Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President Transmitted to Congress December 6, 1904
Mr. Conger to Mr. Hay.
Peking, China, June 25, 1904.
Sir: I have the honor to transmit the report of Consul-General Miller, inclosing coroner’s inquiry and giving a detailed account of the death of Mr. Lewis Etzel, who was killed on June 6 by the criminal carelessness of Chinese soldiers while in a Chinese junk, 10 miles off the coast of China, near Erchaiko. Mr. Miller’s report is so full and complete that it is not necessary to restate the case.
Yesterday I had a brief conference with Prince Ch’ing, who promised to at once take the case up with his colleagues and have the guilty parties properly punished. He said, however, that until a more thorough investigation was made he could not well say what the punishment should or would be.
He asked me if we would demand pecuniary indemnity. I replied that as Mr. Etzel had left several relatives dependent upon him for support, it was very likely that indemnity would be demanded, but that I had asked my Government for instructions upon this point, and must await its reply.
He then inquired if I did not think it would be better for the Chinese Government to itself, without request, offer some compensation for Mr. Etzel’s life. I replied certainly, if China voluntarily tenders a reasonable sum it would be much better and more satisfactory to all than if it were done after demand, and possibly a lot of correspondence thereon.
Inclosing copies of correspondence I have had with the Wai-wu Pu upon this subject,
I have, etc.,
Mr. Miller to Mr. Conger.
Niuchwang, China, June 14, 1904.
Sir: I have to report that Mr. Lewis L. Etzel, a citizen of the United States of America, holding a passport issued by you on February 15, 1904, No. 785, was killed by Chinese, soldiers on the afternoon of Monday, June 6, 1904. The address of his nearest relative is Miss Anna B. Etzel, 603 Mack Block, Denver, Colo., United States of America.
Mr. Etzel, in company with a British subject, Mr. Ernest Brindle, engaged a Chinese junk at Niuchwang for a sail along the coast of the Gulf of Pechili. They left Niuchwang on the morning of June 5 by the train on the Imperial Chinese Railway going west, expecting to meet the junk at the Swantaitze River. They left the train at the point where the railway crosses the above river, and on Monday morning they went down the river in a small boat to its mouth. At the railway station they were tendered a guard of Chinese soldiers to escort them down the river, but as the guard did not appear, after a couple of hours waiting they proceeded without them.
In the afternoon they reached the mouth of the river without any mishap, and there found their junk, which they boarded and set sail, going in the direction of Kaichao, Manchuria.
After sailing peacefully in the course down the coast, when about 10 miles from shore, they met four junks, each containing a number of armed Chinese soldiers. This was about 6 o’clock in the evening, some time before sunset.
Messrs. Etzel and Brindle had been walking on deck and had just gone below out of sight to arrange their quarters for the night. The four junks sailed up [Page 170]quite close and showed signs of firing, and ordered the lodah of the foreign junk to lower sail, which was done. Mr. Etzel asked of the lodah: “Why have you lowered the sail? Put it up and sail on.” This was said from his position in the hold of the junk, without knowing the cause of the delay. The lodah of the foreign junk called out to the soldiers, “Don’t shoot, we have foreigners on board; “and from one of the junks containing the soldiers he received orders to hoist sail and go on. He gave orders to hoist the sail and his men had just begun hoisting sail, preparatory to proceeding, when the soldiers began firing from one of the boats, which was immediately followed by firing from all of the boats. After a few shots the lodah was wounded by being struck in the back with a bullet. He jumped into the part of the boat occupied by Mr. Etzel and showed his wound. Mr. Etzel then endeavored to get out of the lower part of the boat and was standing with his head and shoulders exposed above the deck looking at a boat containing soldiers, when he was shot by a soldier on a junk from the opposite side; the bullet entering the back of his head at the base of the skull and penetrating the brain, causing a large wound, from which he died immediately.
Neither Mr. Brindle nor Mr. Etzel could speak Chinese, and it is evident that Mr. Etzel had no knowledge that they were going to be attacked until the firing began.
The firing continued for several minutes, and about 100 shots were fired altogether; and as many as 20 shot marks were found on the junk, and several pieces of bullets were picked out of the boat. Some were the old-style, large lead bullets, and others were pieces of smaller, steel-cased, modern Mauser rifle bullets, showing that two kinds of rifles were used.
After the firing ceased the Chinese came out of the hold on deck and again called out to the soldiers, “Dont fire, we have foreigners on board.” When asked how many foreigners they replied one, and Mr. Brindle went on deck and showed his passport in Chinese language. The Chinese corporal in charge of the expedition, by the name of Pan, showed his official authority from General Chu. After this exchange of papers the foreign junk was ordered to proceed, which they did. After sailing a short distance they were again ordered to stop, which they did, and the soldiers, coining alongside again, asked if anyone on the junk had been killed, and they replied no. When asked about the blood on the deck they replied that one of the crew had been wounded, but it was of no consequence. They were told that if any of the crew had been killed they would be given a man in his place, as the soldiers had plenty of men. The Chinese on the foreign junk had carefully covered up the body of Mr. Etzel, and when asked if any foreigner had been killed they replied no.
I asked these men why they made this false reply, and they told me that if the soldiers had known that a foreigner had been killed they would have killed all on board and sunk the boat in order that their crime would not have been discovered, and they all assured me that their lives and the life of Mr. Brindle had been saved by this successful deception.
After escaping from the soldiers the junk, by Mr. Brindle’s orders, sailed for the nearest port on the coast, which proved to be Erchaiko, about 8 miles from Tien-chuang-tai. Making his way by night to the railway station, he telegraphed to me and others at Niuchwang for assistance. Leaving at once for the scene I met the body at Tien-chuang-tai on the afternoon of the 7th instant. Summoning the only foreigners available I instituted a coroner’s investigation, notifying General Chu and inviting him to be present. We examined the body and several witnesses, including Mr. Brindle, the Chinese owner of the junk, and Mr. Brindle’s servant, and all there who were on the junk at the time of the killing. Later we examined the lodah of the foreign junk and Liu Heo, one of the lodahs of the junks taken by the soldiers.
A post-mortem examination of the remains was made by Doctor Brander at the port of Niuchwang, and a portion of the bullet was extracted from the brain; and the doctor’s certificate was made to the effect that the deceased came to his death evidently by a bullet fired from a gun.
At my request General Chu held an examination of the soldiers on the 13th instant, at Tien-chuang-tai, at which the coroner’s jury and myself were present. This investigation was directed by Taotai Liu, of Tientsin, who was sent by the viceroy of Chihli to investigate the matter, and before it was finished Taotai Chang arrived, having been sent by the viceroy at Maukden to make an investigation.
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I am convinced that the killing of Mr. Etzel was not due to any desire on the part of General Chu or his soldiers to kill foreigners, nor was it in any way due to any anti-foreign spirit among the people.
It was admitted by the Chinese soldiers that they fired upon this boat. There were ten of these regular soldiers engaged in this expedition on three junks, all belonging to General Chu’s command, and sent out to sea by his orders and under the immediate direction of Corporal Pan. I was not able to ascertain the number of armed men on the fourth junk that went with the expedition as volunteers under Corporal Pan, and subject to his orders, but being sent out by the guild at Erchaiko.
It was clearly established by my examinations that all of the soldiers on all of the junks fired upon the foreign junk, but it was not possible to learn from whence came the shot that killed Mr. Etzel. Our examination revealed the fact that one of the crew on the soldiers’ junks was wounded by being shot through the leg by one of the soldiers by an accident at the time Mr. Etzel was killed.
The explanation offered by the soldiers for the shooting was, first, that they considered the boat a pirate junk, and, secondly, they insisted that the firing came first from the foreign junk, and they produced a bullet which they all said was fired into their boat by the foreign junk. They all claimed to have been from two-thirds to 1⅔ miles from the foreign junk during all the firing and before firing began. They claimed to have called out against the wind this distance to the foreign junk, instructing them to lower their sail. If this story were true it would be ridiculous on its face, for not a sound could be heard at such a distance under such conditions. Our examination proves that all the junks were close together and not over a hundred yards away when they were asked not to fire because foreigners were on board.
It is the general opinion that these soliders sail out upon the sea in this vicinity and attack peaceful merchant junks and levy tribute on them. Whether or not they began the attack on this junk with this purpose in view I have not been able to establish to my satisfaction. I am rather inclined to the opinion that they saw a larger number of Chinese than usual on this junk and concluded it must be a pirate boat, and they concluded to attack it and began firing without knowing that foreigners were on board or without careful investigation. When informed that foreigners were on board they evidently concluded to let them go on, but on not seeing any foreigners on deck they concluded it was a ruse to escape and changed their minds and began firing.
These soldiers returned to the general’s quarters on the 8th instant, and why an immediate investigation was not held is a mystery. Taotai Lin urged an immediate investigation and was much annoyed by General Chu’s delay. No investigation was held until the 13th, and the inference is that it took this time to prepare the story of defense and charge the first shooting on the foreign junk. For this false story General Chu lays himself liable to a charge of scheming to hide the real facts.
It was plainly evident that the bullet produced by Pan as the one having been fired from the foreign junk was never fired from any rifle, but had been extracted from one of the cartridges belonging to the Chinese troops, as it was of the same kind. It was clearly proven that although they had three guns and two revolvers on the foreign boat, not one could fire the bullet produced. The statements of these soldiers and their boatmen that the talking and firing went on at a distance of from 2 to 5 li away, or from two-thirds to 1⅔ miles, is evidence of its untruthfulness. The story told, with so many variations, concerning the subsequent attack on the following day on a private boat proves all of these witnesses to be wholly unreliable and in every respect untrustworthy.
The testimony of all the witnesses on the foreign junk that they did not fire a shot from that boat at any time is confirmed by the testimony of the lodah of one of the junks taken by the soldiers.
All of these men were examined separately, without any warning and without any arrangement or opportunity to secure uniform testimony, or without any knowledge as to the questions that would be asked of them, without fear of punishment or promise of reward, and in the main they agree.
There was evidently no cause or justification whatever for the attack of these soldiers upon this craft.
Whether it was inspired by desire to rob or whether it was a mere careless act of criminal carelessness, I have not been able to determine, but in either case it displays a lack of discipline and soldierly conduct detrimental to the [Page 172]good order of the community and to the proper protection of life and property of both natives and foreigners on both land and sea. Mr. Etzel lost his life because of the desire to rob or the criminal carelessness of regular Chinese troops, and it is plain to my mind that proper punishment should be meted out to the parties directly responsible, and that proper recompense be made to his relatives, in so far as financial consideration can bring recompense for such a loss.
I have, etc.,
Mr. Conger to Mr. Ch’ing.
Peking, June 22, 1904.
Your Imperial Highness: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your imperial highness’s note of the 17th instant with regard to the shooting of Mr. Lewis L. Etzel, saying that you were in receipt of a telegram from the superintendent of trade for the north, communicating the report of Taotai Liu on the case, to the effect that on June 6 Corporal P’an Tse, of the Sui Ching army corps, had been detailed to take 10 soldiers and 3 boats and go out from Erh-pa-kou to pursue pirates; that they had met a junk which they suspected of being on a piratical expedition and had opened fire and captured her, not knowing that there were any foreigners on board; that as a result of the attack the American newspaper correspondent, Etzel, had been killed.
Mr. H. B. Miller, the American consul-general at Niuchwang, has also made a thorough investigation of the case and reports to me that Messrs. Etzel and Brindle had engaged a junk at Niuchwang to take them for a sail along the caost of the Gulf of Pechihli; that on June 5 they took train to the Shuang-t’ai River, expecting to meet the junk there, etc.
From both of these reports it is quite clear that Mr. Etzel’s death was caused by the criminal carelessness of a party of Chinese soldiers under the charge of a corporal named P’an Tse, who was acting under the orders of Commandant Chu, commanding the troops in the vicinity of T’ien-chuang-t’ai. Mr. Etzel, with an Englishman named Brindle, both having proper passports, was sailing on the high sea, where he had a perfect right to be, when his boat was surrounded by four others, three of which at least were carrying Chinese soldiers, and without warning suddenly fired upon and Mr. Etzel was killed.
It is not charged that the soldiers knew that there were foreigners on the boat, but there was no reason in the world for the attack, and certainly the criminal carelessness which causes such, wanton destruction of life deserves most exemplary punishment. The consul-general reports that these soldiers are frequently sent out under the pretense of hunting pirates, and found to be attacking defenseless boats. The military official who continually permits his soldiers to do this is himself culpable and deserves suitable punishment. There are at present in the locality about Niuchwang many foreigners who may have occasion to sail along the coast in that vicinity, and if an example is not made of those responsible for this crime others are likely to be committed which may give rise to serious trouble. It is my duty, therefore, to ask that appropriately severe punishment may be inflicted upon Corporal P’an, Commandant Chu and such others as may merit it.
Mr. Etzel leaves several relatives in the United States who have been dependent upon him for support, and it is not improbable that pecuniary indemnity may be demanded, but upon this question I await definite instructions from my Government.
Knowing the constant desire of your imperial highness for the preservation of peace and good order, and trusting in your uniform willingness to act fairly and justly, I confidently await information from your imperial highness that the officers and soldiers responsible for Mr. Etzel’s death have been promptly and adequately punished.
I avail myself, etc.,