Arthur Bonnicastle

Arthur Bonnicastle

It was a short-lived life ending at forty-five years of age. Though, it was filled, with adventure and servitude. Full blood Osage Arthur Bonnicastle was born on the Osage reservation in Indian Territory on 20 Feb 1877. He was educated, enlisted in the United States (U.S.) army, and served as interpreter and later chief for his people.

As a young man of twenty-two, he enrolled at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, in 1899. School records indicate that Bonnicastle left school to enlist in military service the following year. He would serve in the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment.

The following is a glimpse into Bonnicastle’s military service. It comes from a personal project of mine examining the history of Osage leaders. Bonnicastle is around 23 years of age when he is going to participate at the conclusion of The Boxer Rebellion in China.

The Boxer Rebellion, also known as The Boxer Uprising, began 2 November 1899 and ended 7 September 1901. A secret Chinese organization, they were dubbed Boxers by Westerners, who saw their marital arts reminiscent of shadow boxing.

The rebellion was against “foreigners ... in China” ... and the “Western and Japanese influence” in their country. The attack involved killing the foreigners and “Chinese Christians” along with the destruction of “foreign property.” When the Boxers moved against Peking [Beijing, today], “international forces” were called upon to “subdue the uprising.”

The 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment was “part of a multi-national military effort known as the Eight Nation Alliance (1900-1901).” This Chinese Relief Expedition’s mission included rescuing U.S. citizens, European nationalists and other foreigners.

In 1901, Arthur Bonnicastle, who was stationed in the Philippines, sent a letter to Ida Luppy, an instructor at the federal government’s Osage boarding school, on the Osage agency grounds. The Osage Journal, a Pawhuska newspaper, published it.

“We left Manila on the 26th day of June” [1900] where the men landed at Tong-Ku, China, on July 9th. Bonnicastle said he spent the Fourth of July “on the blue waters of the Pechiti sea.” Being under gunfire, he wrote in the letter that “it was like a fourth of July in the United States to hear the big guns go off.”

The men had traveled by night and arrived at Tientsin on July 11th. [Tianjin, is a major port in northwest China.] They were sleeping soundly on the ground when at 4 o’clock in the morning they were awaken by “the boom of Chinese artillery.” They were being fired upon from three sides. At daybreak the “firing ceased and at noon we renewed the attack.”

At night on July 12th, Bonnicastle said they were “ordered on the firing line.” Then at 2:30 in the morning, they opened fire on the Chinese with lyddite shells and bullets. Lyddite shells were British artillery and were “powerful explosives containing picric acid.” As daylight appeared, they “advanced” losing men including a commanding officer, Emerson H. Liscum (13 July 1900). It seemed that perhaps the Chinese “thought they had us, but they could not stand our terrible and accurate firing.” The enemy fled.

On July 13 and 14, the Battle of Tientsin or the Relief of Tientsin took place.

Bonnicastle wrote that “the American flag was hoisted on the great wall of Tientsin over the bodies of the dead Chinese.”

Again, Bonnicastle was just a young man who was witness to horrible carnage. He told Ida Luppy that “there were thousands and thousands of Chinese killed. [The] next day all we could see were the bodies of dead Chinese soldiers floating down the Pu-Ho River.”

In the city a couple of days later, he watched people on street corners begging to be shot. The “Japanese did this without hesitation. Every China man, they saw they killed. Some they tortured before killing them.”

One such incident, Bonnicastle described involved the capture of three Chinese spies. The men’s hands and feet were tied. They were then hanged by their “cues [or queue]” and stabbed by bayonets. “The Chinese spies suffered untold pain before dying, but as they were spies, they received no sympathy.” He told Luppy that there were other methods of punishment, but he would tell her about it at a later date.

The supporting force left Tientsin on August 4th and met the Chinese the following day “just outside of the walls” and drove them back eight miles before camping for the night. On August 6th, they reached Yung-Tsuni [maybe Yang-Tsung] which “was our most trying time.”

“To be in a battle is something very strange and I could not begin to tell you of the feeling that comes over one. Imagine if you will yourself entirely exposed to the enemy and shells and bullets whistling an imitation of a rain storm on a tin roof around you and your comrades falling to your side having been pierced by a Chinese bullet.”

After the battle, Bonnicastle worked caring for the wounded and carrying away the dead. One man was missing, but “we had to look and look until we found him.” From here, the men moved on to Peking. “We were all worn out, but that was taken out of us when we went forward to take that city.”

Arthur Bonnicastle’s account ended with him telling Luppy that he would tell her more at another time.

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Managing Editor

Lindsey is the managing editor for the Skiatook Journal. She holds an M.A in English from the University of Central Oklahoma. Prior to the start of her news career in 2011, Renuard was a professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma.