James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

February 5

The Ballad of Paco Town

By Clinton Scollard (1860–1932)

  • Paco is a small town near Manila. The incident described in the ballad occurred during the battle of Santa Ana, fought on Feb. 5, 1899, and resulting in the total rout of General Ricarti’s division of the Filipino army. The signal man who performed the daring deed, was Lieutenant Charles E. Kilbourne, Jr.

  • IN Paco town and in Paco tower,

    At the height of the tropic noonday hour,

    Some Tagal riflemen, half a score,

    Watched the length of the highway o’er,

    And when to the front the troopers spurred.

    Whiz-z! whiz-z! how the Mausers whirred!

    From the opposite walls, through crevice and crack,

    Volley on volley went ringing back

    Where a band of regulars tried to drive

    The stinging rebels out of their hive;

    “Wait till our cannon come, and then,”

    Cried a captain, striding among his men,

    “We’ll settle that bothersome buzz and drone

    With a merry little tune of our own!”

    The sweltering breezes seemed to swoon,

    And down the calle the thickening flames

    Licked the roofs in the tropic noon.

    Then through the crackle and glare and heat,

    And the smoke and the answering acclaims

    Of the rifles, far up the village street

    Was heard the clatter of horses’ feet,

    And a band of signal-men swung in sight,

    Hasting back from the ebbing fight

    That had swept away to the left and right.

    “Ride!” yelled the regulars, all aghast,

    And over the heads of the signal-men,

    As they whirled in desperate gallop past,

    The bullets a vicious music made,

    Like the whistle and whine of the midnight blast

    On the weltering wastes of the ocean when

    The breast of the deep is scourged and flayed.

    It chanced in the line of the fiercest fire

    A rebel bullet had clipped the wire

    That led, from the front and the fighting, down

    To those that stayed in Manilla town;

    This gap arrested the watchful eye

    Of one of the signal-men galloping by,

    And straightway, out of the plunge and press,

    He reined his horse with a swift caress

    And a word in the ear of the rushing steed;

    Then back with never a halt nor heed

    Of the swarming bullets he rode, his goal

    The parted wire and the slender pole

    That stood where the deadly tower looked down

    On the rack and ruin of Paco town.

    Out of his saddle he sprang as gay

    As a schoolboy taking a holiday;

    Wire in hand up the pole he went

    With never a glance at the tower, intent

    Only on that which he saw appear

    As the line of his duty plain and clear.

    To the very crest he climbed, and there,

    While the bullets buzzed in the scorching air,

    Clipped his clothing, and scored and stung

    The slender pole-top to which he clung,

    Made the wire that was severed sound,

    Slipped in his careless way to the ground,

    Sprang to the back of his horse, and then

    Was off, this bravest of signal-men.

    Cheers for the hero! While such as he,

    Heedless alike of wounds and scars,

    Fight for the dear old Stripes and Stars,

    Down through the years to us shall be

    Ever and ever the victory!