Eric Grynaviski

Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs

George Washington University
Department of Political Science
21115 G. St. NW, 440 Monroe Hall
Washington, DC 20052

ericgryn [at]

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Lowe's Scouts

May 6, 2017

During the Philippine-American War, the United States successfully recruited Philippine units across the islands. The Macabebe were the most successful. Here I describe Lowe's Scouts, one of the least successful.

Lowe's Scouts was considered an "experiment." They were recruited from Tagalogs, who were of the same language speaking population as the insurgents fighting against the United States. They were from Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Philippines.

On the right is a 1899 map of the Philippines, showing Luzon in the north.

Philippine Islands

Some who follow the history of the war might be surprised by the judgment that Lowe's Scouts were a failure.

During the war, their success was lauded.

A historical example of how they were praised is a letter in support of Joseph Castner, the officer who commanded the unit, citing his service in working with Lowe's Scouts.

The best account of the Lowe's Scouts service is a book written by Major Edward O'Reilly describing his service with the Scouts. He called it Roving and Fighting (1918).

He describes the missions of the Lowe's Scouts that he witnessed. The book is written in the style of American military memoirs in the Philippines, filled with useless adventures that are difficult to swallow. But in between daring-do with little purpose, a clear story of the scouts and their history emerges.

The first efforts to recruit the scouts were largely a failure. The company was originally composed of forty white soldiers, with only 13 native scouts enlisted.

Slowly, more joined and the proportion of white scouts declined sharply.

The scouts did what scouts often did. They served as an advanced guard, guides, and did messenger service. They also fought. Sadly, O'Reilly spends more time on funny stories of daily life than chronicling the achievements of the scouts, and when he describes the scouts, he emphasizes the white officers.

O'Reilly is pictured on the left.

Lowe's Scouts were much less successful than other units. America's Middlemen  reconstructs a basic timeline for their recruitment. After Matthew Batson won approval for the Macabebe Scouts, General Henry Lawton developed an idea to recruit Tagalogs to fight alongside American troops.

The were named Lowe's Scouts, after their first commander, Percival Lowe. Lowe quickly left, and was replaced by J.C. Castner. The name Lowe's Scouts, however, stuck.

At its peak, Lowe's Scouts were a significantly smaller unit than the Macabebe Scouts. O'Reilly lists 200 members, though I can find no enlistment records to support a number that high. Nor does any other source I can find corroborate two effective companies.

Castner's personnel file explains what happened. Before Castner took command, recruitment was difficult. A few native scouts would join, only to leave after a few days (see left). Over time, a police chief helped to find more dependable men for the army, increasing the number of volunteers (see right). Yet, the numbers remained small.

Why did the numbers remain small? To some extent, this is a historical mystery. Except for the Macabebe Scouts, the military kept poor records of the enlistment and use of native troops in the first part of the war. The reasons, incredibly boring, relate to bookkeeping. They did not know where the records should be housed.

From what we can reconstruct, however, part of the story of Lowe's Scouts is the plucking of the talented officers for better duty. As Lowe's Scouts began to increase in number a bit, the Macabebe Scouts had dramatically expanded. By March 31, Batson had 640 Macabebe Scouts under his command, and was expanding the unit into a squadron (see right)

The white commanders described as effective by O'Reilly were offered promotions and new positions in this unit (see far right). Not all the officers took them however. Castner became sick, and returned to the United States.

All images housed on website for this post are from the National Archives, Washington DC or National Archives II, College Park MD.

Feel free to contact me for full references.