The down-home massacre in Winfield, Kans., took me by surprise when I came across it the other night while reading up on the history of this small town near the Oklahoma border.
"After firing his first two shots, Twigg arose and each time he fired he took a step backward, until he was in the alleyway back of Craig's where he came face-to-face with night watchman George Nichols and Cal Ferguson, who out of the crowd of several thousand people, were the only men who displayed any disposition to follow the veritable human canon [sic], and then still believing himself innocent and the victim of plotting enemies, Twigg took his own life, rather than be taken alive."
Twigg, we can infer, was a paranoid. He was also an Army veteran of the American military occupation of Cuba and the Philippines that began four years before. "His military training came in good play," wrote the Courier. "He chose the one evening of each week when most people congregate in a central place, he chose the spot from which to fire with the skill of a general; he commenced firing at a range of about 125 feet from the band stand; he dropped on one knee at each fire, then retreated backward, while reloading, then dropped on his knee again and fired. These are the skirmish line tactics of the army...."
Of course, nobody remembers the Winfield massacre today. Just as most people don't remember the savage wars--what Rudyard Kipling called "the savage wars of peace"--in which Gilbert Twigg enlisted. The people of the Philippines, it turned out, did not welcome American occupation after the Spanish-American War, and "the deteriorating situation provoked an ugly reaction among some American soldiers, who committed atrocities such as torturing prisoners," according to "For the Common Defense," a scholarly history of the U.S. military by Alan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski. "The final pacification campaigns on Samar and in Batangas were brutal. The ghastly massacre of a U.S. infantry company in Balangiga, Samar, in September 1901 whipped Americans into a vengeful fury." How could these people be so ungrateful? Some hawks, who were known more forthrightly as "imperialists" in those days, blamed "false humanitarianism" for the debacle, and a general known as "Hell Roarin' Jake" Smith was dispatched to carry out a scorched-earth campaign. What were called "concentration camps" became a vital part of the strategy in those days, just as "strategic hamlets" would be important in Vietnam. ... (The column continues with the theme of occupation)