"I tell you it was exciting": an eyewitness account of the Hawaiian Revolution that deposed Queen Liliuokalani, leading to the annexation of the Islands by the United States.
"The papers have told all about our revolution, so I will tell you only the small part I have taken in it, which is not so small either when you come to think of it.
"Two days before it happened [15 January] Ashley asked me if I would stand in with the white people and, of course, I said yes and then he told me where I could find a rifle which he would have ready for use and that when a certain number of whistles would be sounded I was to get my gun and get to the Government Building as soon as a horse could get there; well I waited for two whole days and until 3 P.M. the next day (seemed like a year) when off went the whistle. I jumped the horse I had waiting ran him all the way to my gun and was among the first to arrive at the Gov. Bldg. I will tell you it was exciting, there we were laying flat out on our bellies (please excuse) on the veranda ready to shoot the first native that tried to step in the grounds. I tell you it was a relief when we saw that the men who had been told to meet at the armory marched up and dispersed the mob. You see there were more of us to meet at the Gov. Bldg. but the others finding it surrounded by a howling mob of natives went to the Armory when we come to count up we found we were only (19) nineteen men in all. …"
The very first night of the Sanford Dole-led revolution, Tilden encountered Robert William Wilcox, one of Liliuokalani's staunchest supporters, who was to lead a failed counter-revolution in 1895. "The first night I was put in command of the guard with a rank of sergeant and was then detailed for special duty. … I went to one place especially to arrest a noted half-white named Wilcox. … when we got there we found him with sixty natives[;] he immediately drew his revolver but was covered by our rifles and his men refusing to fight we had no trouble arresting him and then I sent him away with two men while my other men, eight in all, cover the natives while they stepped forward one at a time and delivered up their arms, sounds like a dime novel, don't it?"
Tilden's rapid advancement continued. "When we got everything running nicely I was taken on the Commander in Chief's staff and received my commission today as you will see by the inclosed clipping; … my salary, which is temporary, is $160 per. month with clothes and board and lodging thrown in[;] you ought to see my uniform which came today its a daisy."
Tilden continues his letter, still seeming not to believe the position he has found himself in—and certainly not anticipating the brutal impact on the "natives" of this dime-novel revolution. "What do you think of your lettle Willie fighting in a revolution where there has been only one shot fired? By the way us fellows who held the Govrt. Bldg. are going to get medals and positions under the the government for life. We were told so by the President himself he having us called in and thanking and complimenting us all of which he had to take himself as he laid next to me and let me have one of two revolvers he head. I tell you he is a daisy. We are going over to the Palace this afternoon (we means staff officers) and are each to have one of a fine collection of swords which the last King made from almost every country."
The letter closes with Tilden expounding his idea of bringing his family to Hawaii to join him in his new prosperity. "I am well and take it all in all have had as fine a time as I ever had in my life. My clothes you can give to Gus if he would like them. You need only send my Tuxedo shirt. As to getting Gus a job here I undoubtedly can in a short time and will have money enough to pay his way down too and perhaps both of you can join me here and we will have a happy hour again. …"
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