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Hail To A Forgotten Hero

He may not be a household name, but at one time he was known as a national hero. On February 19, 1917, KU alumnus/soldier/adventurer Frederick Funston died.

funston_in_alaskaComing from Iola, KS, to KU in 1886, Funston was a friend of another KU alum, and Pulitizer Prize winner, William Allen White. In 1890, Funston became a special botanical agent for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, taking part in an expedition of Death Valley, CA. He then went to Alaska in 1892-94, crossing the Cuba-funston_frederickterritory on a 3,500 mile trek to the Bering Sea. After returning from the north, he headed south to Mexico and spent 18 months as a revolutionary under Generals Maximo Gomez and Calixto Garcia. He then entered the Cuban insurgent army, but returned to the U.S. at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.

He then became the Commander of the 20th Kansas Regiment in Manila in the war against Spain in 1898. If you’ve heard the story about the Rock Chalk Chant in the Philippines, this is where it came from! (There are both “Kansas” and “Funston” streets in Manila.)  While in the Philippines he gained notoriety for capturing the filipino insurgent leader.


Image: KU students in 1986-87. William Allen White, looking down with bottle on head and Frederick Funston, third from right.

In 1901 he was named a Brigadier General, Regular Army, the youngest general in the Army. Then, in 1906 he went to the Presidio in San Francisco. In April of that year the horrible earthquake occurred. Funston ordered the mobilization of troops to help the 300,000 homeless and to stop the fires and looting. The national press called him “The man who saved San Francisco.”

Two years later in 1908, he moved back to Kansas and became the Commandant of the Army Service School at Leavenworth. Then…1908 Commander of the Dept. of Luzon (Philippines), 1913 Commander of the Hawaiian Dept. and 1914 as military governor of Vera Cruz, Tamaulipas, Mexico. He was appointed Commander of the Southern Department in 1916 when Pancho Villa invaded New Mexico and ordered General Pershing and the Kansas First Infantry, including Dr. James Naismith, into the fight.

The U.S. withdrew from the battle with Villa when World War I began, and Funston may have been assigned to lead the U.S. armed forces in Europe had he not suffered a heart attack and died in San Antonio, TX in 1917.

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