Spanish American War Website Banner

Manila in 1899

as seen by

George Frankenfield of the Utah Light Artillery

Contributed by Irene Heiland and Betty Riter

Please Visit our Home Page to learn more about the Spanish American War


The account below was written by George Frankenfield of Battery A of the Utah Light Artillery. This account is an excellent first-hand description of Manila as it existed in late 1898, as the Spanish American War drew to a close. The war ended on December 10, 1898 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The account is preceded by two letters, which explain Mr. Frankenfield's reason for writing the account.

The letters were in the possession of Irene Heiland's mother, Carrie Frankenfield Horne, having been written to Carrie's father, William Frankenfield.  The letters are handwritten in black ink on paper that has yellowed and frayed during the passage of years.  At age 20 years, George Frankenfield was in military service in a foreign land.  He wrote home about what he saw, and that he was sending a 25-page essay entitled "Life of a Soldier in the Tropics."  He asked that his essay be published.

Biographical data on Mr. Frankenfield:

George S. Frankenfield was born June 12, 1876 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a son of Cornelius K. (1850-1885) and Emma Keener Frankenfield (born 1852).  On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war against Spain in a war known as the Spanish American War.  On May 5, 1898, George S. Frankenfield, at age 22 years, enlisted in Battery A, Utah Light Artillery.  He was discharged August 16, 1899.  On June 2, 1906, he married Emma Lizzie Koch (born 1886) at the bride's home in Passer, PA.  She was a daughter of Sylvanus and Mary Koch.  George and Emma Koch Frankenfield lived in Coopersburg, PA.  He was a steel worker and lost his right leg below the knee in an accident at Bethlehem PA.  He was also a painter.  They had two sons, Richard born in 1906 and Milton born in 1907.  George S. Frankenfield died on January 21, 1936 at age 60 years in the Veterans Hospital in Mountain Home, Tennessee.

The Letters:

Dec. 7 – 98

My dear Cousin.

 My letter describing Manila is not quite finished yet and by the time the next mail leaves I have it ready.  The mail leaves tomorrow and I just thought Id leave you know I am well and wishing the boys was free to go ahead.  Tell Milton and Eva Ill answer both of their letters in a few days.  Please do what you can for me as capital is beginning to flow in and corporation is here and I think the soldiers ought to have the first chance as we paved the way for the others.  After the other letter is finished Ill start one entitled Life of a soldier in the Tropics and I want you to get it published.  So good bye from your friend and cousin.

Geo. F

 Manila. P.I.   Dec 11 - 98
Sunday Eve.  8.40 P.M.

To My Dear Cousin.-

 Today the Utah Battery buried its first comrade and as usual, it was one of the best and noblest of boys a poor widowed mother survives him to whom he sent all his money.  All of our boys chipped in and are going to get the body embalmed and send it back on next steamer.  The bargain is to do so to all the boys if they should die here and I think it is a good idea don’t you.  The Merchants and the rest of the citizens of this town were raising a fund for the sick boys of the hospital to give them a good Christmas dinner and just think what Military Governor done he went to work and told them they could not feed the boys and so they have to take the money back aint it a shame as the money was given with the best of intentions they had over 2500 twenty five hundred dollars so you see how it goes in this world.  On the following sheets you will find a short description of Manila as good as I could word it.  You could publish it if you please but please never publish any of my private letters.  I will send Milton my next piece Entitled the Life of a soldier in the Tropics.  So I must close.  Best regards to all So Goodbye.

From your cousin.
Geo  Frankenfield,
Utah Bat A.   Manila, P.I.

The Description:


The city of Manila is situated on the eastern shore of Manila Bay.  In the southern part of the island of Luzon the largest of the Phillipine group.  The town is divided into two parts.  The old or walled city, and the new city. The old city, or Manila proper, is on the left bank of the Pasig River, and is surrounded by a wall about three miles in circumference.  This wall is one of the most pleasing sights of the city it is about twenty five feet high and on an average of the same thickness.  The most exposed parts being the thickest.  It is surrounded by a double moat which is full of mud and filth of centuries, and the work on this fortification is immense.  The greater part was built by Chinese coolies.  While it is no defense against modern artillery It has on more than one occasion served as a refuge for white people and might be used again as a refuge in case of an upraiseing of the natives.  The talk of destroying the walls has often been discussed by Spanish officals but this has been coupled with the fear that if the filth of centuries would let loose such a stench that a plague might be the result.  Has so far prevented any action in this matter...

The Pasig River at Manila, Luzon, Philippines

The Pasig River at Manila

...The Pasig River flows through the centre of Manila.  While its branches make it a city of canals.  These canals are of great importance as high ways and are used as such by the natives.  The district of Binondo on the right bank of the river Pasig is the business centre of Manila.  Along the banks of the river which is confined by stone embankments, are found the large wholesale houses and also the Custom House.  The river is deep enough to admit vessels drawing up to thirteen feet of water and the boats drive along the wharves.   Steamers schooners and scores of natives “casoes” which are used as lighters.  They are purely native craft covered with bamboo and propelled by means of a long bamboo pole.  There is a platform on each side of this boat at the water level and the native boatman walks along this one end of the pole to his shoulder and slowly propels this unwieldy craft which is to him both a home and the means to earn his living.   His family reside with him in the little shed in the stern of the boat.  A great deal of the river traffic is carried on by these cascos.  There are also many of the Native boats made out of hollowed logs in which immense loads of tropical fruit is brought down the river.  These boats are so narrow that to sit in one of them without capsizing is a balancing feat of no mean order, and a trip in one of them across the river dodging the steamers is very exciting.  The city and general prison is well worth a visit a large colony of evil doers the main part of them have a large chain fastened to their ankles with a thing like a clevis, the pin firmly rivited.  In the day time the end of the long chain attached is fastened around their waist.  So soon as the Americans took charge the chains were taken off and are now shown to visitors as relics.  There are at present Nov – 98 – confined in this place about seven hundred and fifty prisoners.  They make all kinds of little things to sell such as horn spoons, knife handles and rings from the horns of water buffalo.  Shell carving, basket weaving and all such work are beautifully done.  One of the most interesting sights to be seen there is the garrott or strangling machine with which punishment is inflicted under Spanish law.  The original of this was simply a short piece of rope with ends spliced which was placed around the victims neck the ends passed through a hole in the post a stick was then inserted and twisted until the victim was strangled to death.  The modern machine is a great improvement of this method.  It is a rectangular iron frame sliding on a grooved collar which is firmly bolted to a post.  The front of the frame is hinged and can be opened to admit the neck of the condemned person.  The back of the frame is drilled and tapped to admit a large screw very much like a letter press screw this screw is in contact of the collar.  The execution always takes place in some public place.  The condemned dressed in a long black robe is led to the post and made to sit on a narrow seat so placed that his neck is on the level with a garrote.  The victim of Justice is bound to the post the frame is pushed out and closed around his neck.  The Black Cap is then adjusted.  The officer in charge gives the signal.

The executioner turns the screw rapidly there is a short convulsive struggle and all is over.  The body is left exposed for hours.  I asked the executioner with whom the machine was left in charge wheather it did not horrify him to do it.  He answered Oh no I get 16 dollars a month to do it.  Just think of it 8 American dollars.  From his manner I have no doubt he would be glad to depopulate the whole island as long as his money came in pretty regular.  He has executed twenty seven victims and his machine has a record of over two hundred men who have suffered under the inhuman method of treatment dished out by the Spanish.  Manila can boast of a good system of electric lighting and the water works are very credible indeed.  The entire system was presented to the city from a man by the name of Cariedo, who was a public benefactor indeed.  The water is pumped into the mains by means of a powerful engine.  During the siege by Uncle Sams forces the water supply was cut off by the insurgents, But as the rain was plentiful all the time no great discomfort resulted.  The water was not turned on until several days after we took the city and then the insurgents used every possible means to keep them but were balked by the American forces.  The principal street of Manila is the Escolta on which are the large retail establishments of the city mostly in the hands of Europeans.  It is very narrow and only about one third of a mile in length, and as may be amagined during the busy hours of the day and early hours of the evening it is quiet a struggle for one to force his way through the crowd.  There are Americans Spaniards Natives and Chinese elbowing their way through and it is quiet amusing to see how the American can wave all others aside.  At twelve oclock all is quiet and all the stores are closed the shopkeepers are all away sleeping the siesta a noonday nap which is a habit in this hot climate.  Rosario Street ajoins the Escolta and runs at right angles to it.  This is the quarter occupied by the Chinese merchants of the better class.  Some of them are bright intelligent fellows.  But the majority of them are not desirable neighbors at close quarters and a man going into their dens as the soldiers call their stores is very fortunate if a cough does not overtake him.  The stench when the Americans first came into the city was terrible as they live together like animals not knowing what a pillow or bed spring looks like.  On a whole the Chinese are a menace to the city.  Nearly all of them being born in this place from Philipine mothers and the Chinese language is rarely spoken. Londo is the native quarter it is the suburb beyond Binondo and is the dwelling place of the poorer class of people.  Here the erection of huts of bamboo is permitted.  The ground is perfectly flat and there is no system of drainage all the filth of the houses accumulates and pools of water form in hollows in wet weather.  The result is when dry season comes fever makes dreadful ravages among these people...

Houses in the Philippines

The houses of the lower class of residents

...The death rate in Manila is from twenty to thirty a day in a city of 400,000.  this is very moderate and under the present sanitary conditions it is not a wonder that people die here, but that they live at all this proves that the climate is not in itself very unhealthful.   The richer and better class of merchants and military men have their residences in San Miguel and San Sebastian districts.  Here some of the beautiful houses and grounds are to be seen.  One of the most beautiful places in the city is called the Palace of Malacanan the summer residence of the Captain General of the Phillipines.  Nearly all the houses are two stories high and one very seldom sees one of three stories.  Some of the old houses are roofed with red tiles but this is being abandoned on account of earthquakes that have taken place in recent years.  Corrugated iron is now used instead and it is not liable to fall in and disturb the owner when the earths crust is disturbed.  The windows of the lower stories are protected by heavy iron bars.  The windows are like doors and instead of glass semi-transparent sea shell is used.  These are said to be better adapted to the climate as they let in sufficient light and break the direct rays of the hot sun.  The interior of the houses is cool and pleasant.  The floors without carpet are made of hard-wood is highly polished to the brightness of a mirror.  The reclining chairs of bamboo and the beautiful flowers on the stairway make the visitor feel himself comfortable and happy.  Public buildings there is only one and that is the city hall in the old city.  Here is also the government museum.  Churches there are plenty and generally speaking they far surpass the churches in America in interior decorations.  The Church of St. Ignacio attached to the Jesuit College  is a gem of art and is the most unique building in the world.  The interior is entirely of Native woods carved by master workmen.  The floor is of different colored woods.  Around the Church is the statue of Christ and the different saints carved from wood and without a flaw.  The delicacy of the work is something marvelous the building of this took twelve years.  One little petal in the pulpit 12 by 18 inches took three months to execute.  The native mechanic has unlimited patience.  But I must not forget to mention the cemetaries.  The place marked with a cross are the chapels where the services take place.  Around it are two rings of masonery some ten feet high and ten feet thick in which are constructed niches one above the other three high just large enough to admit a coffin.  This niche is then hermetically sealed with masonry for this a rent of 35 dollars is paid which is good for five years if after this time the family wish to renew their lease they can do so if not the place is opened and the bones are removed and taken to their final resting place a large pile in one corner and here can be seen skulls and bones of all sorts of people.   Manila is a very quiet place the heavy walls and cannon give the place a somber appearance.  There is no theatre that can be called a theatre and there are no parks unless the one or two plazas can be given that name.  There is one fine driveway along the water front outside of the wall and moat it is called Lunetta and can not be surpassed by the fine drives in Fairmount Park with which you are all familar.  Here on the Lunetta in the cool hours of the evening the upperclass of Manila society can be seen in open carriages drawn by navtive ponies.  The Spanish ladies some of them extremely handsome, bare-headed dressed in light gauzy fabrics appropiate to the climate are very pleasing to the sight of the homesick exiled American Boys.  As they ride by their dark eyes flashing and their pearly teeth sparkling through the smiling lips.  But. Alas, they are very loyal to their country and lost cause and cast no kind looks or favors on us rude Americans or Yankees as they call us.  Some of the men are very friendly.  But I have yet to see a Spanish “Lady” in company with an American.  Dances used to be in great activity but the war put a stop to all that.  Cock fighting the greatest pastime has sprung into existance again.  There are many sights that are curious to the strangers eyes and many more that are simply disgusting.  Under the latter head come first and foremost the lepers.  Several hundred of these are in the city.  As there is a special hospital built for them But during the seige and capture of the city many escaped and wandered around the city in search of food.  As soon as the Health department set up by military law a search was ordered and those on whom the slightest mark or scar showed were promptly hauled up in front of the Cheif Surgeons office.  I have seen faces so contorted and disfigured by the terrible disease that no gleam of sparkle from the eyes answered mine and every vistage of life seemed to have departed from the dried up human shriveled body.  In gazing on these poor creatures and realizes that there is no cure or hope for the sufferer he thinks the man is right who advocates the painless removal of all such hopeless cases.  Next comes the Chinese who control the trade and handle everything from an anchor down to a pin.  They make soap and sugar and are tinkers blacksmiths boilermakers chair makers and lay their hands on everything they can. They understand all the tricks of the trade and can starve out a new comer as three cents a day is all they need to live.  The only time in the history of the place where a Chinese spent money was quiet recently.  Major Milsaps of the Salvation Army recd a number of Chinese warcrys from Frisco and the Chinese bought them all at ten cents a copy.  A stranger will be surprised to find so many goods here of foreign make and manufacture but very little goods are manufactured here and cheap labor caused them to handle foreign goods.  Everybody takes a siesta or Midday nap and the whole city is dead from 12 until 2 P.M.  Early in the morning and late at night the shops and stores are ablaze with lights and the main street the Escolta is crowded and the Lunetta crowded with carriages.  The cheif aim in life of a Spaniard is to sleep.  Americans are here now and in a short time Manila will not know itself as they think the hours of the daylight can be used to better purpose.  The natives are a race of people without any history.  A Spaniard told me the following story.  Years ago there came to the island a new Capt General and he seemed to take an interest in the natives.  He made the acquantance of our old priest who had been here twenty years and asked him to write him a book on the subject Character of the Philipine native.  Five years went by and one day the General met the priest and he said Well father how are you getting along with the book. Sir was the reply for two years I have been trying to fill a blank sheet and I find that after twenty years of study I know nothing of the true character of the Indian.  To us the navtives mind is a sealed book.  Now I must give you a breif account of some of the important facts of the old city since Magellan made his famous journey from Spain.  He came to these islands in 1521.  Magellan was soon killed by the natives and the Spanish government delayed taking possession of their newly discovered territory for years after.  It was not until 1565 that Miguel Lopez de Legapsi with a strong force landed on the island of Oahu (?) and after founding a city of the same name then he set sail for Manila and landed there on May 19th 1571 and founded the city declaring it should be the capital of the new famous islands.  In May 1603  a fire broke out and destroyed about one third of the city and this was followed by a general uprising of the Chinese numbering about 30,000 while the Spaniards only numbered about 8000 men.  The Chinese began to slay and burn on all sides and the Spaniards took refuge in the city behind the walls and forced the Chinese to retire after a time.  For years after that the Spanish had to struggle to keep the city out of the hands of the Dutch as they were extending there possessions in the Asiatic waters and for a time had Manila Bay blocked but were afterwards defeated by a Spanish navy at the same place where Dewey defeated the Spanish.  Nov 30, 1640 Manila was visited by an earthquake destroying a greater part of the city and destroying over 600 people.  There were several towns destroyed by volcanic eruptions.  The following year the Dutch made another unsuccessful attempt on Manila.  All through this century the Chinese and Navtives made trouble for their mother country.  The town was once captured by the English forces after a four days bombardment and afterwards given back to the Spanish.  From 86 to 89 the now famous Weyler of  Cuba was the Gov Genl of these islands and by the iron hand of brutality quieted several outbreaks from the Natives.  With the exception of electric lights and streetcars the now dead English soldier of one century ago would feel perfectly safe at home as he used to for the same green mossy wall stands and the same cannon point seaward and Spain has lost her last foothold in the Pearl of the Orient.

Geo  Frankenfield


Letters and description of Manila sent courtesy of Irene Heiland through Betty Riter

Photos courtesy of Paul Murphy

Support this Site by Visiting the Website Store! (help us defray costs!)
We are providing the following service for our readers. If you are interested in books, videos, CD's etc. related to the Spanish American War, simply type in "Spanish American War" (or whatever you are interested in) as the keyword and click on "go" to get a list of titles available through

Visit Main Page for copyright data

Return to Action Reports Page
Return to War in The Philippines Page
Return to Main Page