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The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokaiby John Tayman
At 8 A.M. on Friday, September 26, 1947, a thirty-nine-year-old Honolulu physician named Edwin Chung-Hoon began to examine his second patient of the day. Chung-Hoon was a graduate of the Washington University School of Medicine, and his specialty was dermatology. He was currently on active duty with the U.S. Army Medical Corps and had been since the first days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, almost six years earlier. Much of the doctor's time, however, was spent on behalf of the Territory of Hawaii's board of health.
His patient that morning was a sweet-natured twelve-year-old boy. Chung-Hoon noted a slight inflammation of the child's right cheek, and minor thickening of the flesh at several sites on his face and body. Laying his hand on the boy's cool cheek, Chung-Hoon traced his fingertips upward from the jaw, gently searching for the area where the highway of facial nerves flowed together and then branched away. After a moment the doctor took hold of the child's right ear, then his left, and with the corner of a fresh razor blade cut a small incision a few millimeters in length at their base. The boy was silent during the first slice; when the doctor nicked the second lobe, his patient let out a wounded gasp. Chung-Hoon then made a bacteriological examination of the material he had excised. The process took about an hour. He entered the waiting room and told the boy's father the results: leprosy. One week later, the twelve-year-old was exiled.
For 103 years, beginning in 1866, the Hawaiian and then American governments forcibly removed more than eight thousand people to a remote and inaccessible peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, and into one of the largest leprosy colonies in the world. The governments did so in the earnest belief that leprosy was rampantly contagious, that isolation was the only effective means of controlling the disease, and that every person it banished actually suffered from leprosy and was thus a hopeless case. On all three counts, they were wrong.
With the establishment of the colony on Molokai, officials initiated what would prove to be the longest and deadliest instance of medical segregation in American history, and perhaps the most misguided. In 1865, acting on the counsel of his American and European advisers, Lot Kamehameha, the Hawaiian king, signed into law "An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy," which criminalized the disease. In the first year, 142 men, women, and children were captured. The law in various forms remained in effect through the annexation of Hawaii by America in 1898, the adoption of Hawaii as the fiftieth American state in 1959, and until mid-1969, when it was finally repealed. Under the law, persons suspected of having the disease were chased down, arrested, subjected to a cursory exam, and exiled. Armed guards forced them into the cattle stalls of interisland ships and sailed them fifty-eight nautical miles east of Honolulu, to the brutal northern coast of Molokai. There they were dumped on an inhospitable shelf of land of the approximate size and shape of lower Manhattan, which jutted into the Pacific from the base of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. It was, as Robert Louis Stevenson would write, "a prison fortified by nature." Three sides of the peninsula were ringed by jagged lava rock, making landings impossible, and the fourth rose as a two-thousand-foot wall so sheer that wild goats tumbled from its face. In the early days of the colony, the government provided virtually no medical care, a bare subsistence of food, and only crude shelter. The patients were judged to be civilly dead, their spouses granted summary divorces, and their wills executed as if they were already in the grave. Soon thousands were in exile, and life within this lawless penitentiary came to resemble that aboard a crowded raft in the aftermath of a shipwreck, with epic battles erupting over food, water, blankets, and women. As news of the abject misery spread, others with the disease hid in terror from the government's bounty hunters, or violently resisted exile, murdering doctors, sheriffs, and soldiers who conspired to send them away. Some already banished tried to escape, only to fall from the cliff or get swept out to sea. "The pit of hell," Jack London wrote, as he undertook a tour of the colony, "the most cursed place on earth." The mortality rate for patients in the first five years of exile was a staggering 46 percent.
Leprosy is not a fatal disease. Neither is it highly infectious. It is a chronic illness caused by a bacterium, and communicable only to persons with a genetic susceptibility, less than 5 percent of the population. Transmission takes place much as it does with tuberculosis, through airborne particles expelled by someone with leprosy in an active state. Among untreated patients, only a minority have the disease in its active state; the majority are not contagious. For cases that are active, a multidrug therapy has been developed that quickly renders their leprosy noncommunicable, after which they pose no risk of infection and are, in essence, cured. Every city in America has such cases; in the New York metropolitan area, for instance, more than a thousand people have or have had the disease. There are currently eleven federally funded outpatient clinics in the United States treating approximately seven thousand patients, although health officials believe many sufferers go untreated because of the powerful stigma attached to the disease. Though modern medicine has stripped the illness of its horrors, on a social level leprosy remains among the most feared of all diseases, since untreated leprosy can result in deformity, its precise mode of transmission was until recently unknown, and a cure remained undiscovered for thousands of years. The greatest factor in the stigmatization, however, was the historical intertwining of leprosy with religious notions of divine punishment, which gave rise to the corrosive idea that victims of the disease were sinful, shameful, and unclean. The preferred method of dealing with such people was obvious: banishment.
At its height in 1890, the population in the Molokai colony reached 1,174, and it was arguably the most famous small community in the world. The colony commanded intense scrutiny in the American press, and became the subject of presidential inquiries, heated congressional debate, and irrational public fear. Segregation laws gave the local government the right to arrest and imprison any person suspected of having the disease, regardless of nationality, and the rolls soon included not only Hawaiians and Americans, but also individuals from Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, and China. Correspondents came from all over the globe, seeking scenes of thrilling grotesquerie. Physicians and scientists entered, some to offer help, others to indulge their own ambitions, an ethically suspect pursuit that led to one of the nineteenth century's most notorious episodes of human experimentation. Famous authors also secured a visiting pass: Stevenson spent seven days in the colony; London stayed six. "He returns and sits by his lamp and the crowding experiences besiege his memory," Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of the typical visitor, "sights of pain in a land of disease and disfigurement, bright examples of fortitude and kindness, moral beauty, physical horror, intimately knit." As the place grew infamous, celebrity sightseers flocked to it, among them Edward G. Robinson, John Wayne, and Shirley Temple, although she lasted only several hours. Other visitors stayed years, and the stories of their self-sacrifice transformed them into worldwide figures. One was a bullheaded young Belgian priest who fell victim to the disease and in so doing secured sainthood. Another was a fallen Civil War hero, seeking atonement for his dissolute past. Yet another was a modest, well-meaning nun from New York, who arrived to lend aid and quickly found herself the unwilling object of a most unlikely romantic obsession.
The most affecting stories, however, belong to the exiles themselves. Many had been mistakenly diagnosed and spent decades locked away before the error came to light. Thousands were needlessly isolated, their leprosy of a form that did not pose a danger to others. Some exiles were sent away as young children and suffered sixty and even seventy years in isolation before becoming free. Banishment continued well into the modern age. Even as man ventured into space and prepared to walk on the moon, the government kept watch over the colony of exiles, still imprisoned by ancient fears. Their struggle to maintain faith, form a loving community, and help one another stay alive is one of the most extraordinary acts of enduring heroism in American history.
Twenty-eight people remain in the community, passing quiet days in cottages at the base of the cliff. A few hundred yards from their simple homes is the spot where the first twelve exiles straggled to shore, cast away on the morning of January 6, 1866. Within three years all but two were dead. Their swift demise was expected — it was a key component of the segregation plan. But in time the exiles began to defy the policy and accomplished something profoundly stirring and remarkable. They survived.
One final note: This is a work of nonfiction. It is based on more than eight thousand pages of documents, including news accounts, medical records, congressional transcripts, government publications, personal letters, memoirs, interviews, and observations. Anything between quotation marks is taken directly from these sources, and the thoughts and feelings of characters as described in the narrative arise from the same material. No names have been changed.
Today the terms leper and even leprosy are considered objectionable. As the chronology of the book progresses, all terminology is kept appropriate to its time, and thus when the word leper appears I have used it in historical context, or as part of a direct quote. An alternative modern term for the condition is Hansen's disease, named after the Norwegian bacteriologist who first identified the germ that causes leprosy. The medical community is split on the adoption of the term, however, and some physicians and patients prefer the older name. For the sake of clarity, I refer to the disease as leprosy throughout the book.
Copyright © 2006 by John Tayman
By nine-thirty in the evening on the final Tuesday in June 1893, Deputy Sheriff Louis Stolz had one fugitive in chains. He pulled his prisoner along a twisty shoulder of valley, the path lit by an almost-full moon, until he reached a meadow studded with volcanic rock. At the field's far edge sat a white wooden cottage, with one dark window on each side. Two men hid inside. A young Hawaiian named Kaluaikoolau, known as Koolau, crouched with his wife behind a boulder several yards from the cottage porch.
"I hear something," Koolau whispered to his wife, Piilani. They pressed into the stone, still warm from the sun. Across the meadow floated the sound of dragged links of iron. Koolau nodded toward the path. "There are two of them," he told his wife. "Have courage. We may be going to die."
Just then the cottage door burst open and two forms streaked through the night. One man, a Hawaiian named Kala, sprinted toward Deputy Stolz. "You stand still!" Stolz shouted. He raised a rifle. "You take care! Stop now!"
Piilani felt her husband shift and then stand. Koolau started toward the deputy. A crude triangle formed in the moonlight: Louis Stolz with his weapon trained on the unarmed Kala, and Koolau, standing between the two, covering the officer with a rifle of his own. Stolz began to slide to his right, and as the standoff's geometry shifted, Koolau moved to restore it. Stepping to his left, Koolau's bare foot caught a branch and he stumbled. As he fell, the rifle discharged. "The reverberations of the gun sounded everywhere," Piilani later wrote, "spreading the news of this terrible thing done on this unforgettable night."
The bullet struck Stolz just south of his rib cage, tearing through his stomach. "It hurts," he moaned, collapsing onto his back. In an instant Stolz's prisoner was upon him, cursing and striking the lawman with his iron cuffs. Koolau called for him to stop, and the prisoner retreated.
Piilani clung to the boulder. Koolau turned to her and said, Run to the cliffs. Then another shout broke the quiet. The voice belonged to Paoa, the man whom Louis Stolz had arrested earlier that day.
"He is going to shoot!" Paoa yelled. Peeking over the rock, Piilani saw that Stolz had partially gained his feet and had his rifle crooked weakly in an elbow's crease. She screamed and Koolau whirled to face the deputy sheriff. One more decision to make. Koolau stepped toward Louis Stolz, pointed his weapon at the center of his chest, and fired.
The disease had struck the Hawaiian cowboy named Koolau four years earlier, in the spring of 1889 when he was twenty-six-years old. Piilani had been the first to notice the bright blemish on Koolau's cheek. It might have been sunburn had it not lingered, then deepened in color to scarlet. "As I observed the appearance of my beloved husband," Piilani wrote years later, "disturbed thoughts began to grow within me."
Hawaiians of the era had several descriptive phrases for leprosy, but perhaps the most apt was "the sickness that is a crime." If board of health agents discovered that Koolau showed signs of the disease, he would be forced onto a steamer bound for the leprosy hospital in Honolulu. From there he would be sent to the colony on the island of Molokai. Law would decree Piilani a widow and their six-year-old son fatherless. Officially, Koolau would be dead.
So Koolau tried to hide his suspect flesh. A photograph from the time shows him in a flat-brimmed hat tugged low on his broad face, with a crisp white shirt buttoned high to the neck. Piilani stands holding the hand of their son, Kaleimanu. Koolau's mother is settled cross-legged on the grass between the young couple. Her son's gaze is distant, as if the box camera were a window revealing an unexpected view.
Leprosy works with a tortuous deliberateness. A person becomes infected and years pass, then he or she wakes one morning lightly marked by disease. Years more can elapse before the sickness deepens. Koolau waited. Then in the early winter of 1892 a government agent appeared at his door. Escorted to the office of the physician for the western half of Kauai, Koolau stripped off his shirt and pants and stood naked. The physician examined the blemishes on Koolau's face and ears, and traced a needle over the surface of the spots, testing for a loss of sensation. The log into which doctors recorded the results of such exams allowed three verdicts: Leper, Suspect, Not a Leper. Board regulations dictated that only the senior physicians at the leprosy hospital could make the final diagnosis, but physicians in the field were skilled enough to anticipate the outcome. Dr. Campbell told Koolau, Say your farewells.
That evening, Piilani and Koolau talked about what would happen next. An agent of the board would hold him for the steamer to Honolulu. He would be taken to Kalihi Hospital, where suspects were processed. Doctors would perform a second exam to confirm his leprosy. And he would be exiled to Molokai and locked in the colony the government had established on a shelf of land that extended from the base of a towering cliff. Awaiting him there, Koolau believed, was a life sentence of unspeakable horror. Nightmarish tales had emerged from the colony. These described an uncivilized community, populated by ghouls with hollowed eyes and limbless frames. Rumors told of patients being starved to death, subjected to bizarre medical experimentation, and conscripted into prostitution and slavery. Even the dead received no mercy: Koolau had heard of corpses scattered to rot or left beneath a thin sheet of earth, to be exhumed by wild pigs. What most disturbed the young couple, however, was that exile would mean the destruction of their family. They chose not to submit to the government. Koolau and Piilani decided to run.
"At sunset on a certain day," Piilani wrote, "in the loneliness and awesomeness of the night," they started for the valley of Kalalau, fifteen miles distant. Over the years other Hawaiians with the disease had sought refuge in the virtually inaccessible valley, part of a rippled landform where the earth heaves up in a series of deep clefts, open to the sea. Carved in the crescent of a horseshoe, the valley's head and flanks drop away as sheer cliffs. Moving by moonlight, Koolau and Piilani followed a thread tramped by wildlife through the lantana brush. The trail reversed and ran upward, cresting at a windblown pass four thousand feet above the valley floor. To the right loomed a blank rock wall, to the left only air. Above them hung a ceiling of pewter cloud, which dropped suddenly and burst forth with biting rain. The storm trapped them in the dark on a ledge the depth of a man's forearm. Piilani clung to the cliff and mouthed prayers into its face, asking "that the Three Heavenly Spirits regard us with love [and] spread their wings in refuge."
Rain curtained off the cliff face, then sluiced along the ledge in a swift current. Feeling their way with their hands, Koolau and Piilani crabbed along the path, the child nestled between them. When they finally reached Kalalau, wrote Piilani, "our first action was to bend our knees and give praise." Creasing the valley was a stream, which tumbled in falls and pools for several miles before spilling into the sea. The flats on either side were patterned with taro fields, tended by the families in the valley. Koolau and his family took shelter in the home of a man named Naoheiki.
Of the 23 households in the Kalalau Valley that winter of 1892-93, only 9 were unaffected by leprosy. The disease had struck 28 of the 120 residents, some severely. No matter their condition, however, the sick found the situation in the valley preferable to the colony on Molokai, which they collectively imagined as a penal hell. To be sent to the colony, they believed, meant to be alone, and then to be abused, and then to be dead. In Kalalau they had created a close-knit community, where the healthy pulled taro and netted fish for the weak, and families helped other families. They were in exile, but at least it was an exile of their own shaping. The board of health, however, considered the lepers outlaws.
Not long after arriving in the valley, Koolau located the home of the leader of the fugitive community, Judge Kapahei Kauai. A revered Hawaiian jurist, Judge Kauai had served in the legislature in Honolulu and had upon retiring become an energetic advocate for Hawaiian rights. Now he was sixty-eight years old, crippled by leprosy, at odds with the government's law.
Propped in a chair in his cottage, with flowers scattered to sweeten the air, the judge and Koolau discussed their situation. The board will come for us, Kauai said. The judge knew who was likely to arrive first: a slender young man with whom the judge had had words one afternoon several years earlier. In anger the man had struck Kauai, drawing blood, and the judge had hauled him into court and won a verdict. Koolau remembered the man: Louis Stolz. When Stolz was named deputy sheriff, he had come to Koolau and asked the Hawaiian to make a celebratory saddle for him, but Koolau did not have the time. Stolz had gone away angry. Later, Koolau heard that it was Stolz who had reported him to the board.
No outsiders appeared in the valley that winter, however. Spring arrived, and Koolau and Piilani began to imagine that they were safe. Then one morning in June of 1893 Piilani heard boots crunching along the path leading to their cottage. Opening the door, she saw Louis Stolz.
Smothering her alarm with exaggerated politeness, Piilani greeted Stolz and invited him inside. The deputy sheriff was thirty-three, a fast-eyed man with a face that narrowed to a neat beard. Stolz scanned the room. Turning to Piilani with what she later described as "a cheerful voice and pleasant expression," Stolz asked, "Piilani, where is Koolau?"
"This morning he went to work in the taro patch," she answered.
"How is that sickness of his?"
"Not much, just a little redness on his cheeks sometimes, sometimes not."
Stolz smiled and stared at Piilani. She said nothing more.
Koolau's flight had caused deep embarrassment for the young deputy. Shortly after he had disappeared, Stolz had written to the board, "As this is the first person who has escaped from the district while I have been deputy sheriff I am anxious to bring him back." Stolz's humiliation also had a personal element. That January, after years of outside pressure, the constitutional monarchy had collapsed. White businessmen now held the levers of power, and Louis Stolz knew many of these men. He was, in fact, related by marriage to the man now heading the new government, a prominent lawyer named Sanford Ballard Dole: Stolz's wife's sister had married George Dole, Sanford's brother.
Stolz craved the attention of men like Dole. To capture a band of renegade lepers — that would demand notice. He had begun to write weekly to the board, advising them of the outlaw situation in Kalalau Valley and insisting action be taken. "The amount and kind of intimacy existing between lepers and nonlepers at Kalalau is simply abominable," he complained. Technically, the deputy had no legal standing in Kalalau Valley, which lay outside his jurisdiction. By invoking Koolau, however, Stolz argued that the problem was his to solve. "I am not hankering for any work in connection with lepers," he wrote, "but the work ought to be done, and somebody must do it." Leaving behind his wife and two young children, Stolz had set out for Kalalau. His plan was to use the influence of Judge Kauai, whom Stolz described as the "Archleper," to convince the refugees in the valley to surrender peacefully — rather than risk the government taking them by force. Because of his history with the judge, however, Stolz hesitated to approach him directly. He needed Koolau's assistance.
After the deputy left, Piilani sank to the floor and wept. She wrote, "I was overwhelmed with grief — who would not be — seeing the power of the government come hither to sever the sacred knot of holy marriage, and cutting the golden cord between parents and child. Alas! Alas!" Wailing, she ran to the field and found Koolau. The couple clenched each other, shuddering with sobs, as their son looked on in confusion.
Stolz remained in the valley trying to arrange a meeting with Koolau, but the Hawaiian avoided him. Frustrated, Stolz announced that all lepers in the valley were to gather at the beach, by order of the board of health. The next morning, two dozen men and women milled at the forest's edge. Stolz informed them that a boat would arrive early the next week to collect them. They would be sent to Kalihi Hospital, and then to Molokai. Any person who resisted would be shackled and carried aboard. Stolz asked, Who agrees to go willingly?
Koolau stepped from the trees. "I first ask whether my wife will be allowed to go with me," he yelled.
"No!" Stolz replied. "Your wife cannot at all go with you. You and all those who have the sickness will be taken, no one else."
"Then I will not go," Koolau announced. "I will not be taken by this wrongful law to that place."
The crowd watched to see how the deputy would react. Writing earlier in the week, Stolz had assured the board that, "should the obstinate ones be removed the non-committal ones will undoubtedly go of their own accord." Now Koolau openly defied him, emboldening the others. Stolz quickly broke the meeting, swallowing his rage.
When he returned to Kalalau a week later, Stolz brought two Hawaiian deputies. They waded ashore, rifles held above their heads to shield them from salt spray. A large group waited on the beach, intending to surrender. Stolz marched through the sand and announced that he intended to arrest Koolau. Using the gruesome imagery of a man disfigured by leprosy to ridicule Koolau, Stolz — whom the Hawaiians called Lui — boasted about what would transpire.
"You will all see," Stolz yelled. "Koolau will run for the mountains and then he will become emaciated and have a big head. Lui will capture him and Koolau will be through in Kalalau. Lui will have the right, Lui will have the power over him. Lui is not mistaken, Koolau is mistaken. He is stubborn and much too proud — afterwards he will cry."
Frightened by his tone, the people who had agreed to leave the valley now fled from the beach. The deputy sent the officers after them. He would find Koolau. Pinning his badge to his vest, Stolz removed his jacket and rolled it into a bundle. He tucked a package of crackers and extra rounds of ammunition into the folds. From the beach to the head of the valley, where he suspected Koolau was hidden, was a muddy scramble of several miles. Before he set out, Stolz scribbled a note to William O. Smith, the president of the board of health. "I will hurry up things as fast as possible," Stolz wrote, "and report progress as it occurs."
Smith received no reports. By midnight the next day Louis Stolz was dead, his body being frisked by a pair of Hawaiians who had found the corpse cooling in the night air. When they departed, the men carried Stolz's rifle, his knife, a packet of papers from the board, and the deputy's polished metal badge.
Details of Stolz's death arrived in Honolulu aboard the steamer Waialeale, accompanied by Stolz himself, wrapped in canvas in the ship's hold. After a hurried wake he was buried at 4 P.M. on June 29, 1893. Mourners emerging from the cemetery bought copies of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser to fan themselves. In its pages was news of Louis Stolz's bold plan to arrest the fugitive lepers. "Trouble is neither anticipated nor expected," the paper reported. The islands' Hawaiian-language newspaper held a different opinion: the fugitives Stolz sought, reported the Kuokoa, "vehemently objected to being taken to [Molokai]." They "did not wish to go and would resist the authorities."
By the next morning the Advertiser had updated its reporting and now demanded that Koolau be taken, "DEAD OR ALIVE!" Sanford Dole declared martial law on the western half of Kauai. An invasion force of thirty-five militia and special police boarded the Waialeale, and that afternoon it sailed for Kauai, carrying the government posse, four newspaper reporters, a German-made Krupp howitzer cannon, and a crate of long-range artillery shells, ten-pound fists of blunt black iron that would be used to "dislodge the lepers."
In command of the soldiers was Captain William Larsen, a squat man with a shiny face improbably topped by a Mexican sombrero. Larsen was a career soldier, cunning and famously volatile, qualities appreciated more by the men he commanded than those who commanded him. Accompanying Larsen on the expedition was Charles Reynolds, the executive officer of the board of health, and Dr. Charles B. Cooper, an aristocratic twenty-nine-year-old surgeon from Babylon, New York, who counted among his famous relatives the novelist James Fenimore Cooper.
For Larsen and Reynolds, the mission had an unsettling familiarity. Five years earlier the two men had tracked a group of renegade lepers into a similar Kauai valley. Ambushed at the gap of a trail, they managed to escape the initial pepper of gunfire and isolate the leader of the resistance on a stream bank. When they shouted for him to surrender, the man tossed his rifle, tore open his shirt, and slapped his bared chest "to give us a fair mark to shoot at," Reynolds later wrote. Although Larsen and Reynolds had managed to take him alive, they realized that the outlaw was prepared to die rather than face exile in the colony. And he had appeared willing to take others with him.
Immediately after shooting Louis Stolz, at 10 P.M. on June 27, Koolau had raced to a small clutch of cottages near the shore. "Lui is dead," he told the people gathered there. "It was I who shot him with my gun." He spent the night sitting watchfully beside his sleeping wife and child, who had followed after him. When dawn came, Koolau woke Piilani. "Let us go up to the mountain," he said, "to await the result." They began to climb the west flank of the valley, which held denser forest and better cover. Paoa, the prisoner Koolau had helped free, joined them, as did eight other men and women with the disease. The group hiked until they reached an empty cottage partly shielded in a stand of hau trees, where they waited. Three days passed with no sign of police or soldiers, but, as Piilani later recalled, the group never once doubted they were coming.
Late on the morning of July 1, Paoa set out toward the beach to gather food and was met by several men jumpy with fright. "Paoa, return upland, as death is coming here!" they yelled. "The Waialeale has landed police and soldiers, armed to come fight with Koolau, and there will be shooting until they get him dead or alive, it is not known which." Paoa dropped his basket and raced back to the camp. "Your death is at the shore," he told Koolau, "it has arrived this morning."
Koolau told the others to hide. "For me alone is this death which is swiftly pursuing," he said. As people made ready to leave, Koolau pleaded with Piilani to take their son and go with them, but Piilani refused to leave her husband. They climbed toward the head of the valley until they reached a promontory far up the valley's western face, with a deep overhang and a sheer drop in front. The shelf jutted out five feet and measured five feet wide and was cloaked on both sides by vines and clinging ferns. To reach it required traversing five hundred feet along a spiny ridge eighteen inches wide, balancing between drops of thirty stories or more. Koolau spread bedrolls and laid out his weapons. For food, the family had several small bowls of poi and a six-inch hunk of dried eel. When they grew thirsty, they licked dew from the ground.
The soldiers spilled from the first two skiffs and bunkered in the sand, scanning the cliffs for snipers. Their line broke into wings and angled toward the other's flank, spreading the field of fire. But the nearby cliffs, like the beach, appeared deserted. Tiny honeycreepers made the only movement in the soft air, yellow flits among the laurel trees.
Captain Larsen arrived on the third whaleboat. He had hoped that Koolau would be waiting for his troops with a rifle, and that it would end quickly. Now it seemed they would have to go after him. The men threw up several tents to make a situation camp, which was christened Camp Dole. Larsen sent soldiers to block the trailheads and search the cottages. He told them, Arrest everyone you find.
Judge Kauai was the first to be discovered. The old man had rolled from his chair when he heard soldiers approach, dragged his damaged body across the cottage floor, and scuttled beneath the bed. A soldier plucked him out by his leg, then watched over him until the captain arrived. Other soldiers pushed deeper into the valley, marching from cottage to cottage in the failing light, scattering belongings, and lighting the homes ablaze.
The next morning, Sunday, July 2, Larsen deputized a Hawaiian named Wahinealoha and ordered him to find the fugitives. The deputy returned at midday. He had located nine frightened and hungry runaways in a gulch four miles away. If they are promised they will not be shot, Wahinealoha explained, they will come down.
And Koolau? Larsen asked.
Koolau will never surrender, Wahinealoha answered.
At 9 A.M. the next day troops dragged the howitzer to the top of a hill near camp and aimed it at the east wall of the valley. Larsen gave a signal and the cannon began to cough, five hollow cracks in quick succession. "The noise was terrific and the echoes could be heard rumbling through the valley for some time after the shell struck earth," one reporter wrote. This display, he added, "was made in hope that Koolau would become frightened and give himself up."
When a scouting party returned, however, they reported no sign of Koolau. Larsen decided to send men to search the western side of the valley. Fifteen soldiers left camp on the morning of July 4, led by Sergeant Major J. W. Pratt. Within an hour the company stumbled across fresh footprints in the mud and, near the base of the western ridge, newly spilled poi.
I need volunteers, Pratt announced. Who will climb up and get the bandit? Four men stepped forward, including a Norwegian named John Anderson. The former seaman had arrived in Hawaii only two months earlier, and barely knew his fellow soldiers. The others did not know Anderson at all.
During the night Koolau had made two short forays to collect food, then crept back along the western ridge. His son slept, but Koolau and Piilani sat and ate, watching the distant huts burn. Then the shooting began. Bullets cracked the cliff wall, whistling chips of stone onto the family.
As soldiers lay down cover, the volunteers started up the ridge, Private Anderson in the lead. Koolau motioned for Piilani to move to the rear of the hideout with the child; she was dressed in his clothing and he feared that the soldiers would mistake her for him and fire.
Koolau crawled behind a low breastwork and watched the approaching men through a gap in the stones. Anderson was twenty feet from the hideout — near enough that Piilani could see red underwear peeking out from beneath his shirt — when the private turned and yelled, "Boys, I have got the trail!" Just then Koolau shot him.
Anderson reeled backward onto the second soldier, and the pair tumbled onto a third, Private Johnson, who fell six hundred feet down the mountain. The remaining soldiers quickly retreated. Koolau climbed down to Anderson, who lay gasping. He removed Anderson's tie and uniform blouse. Blood bubbled up from Anderson's pierced lung, and Koolau pushed ferns into the wound to stop the flow. He then dragged Anderson onto the trail so the soldiers would find him when they returned. Before leaving, Koolau dribbled water into Anderson's mouth and placed the peaked soldier cap beneath the dying man's head as a pillow. When Anderson's breathing stuttered to a stop, Koolau folded the private's hands across his chest and made his way back up the cliff.
Captain Larsen led the next assault himself. Larsen, Reynolds, and fifteen soldiers arrived at the base of the western ridge just before dawn on July 5, where they discovered Anderson's body. Larsen ordered the men to draw Koolau's fire. For a quarter hour the soldiers fired continuous volleys, the acrid smoke from their weapons gathering like morning fog. With his binoculars Larsen studied the valley wall. If his men approached from a certain angle, they might take Koolau by surprise. He ordered Reynolds to take some soldiers and climb a seam in the cliff to the side of Koolau's ledge, from which they could shoot directly into the rebel's stronghold.
The soldiers inched up the narrow ridge face, guided by a forty-eight-year-old Irishman named John McCabe, a veteran who had fought for the Union in the Civil War more than thirty years earlier. McCabe moved with an older man's patience. He had climbed just high enough to peek onto the ledge when a shot rang out. Koolau's bullet caught McCabe on the left side of the temple and tore away half of his skull. A moment later another shot echoed. Private John Herschberg, who had yet to reach the cliff, had panicked at the sound of Koolau's weapon and fled into the brush; a branch snared the trigger of his rifle and the twenty-five-year-old Swedish immigrant shot himself fatally in the jaw, the bullet passing upward and then out his right ear. After their bodies were retrieved and brought to Camp Dole, Dr. Cooper performed field autopsies on the three dead men, gently probing their wounds while he cradled the soldiers' shattered skulls. The deaths were a waste, Cooper decided. Koolau's flight endangered no one but himself. They should let him disappear.
One morning, as the soldiers were advancing, Koolau had turned to Piilani and said, "In the midst of this trouble, if I see that nothing remains, then I will shoot you two first and then shoot myself and we shall all die together." Piilani nodded. She had noticed that blemishes from the disease now also marked her son's face. If leprosy was going to take her husband and her son, she wished to die as well. With this decision, Piilani wrote, "We began to lose our doubts and the striking bullets around us seemed as nothing — we lived without fear."
After Private McCabe's shooting, Koolau had told Piilani that they must abandon their hideout: "The soldiers know that we are here and they are preparing for the end." When it grew dark, they crept down the cliff and crossed the valley floor, passing at one point within a hundred feet of where the soldiers sat awake in their camp, puffing cigars and playing cards. Ascending the eastern wall, they arrived at a notch in the cliff, tucked above a waterfall and shaded by a banana tree. They ate its unripe fruit, then lay down to try to sleep.
At first light a howitzer shell exploded, rolling thunder down the valley. Sergeant Major Pratt had wheeled the cannon in range of the hideout that Koolau and his family had vacated just hours earlier. Pratt launched sixteen shells, which tore apart the western cliff and ledge. "The earth and rocks of our little home flew about, and love welled up in us for that nest in which we had sheltered," Piilani later wrote. "But the birds had sprouted wings and flown elsewhere."
At his desk in Honolulu, William O. Smith read the dispatches from Kauai with rising anger. Koolau was making a fool of the board of health and the new government — an affront that Smith, who was also attorney general, felt deeply. Each day the newspapers published sensational stories of Koolau's spectacular flight, and mocking editorials that pondered how such a thing was possible in the face of the largest military action the government had ever undertaken. Surely one rebel could not defeat an army.
"Koolau is a daring and courageous man," the Advertiser reported on July 3, quoting one of his neighbors. In subsequent issues the Advertiser started to shape the story: "Koolau is not the desperate villain which the Oahu or Honolulu people seem to think. . . . Stories from the valley are that the shooting of Stolz is partially accidental." The paper related that Koolau "was formerly a most genial and hard working man. He is passionately attached to his wife, and it is the dread of separating from her that keeps him from surrendering."
Smith decided to see for himself why Captain Larsen was taking so long to arrest the fugitive. On the morning of July 10, two weeks after Louis Stolz's death, Smith set sail from Honolulu with ten soldiers, a fresh supply of howitzer shells, thirty pairs of boots, and three zinc-lined coffins. Arriving on Kauai, however, Smith discovered that Larsen had abandoned the search and departed the valley. Smith located Larsen in an adjoining valley and angrily ordered him to return to Kalalau and capture Koolau. Larsen was equally livid — Smith's appearance on Kauai damaged his authority in front of his men. Larsen threatened to resign his command. If you are so certain Koolau is still in the valley, Larsen screamed at Smith, you lead the soldiers in there after him.
Finally, after several hours of arguing, Smith convinced Larsen to make one last assault on Koolau's stronghold. Before dawn on July 13, William O. Smith, Charles Reynolds, and a group of soldiers climbed to Koolau's former hideout. Smith and Larsen eyed the ruined spot, then explored the immediate area. A barely visible trail snaked directly upward from the ledge and threaded over the cliff and into an adjacent valley. Smith decided that Koolau had used the trail to escape. In his notes from the expedition Smith described with wonder the "staggering wilderness" of Kalalau Valley, braided with vegetation so dense it hid the sky. The next valley over was just the same, and the one after that. A man could hide forever in such a place, Smith realized. "It seems useless to keep this force here any longer," Smith wrote. He allowed Captain Larsen to end the pursuit.
Before departing Kalalau, soldiers wrenched the bodies of Anderson, McCabe, and Herschberg from their temporary graves. The dead were wrapped in oiled canvas and laid inside the zinc coffins. Whaleboats shuttled the caskets to the steamer. An afternoon storm had slipped in, and waves lapped at the burdened boats. The crew struggled to keep the coffins from sliding into the sea. By 2:30 P.M. all the bodies were safe on board, and with a single whistle the Iwalani heaved toward Honolulu.
Koolau stood on a distant ridge and watched the soldiers depart. When the steamer was a mile from shore, he fed a cartridge into his rifle and fired a farewell salute.
For more than a month Koolau, Piilani, and their son, Kaleimanu, hid in the folds of the cliff, uncertain if the soldiers would return. At night Koolau snuck to a stream to net freshwater shrimp and tiny goby fish, which they roasted and ate whole. By late summer, Koolau believed it was safe to venture into the valley, and the family spent their nights foraging among the taro fields, retreating into the jungle at dawn.
They lived this way for two years, a "wandering life in the wild valleys and rows of steep cliffs, in the midst of awful loneliness," as Piilani described it. At the start of their second year on the run, Kaleimanu, whose condition had remained constant over the months, began to swiftly falter. One afternoon Piilani saw him gesture to her. "When I went to his side," she wrote, "he put his arms about my neck and rubbed his cheek against mine . . . and he whispered: 'Where is Papa? I am going to sleep.'"
Koolau carved a grave on the face of the cliff, at a site with a view of the sea. Piilani layered the bottom with ferns, and Koolau carefully laid him down. For several weeks Koolau and Piilani camped each night beside their son's grave, until, finally, they left him on his own.
Within the year Koolau's health also began to fail. With unsettling speed he grew weak, and complained of pains piercing his stomach. His mind began to cloud, and he no longer recognized his wife. He fell into a coma, and that evening, at midnight, Koolau stopped breathing. Piilani lay down beside him and slept.
In the morning she searched for a place to bury her husband, safe from the hunters who still combed the valley seeking the $1,000 bounty on his body. When she found a site surrounded by ferns and wild ginger, she knelt and started to dig. "I worked with all the strength of my hands and my woman's body to make the grave," Piilani wrote. After a full day of digging, the grave was still too shallow. For a second night, she slept beside Koolau's body.
At dusk the next day Piilani finished. "I lifted him onto some branches and dragged him to his final resting place," she wrote. Placing Koolau's rifle in his arms, she covered her husband with layers of leaves, stones, and dirt. "I planted all around with slips from the forest, kissed the earth, and left him there sleeping the sleep of seasons," she wrote. "Leaving his chilly home I turned away and went weeping with the burden of sorrow upon my shoulders."
Thinking that she might be held responsible for the deaths of the soldiers, Piilani remained hidden for several months. Then she cautiously emerged. Climbing to the head of the valley, Piilani reversed the trip she had made more than three years earlier. She arrived at the whitewashed cottage where Louis Stolz had first surprised her with his appearance in Kalalau. "There I rested awhile, full of sad recollections, and it seemed as though my husband and child were there with me," she recalled. "After some of my weariness disappeared, I resumed my climb, alertly and swiftly, up the steep cliff. Stepping on the high peak of the cliff . . . I rested and drew breath, caressed by the refreshing breeze of the heights, which touched me gently and bathed away the effort made from the base of the cliff to the sheer steeps where every glance reveals death, with no place to escape."
At that moment, more than a thousand men and women and children were imprisoned in the colony on Molokai, penned there by a set of cliffs even more immense than those on Kauai. Among the exiles were those who had been arrested in Kalalau Valley. Piilani sometimes thought about them, her old friends. Were they alive? Were they at peace? There was no way to know. The only thing Piilani ever determined about those who were sent to the colony was this: they never returned.
Copyright © 2006 by John Tayman
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