supposed children reportedly died when a cholera epidemic hit Zamboanga.

The story circulated in the United States possibly with the help of many of the 862 officers who were bypassed by Pershing. The story came out in Manila much later. It eventually found print in the December 18, 1906 issue of the newspaper, Manila American. Gen. Leonard Wood, commander of the Philippine Division in Manila, expressed annoyance over the report but was rumored to have earlier provided funds for a reporter of that newspaper to go to Zamboanga to investigate the issue and get the story out.

The exposť came too late, however. Sen. Warren supported his son-in-law, saying that illegitimate children who frequently hang out in that infamous canteen often ascribed their parentage to more prominent Americans instead of the lowly soldiers who were the bulk of the patrons of the canteen. Pershing, on his short second Philippine stint, even visited Ignacio to obtain an affidavit where she said that she was "merely an acquaintance." This "insurance policy" proved unnecessary as interest in the story eventually dissipated and Pershing's meteoric rise to fame continued, culminating in being proclaimed General of the Armies by the U.S. Congress.

But what about Ignacio? As the story was being spread, she married Zeller Shinn, a former Army private who after his discharge had worked as a government treasury clerk in Jolo but was fired because of unexplained accounting problems. Shinn found work in Zamboanga as a foreman of the provincial engineer and that was where he met Ignacio. When Pershing returned to the Philippines to become governor of the Moro Province, the Shinns moved to Manila but later returned to Zamboanga. Ignacio had six children by Shinn, one of whom died in infancy. Shinn turned out to be a more faithful husband than most other Americans of that time and tried to take care of his family. In the end, however, he, too, became thoughtless and abandoned his family.

Shinn left for the United States in 1916 to recover from an illness. In San Francisco, Shinn reenlisted in the Army describing his marital status as single. His illness worsened and a month after his reenlistment, Zeller Shinn died leaving his unacknowledged wife to support the young Shinn children on her own.

Did Ignacio already have children or was she already pregnant by another man when she married Shinn? Or was she unfairly branded as a slut by those who wanted to pull Pershing down? Was Shinn pressured into marrying her? Was this one reason why Shinn eventually abandoned his family? We may never know. All the witnesses are now long silent. Perhaps long silenced.


P.N. Abinales teaches at University of Ohio.

To cite:
Abinales, P.N. "Forget Your Darling Far Away" in Hector Santos, ed., Philippine Centennial Series; at http://www.bibingka.com/phg/misc/pershing.htm. US, 12 October 1996.

PHGLA Logo The Philippine History Group of Los Angeles invites you to send your comments to the author, P.N. Abinales, or the editor of this Philippine Centennial Series, Hector Santos.

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