Ray Stannard Baker
To one who has seen General Leonard Wood at his work in Santiago, the popular estimate of the man seems curiously inadequate. His fame in the United States has rested almost wholly on what he has accomplished in the material rehabilitation of a war-worn and turbulent province, and yet this work reveals only one side of General Wood’s character, and in no wise explains the extraordinary personal ascendancy which he has attained in eastern Cuba. There are not many men in this or in any other country who could have gone into the Santiago of August, 1898, with its thousands of dead and dying, its reeking filth, its starvation, its utter prostration, and made of it in four months’ time a clean, healthy, orderly city. Another soldier might have been chosen who could have preserved order as well as did General Wood, a lawyer might have reorganized the judicial system, and a physician reestablished the hospitals; but it would not have been easy to find another man with the varied mental equipment and the requisite physical endurance to serve in a tropical country as lawmaker, judge, and governor all in one; to build roads and sewers; to establish hospitals; to organize a school system and devise a scheme of finance; to deal amicably with a powerful church influence, and yet to remain, in spite of such autocracy, the most popular man in the province.
Yet one cannot stay long in Cuba without being convinced that it was not so much what General Wood did in Santiago as what he was. He stood for Americanism. For years the Cubans had been looking to the great nation of the North for succor in their struggle. They had at last been rescued, and the Spaniards had been driven from the island. Their ideal of the bravery, the honesty, the power, the wisdom of the American was high. He must be everything that the Spanish oppressor was not. And here they had General Wood, the American. He was calm, firm, simple, accessible to poor as well as to rich. He was direct and absolutely truthful in what he said. He had none of the airs of the Spanish governors—a sturdy man in a khaki suit, who went everywhere, saw everything, and could be neither flattered, nor cajoled, nor deceived; a man who quelled riots with his riding-whip. That was the American they knew.
To this day the visitor at Santiago wonders at the apathy of the Cubans over the marvelous improvements in their city—its beautiful pavements, its clean alleys, its enlarged water system, and its reorganized hospitals. These things make an acute impression on the cleanly American; but the average Cuban, who has never known anything but dirt and disease, simply does not understand such conditions. He himself never suffers from yellow fever—then why all this fuss about quarantine, this fumigating and burning—thousands of dollars of Cuban money spent to protect the foreigner from disease? “Yes, the pavements are good,” a Cuban said to me grudgingly; “but most of our people are just as well off without them. The asphalt hurts their heels.”
Some day, indeed, the splendid rock roads which General Wood has been driving east and west and north and south, through jungles and over mountains, will earn their appreciation; but today, when the four-wheeled wagon is unknown, when the burro-train is the accepted means of carrying freight, the average Cuban cannot see the utility of such improvements, except as a means of providing work for the unemployed. He is merely vaguely jealous, feeling somehow that the American is repairing Cuba so that it will be habitable for himself. These really wonderful public works, prosecuted in spite of many difficulties, have made General Wood famous wherever English is spoken; but they have not added appreciably to his glory among the Cubans. It is Wood the man and the American whom they love and respect; and it is Wood who has won their confidence more fully, perhaps, than any other American.
It sometimes happens that a man of extraordinary activity stands in the shadow of his own achievements. In a measure that is what General Wood has been doing, so far as his own countrymen are concerned. He is known in America mainly for the roads he has built, but in Santiago he is respected for the man he is. Those who know him best—and it is fortunate for the country that some of them are in high places—know that it is the immense personal force of the man, the rare ability to win the absolute confidence of everyone with whom he comes in contact, that has won him his successes and has so persistently suggested his name for still higher places.
General Wood comes early to his fame. He is now only thirty-nine years old. Eighteen months ago he was unknown outside of the limited circle of his personal acquaintance. At the beginning of May, 1898, he was an army surgeon with the rank of captain. Two months later he was commanding a brigade at San Juan, and his name was known in every hamlet in the United States. Before the year was out he had risen to the rank of major-general, and he held what was then one of the most important foreign commands in the gift of the government. Because of this quick promotion he has been called a man of opportunity; but he is rather the man always ready for the opportunity. Within eight months after he received his army commission, back in the middle ’80’s, he had earned a Congressional medal for gallant and hazardous service, and he was then only a contract surgeon, green from the schools. And it was not mere chance that made him colonel of the Rough Riders and led his regiment first of all the troops into the jungle at Las Guasimas.
There is a glitter of brilliancy about such sudden rises in fortune that frequently blinds a careless public to the generations of high breeding and the unremitting self-development and self-preparation which have made such a career a possibility. General Wood’s success dates back to the “Mayflower”; for he is a direct descendant of Susanna White, whose son, Peregrine White, was the first white child born in New England. Nine years after the coming of the “Mayflower,” the first of the Wood family, William Wood, landed in Massachusetts, and there, within a day’s journey from Plymouth Rock, the family has grown and developed, although General Wood himself was born at Winchester, New Hampshire (October 9, 1860), where his parents temporarily resided. His mother, who is still living, comes of the old Massachusetts families Hager, Cutler, and Nixon. His immediate ancestors were nearly all farmers, of the stiff, stern stock that wrung a hard living from the rocky farms of Wayland, Sudbury, and Weston. His father was Dr. Charles Jewett Wood, a man of brilliant attainments, sturdy individuality, great physical energy, and, although strangely taciturn, a man who attracted and won the confidence of everyone he met. For years he drove by day and night over the hills between Buzzard’s Bay and Cape Cod, following the rigorous, underpaid practice of a country doctor, and many are the little homes of the fisher folk where he called and forgot to leave his bill. The old Wood homestead at Barlow Landing, in Pocasset, where the boy Leonard lived between the years of six and eighteen, has now been swept away to make room for a summer cottage. It stood only a stone’s throw from the waters of Buzzard’s Bay—a plain little two-story house sided with shingles and looking out at the old wharf where generations of Barlows have tied their vessels.
It was young Wood’s first ambition to follow the sea; the longing for adventure burned in his blood and drove him into almost recklessly venturesome voyages down the coast. A little later he was planning for a voyage in the Arctic; and he even went so far as to pack his clothing, ready for instant departure. During the winter he attended the district school, where he fared only moderately in his studies, but won a reputation for strength and daring. An old schoolmate describes him as a square-built, stocky boy, with blue eyes and hair like caulking-tow. He was shy, sensitive, and silent; and persevering rather than ready. For three years he attended an old-fashioned academy at Middleboro. He was fond of the languages and of history; mathematics did not appeal to him. His reading was mostly of books of travel, history, and adventure, with an occasional novel.
After the death of his father, in August, 1880, Wood entered the Harvard Medical School. He was almost without means; but by earning what he could in tutoring and with the money from a hard-won scholarship he managed to pay his way, and came out third in his class at the examination for admission to the city hospital. Dr. E. G. Brackett, of Boston, who was a classmate of his at the medical school, describes him as “a boy of fine clean countenance.” “At that time,” Dr. Brackett told me further, “Wood gave one the impression of being shy and backward, just as any country boy might be on coming to the city to college. He seemed self-distrustful, for he had not learned his own strength; but it was self-distrust in assertion rather than in action. He talked then as he does today, in a low, steady voice, saying very little, but that little always direct and frank.”
Dr. E. H. Bradford, who was superintendent of the Boston City Hospital while Wood was there as an intern, says of him: “He was one of the most satisfactory assistants I ever had—if not the most satisfactory. He was indefatigable in his work, and when he was told to do a thing, he could be counted upon absolutely to do it, and do it immediately. And he knew how to hold his tongue.”
During his last year in the medical school his shyness wore off somewhat—although to this day he gives a marked impression of reserve, if not of diffidence—and he became immensely popular among those who knew him. It was not the homage paid to a brilliant student, although Wood was always near the top of his class; but it came to him because he was Wood—a broad-minded, cool-headed, generous, unpretentious fellow. One of his classmates told me that Wood was more sought after than any other intern, notwithstanding a bold directness of speech (when he spoke at all) that never minced an opinion of things or of men. This directness remains with him. He has the rare gift of looking a man in the eye, telling him a disagreeable truth, and being better friends with him afterwards than he was before. He made it a rule throughout his course to keep himself in perfect physical trim. He ran and walked hundreds of miles a month, and he boxed in the amphitheater of the hospital until his muscles were like steel.
At twenty-four, Wood began the practice of medicine in a little office in Staniford Street, Boston, where the people were poor and pay was slow. There he spent nearly a year in a bitter struggle to get a start. By the aid of dispensary work and tutoring, he managed to pay expenses; but that was all. The old longing for greater activity—the fever of the seaman and fighter in his blood—again took possession of him, and in April, 1885, he packed his satchel, and without informing any of his friends, he went to New York to take an examination for admission as a surgeon in the army. To his surprise, he passed second in a competitive class of fifty-nine; and there being no vacancies, he accepted a contract position, which he held until he was commissioned, January 5, 1886. His first service was on an assignment for two days at Fort Warren, Massachusetts.
In Pursuit of Geronimo
In June, 1885, he was ordered to Arizona. He determined even before he left Boston that, if an opportunity should ever present itself, he would enter the active branch of the service. He did not then know how soon his desire in this regard was to be gratified. On the night of July 4, 1885, he arrived at Fort Huachuca, in Arizona. There he met Captain H. W. Lawton of the Fourth Cavalry, now Major-General Lawton. Lawton had been at Harvard, and the two at once became friends. Lawton was leaving at four o’clock the next morning on what was to become one of the most famous of Indian campaigns—the pursuit of Geronimo, and Wood was ordered to report to him for duty. There was only one unassigned horse in the troop—a vicious, unreliable animal—and Wood knew next to nothing of riding. The instant he was mounted, the horse rushed into some heavy trees, to the damage of the young surgeon’s clothing, but the rider never let go. That day he rode thirty miles, through some of the roughest country in Arizona, in the heat and dust of midsummer, and for five days afterward he was in the saddle eighteen hours a day. It was what a cavalryman calls “healing in the saddle,” and a man who can do it and live to ride any further has the mettle of a soldier in him. From July, 1885, until March, 1887, the young surgeon was almost continuously in the field, chasing Apaches through Arizona, New Mexico, and 400 miles into old Mexico. Before he had been commissioned three months, and even then he was not a line officer, he was assigned to command all the infantry of the expedition, and sometimes the Indian scouts. But that was the way of the man—he went up by sheer personal force.
It was Wood’s opinion that a well-trained white man could endure more than any Indian, and he set about deliberately to prove it. Governor Theodore Roosevelt, who knows him as well, perhaps, as any one, recently said of him: “No soldier could outwalk him, could live with greater indifference on hard and scanty fare, could endure hardship better, or do better without sleep.”
Perhaps there never was an expedition so remarkable for its hardships and the extraordinary endurance and fortitude of the men who took part in it as this chase for Geronimo and his Apaches among the cactus and chaparral of their own burning hills. Of thirty picked frontiersmen who started out, only fourteen lasted to the end, and only two of these were officers—Lawton and Wood. But they brought in Geronimo. The spirit of the wildest of all the Indian tribes had been broken by the relentless determination of a handful of white men. At another time Wood was detailed with a force of twenty-seven Indian scouts to follow a straggling minor trail. All they carried with them was little sacks of coffee and salt. There were only six tin cups in the party. But they killed and ate deer, and these, with prickly pears and roots that the Indians dug, sufficed them for food. As for water, they found it when they could, on those parched hills. And Wood slept and ate and marched with the Indians; managed them, too, as he has since managed the Cubans; and so severe was the expedition that two of these hardy scouts died from the effects of it, after they returned. Once, sleeping half-clad on the ground, Wood was stung by a tarantula, and yet marched on foot, though suffering exquisitely, for two days, when finally he fell delirious. At another time, arriving at a stockaded ranch, he bought a large steer, and such was the hunger of the party that the twenty-eight men ate the animal to the bones in two meals.
“In this remarkable pursuit,” writes General Miles, in his report, “he [Captain Lawton, with his command] pursued them from one range of mountains to another, over the highest peaks, often 9,000 and 10,000 feet above the level of the sea and frequently in the depths of the canyons, where the heat in July and August was of tropical intensity. A portion of the command leading on the trail were without rations for five days, three days being the longest continuous period. They subsisted on two or three deer killed by the scouts and mule meat without salt. These men made marches where it was impossible to move cavalry or pack-trains; but their laborious and painful efforts were crippled by the miserable shoes made at and furnished by the military prison at Fort Leavenworth. The worthless material fell to pieces in three or four days’ marching. The troops suffered somewhat from fever, but fortunately they were very strong men and endured their hardships with commendable fortitude. When on the Yaqui River and in the district of Moctezuma, the hostile camp was surprised and attacked by Captain Lawton’s command. The Indians escaped among the rocks, but their entire property, with the exception of what they could carry, was captured, including all their horses. They scattered in every direction; but whenever this occurred the troops followed the trail of a single Indian until they came together again. . . . I enclose herewith the report of Assistant Surgeon Leonard Wood, who accompanied Lawton’s command from the beginning to the end. He not only fulfilled the duties of his profession in his skillful attention to disabled officers and soldiers, but at times performed satisfactorily the duties of a line officer, and, during the whole extraordinary march, by his example of physical endurance, greatly encouraged others, having voluntarily made many of the longest and most difficult marches on foot.”
After Geronimo, finding himself cornered, had consented to go back and surrender to General Miles, Lawton’s party and the Apaches marched northward, it being the understanding that there should be a truce between them. Wood and two officers were detailed to march with Geronimo’s warriors as hostages, and this they did for several days, sleeping and eating with the murderous Apaches, often miles away from their companions. In his report of the campaign. Captain Lawton said: “I desire to invite the attention of the department commander to Assistant Surgeon Leonard Wood, the only officer who has been with me through the whole campaign. His courage, energy, and loyal support during the whole time, his encouraging example to the command when work was the hardest and prospects darkest, his thorough confidence and belief in the final success of the expedition, and his untiring efforts to make it so, have placed me under obligations so great that I cannot express them.”
The young surgeon had improved his first opportunity. He was recommended to Congress for a medal of honor, and he received it—ten years later. But the people of the Southwest who had lived next to the Apaches and knew better of what they were rid gave a three weeks’ celebration at Albuquerque in honor of the men who had brought Geronimo to terms. Before these festivities were well over, General Miles dispatched Wood, with eight picked men, into Mexico, to run down a band of Indians that had escaped the first expedition. At one time in this remarkable expedition, which covered more than 2,000 miles of the wildest regions of Mexico, Wood and his men traveled for forty-seven days without seeing a human habitation or a trail. While the trip did not result in the capture of the missing Apaches, it served as stern training for the service of later years. In spite of the hardships of these expeditions, to a man of General Wood’s magnificent physique, love of adventure, and intense activity they were full of the keenest enjoyment. To this day he cannot speak of his frontier campaigning without a note of regret in his voice. “There is no life like it,” I once heard him say.
In the spring of 1887, Wood went to Los Angeles, the headquarters of the department of Arizona, as one of the staff surgeons—a reward for his service in Mexico—and here he found a new opportunity awaiting him which should prove his unusual capacity in another line, that of his profession. General Miles had been thrown from his horse, and his leg had been badly broken. The surgeons who examined him feared the probability of amputation or permanent disability—a catastrophe which would close his career in the army. Then the general sent for Wood. No man would feel the responsibility of deciding the fate of his commanding officer more keenly than Wood; but young as he was, and knowing the judgment of the senior surgeons, he gave the opinion that the leg could be saved. Miles unhesitatingly placed himself in the hands of the young surgeon, and the leg was saved, so that the commanding general of the armies of America walks today without a limp.
A year later, in 1888, Wood was serving with the Tenth Cavalry in the Kid outbreak in New Mexico, and later he was engaged in the exacting and difficult work of the heliographic survey of Arizona, in which General Miles was then deeply engrossed. There are probably few men in the army who know every valley and mountain of that rugged wilderness better than does General Wood. After this service, there was a year at Fort McDowell, and then a return to California, where, in 1889, he met Louise A. Condet Smith, a niece of U. S. Justice Field, whom he married a year later, at Washington.
It was during his service at the California posts, and at Fort McPherson, near Atlanta, Georgia, that he became an expert football player. Football appealed to him strongly as furnishing the strenuously active element of his life which had dropped out of it when he quit the Indian service of the Southwest. The team of which he was captain at Fort McPherson lost only one game in two years. He continued to play football actively until he was past thirty-seven years old, a few months before the outbreak of the Spanish war. An incident of a game played at Fort McPherson throws a light on the sterner side of his character. He came home one afternoon with a deep cut over one eye. It was bleeding profusely; but he calmly changed his clothes, and went to his office, where he laid out his surgical instruments, and, standing before a mirror, quietly took four stitches in the wound, afterwards dressing it properly.
To an army surgeon, Washington is a place full of the possibilities of honor, but also a place of much hard work. He must attend as medical adviser all active and retired officers of the army and their families; he is official physician to the Secretary of War, and he shares with a navy surgeon the responsibility of attending the president. General Wood was ordered to duty in Washington in September, 1895, and it was not long before he became a frequent visitor to President Cleveland and his family. And here in the White House, as on the plains, he won friends.
Wood’s First Meeting with Roosevelt
When the administration changed and President McKinley came into power, Dr. Bates of the navy was, until his death, attending surgeon at the White House. One night in the fall of 1897, Wood received a summons from the president, and from that time forward he was the regular medical adviser to Mr. and Mrs. McKinley, as he was already attendant on General Alger, the Secretary of War. It was about this time that he met Theodore Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. They were guests at dinner of the Lowndes family, and they walked home together in the evening. Their friendship was instant. Both were men of extraordinary vitality and activity. Both loved hunting and fishing, sailing, and all the vigorous outdoor sports which do so much toward making good men. Both knew the wild west; both were born with the blood of fighters hot within them. In each of them was bred the best of American traditions—for Roosevelt had come from the ancient Dutch stock of Manhattan and Wood was from the oldest blood of New England. And, more than anything else, both were men of high ideals and splendid ambitions.
Straightway the two young Americans, not so famous then as they were soon to be, were tramping together in the country, each walking at a gait to outdo the other and each pretending that he was doing nothing at all unusual. They also ran foot races, and during the winter, on many a blustery afternoon, they went to the hills in their sweaters and coasted on Norwegian ski. Occasionally they persuaded Senator Lodge, of Massachusetts, or some army officer to go with them; but there were not many men who could stand the pace they set. On pleasant Sunday afternoons they would walk out Georgetown way with their children. In these excursions, they led in scaling steep hills, crossing log bridges, exploring ravines, and climbing trees. Sometimes the children pretended to be soldiers tracking Indians, and sometimes to be the Indians who were tracked—all of which was not only a jolly pastime, but a vigorous training in fearlessness and endurance.
Organizing the Rough Riders
In the spring of 1898 came the talk of war with Spain. Both Wood and Roosevelt were fired at once with the prospect. Wood’s keenest ambition had always been to get into the line of the army and see active service. He was a tried and experienced soldier, a man of acknowledged judgment and personal force. The president believed in him and in Roosevelt; they were, indeed, his personal friends. He called them the “war party,” and when Wood came in of a morning he would ask, “Have you and Theodore declared war yet?” It was inevitable that they should go into the fight. They first planned to raise regiments in their respective states, Roosevelt in New York and Wood in Massachusetts. This, however, was likely to be attended by much red tape and not a little delay—things that neither of the men could brook. It was perfectly natural, therefore, that they should seize upon the idea of a regiment such as the Rough Riders—an idea suggested by Senator Warren. Wood had himself been a rough rider; he knew intimately every phase of the service, and he felt that it was the dash and boldness of attack of an Indian campaign that would avail most in the jungles of Cuba. Roosevelt was offered the colonelcy, with authority to recruit such a regiment, but declined it, and said that he would accept the lieutenant-colonelcy if Wood was appointed colonel. The Secretary of War approved, and Wood was commissioned to raise the regiment. General Alger, indeed, gave Wood a desk in the corner of his office. “Now don’t let me hear from you again,” he said, “until your regiment is raised.”
It is not necessary here to repeat the familiar story of the Rough Riders. Within twenty-one days from the time permission was given to begin the recruiting, the famous regiment was ready to march. And not the least of the task which confronted Wood and Roosevelt was the selection of 1,200 rough riders from 23,000 applicants, from every part of the Union. Never before had there been such a record in military organization.
In the battle of Las Guasimas Wood was the same steady, low-voiced man that he was in the drawing-rooms of Washington, absolutely fearless in a hail of bullets, now calling up a nervous captain and asking him to repeat his orders, now walking along the line, up and down, where every soldier was hugging the ground, and now calmly cautioning his men: “Don’t swear, men; shoot,” A lieutenant of the Rough Riders said to me: “If there was any prevailing spirit of courage in that march from Daiquiri and in the battle that followed, that spirit and inspiration was Colonel Leonard Wood.”
“No officer,” writes Governor Roosevelt, “ever showed more ceaseless energy in providing for his soldiers, in reconnoitering, in overseeing, personally, all the countless details of life in camp, in patrolling the trenches at night, in seeing by personal inspection that the outposts were doing their duty, in attending personally to all the thousand and one things to which a commander should attend, and to which only those commanders of marked and exceptional mental and bodily vigor are able to attend.”
General Wood told me that he felt from the first the pressing necessity of haste in conquering the Spaniards. “It was a race between malaria and the constitution of our men,” he said, and that was the principle on which the rush of the army was made. It is the accepted opinion that the extraordinary attack at Las Guasimas, of which the Spaniards said, “They tried to catch us with their hands,” had more to do with demoralizing the enemy and making possible the subsequent victories than any other one thing. The Rough Riders paid dearly for their victories; of 500 men who landed at Daiquiri one hundred and forty-two were killed or wounded.
Governor of Santiago
Two months from the day on which Wood received his commission as colonel of the Rough Riders he was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers (July 8, 1898), and eleven days later he was governor of the city of Santiago. His appointment as governor came naturally to him; he was the man of all others who had made an extraordinary record in the field, and he was one of the few men who were as vigorous, physically, at the end of that terrible tropical campaign as at the beginning. He went at the task of rehabilitating the stricken city with cool judgment, unconquerable energy, and a real joy of the task.
Santiago was thronged with starving and destitute people; it was agitated by the disbanding Spanish army, and surrounded without by undisciplined hordes of Cubans. There were 15,000 sick in a population of 50,000, and people were dying at the rate of 200 a day. The streets were knee-deep in mud and filth, and thousands of dead animals festered in the areaways, so that the air above was black with buzzards. Of government and police there were none, or of courts or schools. The jails were choked with prisoners, the hospitals were full, and, to cap the sum of woe, yellow fever was raging. There were a thousand difficult problems, and every problem was acute. In the absence of any laws or precedents, the governor must answer every one of countless clamorers and decide unnumbered questions. It was the first time that an American had been delegated to reconstruct a captured foreign city, and yet General Wood was not flurried for a moment, nor did he hesitate or waver. Here, as never before, he had need for steadiness, judgment, force; but even in those trying early days he never seemed to use more than half of his strength, nor to exert half of his rightful authority. When he moved, men and things moved irresistibly before him—because they must. And the governor himself worked night and day, because he could. He gathered up the first hundred men he met in the streets and set them to work in spite of themselves; he opened stations to feed the starving; he impressed every suitable vehicle in the city to carry away the filth; he started a police force, established a yellow fever hospital; he put down the looters and robbers with an iron hand, and he started the doctors on a house-to-house visitation to relieve the sick. And while he worked, a black cloud of smoke rose for days above the city to the eastward, where thousands of dead were being piled and burned because there were not helpers to bury them fast enough. Sitting personally as the judge of a summary court, he cleared the jails; he made the laws, and then he executed them. When the butchers charged too much for their meat, he called them together and talked with them, and directly the price went down seventy-five per cent. It was the same with the bakers. He heard innumerable private complaints; his palace was crowded from daylight to dark with men and women in all stages of misery waiting for the governor to relieve them.
A little later, when his territory of command had been extended from the mere city of Santiago to the entire province, he organized a supreme court, established a school system, devised new methods of taxation, forbade bull-fighting and cocking mains, and worked a hundred other wonders. Up to the first of January, 1899, he had paid all the expenses of his government out of the ordinary revenues that he had collected and had actually saved $227,000. This surplus he appropriated for public improvements, and under his direct supervision, there were constructed five miles of asphalt pavement, fifteen miles of country pike, and six miles of macadam; and 200 miles of country road were opened up. A quarter of a mile of macadam pavement which the Spaniards had laid along the water front a year before had cost $180,000; Wood’s engineers paved a large proportion of the city’s streets with asphalt, five miles in all, for less than $175,000.
General Wood’s methods of dealing with affairs were as characteristic as they were suggestive. Early one morning he wanted to see the chief engineer of the water-works, and he sent a polite note requesting an immediate visit. The chief engineer was a Spaniard and deliberate. He didn’t come. Wood sent a more urgent request; still no engineer. Then he sent a corporal’s guard, and brought the engineer in his pajamas. After that, officials came when they were sent for.
General Wood’s government of the Cubans was a curious admixture of old town meeting republicanism with absolute autocracy; it was the wise autocrat standing behind and guiding the deliberations of the town meeting. In every town that he visited he called the chief men together, told them what he wanted to do, and frankly asked their advice. He gave them to understand that they would be held accountable for the men whom they should recommend to office, and then he trusted them absolutely. He never used his authority for the sake of using it, as the Spaniards loved to do; and when a town was reorganized, the citizens felt responsible for the new officials as beings of their own election, and they warmed to the American governor because he had given them their first real taste of representative government.
I never shall forget a visit I made with General Wood and his staff to Guantanamo. The governor of Santiago has a passion for appearing unexpectedly in out-of-the-way places in order to see the machinery of his government in its everyday work; if there happens to be a particularly heavy rain storm, with impassable roads, the governor may confidently be expected. It was raining torrents when we visited Guantanamo, and it was Sunday morning. A little group of Cubans stood on the wharf at Caimanera and watched the Americans come up from the launch. When a Spanish governor arrived there were always flags and music and crowds; but the American governor— what a wonder he was! He was clad exactly like the other men of the party, in a brown khaki suit. He wore a peaked cavalry hat and buff leather riding-leggings and spurs. His only distinguishing mark was the star on his shoulder, the insignia of a brigadier-general, and that was too high up for any of the little Cubans to see.
Guantanamo is a typical east Cuban town of some 10,000 inhabitants. On this Sunday morning it was swimming in clay mud, and wore an indescribable air of apathy and disheartenment. The faces at the doors were tired and lusterless, and even the clinking of the spurred heels of the Americans on the narrow flag walks failed to arouse any marked interest. Perhaps they didn’t know that it was the governor who passed. In a big, bare, dilapidated room with barred windows a conference was held with the mayor and the city council. The mayor was a small, dry, brown old man, very smugly clad in a black suit. In his curl-brim straw hat he wore the colored cockade of a Cuban general—the only bit of color about him—and he carried a curious tortoise-shell cane, on which he leaned with both hands. He sat next the American governor, and, oddly enough, exactly beneath a picture of Admiral Dewey, and solemnly watched each speaker. The city council was made up very like an American village board—of the apothecary, the wheelwright, the doctor, and so on; but the members varied in color from the pure olive of the Spaniard to the shiny black of the full-blooded negro.
The governor rose and greeted each man as he came in with serious politeness, for politeness is the bread of existence to the Cuban. After they were all seated and the conference had begun, in walked that typical Cuban institution, the agitating editor. He came with an indescribable bustle of importance and opposition, a dramatic effect unattainable by any Anglo-Saxon. His note-book and pencil were clearly in evidence, and he spurned the chair which was offered him. The dry old mayor looked at him with a solemn lack of interest; the American governor saw him not at all. The chief of the rural guard was also there, a big, handsome fellow, as straight and lithe as a bamboo pole. A pistol tipped up the skirts of his coat. He wore black patent-leather leggings, silver spurs, and a white linen uniform with black stripings, which set him off with jaunty consequence.
At first the talk (through an interpreter) was of money. They had not yet received their allowance from the customs fund, and General Wood explained why it was delayed. The apothecary then reported that they had decided to build a fine yellow-fever hospital of stone; but General Wood advised a wooden structure, with a wide veranda, and he explained with the ready knowledge of a skilled physician how difficult it was to disinfect a stone building. The grave old mayor nodded his head; the American governor was wise. “Tell them,” said General Wood, “that they should get together and build a good schoolhouse. They would have the honor of constructing the first one in Cuba.”
But the mayor and council were silent—schoolhouses did not interest them. They discussed the new water-works system, on which the Americans were spending $100,000; and they wanted a stable for the horses of the rural guard, a subject which the governor referred to the local American commandant for investigation.
“Tell them,” said General Wood, “that I haven’t heard any complaints from here,” at which compliment the council nodded in deep appreciation, and the mayor even smiled.
“They wish to thank you,” said the interpreter, “for the interest which you take in the town,” and then it was the governor’s turn to bow graciously. The immediate business being now completed, the governor shook hands all around, addressing those about him readily in Spanish. And with this the conference ended.
When General Wood left Santiago for his first visit to the United States, in the spring of 1899, all Santiago came down to see him off and cheered him lustily. They presented him with a diploma of regard, a beautiful hand-work scroll written in Spanish—“The People of the city of Santiago de Cuba to General Leonard Wood. . . . The greatest of all your successes is to have won the confidence and esteem of a people in trouble.”
He went North in the heat of the year for rest and relief, and to his astonishment and acute discomfort the country tried to receive him as a returned hero. He was feasted and interviewed and called upon for addresses, and his alma mater, Harvard University, made him the lion of her commencement and conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws. But he had hardly begun to rest when news came that Santiago was down again with yellow fever and that the American soldiers were dying like sheep. Without a moment’s delay or a thought of the danger involved, Wood set sail for Cuba, but not before he had purchased a ton of corrosive sublimate and other disinfecting material to take with him. He arrived at Santiago on July 9th, with his plan of campaign clearly marked out. The next day every American in Santiago was on his way to the mountains whether he wanted to go or not. Indeed, the entire American garrison left in the city consisted of just six soldiers, and they were all sick in the hospital. Yet so much confidence did General Wood place in his Cuban guards, that he felt not the slightest fear of trouble. Santiago was given such a cleaning as no other city, perhaps, ever had. The streets were sprinkled with corrosive sublimate, chlorate of lime was sprayed even under the tiles of the roofs, infected furniture and buildings were ruthlessly burned, and the whole city was washed as if it were a toy town. Three months later, when I stepped on the wharf at Santiago, the first smell that greeted my nostrils was that of chlorate of lime, and the yellow flags were still flying. The measures were the measures of a strong man, and there was grumbling among those who were removed from their business; but six days after Wood landed, the epidemic was conquered—a victory as remarkable in its way for the governor-surgeon as that of Las Guasimas.
General Wood’s home is at The Guao, the country seat formerly occupied by the British Consul, Eamsden. It is a large and airy, though unpretentious, building with a tall thatched roof. The view from amidst the tropical verdure of the grounds in front, across the bay of Santiago and to the magnificent blue mountains beyond, is one to be long remembered. It was here that Mrs. Wood and her two boys, one seven and one a baby two years old, spent last winter. Since then General Wood has had with him Major J. E. Kuncie, his legal adviser and friend, and part of the time Lieutenant Hanna of his personal staff. He lives very simply, usually riding into town, a distance of a mile, with a single orderly. He is out early in the morning, and often reaches the palace at eight o’clock, and that after having visited the jail or the market or some one of half a dozen hospitals and homes in which he takes especial interest. His office is in a little bare room at the back of the palace, facing San Tomas Street. Over him two American flags are draped. Two huge paintings of Spanish subjects linger to represent a regime that is past, and a portrait of Governor Roosevelt represents the new. It is typical of the rule of the Spaniards, that these old paintings, together with all the others in the palace, were once beautifully framed in gilt and gold; but some covetous official, needing money, disposed of the frames and left the bare canvases to ornament the walls. Swinging shutters lead into General Wood’s office, and more than once I saw wan-looking Cuban women pushing through them with their children. Wood surrounds, himself with Cubans, and trusts them absolutely—perhaps that is why they all trust him. His private secretary, through whom go all his official dispatches and reports, is a Cuban who was once secretary to General Gomez, and many of the clerks in the palace are Cubans. He gives, also great credit for his successes to his staff, and especially to Lieut. E. C. Brooks and Lieut. M. E. Hanna, who have been with him from the first.
Personally, General Wood gives the impression of being a large man, although he lacks at least an inch of being six feet tall. He is what an athlete would call “well put up”—powerful of shoulders and arms, with a large head and short neck. He stoops slightly, and steps with a long, swift stride, rolling somewhat, seamanlike, in his walk. His face is one of great strength—large featured, calm, studious, and now lean and bronzed from serving in the tropics. He rarely smiles, and ordinarily has very little to say, and that in a low, even voice; and yet, when in the mood, he tells a story with great spirit and with a certain fine directness. He enjoys keenly a quiet social gathering; but a function in which he must appear as the guest of honor is an undisguised terror to him. He dresses always, whether in khaki or in army blue, with trim neatness, and he makes a strikingly powerful figure in the saddle.
At thirty-nine General Wood is in the prime of a vigorous manhood and at the beginning of a notable career. If he remains in the army—and his ambitions are all military—he has twenty-five years of active service still before him. His countrymen may rest assured that whatever may be the task to which he is assigned, whether the governorship of a foreign people or the command of a great army, that task will be performed with the fidelity and distinction becoming a tried American soldier. [Since the foregoing article was made ready for the press. General Wood has been appointed by the President to be governor of the whole island of Cuba.—EDITOR.]
(Source: UNZ.org, http://unz.org/Pub/McClures-1900feb-00368)
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