Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Address of the President to Congress December 7, 1915
File No. 319.1123L25/6.
Consul Gale to the Secretary of State.
Colon, May 4, 1915.
Sir: I have the honor to forward for the Department’s information copy of a report I have prepared on the subject for the benefit of the American Legation at Panama, at the request of the Minister.
I have [etc.]
Consul Gale to Minister Price.
Colon, May 3, 1915.
Sir: Referring to the riot which took place in Colon on April 2 last, I have the honor to submit the following report of the occurrence in question.
The main facts are well known, namely: a baseball game between the soldiers of the Fifth Infantry and the Cristobal baseball team was held at the ball grounds in Colon on the afternoon of April 2. A special train was run from Las Cascadas and Empire to bring the soldiers of the Fifth Infantry and the Tenth Infantry to witness the game. About eight hundred soldiers were concentrated in Colon for the above reason. During the game and subsequent thereto encounters occurred between the soldiers, Jamaican negroes, and Panaman policemen, which resulted in the shooting to death of Corporal Maurice Langdon of the Twenty-first Company, Coast Artillery Corps, the wounding by bullets of three other American soldiers, and injuries of a minor character received by one Panaman policeman and one Jamaican negro.
Besides the above facts, it is known that two distinct disturbances occurred during the afternoon; one in the city, at some distance from the ball field, while the game was in progress; and the other in the immediate vicinity of the ball field, at the conclusion of the game, when the visiting soldiers were entraining. The first affair was of comparatively minor importance, although two shots appear to have been fired by Panaman policemen and two soldiers to have been wounded. The second affair was a regular riot, characterized by fights between soldiers and Jamaican negroes, the stoning of houses by soldiers, the firing upon soldiers detailed as a provost guard while in the performance of their duty, and the firing upon the train containing unarmed soldiers by one or more Panaman policemen.
With respect to the immediate cause of these disorders and to the happenings in detail, neither the evidence brought out at the investigation by the United States military authorities nor at the investigation by the Governor of the Province of Colon appears to be clear or conclusive.
In regard to the first affair, the only facts which seem to have been established are that on or near the corner of Cash and Tenth Streets, in the restricted or red-light district, at sometime during the ball game, a fight occurred between two or three soldiers and some Jamaican negroes; that one or more Panaman policemen intervened; that two shots were fired by the policemen [Page 1201]resulting in the wounding of two of the soldiers; and that one policeman was struck by a stick under the left eye.
With reference to the riot after the ball game, the facts appear to have been these: The Fifth Infantry team was defeated. An important decision of the umpire had gone against the soldiers, and their defeat left behind considerable soreness. In coming from the field to entrain, they were jeered at by a number of Jamaican negro boys. A soldier caught hold of one of the boys, and, without hurting him, apparently used him a little roughly. Some negro men in the crowd thereupon took part, throwing stones at the soldiers. This precipitated a general mêlée, in which soldiers, negroes and Panaman policemen participated, the latter using their revolvers and firing several shots into the crowd and at the train. In the meantime, word of the earlier trouble at Cash and Tenth Streets had reached some of the officers at the ball game, and orders had been given to detail a provost guard and get all the soldiers on the train, which was in waiting on a siding near the ball field. A company of the Coast Artillery Corps was promptly detailed as an armed guard, and upon its appearance, in squads of four men, the riot was quelled.
It was while Corporal Langdon was going to the scene of the trouble, in command of his squad, that he was shot down. The evidence as to who fired the fatal shot is very conflicting. It is not even certain that it was a policeman. There are indications that it may have been some person firing from the upper balcony of one of the neighboring houses.
It appears that five shots in all were fired by the soldiers, two by Corporal Langdon’s squad at the time he was killed and three by other members of the provost guard. None of them took effect. * * *
It seems to me probable that if there had been a guard to patrol the red light district and to preserve order at the ball field, there would have been no trouble.
As to the future, I am of the opinion that similar disturbances are only likely to occur when a considerable number of soldiers from other posts, or sailors from visiting warships, are given liberty in Colon, and that this danger can be avoided if an adequate provost guard be provided in each case.
Another precautionary measure which would seem to me highly advisable and which I am inclined to believe might be practicable, is to prevail upon the Panaman authorities to disarm their policemen in Colon, except in the case of picked men detailed for special duty. Very few Panaman policemen, in my opinion, have the judgment and steadiness of nerve to be trusted with fire-arms. When any emergency arises, they are almost sure to become so excited as practically to be irresponsible. I doubt very much, for instance, if in the riot of April 2, the policemen intended deliberately and of malice to shoot down American soldiers. I think it more likely that owing to the excitement caused by the fights with the negroes and the stone-throwing they completely lost their heads, and, having firearms, used them without realizing fully what they were doing.
The facts set forth in the above report are not based upon direct evidence taken by me, but I think that you may safely accept the account given of the occurrences as substantially correct.
I am [etc.]