Military history in the Foote and Terhune collections

July 8, 2016
Franz Kunst
Morris Cooper Foote

Stanford has recently acquired and processed two collections from American military officers operating overseas in the early 20th century. The papers of Morris Cooper Foote (M2103) and Warren Jay Terhune (M2132) chronicle several critical episodes in Western expansionism and occupation in Asia and its responses.

Morris Cooper Foote’s papers include a variety of material (manuscripts, journals, letters, memos, reports, photographs, maps, newspapers) from his service in the United States Army’s Ninth Infantry. Most of it concerns his experiences in the Boxer Rebellion, but he was already a seasoned veteran at the time. Foote was born September 16, 1843 in New York. His great-grandfather was William Cooper, the founder of Cooperstown, and he was also related to Jacob Morris, who served in the Revolutionary War, and novelist James Fenimore Cooper.

Foote enlisted in the New York Volunteer Infantry in 1861, beginning a forty year duty. He served throughout the Civil War and was present at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Foote was captured in April 1864 and later escaped from prison, later publishing a memoir based on these experiences. Following the Civil War, Foote served with his regiment, the 9th Infantry, in California, Alaska, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. He commanded a company that received the Territory of Alaska from Russia in 1867, and was present when the Russian flag was hauled down at Sitka. In the 1870s and 1880s Foote fought in the American Indian Wars and witnessed Geronimo’s surrender at Skeleton Canyon. In the Spanish-American War, Foote went to Cuba, commanding a battalion at San Juan.

 In June 1900 Foote was ordered to the Philippine Islands, but with the outbreak of the Boxer Rebellion his regiment was soon on its way to China. Foote’s regiment was part of the Eight-Nation Alliance which liberated the besieged Legation Quarter in Peking. From there he was ordered to Tientsin, the nearest port city to Peking, presently Tianjin (incidentally, Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover were living in Tientsin at the time). Foote was present at the Battle of Tientsin, and in October was ordered to command American forces in the area. Foote also represented the U.S. in Tientsin’s Provisional Government, communicating with Major General Adna R. Chaffee, Chief Secretary Charles Denby Jr., and Adjutant General Henry Hiestand of the China Relief Expedition Headquarters in Peking, as well as Allied Supreme Commander Alfred von Waldersee. Foote later served in the Philippines and retired in 1903, passing away two years later in Switzerland.

Allied soldiers posing during Boxer Rebellion

 Cyanotype group portrait of seventeen Allied soldiers of various nationalities, probably in Tientsin

And twenty years later…

Warren Jay Terhune (1869-1920) was a Commander in the United States Navy and the 13th Governor of American Samoa who committed suicide while in office in the midst of political intrigue and native Samoan civil disobedience. Like Foote, Terhune chose a life-long career in the armed forces. He was born in New Jersey on May 3, 1869 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1889. He served in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and Puerto Rico and was involved with US occupation of Nicaragua in 1912. During World War I Terhune was an instructor at the Naval Academy. On June 10, 1919, Terhune was appointed Governor of American Samoa.

Unrest in American Samoa centered on the handling of taxes on copra (dried coconut), the buying and selling of land, and the ways in which these systems infringed on fa’a Samoa customs. While the Mau resistance movement in Western Samoa had begun around the turn of the century, in the East the Mau grew out of a series of fono (meetings) in early 1920. The Mau formed as a reaction to arbitrary Navy rule and pushed for more autonomy and financial transparency. Terhune’s attitude towards native Samoans was generally patronizing, and he enacted many contentious policies, particularly the outlawing of interracial marriage. Interestingly, the collection does contain two memoranda signed by Samoan District Governors after Terhune’s death testifying to his honesty and good intentions.

The story--not all of which may be gleaned from the collection itself--is as follows: Lt. Commander Creed H. Boucher, who was Terhune’s first executive officer, began to be openly critical of the administration. Boucher was joined in his dissidence by civilian journalist Arthur Greene, whose wife was related to Mau leader Samuel Ripley. Boucher approached Terhune with the suggestion that he be hired to manage the copra tax. At the same time, both Boucher and Greene were stimulating anti-imperialist feelings amongst the Samoans (one might also wonder if the Mau were stimulating internal conflicts within the Naval administration).

After Terhune dismissed him for insubordination and other offenses, Boucher made a formal report to Naval authorities in California, accusing him of incompetence, misappropriation of funds, and native abuse. Boucher was replaced as Captain of the Yard by Commander Arthur C. Kail, who also supported the move to oust Terhune. According to David A. Chappell’s “The Forgotten Mau: Anti-Navy Protest in American Samoa, 1920-1935,” Kail received a petition signed by 178 chiefs asking for a new governor, as well as an end to the intermarriage ban, improved financial reporting, printing of laws in Samoan, more frequent fono, and the creation of a chief-based advisory council. In response, Kail attempted to persuade the post’s surgeon to declare Terhune insane. A copy of Kail’s letter to the doctor was found in Terhune’s quarters after his death.

Meanwhile, a Naval Board of Inquiry was formed in response to Boucher’s formal complaint. Two days before the Board arrived on the battleship Kansas, Terhune, depressed, in poor health, and frustrated by his inability to handle the crisis effectively, committed suicide by shooting himself through the heart on November 3, 1920. The Inquiry proceeded, exonerating Terhune and his administration of any wrong-doing. The copra tax process was also declared above board. However, the Board found that Terhune "while financially honest, lacked tact and firmness, due to his mental and physical condition, as indicated by his failure to correct the feeling of unrest and discontent by immediate and effective action."  Boucher was court-martialed, found guilty, and discharged. Greene was deported, and Kail was relieved of duty. Captain Waldo Evans, who led the Board, became the next governor of American Samoa.

Much of Terhune’s collection was assembled by his widow Josephine and post-dates Terhune himself, but there is a diary Warren Terhune kept while serving on the U.S.S. Atlanta in the 1890s which features detailed entries on his travels in Florida, Europe and South America, as well as photographs and sketches of ships and scenery.

Both collections naturally share a distinct armed forces perspective on events; this is especially true of Terhune’s collection whose contents are almost entirely sympathetic to Terhune and the Navy. However, both contain details not found anywhere else, especially the firsthand accounts recorded in their journals. Now that these collections have been described and housed with Special Collections, the task of reconciling these new details with the historical record is next.