What Killed Dr. William Jones?

by alex

I like to look at archival photos every once in awhile. There’s something about seeing images from the past that grips me. The long dead faces, and old--almost foreign--landscapes tell stories.


I was interested in this photo from 1909 instantly, two Filipino indigenous men, captives of colonized Filipino soldiers working for the Americans. One of the bound men had a look that seemed to me fearful, while the other seemed proud and defiant. The caption under the photo only told me that they were the killers of Dr. William Jones.

Who was this Dr. Jones? What was he a doctor of? What was he doing in the Phils and, presumably indigenous territory? And, of course, why was he killed?

I found more photos:


Note that they are already in chains. I presume they are posed by one of their homes. The caption under the photo read "Igorot warriors responsible for taking Dr. William Jones' head."


[*these sepia images courtesy of the University of Wisconsin, credited to Bruner, E. Murray]


The guy to the right (with the shorter hair) really draws me in. He looks so proud and strong--despite the injuries he seems to have sustained to his arm and ankle.

If you’ll endulge me, I discovered an interesting story when I followed the trail left by these photos.

I googled Jones and found a description of him on the Minnesota State University site (http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/information/biography/fghij/jones_william.html).

Apparently he was the first Native American to get a PhD in anthropology in the States. Jones was an Oklahoman Fox native. Pretty amazing, I thought.

"Jones was said to be a student of the Indian and Filipino races, and a friend to all indigenous peoples despite the conditions surrounding his premature death."

According to this site he died because of "a dispute over transportation... Jones was [apparently promised a number of boats], but despite his efforts, the balsas came in late and in insufficient numbers, which wore his patients thin. An angry Jones yelled and screamed at the Ilongots for not going through with their agreement. One day William exploded with rage and he did the unthinkable. He grabbed the arm of Takadan, the respected elder, and threatened to detain him until the promised balsas arrived. Soon after he was visited by 3 native men, Palidat, Magueng, and Gacad who approached him in a friendly matter about the balsas. Without warning Palidat struck Jones over his left eye with a bolo, Magueng pierced his right arm with a spear, and Gacad speared him in the abdomen. Romano, Jones' assistant, fended off one of Palidat’s bolo blows, and Jones pulled out his revolver and fired some shots, scaring off the assassins. Jones was thankful and as a token of his appreciation he gave Romano his wristwatch and gave instructions for the preservation of his notes and specimens. Jones took medicine for his wounds and he even bandaged the hand of Romano. Despite the effort, he died four hours later."  [above quotes written by Justin Petersen]


First of all that's really shitty writing. Minnesota State University. Wow.

Something about that article didn't ring true to me. Why would a "friend" to indigenous people be killed over a transport dispute? The tone of the piece is also insanely one sided and makes Jones seem like a saint. But despite the problems, the little info really started to help flesh out those individuals in the photos.

So I googled some more and found: http://www.okara.com/html/headhunting.html [*text in quotations below by Collis Davis]

"Born of mixed parentage, 'more white than Indian' as Jones was heard to say while a student at Hampton University." With a good bit of self hate he earned his PhD. Soon afterward however he discovered that "more White than Indian" still made one an 'Indian' in American society. He failed to find work in his field in the US and was forced to work in the Philippines.

The following is a journal entry written about Dr. Jones about the Filipino natives he studied,

"Since the foul weather set in (October 10, 1908), this house has been a general gathering place for the greater part of Tamsi. The people come out of their shelters and lounge about in here until after the morning meal. When their bellies are filled they depart. Their aspect is most repelling. Hands, faces, and their bodies are smeared with blotches of various kinds of dirt; and their stiff hair is disheveled. As they sit and scratch their lousy (a reference to lice) selves they seem more like beasts than human beings. (Jones 1908, VII: 52 )"

This page concludes that,

"In terms of biography, while William Jones's stellar success in educational achievement was touted as an affirmation of the U.S.'s Federal Indian educational policy, his failure to distinguish between his highly judgmental moral views of his Ilongot hosts and that of purely scientific observation as an ethnologist reveal character flaws in the scientist that eventually cost him his life."

An interesting character this Dr. Jones eh? A Native that made good, but was still rejected, so he in turn goes and becomes a coloniser in mind and action in another land. All this results in his death from other natives who just couldn't tolerate his disrespect of their culture.

It says alot about what self-hate, and denial of cultural realities, can do to a man.

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Now what became of the captured men you might be asking? Well... they escaped. The Americans, of course, hunted after them.

"It was the uneasiness of the colonial administration about Jones' death that goes to the heart of American-tribal relations. It came down to an uneasy equation of how to balance the apparent insult to American national pride in the slaying of Jones against American policy objectives of retaining the loyalty of Non-Christian groups. News of Jones's death was widely reported in the American press and consequently resulted in a swift retribution by the Constabulary. In a reign of terror characterized by pillaging and burning numerous Ilongot villages and their granaries, the Constabulary not only reinforced its pacification agenda (which included the cessation of headhunting) but also forced the eventual recapture of the escaped Jones' assailants by pitting one village against another."

As far as the story reads they were originally sentenced to death, only to be commuted to a lifetime of hard labour because their being "savages" did not give them enough moral competency to judge right from wrong.

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UPDATE (29July08): The Ilongot tribe were again in the headlines in the 2008 SONA, check out my follow-up post here: http://kapisanan.wordpress.com/2008/07/28/misplaced-pride/

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For more archieval images during the American colonial period, check out my earlier blog entry: Post Independence Day.

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Interested in learning more Philippine history?

Kapisanan will be starting up a series of Critical History Workshops (with a curriculum by Erik Tigalee) soon. Send us an email for more info: info@kapisanancentre.com and/or join our facebook group for updates on KPC events and workshops: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2337642503