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Frederick Funston

botanist, soldier, U.S. Army General

Frederick Funston

Frederick Funston was born in New Carlisle, Ohio, on November 9, 1865, and grew up in Allen County, Kansas. He attended the district school, graduated from the high school at Iola in 1882, entered the State University in 1885, and attended the University of Kansas from 1889-1890. While at the university he took a great interest in natural history and was a member of several parties sent out by the university to gather specimens. After college he became a reporter on a newspaper in Fort Scott and later a member of the staff of the Kansas City Journal.

In 1890, Funston received an appointment to go to the Badlands of Dakota and Montana to collect botanical specimens. He did this job so well that the following year he was sent with a scientific expedition to Death Valley to collect flora. He was engaged there for nine months, during which time he had several narrow escapes from death by thirst, and at one time walked forty miles across the desert.

In 1893, he was commissed by the United States Agricultural Department to explore Alaska and report on the flora. During this expedition he reached the Arctic Ocean, going farther north than any white man had gone up to that time. Upon his return to the United States, Funston was highly commended for bringing back the best-preserved collection of Alaskan flora ever gathered. The following year he was sent to the Alaskan interior on a similar expedition, during which he crossed the coast range into the upper Yukon with a party of gold miners and spent the summer at Fort McQuestion, on the Yukon River. In the fall he went to an Indian village on the Powder River, from which he made two snow-shoe trips with the Indians -- one to carry letters to a Hudson Bay post 200 miles away and bring back provisions, and the other a hunting trip of over 600 miles in the dead of winter. On the latter trip he also visited some ice-bound whalers in the Arctic Ocean. When spring came he floated a hand-made boat 1,500 miles down the Yukon River, collecting specimens along the way. He returned to San Francisco aboard the United States Revenue Cutter Bear.

In 1895, Funston went to Mexico and Central America to see about investing in coffee plantations, after which he went to New York to get the scheme financed. While in New York he formed the acquaintance of some members of the Cuban junta who induced him to join their army, and Harper's Weekly gave him a position as a Cuban correspondent. Upon reaching Cuba in 1896, Funston was made an officer of the native artillery and placed in command of all the artillery east of Havana. During his twenty months of service he took part in more than twenty engagements and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Although he survived being shot through both lungs and one arm during one engagement, he was forced from active duty when his leg was broken by having his horse fall on it, and returned to the United States in 1897.

When war against Spain was declared in 1898, Funston immediately volunteered for service and was commissioned Colonel of the Twentieth Kansas Infantry and sent to the Philippines. He then led his regiment in more than twenty battles, getting victories in all of them. On May 2, 1899, he was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers for his bravery in crossing the Rio Grande River at Calumpit on a small raft and establishing a rope ferry in the face of severe fire. He was also awarded the Medal of Honor for this action.

Placed in command of the northern military district of Luzon following the war, Funston next set out to capture Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Philippine insurgent army. Although many said the task was impossible, Aguinaldo was captured on March 23, 1901.

Funston was commissioned Brigadier General in the Regular Army on April 1, 1901, and returned to the United States that same year. He commanded in succession the departments of the Colorado, the Columbia, the Lakes, the Southwest, and California. Funston was in California when the Great Earthquake of 1906 devastated the city of San Francisco. He immediately put the city under martial law and was largely responsible for the restoration of order. From 1911 to 1913 he was military head of the Department of Luzon, and from 1913 to 1914 of the Department of Hawaii.

In January 1914, Funston was appointed Commander of the Second Division of the U.S. Army, and in April was placed in charge of the Vera Cruz expedition, sent to Mexico because of the Villa-Huerta complications. He then served as Military Governor of Vera Cruz until November 1914, when he was raised to the rank of Major-General in the regular army. In February 1915, he was placed in general command of the United States forces along the Mexican border. He subsequently had command of the expeditionary force which crossed the border into Mexico, under the command of General John J. Pershing.

Funston died suddenly at his headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, on February 19, 1917.

The home in which Funston grew up is now part of a museum complex in Iola, Kansas.


Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco

See Also

Death Valley
San Francisco
New York
John J. Pershing

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The Robinson Library >> United States >> 1865-1900 >> Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on November 20, 2018.