Fort Riley, Kansas -
History & Hauntings
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
Santa 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
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.
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
Santa 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.
After the Civil War, troops from Fort Riley were needed to protect workers
constructing the Kansas
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.
Cavalry Parade Field - Allegedly, a group of spectral riders
are often seen and/or heard galloping across Cavalry Parade Field.
According to the tales, numerous people have first felt a low vibration
and heard the sounds of distant thunder before seeing a troop of soldiers
galloping across the parade grounds. The riders then slow at the
intersection of Sheridan and Forsyth Avenues, where, after one rider
dismounts, the rest of the troop wheels around and rides away.
intersection where the riders stop is where
Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer
once lived. Though the original home where Custer lived burned down long
ago, the house was in the vicinity of this intersection. Some believe that
the original dwelling stood where Quarters 21 is now located.
any event, this group of spectral riders is believed to be an escort for
the dismounting soldier is thought to be the Lieutenant himself.
Way back in 1867 when
was stationed at the fort, but off an a military campaign, he got the news
that cholera had broken out at the fort where his beloved wife Libby was
waiting for him.
The Old Trooper Statue stands before the
Cavalry Parade Field, Kathy Weiser, October, 2006. This image available for
Fearing for her safety, he selected an
escort of his finest horsemen, turned over the 7th Cavalry to
another officer, and the men rode back to the fort as fast as the
could. Though he arrived to find Libby in good health, Custer
was later court martialed for deserting his unit and was relieved
from command for one year. Perhaps this emotionally charged event
has become a "place
when these dark riders "appear" upon the parade grounds, different
people sense them in different ways.
Some witnesses both see and hear the
troops, but even more report that they can either see them or hear
them, but not both. Those that hear them often hear various sounds,
including the sound of thundering hoofs, as well as voices and the
metallic jingle that accompanies horsemen.
Custer House – What was
formerly known as Quarters 24, this structure is one of four original
buildings left from the original post and has been in continual use since it was built. Made
from native limestone from the area, the building is structurally
similar to the original set of officer's quarters that George
Armstrong Custer and his wife, Libby, lived in from
1866 to 1867. Alas, the actual building, located near the Custer
House, that the Lieutenant lived in has long ago burned
down. Today, Quarters 24 stands as a museum exhibiting life at the
fort in the late 1860s.
Haunting reports from this house first began
in 1855, when the fort was hit by a cholera epidemic which claimed many
lives. Immediately, the ghostly spirits were blamed on those who had died
of the horrible disease.
Specific reports include a sergeant who worked in the building in the
1970's who said that he often heard strange noises coming from the
upstairs rooms, including what sounded like someone putting a boot on,
then stamping his foot on the floor. These noises always came at time when
no one was in the upstairs rooms. The same sergeant also reported that a
teddy bear in the children's room kept moving around. Though he always
placed it on the bed before leaving, he would arrive the next day to find
it had been moved again, usually sitting atop a rocking horse in the room.
Another soldier who worked in the Custer House
reported that she would often arrive in the morning to find a bed in an
upstairs room that appeared to have been slept in. The same
reported often having felt as she was being watched when she was in the
Infantry Parade Field
-- Long ago this field was also used as a polo field. Today
witnesses say that two polo playing gentlemen continue to be seen riding
their horses and playing polo. Apparently, the two men are not
polite if their game is interrupted. One soldier who had a personal
experience was was walking across the field one evening when he began to
hear faint shouts and cheers from the distance. He then saw what looked
like two figures playing polo. As he stopped to watch, the ball came near
him and the two riders began to gallop toward him. When they neared, the soldier saw that one of riders had no face, instead there was nothing but
a grinning skull. Obviously shocked, the man simply stared only to
be surprised to hear the apparition yell, "Leave! Now, while you still
can!" Panicked, the witness immediately ran from the field.
The Custer House served as the starting point
Ghost Tour in 2006, Kathy Weiser
(The Hospital) -- In the Bio Medical room the fire alarm sounds
frequently without being triggered. On one such occasion, after the alarm
had gone off eight times, the fire marshal came and disconnected it; the
alarm sounded three times after that.
Kansas Territorial Capitol - The first territorial capitol was
built in 1855 at the site of the now extinct Pawnee City. Near the old
capitol building is the Kaw River Nature and History Trail where the
sorrowful voice of a woman can sometimes be heard drifting up from the
banks of the river. One man, who often stopped to walk along the trail,
tells of hearing the sounds of a woman singing a sad melody while walking
along the path. Investigating, he moved closer to the river to investigate
the source of the mournful voice. Upon arriving, he saw the shaded form of
a flatboat or barge being pulled across the river by a dark, human shaped
form. When the apparition and the phantom boat reached the other side of
the river, both simply vanished.
Most believe this may be the soul of a long dead slave woman, who belonged
to the man who owned the ferry in the 1850's. It is known that the ferry
owner used a slave woman to pull the ferry back and forth across the
river. Though this is the most likely explanation, might the spirit also
be that of
the weeping ghost who has long been known to haunt the rivers and
waters of the
Lower Parade Field
– For many years people have reported seeing a lone rider who gallops
madly across the field in the morning, only to disappear as quickly as he
-- In this old building, people have often seen the ghostly figure of an
Ghosts are said to haunt the doors of this club. An MP reported that a
ghostly force jerked the door he was guarding open; the door was locked.
No. 1 Stable
– For years soldiers on night duty have reported seeing a man in
old-fashioned clothing ride through the stable and then disappear.
Years later, when work was being done to the stable, the skeletons of
horse and rider were found in an old ravine.
Cemetery -- In the summer of 1855, a woman named Cornelia
Armistead died of the cholera epidemic that was raging through the
fort. Cornelia was the second wife of Major Lewis A. Armistead of the
Sixth United States Infantry Regiment. As the cholera epidemic had
already begun by July, 1855, Armistead feared an outbreak among his
troops and left
heading southwest. However, after traveling only nine miles, the
disease took hold among his men and the unit was forced stop. In the
meantime, the epidemic was raging through Fort Riley,
leaving in its wake as many as 125 men, women and children dead. On
the very day that Major Armistead returned to the fort, his wife had
died. A few years later, when the Civil War broke out, Armistead was
killed in 1863. Since his death, Armistead has often been seen
kneeling at his wife's grave. Upset and weeping, his ghostly presence
is wearing a dark blue uniform and clearly wishes to be left alone, if
– This house is reportedly haunted by a woman who drowned herself in a
well on the fort grounds in the 1860’s. Over the years,
residents have reported hearing loud noises during the night such as
someone dragging a wooden box up and down the stairs. At one
point it was so bad that a priest was called in to do an exorcism. At first, the ceremony was successful, but apparently the ghost
returned several years later. However, nothing has been heard
from the ghost recently.
Trolley Station -- In July
of 1855 cholera was diagnosed at the fort and by the end of August,
most of the Fort was dead. A woman named Susan Fox lived with
her step-father in a small frame building across the creek from the
trolley station. Engaged to be married soon, she was home alone
for several days when her father was away and her fiancée in the
nearby town of Pawnee City caring for the sick.
Contracting the horrible disease, she died
alone in her home on August 30. Her finance discovered her body
after he returned to the fort and she was buried in her wedding dress
in a small grave near the railway bridge to the trolley station.
After her death, the residents of the house described many strange
occurrences. Her fiancée was quoted as saying at the time "It was a
difficult passage for her, and Susan came back to her old home several
times demanding to be let in."
Residents often reported hearing strange noises and shrieks. On another
occasion, a maid ironing in front of a window was so frightened seeing
Susan staring in at her that she threw the iron through the
Post Commander, so irritated by the complaints and disturbances paid (out
of Fort funds) for a priest from Junction City to perform an exorcism.
Afterward they razed the building to ensure Susan's hauntings would stop.
But, still she is seen on many parts of the Fort, and especially around
the trolley station, looking for something, or someone she lost.
are but a fraction of the many haunting tales of
Each year the Historical and Archaeological Society of
provides and Ghost Tour that tells the many tales of this historic, and
apparently, extremely haunted post. Books are also available at the
Museum that gives the details of these many apparitions.
of America, updated December, 2015.
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