| Columns |
They Shoe Horses,
Don't They? |
or FREDERICK FUNSTON?Different
Approaches to Disaster
One Man vs the Search for a Few Good Bureaucrats
Major General Frederick
by John Troesser
Funston as a Captain in the 20th Kansas
Photo courtesy Kansas State Historical Society
|A Kansas Upbringing
may have been born in Ohio and died in Texas, but
Frederick Funston is forever linked to his boyhood home in Kansas. It is there
in the southeast corner of the state that his boyhood home has been restored as
a museum in the once-bustling county seat of Iola.
Funston, like legions
of Kansans before him, knew that a deep appreciation for their state can best
be developed by visiting less fortunate places - and then returning. Before his
life was over (at the age of only 51) Funston made a tour of such places - each
one seemingly less fortunate than the one before. Arkansas, The Dakota Badlands,
Death Valley, the Yukon, Cuba, The Philippines, Mexico,
After high school, Funston spent
a year at Kansas State University and then dropped out to work. He worked for
the railroad as a conductor and surveyor, several newspapers and any other jobs
that might provide a bit of adventure. In the late 1880s, he took his first job
that would take him out of Kansas (unless you count a brief newspaper job at Fort
Smith, Arkansas). The position was that of a botanist for the U.S. Department
of Agriculture. First visiting the Dakota Badlands and studying the flora there,
he then went on assignment to Death Valley (to study dry flora) and then Alaska
(to study frozen flora).
Revolutionary and Officer
deciding he liked adventure - Funston saw the opportunity for more of it (with
better pay) as an Army officer. While his height of five feet, four hadn't been
an issue in civilian adventures, when it came to entering West Point - it suddenly
became one. In order to demonstrate his sincere desire to become a soldier, Funston
looked around for a suitable waiver. He enlisted as an "expedicionario" and fought
alongside Cuban insurgents who were fighting Spanish rule.
A slightly less confident Funston in Cuba
Photo courtesy Kansas State Historical Society
In Cuba, Funston participated in 22 battles and won the respect and admiration
of his Cuban hosts. It's not easy for a Bantam-weight Americano to impress his
Cuban hosts, but after being shot through both lungs - and having (no fewer than
17) horses shot from under him, everyone was impressed - even the bureaucrats
back home. The height requirements were waived and Frederick became a U.S. Army
For America, one of the costs of winning the Spanish
American War was governing both Cuba and the Philippines and not everyone,
it seemed, appreciated U.S. liberation. Many of the Filipinos (as they were then
spelled) rebelled against what they saw as "American Imperialism."
was assigned to the all-volunteer 20th Kansas Infantry Regiment - a unit that
was then training at the Presidio in San Francisco awaiting deployment in the
Philippines. Called the "Kansas scarecrows" because of their loosely tailored,
ragtag uniforms, the 20th Kansas was "adopted" by San Franciscans who
would come visit them on weekends, watch their parades, bring them cookies and
tease them about their uniforms.
Marriage and Other Adventures
one of these cookie-dispensing missions, Funston met Miss Edna Blankart. History
of their brief courtship is hard to come by. Maybe it was charm and maybe she
put raisins in her cookies, but whatever the reason, Funston was smitten. Frederick
the Impatient proposed marriage on sight. Two days later Miss Edna was Mrs. Funston.
Whatever honeymoon was available to the couple was cut short when the 20th Kansas
was given orders for Manilla - just two weeks after the wedding.
Funston's command in the Philippines, the 20th gained distinction and fame. With
the same enthusiasm he exhibited in Cuba, Funston led his troops in 19
separate battles in its first year. The former "scarecrows" earned the nickname
"The Fighting Twentieth."
Back in those distant days - leaders were expected to lead and Funston led. In
the battle of Calumpit, Funston and his men crossed a 400 foot-wide river under
heavy enemy fire and tied off ropes to establish a ferry. Funston returned to
be on the first raft across and his actions earned him a Congressional Medal of
Honor. Funston was promoted to Brigadier General and he and the 20th returned
to the United States as national heroes.
While other officers would be
content with resting on their laurels, Funston returned to the Philippines to
lead a covert operation to beat the insurgents at their own game. With the help
of 90 loyal Filipinos who impersonated rebel "captors," Funston and
a few hand-picked soldiers pretended to be POWs who were "marched" directly into
the headquarters of the President (and rebel leader) Emilio Aquinaldo. The capture
was such a complete surprise that Aquinaldo had to be convinced that he had indeed
become a prisoner.
After returning to the U.S. and using his bully pulpit
as a national hero, Funston embarked on a speaking tour chastising those opposed
to a Philippine occupation and "American Imperialism." Frederick was
perhaps a little too enthusiastic, so President Roosevelt suggested that perhaps
the General might be assigned back to active duty. His speaking tour was short-circuited.
man who saved San Francisco"
back at the Presidio...
resuming military duties, Funston was made second-in-command of the Army's Department
of California back at the Presidio. While the first-in-command was away attending
his daughter's wedding, Funston was in charge. On April 18, 1906, Funston found
himself faced with challenges that made his previous adventures seem like so many
The San Francisco Earthquake jolted Funston (and everyone else
in California) awake shortly after 5 a.m. Downtown San Francisco was destroyed
and 300,000 people were suddenly homeless. Funston immediately took charge and
assembled his troops - marching them to downtown San Francisco and declaring martial
law. He gave the order that looters would be shot on sight. The mayor of San Francisco
was a musician with a corrupt reputation - but he was wise enough to work with
Funston and not against him.
Instead of fighting a turf war, Funston
simply started giving orders. He dynamited buildings to create firebreaks (although
this was later determined to be of dubious help). He acted without any state or
national approval although technically only the President of the United States
could order the U.S. Army to occupy a city. But through his immediate actions,
communications were soon reestablished, emergency medical facilities were set
in place and arrangements were made for housing the homeless populace. He was
thereafter gratefully remembered as "The man who saved San Francisco."
it had been an election year - the man might've been elected governor by a (literal
as well as figurative) landslide. Running with a campaign slogan of "Are
we having Funston, Yet?" he was a shoe-in.
But It wasn't only Funston
that responded to the disaster, San Francisco's otherwise corrupt mayor redeemed
his tarnished reputation and no one was removed from the scene for being incompetent
(excluding a few looters who were dispatched into the next world). Actor John
Barrymore who had been performing the night before actually sobered up (temporarily)
and not one of the people in charge declared that they looked forward to returning
home to shower, drink margaritas and eat Mexican food.
the limited communications available at the time - within hours of the earthquake,
a relief train was sent into the city by the California governor - arriving just
18 hours after the disaster. A boat was immediately sent to Oakland to telegraph
Washington and additional troop trains were en route within hours. Every square
foot of canvas tenting that the army owned was shipped to San Francisco to provide
detailed account of the San Francisco earthquake (which would serve as a good
comparison to Hurricane Katrina and the response to that disaster) is available
in A Crack in the Edge of the World" by Simon Winchester, October, 2005. ||
A Crack in the Edge of the World
Life after San
later became commander of the Department of Luzon in the Philippines and in 1914,
he occupied the port of Vera Cruz, Mexico, being appointed military governor there
during the revolution du jour. (aka The Huerta Dictatorship.) Promoted to Major
General, two years later during the "Punitive Expedition" against Pancho Villa,
General Pershing may have gotten the press, but General Funston was the man Pershing
In 1917, while stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Major General
Frederick Funston died of a heart attack while dining at the Saint Anthony Hotel.
At only fifty-one years of age, it would safe to assume Funston would've played
a major role in the First World War
had he lived. A short list of Funston's subordinates included future generals
MacArthur, Patton and Eisenhower. It is widely speculated that Funston would've
run for president against Harding, had he lived.
General Funston was
the first person to lay in state at the Alamo
and his body was then sent to San Francisco where he was the first person to lie
in state in the city hall rotunda there. Every person in San Francisco stood silent
for two minutes in his honor. His grave is there at the Presidio cemetery - not
far from the city he managed during its worst crisis.
"They shoe horses, don't they?"
20, 2005 column
Over Texas by
America’s First Combat Sortie Took Place April 20, 1915, in Brownsville,
"Funston ordered the 1st Aero Squadron at Brownsville to perform
reconnaissance along the Rio Grande and report back to him. After arriving at
the base, uncrating and assembling their aircraft, the men of the 1st were ready..."
Home & Museum of Maj. General Frederick Funston|
14 South Washington Iola, Kansas 66749 (620) 365-3051
On the west side of
the Allen County courthouse square.
1/2 block north of U.S. Highway 54 (Madison
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