Vintage Fort Riley, courtesy of Betty Daniel
Gudat of San Antonio, Texas
The site of Fort Riley was
chosen by surveyors in the fall of 1852 and was first called Camp
Center, due to its proximity to the geographical center of the United
States. The following spring, three companies of the 6th
infantry began the construction of temporary quarters at the camp.
On June 27, 1853, the camp's
name was changed to Fort Riley in honor of Major General Bennett C.
Riley, who had led the first military escort along the
Fe Trail and had died earlier in the month.
The fort's initial purpose
was to protect the many pioneers and traders who were moving along the
Territorial Capitol was built in
1855. This image available for
of the buildings at the fort were built with the native limestone
of the area, several of which continue to stand today. By 1855,
the post was well-established and as more and more people moved
westward, additional quarters, stables and administrative
buildings were authorized to be built. In the July, 56 mule teams
arrived at the fort, loaded with materials and soldiers to expand
However, just a few short
weeks later, cholera broke out among the fort and though the epidemic
lasted only a few days, it left in its wake some 75-125 people dead.
Also in July, the first territorial
legislature met at Fort Riley at the now extinct town of Pawnee,
At that time, the issue as to whether
was going to declare itself as a "free-state" or a "slavery" state was
upper most in the minds of the territory's new residents, as well as
the nation that looked on.
Fraudulently elected legislators from the border area
Missouri met here briefly and
quickly voted to move the Capitol closer to "home" in the Kansas City
area. The members were mostly Missourians elected in an effort to make
Kansas a slave state. Used
only briefly as the capital, the legislature quickly moved to
Kansas and the building fell
into ruin until its restoration in 1928 by the Union Pacific railroad.
Today, the building still stands as a museum in the present area of
As tensions and bloodshed increased
between the pro and anti-slavery settlers, resulting in what has
become known as "Bleeding Kansas,"
Fort Riley's troops took on the additional task of "policing" the
troubled territory, while continuing to patrol the
Fe Trail as
Indian attacks increased.
broke out, the vast majority of the troops stationed at
Fort Riley were sent eastward. However, some soldiers were left to
continue to guard those traveling west and the base was utilized as a
prisoner of war camp for captured Confederates.
Civil War, troops from Fort Riley were needed to protect workers
Pacific Railroad from
1866 and 1867 Lieutenant
George Armstrong Custer was stationed at the fort. Wild Bill Hickok was a scout for Fort Riley starting in 1867. On
January 1, 1893, Fort Riley became the site of the Cavalry and Light
Artillery School, which continued until 1943, when the Cavalry was
disbanded. Several times throughout the years, the famous 9th and 10th
Cavalry Regiments of all-black soldiers, referred to as Buffalo
were stationed at the fort.
Through both world wars and up until today, the post has remained active.
The military reservation now covers more than 100,000 acres and has a
daytime population of nearly 25,000, which includes the 1st Infantry
Division, nicknamed the Big Red One.
Fort Riley is located on the north bank of the
Kansas River three miles north of Junction City.
Fort Riley Museum Division
Artillery Parade Field
– It is said that a woman wrapped in chains has often been seen walking
across the field on clear nights. Who this woman was and what she might
have done wrong in order to wind up in chains has never been known.
Camp Funston - Camp Funston was the
largest of sixteen divisional cantonment (temporary or semi-permanent military quarters) training camps constructed during World
War I. Designated to be located at Fort Riley due to its central
location in the nation, construction began on July 1, 1917 and the camp
was completed on December 1st of the same year. With a capacity of over
50,000, it drew trainees from all over the Great Plains states. However,
not long after the camp was completed and filled with soldiers, the 1918
flu epidemic, called the "Influenza Pandemic of 1918" hit the camp.
Worldwide, this fatal flu virus, cited as the most devastating epidemic in
recorded world history, killed more people than did World War I, an
estimated 20 to 40 million people, including some 675,000 Americans. A
global disaster, the flu took its toll on Camp Funston and Fort Riley,
like it did the rest of the world.
Camp Funston in 1918. This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
When the war was over in 1918, the camp, as well as the
Army shrunk and by 1922, Camp Funston officially ceased to exist. Today,
its many buildings now serve as temporary housing.
Though those WWI
soldiers-in-training are long gone; seemingly, at least one of them has
chosen to stay. First reported in the late 1960's, a ghostly
World War I uniform has been seen in the area, continuing his patrol. The
tale alleges that a Public Works employee first spied the ghostly figure
while repairing downed electrical lines. In the midst of a snow storm, he
noticed a soldier, in a heavy wool overcoat and rifle over his shoulder,
pacing back and forth near the site of the old world War I era gymnasium.
After repairing the lines, he decided to share his thermos of hot coffee
with the young man; however, when he approached the area where he had
spied him, the
soldier was gone. More perplexing, was the snow-covered
ground showed no sign of footprints. Many believe that this long forgotten
soldier is one of those who died during the 1918 flu pandemic.