Robert Bruce Payne (1872-1937) was an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska when war broke out between the United States and Spain in April 1898. He enlisted on May 10 of that year as a private in Company D of the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry Regiment. His short diary, written in a discarded Spanish account book, is now in the possession of one of his daughters and was published in Nebraska History (Winter 1988). It is significant partly because it offers a new description of the beginning of hostilities between Filipino and American forces after Spain had turned over the Philippines to the United States.
“Febr. 7: 99 Today has been an uneventful day. The dead were buried and a little skirmishing done but few natives could be found. . . . By the way these are the two men who started the war. The sergeant, a Dutch man [Sgt. Joseph De Vriendt], told the guard [Pvt. William Grayson], a man of little character, not to stand any monkey work. There was a lieut. on the Filipino side who had about as much sense as the afore mentioned who had been getting drunk and causing trouble before. He came down and ordered a post of ours moved back which had been moved up to hold one in check which had been pushed up by the Filipinos. This had been done during the day and when night came the lieut. came up and was halted by our sentinels. He called back ‘Alto,’ the Spanish for ‘halt’ at which our sentinel fired upon him and it is stated killed him but he was taken back by the native soldiers with him.”
The war with the Filipinos continued sporadically until mid-1902 and cost the United States more lives than the previous war with Spain. Having volunteered to fight the Spanish, Payne, who participated in a total of seventeen engagements against the Spanish and the rebels, became increasingly disillusioned with the bloody campaign being waged against the Filipinos.
He wrote to his brother in Nebraska and asked him to arrange a discharge. Finally discharged in Manila on May 9, 1899, he returned to the United States via Japan and China, bringing with him his short diary–the only one he ever kept. He became a school teacher, first in Nebraska and then Colorado, and later followed a career in the U.S. Postal Service. He died in Lincoln in 1937.