Seven months to the day after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox ended the Civil War, Frederick Funston was born at New Carlisle, Ohio, on Nov. 9, 1865. Allen County Historical Society will celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth, albeit a tad early, with his career being the focus of the society’s summer meeting Tuesday evening and a full day of events on July 25.
The summer meeting will be in the Frederick Funston Meeting Hall, 207 N. Jefferson, starting at 7 p.m., Tuesday
Jarrett Robinson will speak — “Fruits of the Poisonous Tree: Setting the Record Straight on General Funston.” Robinson, from Spring Hill, Tenn., has spent the past 25 years studying Funston’s life, including his many adventures in military and public venues.
Saturday’s events will begin with a 9:30 a.m. ceremony at the Funston statue outside his boyhood home museum just north of the historical society’s headquarters, 20 S. Washington. A wreath will be laid at the foot of the life-size statue. Re-enactors will entertain and commemorative remarks will come from special guests, including Kansas Adjutant Gen. Lee Tafanelli.
Following a by-invitation luncheon, at 3 p.m. three speakers will dwell on Funston’s remarkable career and a panel discussion will conclude activities.
The speakers: Tim Rives, deputy director supervisory archivist at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene — “Education in the Philippines: Dwight D. Eisenhower and Making of a National Army;” Lt. Col. (ret.) Mark Calhoun, Fort Leavenworth — “Lesley J. McNair: Unsung Architect of the U.S. Army;” Charles Hewitt, Spanish-American War re-enactor — “Before Seal Team Six, there was ‘Fighting Fred’ Funston,” which will delve into Funston’s capture of the Filipino resurrection leader, Emilio Aguinaldo.
Clyde Toland, Iola, and Robinson will be panelists for a discussion of Maj. Gen. Funston. Bob Hawk, a past president of the historical society, will moderate. Toland has studied Funston’s life for 50 years and is considered father of the Funston Project that brought his boyhood home to Iola from several miles north of Iola. Toland also has been instrumental in the historical society being on the cutting edge of recalling, recording and making information about local history readily available.
FUNSTON MOVED to north of Iola in 1881 with his family, including his father, Edward H., who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Funston stood just 5-foot-5 and weighed 120 pounds. He failed admission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1884, and a year later enrolled at the University of Kansas.
After a stint as a journalist, his interest in science found the diminutive Funston studying botany, first with an expedition to Death Valley, Calif., in 1891, and then two years as an agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the wilds of Alaska.
He fought in Cuba, but malaria had him back in the U.S. and eventually commissioned as a colonel in the 20th Kansas Infantry in 1898, about the time the Spanish-American War began. His popular acclaim grew with exploits in the Philippines, particularly a daring capture of Aguinaldo.
When the infamous earthquake left San Francisco a shambles in 1906, Funston was considered instrumental in saving what was left of the city.
Following less attention-grabbing military assignments, Funston, by then a general, was active in the 1914-16 conflict with Mexico. He occupied Veracruz and commanded U.S. forces in the hunt for the notorious Pancho Villa.
Shortly thereafter, with the U.S. on the cusp of becoming involved in World War I, Funston was reputed to be President Woodrow Wilson’s choice to lead the American Expeditionary Force to France. Before U.S. involvement in the “war to end of all wars,” Funston was felled by a massive heart attack at The St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, while, reports at the time said, listening to an orchestra play “The Blue Danube Waltz.”
Some historians have postulated that if Funston had lived to lead the AEF, his political stock would have risen to the point that he would have been considered presidential timber. Giving that thought some credence is that at one time or another Funston’s staff included officers who later would have renowned careers in the U.S. — namely Gens. Eisenhower, Patton, Pershing and McArthur.