John Robert Monaghan

John Robert Monaghan

Durham, N. N. "Spokane and the Inland Empire; History of the City of Spokane and Spokane County Washington." Vol. 2. S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912. p. 11-16.


A crisis ever tends to bring out the true characteristics of an individual : It will show the weakness of one and the strength of another, for the spirit of courage responds wherever there is need. We are led to this train of reflection through contemplating the life record of John Robert Monaghan, whose valor and nobility of character have placed his name on the roll of heroes of whom America has every reason to be proud. He had been reared upon the frontier where men were rated by their true worth and where the best and strongest in men is brought out and developed. His birth occurred at Chewelah, Stevens County, Washington, March 26, 1873, his parents being James and Margaret (McCool) Monaghan, of whom mention is made elsewhere in this volume. His parents desired to give him superior educational advantages under the auspices of the church to which they belonged, but the facilities for Catholic instruction were limited in Washington in those days, so that the boy at the age of eleven was sent to the school of the Christian brothers—St. Joseph Academy, at Oakland, California. He attended that school and also another brothers' school in Portland, Oregon, until the Jesuit Fathers established Gonzaga College in Spokane in 1887. He was then enrolled as one of the first eighteen students and after four years spent in that institution he took the examination held in Spokane in 1891 for the Military Academy at West Point and the Naval Academy at Annapolis, receiving the highest percentage in each of these examinations, so that he was entitled to make his choice of appointments. Although it was his original wish to go to West Point, he generously waived that preference in favor of the next applicant, the son of an old army officer who heartily desired the appointment. John R. Monaghan then entered the Naval Academy, from where he was creditably graduated in 1895, being the first representative of the many from the state of Washington to graduate from that school. His experiences as a member of the navy were interesting and varied and were notable by reason of his unfaltering loyalty to duty on every occasion and in every situation. He first went upon a two years' cruise in the Pacific on the flagship Olympia, during which time he visited the Hawaiian Islands, Japan, China and other ports in Asia. Later he received his commission as ensign and was assigned to the Monadnock and afterward to the Alert, both also of the Pacific squadron. On the latter vessel in the fall of 1897 and the early part of 1898 he made two successful voyages to Central American ports, engaged in survey work in connection with the proposed Nicaragua canal. After being transferred to the Philadelphia he participated in the ceremonies at Honolulu, attending the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands, in August, 1898. He next made a brief cruise in Central American waters but returned in January, 1899, and anchored in the harbor of San Diego, California. While there Mr. Monaghan was visited by the members of his family. Some time before his father had urged him to leave the navy and engage in business, but the Spanish war was then in progress and he felt it his duty to continue in the service. Again reaching San Diego the father urged him to resign, but at this junction came the news of serious troubles in Samoa, affecting American interests, and the Philadelphia was ordered to proceed thither with all dispatch. Reaching Apia early in March, it was found that the situation was an acute one, the two rival chieftains, Malietoa and Mataafa, contending for supremacy. The three signatories to the Berlin agreement, respecting Samoa, the United States, England and Germany, were all represented by warships in the harbor. The decision of the American and English commanders made Malietoa king, and Mataafa was ordered to disperse his forces but defied the injunction and continued hostilities. Troops were accordingly landed from American and English ships, and on the 15th of March a bombardment was begun which lasted intermittently for two weeks, but had only slight effect, the enemy retiring into the bush. On the 1st of April a concerted movement was made by the allied land forces. Lieutenant Lansdale of the Philadelphia commanding the American party with which Ensign Monaghan had been serving since it had been put ashore. The march was through a densely wooded country, where Mataafa's men were in ambush in large numbers. The following account of this encounter has been given: "Under a deadly fire which could not be replied to with advantage, especially as the only piece of artillery (a Colt automatic gun) brought by the marines had become disabled, a retreat was sounded.

While this was in progress Lansdale received a wound in the leg, shattering the bone. In the confusion of the retreat he had been left in the rear, with only Monaghan and three or four privates. He was carried some distance, when one of the privates was shot to death, and soon afterward the others fled, leaving Monaghan alone with him. Although urged repeatedly by Lansdale to save himself (as testified by the last of the men to leave), he steadily refused and stood his ground, awaiting assistance. Presently others who had been in the rear came up and in their turn departed. The next day the bodies of Lansdale and Monaghan were found lying together in the jungle. Captain White of the Philadelphia in his official report wrote: ‘It is in evidence most clear that when Ensign Monaghan discovered that Lieutenant Lansdale was wounded he used his best endeavors to convey him to the rear and seizing a rifle from a disabled man made a brave defense; but undoubtedly he fell very shortly after joining Lansdale, and the hostiles, flushed with success, bore down on our men in this vicinity. The men were not in sufficient numbers to hold out any longer and they were forced along by a fire which it was impossible to withstand. But Ensign Monaghan did stand. He stood steadfast by his wounded superior and friend, one rifle against many, brave man against a score of savages. He knew he was doomed. He could not yield. He died in the heroic performance of duty.' The remains of Ensign Monaghan were brought back to the United States on the Philadelphia and interred in Spokane, where every honor was paid his memory. On the 25th of October, 1906, a bronze statue was unveiled in Spokane, by his sister, Agnes, which was given by the citizens of the state of Washington. The torpedo boat destroyer which was launched February 18, 1911, was named in honor of Ensign Monaghan and his sister, Nellie, christened the boat. A life of great promise was terminated when in that tropical country he closed his eyes forever in death, after displaying a heroic devotion to his commander and to the cause which he served that is unsurpassed in the history of military action among American troops. It has been said that "Memory is the only friend that grief can call its own." It is indeed a precious memory that remains to the parents, for there was never a blot on his scutcheon, and the story of his heroism may well serve as an inspiration to the American youth.

Rev. H. L. McCulloch, S. J., has recorded the life history in a book, which he wrote and published and following we quote some of the excerpts: Father Forestier says : "During this war many events have caused us pain and grief and many a wound has been left on our hearts, but perhaps the one we have felt most acutely and which is the most indelible is the death of Ensign Monaghan."

Cadet Sweet says: "Monaghan's death is especially a personal loss to me, as we had been close companions in these trying events. I have lost a brother, tried and true."

Mr. Justice Gordon, speaking at Olympia, in Robert's native state, on the Fourth of July, exclaimed: "You will search history in vain for the record of any act of bravery to excel that of Spokane's Ensign Monaghan at Samoa, presenting as it does to the world an object lesson in heroism and friendship. Such an act perfumes the pages of history and renders it enchanting, and wherever language is spoken or history is written, his name shall shine on, like the stars of God, forever and ever."

Admiral B. H. McCalla, then captain, in the U. S. Navy, renders a splendid tribute to our hero. At that time having been asked to tell of the most inspiring deed of ship or man that ever came to his notice, to stimulate interest in naval affairs, he said: "In reply I beg to state that I know of nothing finer, or more courageous, or more heroic, than the act of Ensign J. R. Monaghan, who on April 1st, last, while attached to the Philadelphia, and forming one of a landing force in Samoa, alone remained with his wounded commanding officer, and gave up his life in an attempt to rescue him from the enemy."

Ex-Senator Wilson says: "The nobility of this young hero shone forth. In front of him was certain death. Behind him a sure avenue of escape. But at his side, begging him to save himself, while there was yet time, lay his superior officer and friend. He never wavered. His high sense of duty and that great moral courage with which he was endowed, would not permit him to desert his post in the hour of danger. Lieutenant Lansdale begged him to retreat and save himself. This he would not do, and bravely and manfully he stood, defending at the peril of his own young life, the fast ebbing life of his commander and friend. Calmly and deliberately he waited the onset of his savage foes, and with empty revolver and cutlass in hand, he died, as was his wish to die, with his face to the foe in defense of his friend, his flag, and his country." Father Paul Dethoor, S. J., says: "Ensign Monaghan shall live in the memory of America and England, in the memory of Gonzaga and Annapolis, and in the hearts of his countrymen. But our greatest consolation is, thanks to the Christian education given him by his parents and teachers, that his death crowned a life of unswerving fidelity to the principles and duties of his religion. We know that human glory can not reach beyond the grave, but that only a life of faith is available before God. Such was the life of young Monaghan."

Submitted to the Washington Biographies Project in July 2014 by Diane Wright. Submitter has no additional information about the person(s) or family mentioned above.

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