The Military Attaché at Peking (Drysdale) to the Chargé in China (Tenney)50

Sir: With reference to the instructions received from the Legation regarding the Shelton affair, I have the honor to report as follows:

Upon my arrival at Hongkong from Bangkok on February 9th, I received your telegram directing me to proceed immediately to Yunnanfu to negotiate with local authorities concerning the rescue of Dr. Shelton. I was unable to get steamer accommodation from Hongkong to Haifeng until the 18th of February; however, I immediately sent a telegram to Yunnanfu to Mr. Thornton, the Manager of the Standard Oil Company there to wire me the latest [Page 797] developments regarding the Shelton affair and if he still considered my presence in Yunnanfu necessary. I received a reply from Mr. Thornton which reply was transmitted to the Legation that the local authorities had been out of touch with the pirates, that Shelton’s whereabouts were not known and that the Chinese Government had sent an expedition of 4000 soldiers against the Bandits, that the situation was grave, and requesting me to come immediately to Yunnanfu. I then proceeded to Canton to consult with Mr. Bergholz the American Consul there. Mr. Bergholz had sent the following telegram to the Military Governor at Yunnanfu on January 24, 1920:

“I am much concerned over Shelton and must earnestly urge you to make such terms with the robbers as will result in his release, otherwise the responsibility for his death, should he lose his life, would rest wholly upon you”.

The American Consul General had received a reply from the Military Governor at Yunnan, dated January 29th as follows:

“Your telegram of the 24th noted. Referring to the case of Dr. Shelton, responsible officials have been sent to use every effort in company with the Magistrates of the Lu Fang and Lo Ts’i districts to effect relief. Have met Dr. Shelton many times. His moving, resting, drinking and eating are all well. Clothing and mail matters sent to him by his family have been delivered by special men. Owing to too many unreasonable demands being made by the outlaws, the matter is somewhat difficult to be dealt with. Every means has been used to persuade them with the result that they have now been subjugated and (the captive) may be out of danger within a few days. I therefore first send you this telegraphic reply. 29th. (Signed) Tang Chi Yao. Sealed.”

From Canton I proceeded to Yunnanfu via Haifeng and arrived at Yunnanfu on the 23rd of February at 5:00 P.M. I consulted immediately with Mr. Naggiar the French Consul and received a copy of his report which is appended hereto.51 I consulted with the British Consul General, with Mrs. Shelton, with Father Bailly, the French Missionary and with various members of the American community. In consulting with the French Consul as well as the British Consul General, I found that both of these gentlemen were convinced that the best method of procedure in the Shelton case was to recommend that the Government send an expeditionary force to attack the bandits. Their contention was that by treating with the bandits, brigandage would be encouraged and that the future peace and order of the Province depended upon dealing severely with the bandits that had captured Dr. Shelton. Kindly refer to Mr. Ottewill’s report to the British Minister, Sir John Jordan, in which Mr. Ottewill reports as follows: [Page 798]

“The strongest action taken against the bandit is the only means which can result in securing the safety of foreigners and bring about peace in the Province”.

As will be seen from the reports of the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs, the British Consul General and the French Consul, the demand of the bandits if complied with would have resulted in strengthening this band of outlaws and giving them control of what is known as the Western District in the Province.

After a careful study of this situation during which time I received reports from officials and other Chinese sources, I was convinced that the capture of Dr. Shelton by the Bandit[s] was merely an incident in the far reaching political intrigue to remove Tang Chi Yao as Military Governor of the Province and put in his place Li Ken Yuan, the former Commander of the Yunnan Army in the Province of Kwangtung. There was to have been an attempt on the Governor’s life on Chinese New Years day. This attempt had been frustrated by the arrest of five conspirators of Yunnanfu; three of these conspirators were high ranking officers of the Army.

I took into consideration that the Chinese troops had been operating against the Bandits in attempting to secure the release of Dr. Shelton for months without results and I argued that in the mountain wildernesses of Yunnan, Chinese troops could operate indefinitely against the Bandits without securing the release of Dr. Shelton or without being able to capture Yang Tien Fu. I believed that troop movement could continue indefinitely without getting definite results and that Dr. Shelton would have remained in the hands of the Bandits indefinitely.

I argued moreover, that we could secure the release of Dr. Shelton and assist the Government at the same time by undertaking negotiations with the Bandit in an effort to induce the Bandits to quit the Province of Yunnan, and that by such a procedure we would assist the Governor in restoring order in his Province and that subsequently if the Bandits were permitted to go to the Province of Szechwan they would be easier controlled in Szechwan Province than on the Yunnan-Tali-fu caravan route where the Bandits were operating. It was certain that the Governor considered the situation as very serious and was willing to concede to any reasonable demand to get Yang Tien Fu out of the Province.

Upon my arrival at Yunnanfu however, I encountered an undercurrent of opposition from the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs and from the Military Commander; both of these gentlemen seemed unwilling to give me any proper information regarding the movements of the troops or the negotiations with the Bandits, and although I went directly to the Tuchun for information, I felt that in order to [Page 799] accomplish anything quickly, it was necessary for me, through my representative to open negotiations direct with the Bandits. Consequently after consulting with the Military Governor, I sent him the following letter:

From: Lieutenant Colonel W. S. Drysdale,
Military Attache and Special Representative of the American Legation, Peking, China.

To: His Excellency Tang Chi Yao,
Tuchun of the Province of Yunnan.

Excellency: As Special Representative of my Legation, I have the honor to make the following proposals to you with regard to the Shelton affair.

That your Excellency issue orders prohibiting all movement of troops against the bandit Yang Tien Fu or his followers, either in pursuit of or intended to prevent their escape. And that orders also be issued to those troops now in the field that they remain in their present positions and that these orders prohibit any further effort to capture or molest Yang Tien Fu or his followers. The orders to be issued prior to the departure from Yunnanfu of my representative.

That your Excellency permit negotiations to be opened by me, or my representative, direct with the bandit Yang Tien Fu. And that in the course of such negotiations I be specifically authorized to offer him the following conditions, or such portions of them as may be necessary, in order to secure the release of Doctor Shelton.

That Doctor Shelton be released immediately and delivered over to me, or my representative, uninjured and in possession of his property entire.
In case Doctor Shelton is delivered uninjured and in possession of his property, to me or my representative, your Excellency will guarantee the followinitem:
Complete pardon to Yang Tien Fu and his followers for all offences against the Government of Yunnan, committed prior to the date of the acceptance of these demands.
That your Excellency will give and guarantee safe conduct for Yang Tien Fu, and such of his followers as care to accompany him into the Province of Szechwan. That Yang Tien Fu and his followers may proceed with such arms and ammunition as they now possess. The route of travel to Szechwan and their subsequent location therein to be determined by your Excellency. The number of men accompanying Yang Tien Fu to be determined by my representative on the basis of the number of rifles and the amount of equipment actually in the possession of Yang Tien Fu and his followers.
That Yang Tien Fu and such of his followers as care to remain in the Province of Yunnan and return to peaceful and proper occupations, will be permitted to do so unmolested, unhindered and free from prosecution or punishment for all previous offences.
That your Excellency will cause to be turned over to Yang Tien Fu and his followers such monies as we may mutually decide to be sufficient to permit them to resume peaceful and proper occupations.
That in case Yang Tien Fu elects to proceed to Szechwan Province, your Excellency will cause him to be gazetted a Batallion Commander and permit him to organize his followers there, under his own personal command.
In case Yang Tien Fu or his followers attempt to escape or show bad faith during the negotiations, troop movement may be resumed upon notifying me of such intention.
The Yunnan Government agrees to purchase, at rates published in orders, such rifles as may be turned in to my representative.
That in case Yang Tien Fu or his followers refuse the terms outlined above within a reasonable time; such time to be decided by me; the negotiations will automatically cease and troop movement may be resumed.

In conclusion, I respectfully request that the above proposals be given immediate consideration. And, in the event that they meet with your approval, your Excellency turn over to me properly executed documents covering the safeguards and guarantees as outlined above. This in order to hasten the departure of my representative so that negotiations may be resumed with the least possible delay.

I take [etc.]

W. S. Drysdale,
Lieutenant Colonel U. S. Army.

Yunnanfu, Feb. 27, 1920.

To this letter the Governor replied in writing expressing his approval of the conditions as set forth. Translation of his letter as follows:

Yunnanfu 27, February 1920.

To: Colonel W. S. Drysdale,
Special Representative for American Legation, Peking Yunnanfu.

Dear Sir: I, the undersigned, have duly received and noted your letter of even date.

The same terms as you propose now were brought up previously for discussion with Yang Tien Fu by our deputies in hopes of facilitating the early release of Dr. Shelton, but Yang Tien Fu was so deceitful, that he did not keep his promises. You can easily have an idea of what we have been doing with regard to this case from the statement drawn up by the Bureau of Foreign Affairs, so there is no need for me to repeat the same thing here.

Although this Provincial Government has now altered its plan of employing peaceful means into that of adopting force, the safety of Dr. Shelton is still considered as the main object to be attained.

I, the undersigned hereby agree to all the terms you propose. They are similar to those which we discussed in person yesterday and they all have for their object the release of Dr. Shelton. I, the undersigned, have issued orders instructing all the civil and military officers concerned to take note of the same and act accordingly.

But I, the undersigned, must draw your attention to the following conditions, namely, that after the surrender of Yang Tien Fu and [Page 801] his followers, the location to be appointed for them to remain, the number of Yang Tien Fu’s followers who will surrender and the route that they shall take when leaving Yunnan province should be left to the decision of the Provincial Government. Furthermore, in order to avoid misunderstandings, a military officer from the Headquarters of the Third Garrison shall be appointed to accompany your representative to the Wuting district to assist in discussion of the terms of surrender.

In short, I, the undersigned, pledge myself to pardon Yang Tien Fu’s past misdeeds and the misdeeds of his followers, provided Yang Tien Fu hands back Dr. Shelton to your representative at an early date, thus proving the sincerity of his offers of surrender.

(Signed by) Tang Kye Yao,
Military Governor Yunnan Province.

Upon receiving the Governor’s sanction to my opening direct negotiations with Yang Tien Fu, I immediately selected Mr. J. P. Thornton, Manager of the local Standard Oil Company in Yunnanfu as my personal representative with full powers to act for me and to proceed to Wuting with an expedition consisting of representatives of the Government as well as Chinese writers, Chinese runners and servants. Mr. Thornton was accompanied by Dr. Osgood, who represented the same Missionary Society in China as Dr. Shelton, and Mr. Frederick A. Smith the correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. The entire expedition was sent out guarded by special troops from the Governor’s personal body guard, and my orders to Mr. Thornton and the other foreigners were in no case to leave the immediate vicinity of the Military Guard furnished them by the Chinese.

Wuting was three days by caravan from Yunnanfu and that many days closer to the districts in which the bandits were operating. I was connected with Mr. Thornton with a private telephone line and I remained at Yunnanfu in order to make sure that the Military Commander and the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs complied in every respect with the agreement entered into with me by the Tuchun. The opposition of these two men, had I been absent from Yunnanfu might have prevented me from continuing negotiations. This decided me to remain in Yunnanfu where I could immediately appeal to the Governor in case subordinates failed to comply in every respect with his instructions. Upon arriving at Wuting, Mr. Thornton immediately sent out two parties of runners carrying letters for Yang Tien Fu and for Dr. Shelton. These letters stated that the American Representative had arrived and had secured permission from the Military Governor to open negotiations with Yang Tien Fu in attempt to settle the Shelton affair peacefully, and requesting him to send his representative to consult with our representative at Wuting. At the same time that our runners were sent out, the [Page 802] Chinese Magistrate at Wuting also sent out between twenty and twenty-five runners into the districts in which the bandits were operating to again get in touch with the bandits and discover the exact whereabouts of Dr. Shelton.

Before our letters were delivered to Yang Tien Fu or to Dr. Shelton, one of the spies sent out by the Wuting Magistrate found Dr. Shelton in a small village about 50 li west of Yuen Mow. Dr. Shelton had become ill and unable to travel and had been left hidden in a barn in this small village by the bandits and guarded by one Chinese and three aborigines. Dr. Shelton had been in this barn for five days recuperating and had gotten well enough to travel. His Chinese guard had left him to notify Yang Tien Fu, so that the bandit could send for him and take him away. This left his guard to the three ignorant aborigines, and the villagers who were evidently in sympathy with the bandits. When the runner from the Wuting Magistrate arrived, the villagers recognized him as a Government official and immediately gave the alarm that the Chinese troops were coming. The three aborigines as well as the villagers fled at this alarm and Dr. Shelton went out and found this runner from the Wuting Magistrate and was escorted by him to the nearest Chinese Garrison at Yuen Mow. In this manner it will be seen that Dr. Shelton was secured without conceding anything whatsoever to the Bandits who immediately were pursued by all available troops. It is interesting to note that the followers of the Bandits number at least 600 men, and when pursued by troops these followers scattered into small bands, and again assembled when convenient in such place as seemed to them suitable.

Throughout the entire proceeding the Military Governor showed an unusual interest in the Shelton affair and assisted me in every way possible in these negotiations. Such orders or instructions as I requested he issue to his Military Commander or his Civilian officials he issued promptly and showed every indication of active cooperation.

I wish to especially mention to the Legation, the services rendered by Mr. Naggiar the French Consul at Yunnanfu, by Mr. Claude Bailly, French Missionary, by Mr. J. P. Thornton, American Agent of the Standard Oil Company at Yunnanfu and of Mr. R. Ch. Forest Lynn, Chinese Representative of Yunnan Governor, for assistance rendered the American Legation in securing the release of Dr. Shelton, and I venture to suggest that a letter of thanks from the Legation be sent to these gentlemen.

Enclosed please find report of the British Consul General, Mr. Ottewill, to the British Minister, Peking; translation of French Consul’s statement to Colonel W. S. Drysdale regarding the Shelton affair; report of Mrs. Shelton at Yunnanfu; translation of a report [Page 803] of the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs of the Yunnan Government; four documents in French from the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs of the Yunnan Government, and a copy of a personal diary kept by Dr. Shelton while he was in the hands of the Bandits from the time of his capture until the 23rd of February.51

I have [etc.]

W. S. Drysdale
  1. Transmitted by the Chargé as an enclosure to his despatch no. 3233, May 10; received June 17.
  2. Not found in Department files.
  3. None of these documents found in Department files.