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“The People Were Very Peaceable”: The U.S. Senate Investigates the Haitian Occupation

Largely at the behest of American bankers, U.S. marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. By 1919, Haitian Charlemagne Péralte had organized more than a thousand cacos, or armed guerrillas, to militarily oppose the marine occupation. The marines responded to the resistance with a counterinsurgency campaign that razed villages, killed thousands of Haitians, and destroyed the livelihoods of even more. The military atrocities and abuse of power during the Caco War of 1919–1920 led to a U.S. Senate investigation into the occupation. In these excerpts from the “Inquiry into Occupation and Administration of Haiti,” the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Haiti and Santo Domingo interviewed Haitians about marine conduct in the guerrilla war against the cacos.

Mr. [Ernest] Angell: Your name is Dilon Victor?

Mr. Victor: Yes.

Angell: Do you live in Miragoane?

Victor: Yes.

Angell: You have lived there for a long time?

Victor: Thirty-seven years.

Angell: Were you arrested and confined in the prison at Miragoane?

Victor: Yes.

Angell: Was this in 1917?

Victor: The 3d of November, 1917.

Angell: And how long were you confined in the prison?

Victor: Twenty-seven days.

Angell: Do you know for what reason you were confined?

Victor: Yes.

Angell: What?

Victor: I am an inhabitant—a planter. I have two pieces of property, one piece of property in the first rural section of the Commune of Miragoane and the other in the fourth section in the plain of Fond des Negres. Each year I spent six months on one property and six months on the other.

Chairman [Senator Medill McCormick]: Now, what is all this about? What is the pertinency of this?

Angell: I asked why he was arrested and put in prison.

Chairman: Yes; but I don’t see the connection of this.

Angell: It has something to do with a horse, Senator.

Chairman: Go directly to the question as to what the charge was.

Victor: I was arrested by Lieut. Jackson. He wished to borrow my horse. I told him no before lending him my horse I wished it to have time to rest, for it had gone 9 leagues distance. I told him this in a polite manner. He invited me to come to the village for a question which would interest me. When I came to the provotal office he told me that I had been making bad reports about him. He caused me to go to the justice court—to the office of the justice of the peace. When we got to the justice court the juge du paix could not find any reason for trying me. Lieut. Jackson, therefore, took it upon himself to send me to prison.

Angell: What treatment did you receive in prison?

Victor: I was put in handcuffs.

Angell: Well, proceed as to any other manner in which you were treated in prison.

Victor: He handcuffed me and hanged me up.

Angell: How were you hung up and where?

Victor: To an iron bar.

Chairman: Who hanged you up?

Victor: The lieutenant himself.

Angell: To what were you hung up?

Victor: He hanged me up to an iron bar.

Angell: By a rope or by a chain?

Victor: By a chain.

Angell: And where was the chain attached to your body?

Victor: On my wrists.

Angell: Have you still the marks of them on your wrists?

Victor: Yes. [Exhibiting his wrists to the committee.]

Angell: When you came out of prison, did you see a doctor in Miragoane?

Victor: Yes.

Angell: What was his name?

Victor: Dr. Dejean, who gave me a certificate.

Angell: Did Dr. Dejean give you medical treatment?

Victor: No. When I came out of prison he gave me a certificate. He did not want to receive me.

Angell: The certificate I should like to offer in evidence is apparently signed by Dr. Dejean, to which this witness has just referred, and is dated December 2, 1917, and recites in French—I am giving the substance of it very briefly—that he has just examined Dilon Victor, this witness, and he has found contusions and scars and marks upon his body, including specific marks upon his wrists. I would like to offer in evidence the statement of the doctor, and also the document of the juge du paix, dated December 10, 1917.

Chairman: Did you fix the date, or does the affidavit fix the date when he was confined there?

Angell: He stated that he was confined—he gave the date November, 1917, for 27 days.

Chairman: Ask him this question, as to what was the reason for hanging him up by the hands in the way he has described.

Victor: For my horse.

Chairman: What does he mean by that? That is not very definite.

Victor: For my horse, which I refused to lend him.

Chairman: That is, to Lieut. Jackson?

Victor: Yes.

Chairman: What was Lieut. Jackson’s first name?

Victor: I can not tell you.

Chairman: Where were his headquarters?

Victor: At Miragoane.

Chairman: How often had you seen him before this time?

Victor: That was the first time I had ever seen him.

Chairman: Was he an American?

Victor: Yes.

Chairman: Was he a white man?

Victor: Yes, a white American.

Chairman: I think that is all.

Senator [Andrieus Aristieus] Jones: What did he want with the horse?

Victor: I don’t know; but he took my horse for the service of the gendarmerie.

Jones: What had your hanging up to do with the horse?

Victor: After I got out of prison. Dr. Dejean gave me a certificate.

Jones: Make him understand. I want to have him explain what connection there was between his being hung up and that horse.

Interpreter: He says, "Evidently he wanted to finish with me in order to take my horse.

Jones: Could not he have taken the horse without hanging you up?

Victor: That was his will.

Jones: Did he take the horse?

Victor: Yes.

Jones: How long did he keep you hung up?

Victor: About 24 days.

Jones: Did you get the horse back?

Victor: Yes.

Jones: Who brought it back?

Victor: He told me to come and get the horse, and it was I who came and got it.

Jones: Where did you get it?

Victor: At Port Mallet.

Jones: Was it claimed that you had stolen the horse?

Victor: No; never.

Jones: You mean to say that he wanted to borrow the horse, and because you said the horse was tired he hung you up and kept you in jail for 27 days? Is that right?

Victor: Yes.

Jones: How long did he keep you hung up?

Victor: Twenty-four days.

Jones: Twenty-four days?

Victor: Yes; and gave me a bath every day.

Jones: Did he give you anything to eat?

Victor: He gave me a piece of bread every 24 hours.

Jones: That was all he gave you, was it?

Victor: Yes.

Jones: Did anybody else see you hanging there for 24 days?

Victor: Yes; there was Corpl. Cambrompe.

Jones: Who else saw you hanging there?

Victor: No one else.

Jones: Was Corpl. Cambrompe a Haitian or an American?

Victor: A Haitian. . . .

Chairman: What is your name?

Madame Onexile: Madame Exile Onexile.

Chairman: Where do you live?

Onexile: Section La Guajon.

Chairman: Will you explain to the witness that she is to tell only what she herself has seen or heard? Let her begin to tell them.

Onexile: The first atrocity was a mule that I had tied up in my garden. I went to take this mule. I did not find him. When I did not find him I came in and made a report to the magistrat communal that I did not find the mule in the yard.

Chairman: Then, what happened?

Onexile: I took the stamp of this mule from the magistrat and went to Tamoceque or anywhere that I could find him. I found the mules in the hands of Capt. Kelly, who was then at Cercle La Source. When I presented my certificate for the mule the mule was not there, he had sent it to Carquiat to carry food, for the gendarmes. When the mule returned Captain refused to turn the mule over to me and demanded 130 gourds for it. I came back to Hinche to get the 130 gourds. Capt. Kelly then locked me up in the prison of Cercle La Source and two days later Capt. Kelly went out to replace—

Chairman: How long did you stay in prison?

Onexile: I entered the prison Saturday and they turned me loose Sunday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and then he did whatever he wished with the mule.

Angell: When did all this take place?

Onexile: Three years and five months ago.

Chairman: After putting you in prison did he keep the mule?

Onexile: I came back here on a Wednesday.

Angell: Came back here to Hinche?

Onexile: Yes; to Hinche. Then, when I went away I stayed at home with my infant and I took sick and could not come back here.

Chairman: Wait a minute. You had come back here?

Onexile: I had come back and returned.

Chairman: You had come back here to stay with the children?

Onexile: And went back with my children.

Chairman: Where were your children?

Onexile: At my habitation. When I came back to my habitation, Capt. Kelly came out in charge of a patrol. He took my husband and hung him to the rafters. He took our little bag of money and set fire to the house. Hung him to the rafters, and then set fire to the house. A little brother of mine was there at the time, and they brought the little boy, my brother, to the prison and made him work.

Angell: When was it? How long ago that your husband was hung in this manner?

Onexile: It will be two years and ten months on the 6th of January.

Chairman: Do I understand that he kept him hanging when the house was burning? Was he in the house when it burned down?

Onexile: Yes; he was hanging in the house.

Jones: Was he burned?

Onexile: Yes. I saw that.

Interpreter: A minute ago she said she thanked the good Lord that she was not there or he would have done that to her.

Angell: Where were you when you saw your husband hung up before the house was burned?

Onexile: I was in Rampique, when this was done. It was my little brother who saw it. I went to see my mother who was sick.

Senator [Atlee] Pomerene: So you did not see it yourself?

Onexile: It was not I who saw it. It was my brother.

Chairman: Where is your brother?

Onexile: He is in Rampique, about two hours ride.

Pomerene: Do I understand that the husband was burned to death?

Onexile: Yes; my husband.

Chairman: What is the name of this little brother in Rampique?

Onexile: Dumas Jean.

Angell: How old is he?

Onexile: Perhaps, at the most 28.

Angell: Did you see the house after it was burned?

Onexile: Certainly, I saw the ashes.

Angell: Have you ever seen your husband since then?

Onexile: How was I going to see him?

Angell: Did you ever make a complaint about this?

Onexile: Yes.

Angell: To whom?

Onexile: To. Lieut. Wood.

Angell: When?

Onexile: On November of last year.

Chairman: For the record, the Chair notes that the burning took place in March, 1919, and the complaint to Lieut. Wood at Bajon, in November, 1920.

Angell: Did you make any complaint to the Haitian authorities before you complained to Lieut. Wood?

Onexile: There were no Haitian authorities at that time.

Senator Pomerene: Did you complain to any officers here in this camp at Hinche at that time, or at any time since?

Onexile: No sir; I did not.

Chairman: Have you got anything more to say on that or any other subject.

Onexile: I have finished.

Chairman: Are you living near where the habitation was burned?

Onexile: No, sir.

Chairman: Who lives near there now?

Onexile: Nobody. There is nobody in my habitation now.

Pomerene: What did Capt. Kelly put you in jail for?

Onexile: For a mule. On account of a mule.

Pomerene: What did you do or say to Capt. Kelly?

Onexile: I said nothing.

Pomerene: Do you know who took the mule?

Onexile: I do not know.

Pomerene: At that time were there Cacos here in Hinche?

Onexile: There were no Cacos at the time.

Pomerene: Did your husband belong to the Cacos?

Onexile: Never.

Angell: How long after your husband was hung and the house was burned did your brother tell you of having seen this.

Onexile: Two months later.

Chairman: Any more questions you want to ask, Mr. Angell?

Angell: No.

Jones: Where was your husband when the mule was stolen?

Onexile: At his house.

Jones: At his house?

Onexile: Yes.

Jones: Did he have a house different from yours?

Onexile: No, sir.

Jones: Why didn’t he go after the mule?

Onexile: He was suffering with rheumatism.

Jones: What was it that caused you to think that you would find the mule with Capt. Kelly?

Onexile: I complained, of course, a great deal when the mule was lost, and some one told me he had seen the mule at Cercle La Source.

Jones: And Capt. Kelly wanted you to pay 135 gourds for the mule?

Onexile: Yes.

Jones: And you came back home to get the money, did you?

Onexile: I returned to get the money and returned with 135 gourds.

Jones: Why were you willing to pay 135 gourds for a mule which belonged to you?

Onexile: I knew the mule was mine. Capt. Kelly asked me for the money. I claimed the mule, and when I claimed the mule, Capt. Delly said I must pay 135 gourds for it. I wanted the mule real bad and I went to get the 135 gourds and he refused to give it to me.

Jones: Was it a native mule?

Onexile: Yes, sir.

Chairman: One more question and I am through. Did you see the mule in the possession of Capt. Kelly or any of the gendarmes?

Onexile: I saw the mule in Capt. Kelly’s possession.

Pomerene: Did Capt. Kelly talk French or Creole?

Onexile: Creole.

Source: Inquiry into Occupation and Administration of Haiti and Santo Domingo by the United States Senate Select Committee on Haiti and Santo Domingo (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1922).

See Also:"Conclusions and Recommendations by the Committee of Six Disinterested Americans"
Bandits or Patriots?: Documents from Charlemagne Péralte
"The Truth about Haiti: An NAACP Investigation"