Funston as a Captain in the 20th Kansas
Photo courtesy Kansas State Historical Society
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
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 officer.
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."
Funston 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.
Under 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.
"The man who
saved San Francisco"
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 picnics.
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."
If 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.
Considering 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 temporary housing.
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
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 answered
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.
© John Troesser
"They shoe horses, don't
20, 2005 column
Texas by Dan Heaton
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..." more
& 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 Ave.)