An American romance in Davao

by Antonio V. Figueroa

The son of Milburn Adalbert Maxey and Ida F. Hawkins, Milburn Jr. was one of the American educators who left a mark in Davao region. He was not part of the original Thomasites but was a former cavalry soldier who was appointed superintendent of schools for the provinces of Davao, Surigao and Agusan. After his teaching stint, he stayed behind and established in 1902 the American Hemp Plantation Co., a 136-hectare farm situated six miles up the Mahanob River in Baganga, Davao Oriental. In 1908, he took control of the firm after Christian Ade, his part-ner, died in a drowning incident in Cuabo River.


The plantation, bounded by low hills and cogon patches on both the north and west sectors, was suited for hemp and coconuts. It was purchased from a native who held it under an imperfect title. Planting the sprawling land started in 1902 with about 30,000 plants and later increased to 50,000, including kapok and “cocoanuts… de-stroyed by hogs, which went under and over a five-foot stake fence.”


Born in Casky, Todd, Kentucky on December 23, 1880, Maxey joined the academe on March 1, 1906. During the stint of Dr. Najeeb M. Saleeby as superintendent of schools of the Moro Province, he was assigned in Cateel, Davao Oriental. In 1914, having achieved distinction as a good teacher, he was reappointed with an annual salary of P3,000. A decade later, while assigned in Davao, he was installed as acting superintendent.


During the 27th Annual Convention of Division Superintendents of Schools held in Baguio from May 20 to 25, 1929, Maxey, by virtue of Memorandum No. 5, series of 1929, issued by the Bureau of Education on February 11, 1929, was chosen member of the Committee on Administration and Finance to “draw up a set of comprehensive rules… with a view to eliminating the red tape and the competitions that now handicap our schools.” The follow-ing year he was reassigned in Surigao as full-fledged school divisions superintendent.


Maxey’s enduring romance with the Philippines and the Filipino is an interesting story. His first marriage was to Regina Morales (1881–August 19, 1919) on January 8, 1902. Four years after being widowed, he remarried on March 19, 1923 in Surigao City, this time to Julia Pamatlauan (July 22, 1906–February 3, 1963), a Mandaya native from Baganga, Davao Oriental.


Outside the academe, Maxey’s little-known contribution to indigenous history can be found in the 1913 book written by Fay-Cooper Cole entitled The Wild Tribes of Davao District, Mindanao. It was he who helped keep alive in accounts the tale of the origin of the Mandaya tribe of Cateel and their oral tradition, such as the belief that the tribe began from a great flood that wiped out all inhabitants except for a pregnant woman who bore a child named Uacatan. When the boy reached adulthood, he married his mother who, from their union, sprang the Mandaya tribe.


A highly insightful mentor, Maxey was greatly enamored by the Mandaya culture given his marriage to one of its daughters. He was the primary source of many accounts about tribal practices popular in Cateel. His narratives on the use of poisoned weapons that were not customary to the Mandaya and the account on how native burials were elaborately done in places adjacent to Cateel, afford a perspective on the mix of native custom and colonial convention prevalent during his time. He passed away on August 14, 1956 at age 76; his remains are buried in the New Bilibid Prison reservation at Muntinlupa City.


There are details in tradition among the Maxeys, embellished by time and obscured by uncertainty, that do not fit available records and documents. For instance, the claim that he served as a teenage bugler for the first wave of American soldiers to hit Philippine shores is erroneous and he was never a colonel in the US military.


Old Department of Education records show that by 1906 Maxey was already teaching in Cateel, an old town in the eastern seaboard of Davao. Nineteen years later, he was appointed acting superintendent of school divisions in Davao and the following year, i.e., 1926, he was imbued with a full-fledged status.


Contrary to family legends, Maxey did not serve in the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, known as the Rough Riders (which included future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt), that fought in the Spanish-American War. The official registry shows that the Maxey in that conflict was James H. Maxey, a quartermaster sergeant of Troop C. who was from Yuma, Arizona.


Moreover, Maxey was not the founder or director of the Mindanao Mother Lode Mines (that survives to this day) based in Surigao del Norte, which started operation in the early part of 1937. Records at the Securities and Exchange Commission provides the names of the original corporate top guns of the company at the time as L. D. Hargis, president; T. M. Jordan, vice president; F. S. Parker, secretary-treasurer, and C. C. Grinnel, and C. E. Olsen, directors.