The New Tropical Telegraph 

El Nuevo Telégrafo Tropical

 Number 1            The Rayadillo Project Newsletter             July 2009



NEWSLETTER: The New Tropical Telegraph









Welcome to the new version of the Tropical Telegraph!

ˇHola Rayadilloistas!,

It has been a long time since I have attempted an edition of the newsletter.  I have wanted to get back to regular correspondence but time always seemed to slip away.  Well, I can't leave you all in the dark any longer.  I will be trying a new format that will inform you about new research, artifact discoveries, road trips and my rambling questions.  I hope you will find it informative and fun.

Bill Combs

Collection News

An Identified Straw Hat Acquired

A sombrero de jipijapa worn in Cuba by a medical officer has been added to the collection.  The hat, along with other artifacts, documents and photos all belonging to Don José Castellvi Vila recently became available through one of my Spanish contacts.  Remarkably well preserved, the hat retains its original black oilcloth hat band and a cockade with a Sanidad Militar button and medical officer's rank braid.  Don José entered the military medical service around 1893 and fought in Cuba from 1896 to 1898.  He continued in the army until the early 1930's, ending his career with the rank of Brigadier General.  His hat and other items will be featured in future web pages and, of course, the upcoming book.



73rd jolo regiment tunic from the Philippines

This Guerrera turned up out of the woodwork a few months back at a rural Pennsylvania auction. Made of light white cotton drill, the tunic matches the 1892 regulations for the Infantry full dress tunic.  Brass buttons are of the standard Infantry pattern and the standing collar has brass unit numbers "73".  The 73rd Infantry Regiment "Jolo" was part of the permanent Spanish garrison in the Philippines.  It just goes to show us that historically important artifacts are still to be found out in the quite corners of America.  This garment was a souvenir of Capt. A. J. Kelleher, Adjutant of the 1st US Infantry.





Variation cavalry cockade surfaces

One of my favorite artifacts of the Spanish Army, and a favorite souvenir of American soldiers, is the hat cockade.  Cockades come in a vast variety of styles and materials.  Like uniforms, many can be place by design or construction to a specific colony.  Recently, I purchased a small group of insignia and buttons, the souvenirs of an unidentified US soldier from the Cuban campaign, that included this fine example of a Cavalry cockade.  It is of the most commonly made style found from the period, manufactured of red and yellow wool over a pasteboard base with white cords and, most interestingly, a Model 1885 silvered button for Lancers, Dragons and Light Cavalry.  Until now, the Cavalry cockades I have observed with Spanish American War souvenir groups utilize the Model 1892 Cavalry button with crossed swords and lances, also intended for Lancers, Dragons and Light Cavalry.  So, the question is; was this cockade a left over from an earlier regulation or was it worn by a Volunteer or Militia Cavalryman?  Model 1885 Cavalry buttons are frequently found in veteran lots, so someone was wearing them!  I'd like to hear your thoughts.


New on the Website

Rank insignia page


The new page detailing the ranks distinctions used by Spanish soldiers between 1860 and 1908 is up and viewable.  It still needs a few more images to be complete.  They will be added soon.  To visit this page Click Here.




Uniform Buttons Page in the works

Spanish buttons were a popular souvenir and remain a widely available collectable.  A new page is in production that will identify the different patterns of Spanish military buttons from all branches of service, major variations and maker information.  Watch the newsletter for progress updates on this important addition to the website.



Color Plates of Volunteer Uniforms

A set of color plates have recently come to light that illustrate various uniforms worn by the Volunteers in Cuba during the Ten Years War.  Six prints were found in all and they appear to have been removed from an unknown book.  The plates are numbered 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11 leading me to believe they are part of a larger set that would show other units.  Although undated, the plates appear to be from the period, possibly the 1880's or 90's.  If anyone has additional information on the location of other prints from this set or knows the book in which they were publish, please contact me.





On Campaign

A Visit to the Tennessee State Museum

Last April I had the opportunity to examine and photograph a number of Spanish artifacts at the Tennessee State Museum.  With the help of my old friend and museum official Ron Westphal, I was able to document the tunic of a Puerto Rican Volunteer Gastador, a Teresiana made in San Juan, Puerto Rico (shown here), and the sash of a Veterinarian Officer among other items.  Over 160 photographs were taken.  We spend a full day in the back rooms but there were still a number of items we didn't get to.  Another day will be scheduled in the future to complete the work.



Artifact courtesy of the Tennessee State Museum



A warm reception in chilly Minnesota

The same week after my trip to Tennessee I was back on the road and headed to the far north; Minnesota.  Even in April it can still be quite cold in the Twin Cities area, but luckily, it warmed up and was very pleasant by the time I arrived.  With the help of my host and good friend Doug Bekke, curator of the Minnesota Military Museum and the rayadillo project's '5th. Columnist' in the Minnesota museum system, I had made an appointment a year earlier to examine and photograph the the collection held by the Minnesota Historical Society.  The MHS is one of the nation's leading preservation organizations and known for their state of the art operations.  Needless to say, it is no small matter to be allowed to view the portion of their holdings that are not on public display.  Generally, researchers are limited to one or two pre-selected artifacts with little or no searching through the stacks.  A one to three hour visit is the norm.  I was honored that Curator Matt Anderson chose to give me a full day of his time, a rare privilege indeed.  Together, we documented 30 artifacts, taking over 390 photographs.  These items were handled in the most professional manner, befitting their historical importance.  They really got the 'white glove' treatment.  This collection contains a large number of items from the Philippines brought home by veterans of the famous 13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.  These brave soldiers were also some of the most prolific souvenir hunters in the American Army.  A number of items already viewable on this website are attributed to some of these sticky fingered lads.  A few notable items include a Guardia Civil Veterana sun helmet plate, a Philippine made Marine belt plate, a sun helmet made in Manila, Katipunan cockade, and the tan cotton shirt and rayadillo trousers of a Filipino insurrectionist soldier.  The Cuban front is not neglected.  A sizable lot of Spanish field equipment came home with a Regular Army officer from Minneapolis.  There are a number of cartridge box variations, a locally made cartridge belt, Habana marked reserve ammunition haversack, and an amazing officer's bandolier (shown here).  Even with the time allotted, we could not get to it all.  We still have the swords, firearms and flags to explore.  And there is an elusive Spanish mess kit that we know to be there but could not find  on this visit.  I have been invited back and can't wait for my return visit.

Artifact courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society (7962.16.A and B)


The Relief Column

A welcomed helping hand from fellow collectors

As much as I would like to own all the the Spanish colonial artifacts and know everything there is to know about rayadillo, I am rational enough to understand that this is just not possible.  To fill in the gaps were my knowledge or collection fall short I rely on fellow collectors, many of them good and faithful friends, to come to my aid.  They are my 'Relief Column' in this campaign to bring the rayadillo book to completion.  In future issues of the New Tropical Telegraph, I will feature one of these friends of the project and how they are helping further the cause. 

In this issue I would like to thank Ron Northrup.  Ron is a serious collector of militaria from a number of periods.  In March, Ron allowed me to take a large part of his Spanish American War collection to photograph.  Such trust is rare among many collectors, but Ron and I go back a long way.  I took over 250 photos of some great Spanish and Filipino relics including several tunics, flags, accoutrements, buttons and buckles, and a fantastic souvenir belt.  All these will be added to the projects data base.

A big "Thank you!" to Ron for all his help.  Would you like to help, too?  If you have items, images or information to share, just drop me a line at and we will talk.  I can't wait to hear form you.


Artifact courtesy of Ron Northrup


The Book

Progress slow but steady

If you think it seems like this project is taking a long time, you should see it from my point of view.  Sometimes the progress appears to move at the speed of our little shell back friend here.  But things are getting done.  I am working with a publisher and preliminary writing is underway.  In addition, research, translation and photography are ongoing.  Readers of the New Tropical Telegraph will be kept in the loop as progress is made.





Huddled in the Blockhouse

requests, questions and random thoughts

If you can help, contact me at

Sanidad Militar Shako Plate Needed

I have a restoration project that you may be able to help with.  I need the front plate (Chapa) for a Medical Corps shako - Sanidad Miltar Ros.  It will look like the Model 1908 plate shown here but will have the intertwined letters "SM" on the button at the bottom of the priscilla instead of the Maltese cross.  Let me know if you have one you will part with and an idea of your price.








Book Request

I am looking for a copy of EMBLEMAS DIVISAS Y DISTINTIVOS EN LOS CUELLOS DE LOS UNIFORMES DEL EJERCITO by Luis Gravalos Gonzalez, Madrid, 1994.  This book details the history of Spanish military collar insignia.  It is now out of print.  I really need this and will accept a color photocopy or I will pay a premium for the book.


The Model 1866 Chassepot Rifle in Spanish Service?

I recently acquired an 1870's period CDV image of an Havana Volunteer.  The soldier is clearly armed with  Model 1866 French Chassepot rifle.  So, where did he get this weapon?  I have found only a few vague references to Chassepots in Spain.  There may have been some use of Chassepots by the Carlists during the 3rd. Carlist War.  7 Chassepots are listed as part of the arms captured from the Cuban insurrectionist in 1897.  If you have any more information on Spanish use of the Chassepot, please contact me.



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