Tuesday, November 12, 2019



The Americans may have taken Guam back from the Japanese on August 10, 1944, when General Geiger announced that organized Japanese resistance had ceased, but that didn't mean the island was safe from Japanese danger. Over 7000 Japanese troops were believed to be hiding in the jungles when the battle for Guam ended.

A line was drawn from Fadian Point (north of Mangilao) on the east to Tomhom (Tumon) on the west. The US believed the great majority of Japanese holdouts were north of this imaginary line. They wanted to make sure the Japanese did not venture south of the line.

But, in fact, there were Japanese soldiers hiding in the south of Guam. The last known one was found twenty-eight years later, in 1972!

The military government then decided to create a kind of a border to the extreme south of Guam at the Talofofo River. Guards were posted at the temporary, postwar bridge which replaced the prewar one destroyed in battle. The guards were there for two reasons. First, to keep American military personnel out of the extreme southern villages of Guam : Inalåhan, Malesso' and Humåtak. Even in the other villages and civilian camps, military personnel needed passes to enter. Keeping the military and civilian communities separate was good for everyone's safety. In the extreme south of the island, far from military bases and airfields which were taking up so much land in central and northern Guam, the Chamorros could continue living their peaceful, farming lives as if war had never happened.

Sign at the entrance of Barrigada after the war

Secondly, the guards ensured that any American servicemen authorized to cross the bridge had a weapon. The countryside was too dangerous for them to travel around unarmed. For several years, Chamorro ranchers would find missing chickens and stolen vegetables on their farms, the work of Japanese stragglers marauding for food at night.

You may ask why wasn't there a similar border crossing on the western side of the island, as in Hågat. The answer is simple. There was no road from Hågat to Humåtak in 1945! Nor even before the war. Look at this wartime map of Guam. From Hågat to Humåtak, there is no road. Before that road was finished years after the war, the only way to go from Hågat to Humåtak was by boat or by driving to Yoña, then Talofofo then Inalåhan then Malesso'. Going that way was even faster than by boat!

So there was no need for guards at Hågat. No one was interested in walking up the mountains over to Humåtak, or riding a cart pulled by very slow and uncooperative cows or carabaos.

But no road from Humåtak to Hågat

The border didn't last, of course, and in time anyone could go any where they pleased, except of course on base. A newer, wider bridge over Talofofo River was built, to be replaced several times as the years went by.

But isn't it true that there is a kind of an invisible border still, once you pass Talofofo river, or Hågat on the other side of the island, and enter the deep South. I used to live there, and I always enjoyed the feeling of being in a less rushed, more peaceful and more neighborly part of Guam.

Thursday, November 7, 2019


From Malesso' to Folsom Prison to Gold Rush Country

He was from Guam and he went by more than one name.

Ben Walkins G. Joseph
Ben WG Joseph
Ben Joseph
Benjamin Joseph

The Walkins is really Watkins, a family that was started on Guam by an Englishman named William Watkins who settled on Guam around 1824 and married a Chamorro woman. William Watkins had some children, but the male line died out and the women married so the surname died out that way, too.

His Social Security information states that his father was John Warquin (Watkins) and his mother was María Borja. There was, in fact, a couple living in Malesso' in 1897, Juan Pangelinan Watkins and María Borja. The problem is - they had no children!

What they did have were relatives, on María's side, it seems, living with them. None of them have Watkins in their names. The youngest of the group is Vicente Borja, 13 years old in 1897. But remember that people in those days were very casual about dates. So this is very likely Ben, as Ben is a common Anglo nickname for Vicente. Ben's documents say he was born on August 14, 1887, so he'd be 10 years old in 1897. Not a big difference.

In the 1897 Guam census, Vicente has no maternal surname. He's just Vicente Borja. This suggests that he was illegitimate. Why isn't he being raised by his mother, a Borja? Maybe she had passed? So here we see some shadows of things to come. The boy is starting off life with some challenges already. Later in life, he credits the old folks who raised him, Juan Watkins and María Borja, as his father and mother.

And yet....he flees.

In 1907, or at the age of 20, he arrives in the United States. He could have left Guam even earlier, and went here and there before moving definitively to California. Like so many of the other Chamorro men who moved to the US, he used a different name from his own. Several versions, in fact. I don't know how he settled on "Joseph" for a surname.

Ah the poor lad. He then made a horrible mistake. Just the following year, in San Mateo, California, he committed murder.

Very common for Chamorros back then

His victim was a Chinese merchant named Wong Ying Gim. Ben and Mr Wong lived in the same place, the cabin of a Mrs Nettie Harrison in Fair Oaks, a neighborhood of Redwood City south of San Mateo. It was Chinese New Year's, February of 1908, and Wong and Ben went to the Chinese neighborhood of nearby Menlo Park to celebrate and indeed they did. They had a lot to drink. When they got home, they argued, as drunk people often do. It was an argument about taking a trip to San Francisco, and Ben lost his cool. Unfortunately, deadly instruments were at hand. A club, a knife and a razor. Ben used all three. With the razor, he almost cut Wong's head clean off his neck. Blood was everywhere.

Ben ran, all the way to Oakland, across the Bay.

But another Chinese man, a relative of Wong, knew that Ben lived with Wong and may have also seen the two together that night at the Chinese New Year's celebration. The Chinese community of the area got the action started. They put reward money together and offered it to whoever might track the murderer down. Then they tasked Wong's relative to get on Ben's trail and never let go till police apprehended him. The man knew what Ben looked like, so it was a matter of time. The man spotted Ben in Oakland and called the police. Ben was arrested. Ben also confessed, making the police department's job a lot easier. Ben was sentenced to life imprisonment at Folsom State Prison.

And yet....he was released after just 8 years and 8 months.

In the 1920 census, Ben is living in a small town called Gridley in northern California, north of Sacramento, doing manual labor. For the census, he told the enumerators that he was from the Philippines and was 31 years old, which makes his birth year 1889. Like many others, he wasn't bothered by accuracy!

By 1930 he had moved to his more or less permanent home. Placer County, California. Gold rush country. Once again he told enumerators that he was from the Philippines and his stated age gave him a birth year of 1886, rather than 1887.

In 1944, he asked for and got a full pardon for his crime.

Ben lived many more years after that, remaining in Placer County. As he got out of prison after such a short time, when he had been sentenced to life, I'm not surprised that Ben avoided going back to San Mateo or the Bay Area. His victim's relatives and friends were still there. I don't think they would've been happy to know Mr Wong's murderer served such a short term.

Ben passed away on August 30, 1968 at 81 years of age. He was buried in the public cemetery in Roseville, in a grave marked Benito "Ben" Joseph, giving yet another variation on his name.

Apparently, Ben never married and never had children. He probably worked very humble jobs. One was at the Pacific Fruit Express plant, which transported farm products in refrigerated cars, at one time the largest network of refrigerated rail cars in the world.

But he managed to live to 81. Who attended his funeral? Did he connect with any Chamorros before his life was over? By the 1960s, there were a decent number of Chamorros living in the Sacramento area, not far from Placer. Had Ben made any contact whatsoever with relatives on Guam? So many unknowns in Ben's mysterious life from tropical Malesso' to the wooded hills of Placer County.

In this draft registration in the 1940s, Ben says he was from Guam in the Philippines!

In an earlier draft registration for World War I, Ben adds Watkins to his name and fudges his birth date again. One day off and if that says 1889 then two years off.

Ben also says he was born in Luzon, the Philippines! And is of the Malayan race.

He also says his work at the time was growing rice for a company in Gridley. Gridley and the surrounding area was, and is, a rice growing region. And so was Malesso'. So Ben probably had some rice farming experience already.

If I ever meet you in the afterlife, Ben, I'd ask you the questions I've already posed here, and a final one. What did the G stand for in your name Ben WG Joseph?

Rest in peace, Ben.


I'm old enough to remember the days when people would ask me where I was from and when I'd answer "Guam," they'd reply, "Where is Guam?"

That was in the 1970s and even 80s. Can you imagine 1900?

So many Chamorros just didn't bother with the hassle of explaining. Many Chamorros just said they were Spanish or Filipino.

Monday, November 4, 2019


People on Guam were able to enjoy imported German beer very early in the American administration, at least for a year or so.

A German entrepreneurial adventurer from Dresden named Paul Ferdinand Gustav Dachsel was already in business selling German beer on Guam in 1905. He sold it out of a restaurant he ran on Calle de la Soledad in Hagåtña called the Palm Garden. He served German beer in his restaurant, but he also sold beer to other businesses and private customers.

He sold German beer to the Hiki Trading Company, a Japanese business which probably sold the beer retail in its store. He sold beer to the Service Club for military patrons and also to two private clubs for the American colony on Guam, the Agaña Club and the Civil Club. He supplied the hospital mess hall with beer and one of his private customers was none other than Padre José Palomo, who once bought 200 pesos worth of beer. Be aware that a case of beer cost 14 pesos. Either Palomo liked beer or entertained a lot of guests, or both.

Dachsel bought the beer in Yokohama, Japan and had it shipped down to Guam.

Some of the specific brands he sold were Kaiser Pilsner, Kieler Tafelbier (a "table beer" lower in alcohol than the others) and Hofbrau München.

Prior to coming to Guam, Dachsel had tried to make a go of farming in Saipan in 1904, after hearing from Hermann Costenoble, the first German private citizen to move to Saipan in 1903 to seek his fortune. Both Dachsel and Costenoble experienced the opposite, having disagreements with the German colonial authorities and soon leaving Saipan for American Guam.

Whereas Costenoble stayed on Guam for a while, Drachsel didn't. By 1908 he was running a restaurant in China, in the port city of Tsingtao which the Germans controlled. If you've ever heard of a Chinese beer called Tsingtao, now you may have figured it out. That brand was founded by German and British businessmen in Tsingtao, China.

Another brand sold by Drachsel on Guam