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Frederick Funston Papers

Frederick FunstonCollection 33



The papers of Frederick Funston, Major General of the United States Army and Kansas hero of the Cuban revolution and the Spanish-American war, were received by the Kansas State Historical Society in July, 1958. The collection, donated by Funston’s daughter, Barbara, consists primarily of the personal and military correspondence of Funston dating from the Death Valley expedition of 1891 to his death in 1917. Documents, newspaper clippings, and magazine and journal articles are also included, recording events of his various expeditions and military experiences.

The unpublished writings of Frederick Funston in this collection are unrestricted and open to use by the public.


Frederick Funston was born November 9, 1865, in New Carlisle, Ohio, the son of Edward H. Funston (who later served as Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives and President Pro Tem of the Kansas Senate) and Ann Eliza Mitchell. The family moved to Allen County, Kansas, when Frederick was young. He graduated from Iola High School in 1886, going on to attend the University of Kansas. Although not an outstanding student, Funston was active and well-known, with William Allen White, Ed Franklin, Charles F. Scott, and Vernon Kellogg numbering among his close friends during his college years.

As a special botanical agent for the Department of Agriculture, Funston joined a trip to Death Valley, California, in 1891. He recorded many of his impressions of the expedition and sent them back to be published in the Iola Daily Register. In 1892, still an agent of the government, Funston made his famed Alaskan expedition, including the Yukon, from which he returned in 1894. From Alaska, he again sent humorous yet informative reports of the people and places he saw to the newspaper.

After holding several newspaper jobs and working for the Santa Fe Railroad, Funston heard General Daniel E. Sickles plead the cause of Cuban independence at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Funston immediately signed up as a Cuban revolutionary, arriving on the island in 1896, and served eighteen months under Generals Maximo Gomez, Calixto Garcia, and others. During this time he was wounded three times, lost seventeen horses, and was captured once. According to his nephew, he would have been shot as an insurgent had he not lied about his identity and swallowed his passport.

Shortly after his return to the States, war was declared on Spain, and Governor Leedy of Kansas, recalling Funston’s exploits in Cuba, asked Funston to command one of the three regiments being raised in Kansas. Funston accepted and the 20th Kansas Regiment arrived in Manila on November 30, 1898. Less than a month before, at the age of thirty-three, he had married Miss Eda Blankard; she joined him shortly thereafter in the Philippines. For his leadership of the 20th Regiment, Funston was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and promoted to the rank of Brigadier General Volunteers.

Although the 20th Kansas served only a year, Funston returned to the Philippines in late December, 1899. He personally led the small cadre of American soldiers and Macabebe scouts in the capture of the famed Filipino insurrectionist, Emilio Aguinaldo. Criticized by some for unethically posing as a spy to bring about the capture, Funston was nevertheless awarded a commission as a Brigadier General, Regular Army, June, 1901. The animosity of some of the “regular army” towards Funston’s success was to continue into later years. At the time, however, Funston, at 35, was the youngest general in the army.

Although a national hero immediately after the war, it wasn’t until the San Francisco earthquake that Funston again came to the fore. On April 16, 1906, acting quickly in response to the tremors that shook the city, Funston used army troops and his own authority to blast buildings in the path of the fire, to set up guards against looting and further destruction, and to organize relief stations for the injured and homeless. Once again, Funston was the nation’s hero.

After the earthquake, with the exception of brief service with Secretary of War William Howard Taft’s commission to settle a factional debate in Cuba, Funston’s assignments were routine. From mid 1908 to 1910, he served as Commandant of the Army Service Schools at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; during the next two years he was back at Iuzon. In 1911, Funston published an adventurous narrative of his experiences in the Cuban revolution and in the Philippines and his Memories of Two Wars received rave reviews.

In 1913, as commander of the Hawaiian Department, he was instrumental in bolstering the island’s defenses when a diplomatic crisis seemed to be bringing the United States and Japan to the verge of war. When the tension eased in the Pacific theater, Funston was transferred to another hot spot, the Mexican border. Throughout 1914, he was engaged as the military governor of Vera Cruz and managed to preserve the peace, though not without some difficulty. After the withdrawal of troops in November, 1914, his belated promotion to the rank of Major General finally came. (The debate over Funston’s promotion had raged for several years, as the general had been passed over for promotion on a number of occasions. Joseph Bristow of Kansas was his advocate in the Senate and his Kansas friends felt the “regular army” was withholding from Funston the just deserts of his military endeavors, experience, and standing.) Funston was then appointed as Commander of the Southern Department, consisting of virtually the entire Mexican border. When Pancho Villa’s bandits attacked a village in New Mexico, it was on Funston’s recommendation that Pershing and his troops were sent after them.

Funston died at the age of 51 on February 19, 1917, leaving his wife and three children. Eulogies were given in the House of Representatives by Charles S. Gleed and Charles F. Scott, both personal friends of Funston. Newton Baker, who was serving as the Secretary of War at the time of Funston’s death, said later that had Funston lived, he undoubtedly would have commanded the American Expeditionary Force in Europe, which became engaged in World War I only months after Funston’s death.

Scope and Content

The Frederick Funston collection consists primarily of personal and professional correspondence, documents, reports, newspaper clippings and magazine articles. Although the bulk of the material dates from 1891 until his death in 1917, miscellaneous papers, newspaper clippings, and correspondence of the General’s widow, Eda Blankard Funston, are also included and date to 1932. All materials are arranged in chronological order according to the date of communication or publication with all undated or roughly dated materials filed separately. The collection consists of three Hollinger boxes and three reels of microfilm, some of which duplicates the boxed material.

For the purposes of this description, though all the correspondence is interfiled, Funston’s correspondence can be divided into three general categories: personal, military, and general. The personal correspondence makes up a significant part of the collection and includes letters to Funston’s mother and father and to his sisters Elizabeth and Ella. Beginning in 1898 and continuing throughout the remainder of the collection, letters from his wife Eda are included, many of which are written to her mother in California. Throughout the years, Funston kept in contact with several close friends from his university days with letters from Vernon Kellogg, William Allen White, Charles F. Scott, and E. G. Franklin (addressed as Buck) interspersed throughout the collection. There is correspondence from Charles S. Gleed as well. In these letters, Funston often signed himself “Tim” or “Timmie,” a nickname apparently used only by close friends. In family letters, Funston sometimes used the name “Fritz.”

The second section of correspondence is composed of military communiqués, reports, directions and orders, notices of and applications for promotion, documents of commendation, etc. In the latter part of the collection, there is a significant amount of correspondence with Generals Leonard Wood, James Parker, and Hugh L. Scott. Notes of congratulations on promotions and military exploits from fellow officers are also included; a notable addition being several commendations to Funston for his services in the Cuban revolution from General Calizto Garcia. This section is primarily military correspondence and, outside of personal documents of promotion, contains no military records as such.

Funston’s general correspondence includes such items as dinner invitations, personal property and other tax papers, letters to and from the publishers of his writing, correspondence with Senator Joseph Bristow concerning Funston’s promotion, and various letters about his quarrel with an evangelist minister Dr. Ambriel over the issue of revivals in the military camps.

Also contained in the collection are clippings about Funston’s military exploits. Until the Spanish-American war, most of the clippings are from New York, Topeka, San Francisco, and Chicago newspapers but later clippings are from various other sources as well. The collection also includes clippings concerning General Funston’s wife, which date from the 1890s to a number of years after the General’s death. Finally, magazine articles, book reviews, poems, and eulogies are also included.

During the early part of his career, Funston did a great deal of writing and the collection includes these works. A number of articles written for the Iola Daily Register by Funston during the Death Valley and Alaskan expeditions are in the correspondence files in addition to several reports to Charles F. Scott during the Cuban revolution. Funston’s published articles on the 20th Kansas Regiment, the capture of Aguinaldo, the army’s role in the San Francisco earthquake, and others are also found in this collection.

For more information concerning Frederick Funston, the researcher may refer to the collections of Eugene F. Ware, Julius M. Liepman, General J.W.F. Hughes, Joseph L. Bristow, Charles S. Gleed, Charles F. Scott, and William Henry Sears in the Manuscript Division. The Maps and Photographs Section of the Manuscript Division has an extensive collection of photographs of Frederick Funston and his family that is available to researchers.