Robert Bruce Payne was born in Frederick County, Virginia, in 1872. He emigrated with his parents to Nebraska in 1883 and was an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska when war broke out between the United States and Spain in April 1898. Payne’s entire college class was graduated early by the university to enable them to join the state’s volunteer regiments that were being raised. He enlisted with many of his friends on May 10, 1898, as a private in Company D of the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
In June 1898 after a period of initial training, the First Nebraska was sent to the Philippine Islands as part of an expeditionary force led by General Wesley Merritt…
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 some Spanish books, a Mauser rifle, an embroidered priest’s robe, and his short diary — the only one he was ever to keep. He became a school teacher, first in Nebraska and then Colorado, and later followed a career in the U.S. Postal Service. He married in 1904, had six children, and finally died in Lincoln, Nebraska, November 8, 1937.
About the diary: The diary is kept in the Robert Bruce Payne papers at the Nebraska History Museum. It was published as follows: John Hall, ed., “The Philippine War: The Diary of Robert Bruce Payne, 1899,” Nebraska History 69 (1988): 193-198. Footnotes in the published article have not been retained in The Philippine Diary Project.
As described by John Hall in Nebraska History,
The diary of Robert Payne, written in a discarded Spanish account book, has been in the possession of one of his daughters, Wilella Payne Overing, since 1923. This small book offers us an important firsthand account of the fighting between the Filipinos and the Americans. The spelling is Payne’s. Occasional punctuation has been added for clarity. The diary… covers only the first week of fighting, from the night of February 4 through February 11, including the American advance on the morning of February 5, the capture of the water works at Singalon, and the activities of Dewey’s ships. Payne’s account is particularly significant, because he offers a new and detailed description ofthe initial incident which sparked the hostilities – when a Nebraska soldier in William W Grayson, Company D, First Nebraska. (NSHS-G784) his company shot and killed a Filipino officer. Accompanying Payne’s diary is his March 22,1899, letter to his brother in Nebraska.
The letter is mentioned above is as follows:
Letter from Robert Bruce Payne to his brother, Francis E. Payne, dated Manila, March 22, 1899.
The “Grant” sails Saturday for Frisco. A number of the Nebr. men have rec’d discharges and go on that vessel. Two from our co. both of them well and who were on duty atthe time of their discharge.
Ask again for my discharge on the grounds of uncompleted education. State conditions at the time of my enlistment. Ask if the gov’b means to hold volunteers for the Spanish War to subjugate all the races of her new colonies? Write Sutherland. He will be glad to attend to the matter.
Of course when you get this, if there is reasonable show of the reg’t coming home soon you need not pay any attention to it. There is talk here now of the regt having to stay the full two years. God forbid that it be so. I do not want to waste another year here. Another year here would be worse than waste. It is a shame that volunteers for the Spanish War should be held to subjugate the people Spain was trying to subjugate. We volunteers imagined we were heroes going forth to battle for others liberties. Yes fight for freedom of other people, but alas, we feel a little sneaking when we have to return to our fair land with the blood of Filipinos upon our hands. Men, whom we would liberate we now force under the yoke! What if the north had whipped the south to free the negroes and then took the negroes and compelled them to work for them?
Do what you can for me and I shall ever be obliged