Frederick Funston of Kansas:
- His Formative Years, 1865-1891
- The Kansas Historical Quarterly, Summer, 1974
By Thomas W. Crouch
The Adventurous life of Frederick Funston ended abruptly in a hotel lobby at San Antonio, Tex., on February 19, 1917, because of a heart attack. Funston was born in New Carlisle, Ohio, on November 9, 1865. His mother was the wife of Edward Hogue Funston, a farmer in Bethel Township, Clark County. This baby, heir to a long line of "Scotch-Irish" connections, was named for his paternal grandfather who had emigrated in 1800 from County Dungal, Ireland, to the United States with his parents while he was still a young lad. Subsequently the Irish immigrant had lived for a period in the vicinity of Paris, Ky., and he had later continued his migration westward to Clark county, Ohio. In 1823 the senior Frederick brought another stream of British ancestry into the family with his marriage to Julia Stafford, who was a native of Giles county, Va. Her father's origins went back to Ireland while her mother's lay with the Hogue family of Virginia. A son was born to this couple on September 16, 1836, and this Funston, Edward Hogue, also ultimately pushed westward and made his mark in a locality that was remote from that of his birth.
Before he moved to the Great Plains, however, Edward Hogue Funston added to his experiences as a farmer's son by working briefly as a traveling salesman for a nursery company whose main office was in Rochester, N.Y. Though he considered himself a farmer by occupation, Edward Funston was graduated by the New Carlisle Academy. Afterwards he completed two years of study at Marietta College, but left in 1861 in order to enlist on the side of the Union in the Civil War.
During this struggle, Edward Funston served as second lieutenant in an artillery battery that was under the command of Capt. Anderson Mitchell, and he left the Northern army at the close of the war with the rank of first lieutenant. The Civil War meant a wide range of battle experiences for Edward Funston. It brought also a romance. On September 4, 1861, the Ohio artilleryman married 18-year-old Ann Eliza Mitchell, who was a native of West Charleston, Ohio. The product of a whirlwind wartime courtship, this marriage came shortly before Edward Funston left for the fighting, and it brought to the Funston line a petite and attractive young woman. Ann Mitchell was a cousin of the battery captain, a daughter of a native Virginian, and a great-granddaughter of a sister of Daniel Boone, the famous frontiersman.
The November birth of the future army general took place in "downtown" New Carlisle. The mother's room was on the second floor of a two-story, "L"--shaped, frame structure that sat on a prime corner lot. Whether Mrs. Edward H. Funston lived with her husband in this building or whether she merely came into town for the birth is uncertain, but her baby Frederick began his days in this small, southwestern Ohio farming town, and he spent the first two and a half years of his life in its vicinity.
In 1868 Ann Funston, who was by this time the mother of two boys, took her sons and traveled to eastern Kansas. Her destination was a tract of land that was to the north of the small town of Iola in Allen county. She joined her husband safely there in the early spring. Edward Funston had gone ahead of his family during the previous year in order to set up a farm home for the fertile, unexploited acres of the rolling countryside. From that point, home to Frederick and his brother, James Burton, was in southeastern Kansas.
In more than one way, the jump from Ohio to Kansas proved beneficial to Frederick's family. As Edward Funston had anticipated, the land did provide a farm living. As the years passed, the prosperous farm sported an enlarged, comfortable, middle-class home that was surrounded by various outbuildings. Eventually there was even a house for a hired hand and his family that was adjacent to the Funstons' house.
The farm also afforded the Ohio veteran the opportunity to cast his political lot with the dominant agrarian interests of his adopted state, and Edward Funston became a politician within the Republican Party. He won a seat from the 47th representative district in the Kansas legislature in November 1872, and, before he went on to higher office, he served three terms in the house of representatives at Topeka. During the last of the terms--the session of 1875--he functioned as speaker. Subsequently Edward Funston won a four-year term in the state senate, and in November 1880, he acted as president pro tempore of the upper chamber while he was representing the 17th district. The name Funston rapidly became significant in Kansas Republican circles, and in 1884 the chance came for Frederick Funston's father to move up into the national House of Representatives.
In that year the state's Republicans earnestly sought to regain control of the governorship from the Democrats and to increase their party's strength in Kansas in general. They consequently offered to the electorate as gubernatorial candidate John Alexander Martin, who was one of the founders of Kansas Republicanism. Accompanying Martin was a whole slate of state and national candidates, whose aim was not only to unseat the Democratic incumbent, Gov. George Glick, but also all of Glick's Democratic associates.
Edward Hogue Funston was already ensconced in congress, where he was filling the vacancy in Kansas' second congressional district that had been caused by the death of Rep. D. C. Haskell. On March 1, 1884, he had gained the majority in the special election, and, in the ensuing months, he had convinced the party leaders and the voters of his district of his competency and party loyalty. In the regular contest of 1884, Edward H. Funston secured a full term in his own right.
As a congressman for nine eastern Kansas counties, the elder Funston rapidly developed his own political style, and acquired a reputation as a strong-minded legislator. While his enemies lampooned his vigorous voice by derisively dubbing him "Foghorn Funston,'' his admirers referred to him as "Farmer Funston" because he ardently championed the agrarian interests of his district. He developed a hard-hitting manner of debating, and, though he was a staunch supporter and a member of the pro-Republican veterans' organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic, he showed at times some independence that was unwelcomed by Republicans, who alarmingly saw him inclining a bit too much towards Populism. Especially irksome to some in his party were the sympathies that he expressed for the Knights of Labor in 1885 and for "free silver" in 1886 and afterwards. E. H. Funston's consciousness of the needs of the farmer, however, did not embrace the doctrine of a lower tariff, and he was well-known in Kansas as an uncompromising high-tariff man.
After slightly more than 10 years in congress including duty as chairman of the house committee on agriculture-- "Farmer Funston" was retired from active politics and he returned to Iola, where he remained and worked as a farmer until his death on September 10, 1911. The underlying cause of E. H. Funston's loss of office was the Populist upsurge of the 1890's. The immediate factor was that his opponents had initiated a congressional investigation of the race of 1892, and the outcome was adverse to him. The election judges finally declared on August 2, 1894, that E. H. Funston was the loser in the disputed contest with his "Fusionist" opponent, Democratic-Populist H. L. Moore, a Lawrence banker and businessman.
By this time Frederick Funston was a grown man, and his father's views, experiences, and attitudes--political and otherwise had done much to shape his character and influence his ideas about the world. The impact of his father upon him politically-- save to make him confirmed Republican--was somewhat negative. The Funston homestead was the hub for the activities of the second district Republicans from the 48th into the 53d congresses. Office seekers and their supporters, political plotters, and constituents who were seeking special boons almost constantly besieged the Funston farm. At times, they literally drove the family out of their home in the name of politics. All too often young Frederick heard the two whistle toots from the railroad "flag station" that was at nearby Carlyle. The pair of shrill signals indicated that the train was going to stop and disgorge more political visitors to see Cong. E. H. Funston.
These Republican guests put much office work on the representative, who often pressed his family into service as political aides and had them perform various administrative tasks. Congressman Funston also was almost incessantly busy with political correspondence and speech writing. Giving speeches meant that he would often be away for several days. As a result of these political demands placed on his father, Frederick Funston showed great disdain for political campaigning and office holding both before and after his soldiering had made him a celebrity. It would seem that he took in a surfeit of politics early in his life and decided that holding an elective office was not at all attractive to him.
Aside from the negative collision of his political career with his oldest son's attitudes, "Farmer Funston" greatly influenced the Weltanschauung of Frederick in positive ways. Standing six feet, two inches in height and weighing upwards of 200 pounds, E. H. Funston was a boomingly masculine image who never shied from any kind of a fight. Even after he was in political retirement, he followed his state's elections and their issues so closely that he caused some Kansans to speculate that he would attempt to stage a political comeback in 1898 and 1903.
Though such projections never materialized, Edward Funston's combativeness led him into an imbroglio in 1905. He vehemently criticized the failure of local officials to enforce Allen Countys prohibition laws. Since he made strong censures in public in Iola's streets, a disturbance was created that brought Iola's law officers to the Funston farm later to arrest him. The 69-year-old former lawmaker resisted the serving of the warrant by the officers to enforce his fine. After a scuffle, they finally strapped the unruly elder Funston into a buggy for a trip to Iola.
There is little doubt that Frederick the small son who stood in awe of this towering figure of a father early learned to emulate some of this pugnacity and combativeness. On one occasion while he was yet a teenager Frederick was angered by the remarks of some critics of the congressman. He thereupon plunged into the distasteful business of politics and upheld the reputation of "Farmer Funston" in public by delivering a strongly worded and successful speech. Like his father, Frederick Funston early developed the image as one who never backed away from any kind of a fight.
Such a legacy of paternal pugnacity went well with another positive influence that was passed by Edward Funston to his oldest son. This was the belief that there was a kind of "heroic romance" associated with war. As an artillery officer in the Union army, Frederick's father had seen considerable combat and Civil War scenes and sufferings he had witnessed always remained vividly in his mind. Relics of his service were kept about his home, and he would reminisce with his family about events that had occurred on the smoke-covered battlefields of the 1860's. An impressionable young Frederick drank in his father's emotionally charged military resurrections, and in 1910, when he was a grizzled veteran in his own right, he recalled that he "had been brought up on stories of fierce struggles in which the old brass Napoleons [cannon] of... [the Civil War] had done their part."
The senior Funston who was a literate man with a fairly strong formal education, also made an imprint on the mind of his older son through his personal library. Reputedly the best in Allen county, this collection--with its volumes of the English jurist Blackstone Carlyle's French Revolution, the Federalist Papers, Macauley's Essays, Plutarch's Lives, Shelley, Burns, Dickens, and others--gave the younger Funston an unusual array of talent that stimulated his mind. Too, once he had exhausted his father's titles, Frederick borrowed books from neighbors. Thus, he learned early to take great pleasure from habitual wide reading and he especially enjoyed historical and fictional accounts of wars and battles. By memorizing extensive excerpts from poetry, Frederick Funston developed an amazing memory which enabled him to recall verbatim long passages of prose and also bundles of statistics.
In addition to martial history and heroic fiction, botany was one of Frederick Funston's major interests. Perhaps, because of his father's earlier connections with a plant nursery, he reveled in reading the facts of flora. He often spent his time tutoring his young sister Ella in the scientific aspects of flowers that he had gleaned from his books.
While all of these fundamental influences on Frederick's personality and intellect stemmed from Edward Funston, the father, Ann Funston, the mother, also shaped much of Frederick's development. Described by an acquaintance as a woman of "refinement and culture," she too contributed to her son's affinity for voracious reading. But Ann Funston provided much more than this; she was the parent who taught her five sons and one daughter an appreciation of music, and she injected a bit of Eastern refinement into the Kansas frontier-farm environment. She played the piano--a huge square one made of rose wood that had been brought by rail and oxcart to Kansas from Ohio. With other expensive family furnishings that had long been in possession of kinsmen, the piano dispelled some of the isolation and austerity of the Funston's farm life. Ann Funston sang songs in the evenings, playing her own accompaniment and teaching the words and melodies to her brood, who learned traditional pieces that dated both from the antebellum and Civil War days.
The most obvious of Ann Funston's contributions to her son Frederick were his physical size and his distinctive features. These traits were in ironic contrast and unconforming to his often harsh and robust style of life as he entered adulthood, because, at first glance, Frederick Funston seemed almost sensitive and delicate in appearance. His appearance did not at once transmit his penchant for daring physical adventures. He was, indeed, outwardly quite the opposite to his giant, forceful, and boisterous father; who greatly outweighed and towered well over his fully grow "first born." While "Farmer Funston" preferred the spoken word to the written, his more taciturn, less outgoing five-foot, four-inch son, who, as a young adult, weighed only slightly over 100 pounds, much preferred the written- when he did finally choose a time to disclose his thinking on a subject.
Though small of stature and bone structure, Frederick Funston was, in his way, as physically rugged as his father. He was stockily built. His body trunk supported a thick-set neck, a strong fighter's jaw, and, and, for his frame, heavy shoulders and a deep chest. Too, he was healthy and, except for a case of measles, he suffered no childhood diseases.
Enriching this picture of a diminutive, bantam-weight prizefighter were Funston's other prominent features. His erectness of posture, liveliness of step and gesture, and sandy-brown hair and brown eyes enhanced his image as a capable and active man. These eyes, so one acquaintance thought, were distinctive indeed, since they always twinkled when Funston laughed and inevitably got "tangled in a mesh of merry wrinkles [that were] very comforting to the beholder." All these traits, together with what was obviously a keen intelligence, created an air of competence, vigor, and heartiness about the farm boy from Iola.
It was fortunate for Frederick Funston that he possessed a quick mind and deceptively tough body, for Iola's surroundings in his youth were on the fringe of Western settlement. Though it was one of the 34 counties that had already been organized by its settlers when Kansas entered the Union, Allen county was largely a frontier area that continued to receive a considerable influx of population in the post-Civil War period. Like Edward Hogue Funston, many of these migrants came from the Eastern United States. For them, the county was a familiar social scene; it was a place that had already been "Americanized" by earlier arrivals. The area that surrounded the Funston farm had been first settled late in the 1850's by a dozen or so Presbyterian farm families who came from the vicinity of Franklin, Johnson county, Ind.
Considerable numbers of the post-war settlers, however, were only newly arrived in North America. Because of severe famines in Denmark during the late 1860's, many Danes came to Kansas to start anew, at least one community of them, made the Funstons' home county their new abode. During the same years, many Swedes moved into the Neosho valley and helped populate Iola as well as to set up the nearby communities of Savonburg and Chanute. Too, the Germans were about as influential and numerous in the Allen county of Frederick Funston's youth as they were in many other parts of the Jayhawker state.
All these immigrants merely strengthened the predominance of the northwestern European cultural patterns in Allen County. The land in this part of Kansas afforded ample opportunity in the 1870's and 1880's for the cultivation of corn and the raising of hogs, poultry, and dairy cattle.
Frederick Funston, however, had exposure to socio-economic influences in addition to those of the traditional British-North European agrarian syndrome. Iola made its own modest entrance into the North American industrial complex when Allen County got its first commercial gas well in 1873. By the turn of the century, several gas fields were flourishing in eastern Kansas, and plants in Iola, Cherryvale, and Chanute were using the area's natural gas in the manufacturing of bricks and cement and in the smelting of lead and zinc.
Closely connected with the Portland cement plant in Iola that opened in 1899 was the business of transcontinental railroading. The Santa Fe railroad, an important economic and political force in Kansas, had commenced to haul fruit eastward from California and had need of a suitable return cargo for its westbound freight cars. The limestone, shale, and natural gas that abounded around Iola made possible the manufacturing of Portland cement, and the Santa Fe began to transport this building material to the west coast by train loads at the turn of the century.
These economic activities influenced Frederick Funston in a significant way. He grew up in an area where people were strongly mindful of the problems of an agricultural society, but it was an area where people also looked for the potential that would allow diversification of the economy. From his personal experiences, he had no reason to doubt that the economic system he knew best possessed the ability to expand and ultimately bring more riches to the community.
When he had reached his 30's, Frederick Funston could look back to his younger years and see well the simpler days that had begun to wane before 1900. He attended a one-room, country school that Allen county folks called North Maple Grove, and edifice that was located a half mile to the south of his farm home. Later the future soldier made a daily 10-mile round trip on horseback to attend the high school in Iola where he ultimately took his diploma in spring of 1886. In the afternoons after school he, like so many of his contemporaries, helped his father with chores on the family farm, an enterprise that the elder Funston finally expanded from 160 to 240 acres. Sometimes he retired for the night immediately after supper. Then he arose the next morning as early as 4 a.m. in order to study with a clear mind in a quite house that the clamor of several siblings made too noisy for close concentration at other hours.
Such study afforded him two early chances to pick a career, though both efforts were disappointing. After Frederick Funston had received his high school diploma, he tried his hand for one year of teaching at Stoney Lonesome, a rural school that was located south of Iola. This early teaching stint followed an earnest attempt to become a professional soldier. Immediately upon his graduation, Frederick Funston had endeavored to gain entrance into the United States Military Academy at West Point. Though he had worked hard to prepare himself for the qualifying examinations, he failed. In competing with a half dozen other farmers' sons from his area, he found himself lacking both because of his physical and academic attributes. Much to his chagrin, he learned that his size and marks were under the standards of the military academy. His shortcomings had relegated him to the position of alternate appointee.
As he neared 21, disappointed at his failure to gain admittance to West Point, Funston made a belated decision to enter the state university at Lawrence. Though he was by no means decided on a definite career, he had a certain reputation among his friends. They well knew him to be tough in body and physically courageous. He had demonstrated these traits when he trounced Stoney Lonesome's pistol-packing school bully who avowedly had come to class only to harass the "new little teacher" and run him off.
Even as a boy, he had acquired a somewhat fearsome reputation after the incident of "the 'coon hunt.'" Frederick and some other 10-year-olds arranged to hunt raccoons in the woods. Some older boys heard of the plan, and they attempted to frighten Funston and his friends by hiding and making fearsome noises when the young hunters got into the woods. All the boys fled--except young "Freddy," as his parents called him. Remembering how, on an earlier occasion, some chums had frightened Burt and himself away from a hunt with bogus panther shrieks, he began to fire his light rifle in the direction of the noises, which abruptly ceased. Though the bullets hit no one, the larger boys thereafter left alone the smaller boys' hunting parties when Freddy Funston was a member of the group.
Another facet of his local reputation stemmed from Funston's extensive reading habits. So fond was he of reading all kinds of books and newspapers that his father began to think his son would grow up with a mind filled only with useless facts and statistics. The elder Funston's opinion changed somewhat, however, when his son gave him aid during the critical election of 1884. "Farmer Funston" had to make his first campaign for congress with only a short time to prepare his speeches. Since he lacked a staff, he had to depend almost entirely on the statistics and facts that his eldest son supplied. At one point, Edward Funston needed information on the attitude of the British government toward its colonies in connection with a tariff question. He awoke his slumbering 10-year-old son, who so he related, "instantly... gave me the facts, and the books and pages where they could be found in print." And, of course, the Allen county politician went on to win his first full term in congress.
Another aspect of Freddy Funston's character was his spirit of adventure. Before he went off to Lawrence, he had established a name for himself as a young wanderer. On one jaunt he went as far as Mexico "on a special errand" and stayed long enough to get some of his first notions of a different people. While he was on the border, he also began to improve his Spanish, the language whose study he took as an extra, nonrequired subject in high school and whose understanding stood him in good stead in later years. The trip was just another manifestation of young Frederick Funston's restlessness and search for adventure.
Perhaps his growing up in Allen County during the 1870's and 1880's accounted in large measure for Funston's engrained fitfulness to seek out the action. As a youth, he witnessed the line of "prairie schooners" that were carrying their hopeful owners to the south in order to settle the Indian Territory. From the grasshopper plague of 1874, he knew first hand how the vagaries of Western life could deal out sudden and devastating blows to Plains farmers. In the hot summer of 1877 he watched as United States troops moved Northern Plains Indians literally by his family's front porch on their way to confinement on reservations in the Indian Territory. During his youth the Indian fear was very strong around Iola for the Funstons to have an emergency plan in the event that marauding Indians appeared. If raiders came, the children were to take refuge in a secret, shrub-covered cave that was situated at the base of a nearby hill.
Such an environment tended to move young men toward concerning themselves with the physical, the active, the practical, and even the violent. Yet, this ephemeral frontier scene was only a memory around Iola by the time Frederick Funston reached manhood. Consequently men of his generation either had to contend themselves with more placid, prosaic tasks or look for excitement in other places. As his unsuccessful try to enter West Point showed, Frederick Funston did not wish to remain tied down either to farm life or to school teaching. So, out of restlessness as much as anything else, he finally turned his eyes towards the state university at Lawrence where he hoped he might find further adventure. On the campus he would make some of his strongest friendships and pass some of his most memorable days.
Funston came to the Jayhawk campus just before his 21st birthday, and after he had briefly attended a business college at Lawrence. He depended largely on his own financial resources. Apparently "Farmer Funston" thought it was a good experience for young Frederick to make his own way, though he had promised to double whatever income his son could make during the summertime to defray his educational expenses. However, most people around the campus did not believe his father was merely trying discreetly to push the restless Frederick toward discovering a satisfying occupation. Rather they believed Edward's philosophy was that if Frederick thought his higher education was important, then he could go out and get it for himself. Frederick Funston's employment as a "university guide" during parts of the first two years in Lawrence strengthened this view in some minds, since Congressman Funston was not exactly a poor parent. Too, Frederick's working at various other odd jobs intermittently throughout his undergraduated days did nothing to discourage the opinion that he was financially unaided by his father.
Earning his own way did not make for high achievement in his classes, for, as a student, Funston maintained only fair academic records at the university. Yet he was a notable figure on the campus, and both students and faculty who were associated with him during his Lawrence days remember him well in later years. James H. Canfield, who was professor of economics and United States history, even recalled Frederick's arrival on the campus. He knew the lad had come from the family of "Farmer Funston," who was a strong backer of the high-tariff, a policy that was complete anathema to him personally. His colleagues jokingly reminded him of the political views of the sire of this new charge.
It was Canfield who put Frederick on the job as a "university guide" who conducted visitors about the campus on weekends, and it was Canfield who taught the history and economics courses that the pint-sized Iola student attended. Canfield finally became one of Funstons confidants and advisors at Lawrence. He recalled that Funstons visage, posture, and quick, swinging walk at first combined to endow him with a swaggering pose, though he soon learned that such was far from the true nature of this young man. Canfield also recollected that the short, active Funston quietly won the esteem of all who came into close contact with him. Upon short acquaintance, Funston seemed quietly competent, mature, frank, and indeed, "a very companionable fellow."
Others also remembered Funston well during the Lawrence period. They recalled that he was "a round-faced fellow" who delighted in bringing a note of levity into the classroomoften to the chagrin of the instructors. Still other university acquaintances, however, reflected that Funstons face, once its merry temper had been changed by anger, could quickly take on a determined, fighting demeanor. Those who were unacquainted with him and who during these outbursts of anger underestimated his physical capabilities were surprised by Funstons prowess, for he possessed muscle power, body agility, and raw fearlessness all out of proportion to his diminutive stature.
In regard to academics, however, Frederick Funstons performance was not all that extraordinary. In his time at the university, he took up mathematics, chemistry, botany, Roman and Greek history, Shakespeare, and German. As mentioned, he was also a student in Professor Canfields courses in economics and United States history. These were two endeavors in which his instructor remembered that Funston, while he did not excel, did "very creditable work."
Though his family background led him at first to distrust Canfields economics and view of American history, Funston eventually gave in to the easy informality and lively discussions of the popular instructors sessions and began to enjoy these courses. Seated about a U-shaped table that was built of pine and adorned with a brown calico cloth, these classes did not simply hear lectures from Canfield. Rather they discussed their daily assignment with the give-and-take of stimulating arguments. Though he was in some classes in indifferent student, Funston took active part in theses discussions. On one day, he used his voracious reading ability to amass a bundle of authorities from whom to quote in order to demolish one of the professors propositions on economics from the previous day.
Canfield recalled another revealing event that occurred one day in his economics class. The exchange demonstrated both the pungent humor and staunch Kansas Republicanism of the wary student from Iola. Canfield put a purely rhetorical question to his class in regard to the rise in Kansas land values during the "boom" of the late 1880s. He asked: "What service have the owners of these lands rendered to the community for which they can expect such extraordinary returns as may possibly be theirs because of this assumed advance in value?
Instantly Funston interrupted: "Dont you really think, professor, that the Kansas man is entitled to something for standing on top of the fence and waving his hat and shouting so long for the rest of the world to come on?"
In spite of their disparity in outlooks, Frederick Funston and Professor Canfield enjoyed the mutually satisfying relationship that can exist between teacher and student. Moreover, Funstons rewarding contacts with the university faculty did not end with his economics mentor. Botanist Frank H. Snow, who was later chancellor of the University of Kansas, was also an influence on Funston. He attracted Funston to his classes and frequently sent Funston and his classmates to scour the Kansas countryside for specimens of flora and fauna. Professor of English Arthur Richmond Marsh, who was big and tall, articulate, and a Harvard graduate, thoroughly like the prose of Funston and rewarded him accordingly with "A" grades. These were the only such marks that Funston made in his entire career on the Lawrence campus, and interestingly Funston made these "As," even though he heartily disliked Professor Marsh.
Frederick Funston was a somewhat "irregular" student; he brought to the campus with him some credits in Spanish and mathematicsa subject that his pal William Allen White remembered he excelled in studying. He cared little for the formal study of history, government, and sociology, though on his own he read widely in these fields from the holdings of the universitys library where he spent a good deal of his spare time. He also delved into romantic poetry and, a bit incongruously, war fiction.
Formal classroom academics were never the strongest magnet for Funston, who decided finally to leave the university without his degree. He accordingly went to pay his respects to Professor Canfield with whom he discussed at length his future role in life. Though he had then had no clear ideas along this line, the restless Funston did make a noteworthy revelation about himself. Canfield recollected that his departing student believed that he should have been actively taking part in some enterprise rather than "loitering in what seemed to him a somewhat hungry land of theories and dreams."
What mainly had drawn Frederick Funston to the Lawrence campus was the social side of his student life. Many figures who were later prominent in American public and academic life stalked the universitys acres in those days. Several of these knew Funston intimately. Membership in the local chapter of Phi Delta Theta fraternity opened to Funston many of these opportunities for companionshipthough a quarter of a century later Funston expressed a dislike for fraternities because of their exclusiveness. Funston was an initiate at almost the same time as William Allen White, who soon became a bosom companion. "Timmy"as the members knew him because of the secretarys mistake in writing his name on the chapter rollsendeared himself to his brothers with his antics, humor, and even shortcomings. Though it was strange in view of his physical feats, he was completely nonathletic; yet, despite this and his record as only a mediocre student, he soon created for himself a colorful campus reputation that even went beyond fraternity circles.
The story circulated about the university that "Timmy" Funston broke four of the Phi Delts chairs that he had been using as mute partners while he was attempting to master the secrets of the waltz. On one occasion during his years as his fraternitys mess steward, he defended the culinary content of his $2.50 per week board by wielding his fists against a critic. The latter was J. F. Craig, a student who became Funstons fast friend and later was a prominent attorney in Oklahoma.
Funstons friends at Lawrence knew that he had peculiar drinking habits. Ordinarily outwardly mirthful and ready given to producing laughs by making sport of himself, Frederick Funston always fell silent at the fraternitys convivial gatherings, and sometimes he became downright solemn and melancholy. Time and again, his brothers had to restrain him physically from tearing up Lawrences board foot paths, the timber structures that he habitually undertook to destroy whenever he was inebriated. And, it required only a small amount of imbibing to set Funston loose. By reputation, only two drinks and "Timmy was off." As William Allen White described it, "We used to say that if he smelled a rotten apple he began tearing up the sidewalks."
Funstons inability to carry his liquor wella handicap that stayed with him all his adult lifereally posed no social problem at the university, because there were many ways for him to show his amiable side without drinking. One way was through the diversion that the general fondly remembered in later years as "horseplay," the antics that occupied far more free time of Funston and his chums than did the fraternitys drinking bouts. Noisy singing sessions in boarding house rooms, where in the 1880s most of the students stayed, gave vent to much of their exuberance. Funston especially recalled the songfest on a Sunday afternoon that abruptly ended when a disturbed landlady appeared to quash the racket. The irate woman vented her wrath on an innocent latecomer whose guilty palsincluding the off-key Funstonhad all fled.
Another prime stunt of Funstons group involved their persuading a new student from Ohio to go on a "snipe hunt"literally, of course, to be abandoned by his beguiling friends while he was "holding the bag." Then, there was the illicit mock parade that moved down Massachusetts avenue, Lawrences major thoroughfare. The butt was again the poor Ohio student who, fancying himself an orator, was tricked into a speech by Funston and his friends. This time the tricksters feigned great enthusiasm and with shammed spontaneity rushed en masse down Massachusetts. Once they were downtown, they cheered loudly and staged a rowdy rally that obviously violated a well-known local ordinance. Of course, the demonstrators vanished quickly at the arrival of the sheriff. The lawman caught only the unsuspecting Ohio lad, who had again unwittingly furnished the humor for his Kansas classmates.
Still another was in which Funston found social diversions at Lawrence was in his numerous campus romances. Affectionate by nature, meticulous in his personal habits, and fond of expensive clothes that really he could not afford, the young Funston was ripe for such romantic liaisons. His fraternity friends, who understood his romantic longings, heartily encouraged him to find a sweetheart. He did, according to White, and fell" desperately in love every six months with a new girl." These amours were ardent, yet they were innocent and sincere. Aimed by Funston at the most desirable young ladies, they were short-lived because, owing to his size, "Timmy" Funston could never hold for long the kind of girl whom he really thought he loved. He was persistent, however, and after a few days of heartbroken dejection, he always found another "one-and-only love."
Funston assuaged these disappointments in loveand other frustrations as wellby his generous use of pithy colorful language that was one of the best-known features at the university. Actually he was quite an emotional creature. He habitually gave vent to his strong feelings by emitting an impressive profanity. Funston composed his "blue language" of intertwined Kansan, Texan, Old English, and Mexican phrases that he had picked up in his various wanderings.
More amusingand certainly more quotablewas Funstons habit of giving nicknames to members of the faculty who bore these names for at least a decade after their origination. Funston puckishly dubbed the Greek professor "Zeus," while a sandy-haired colleague became "Old Sunset," and a heavy-bearded gentleman, "Purple Whiskers." Such play with words made him well known to all the campus, where, in the main, everyone thought of him as a friendly, witty fellow, who was quick to jest and laugh.
Of all the students who were contemporaneous with Timmy at Lawrence, none was more intimate with him than "Billy" White. White became quite close to Funston, even though he first negatively impressed Funston as "fat, freckle faced, and flippant." "V. L." Kellogg and "Will" Snow ran close seconds to White as compadres to Funston. Kellogg was Vernon Lyman Kellogg. He was Funstons roommate for a year, and he later was a famous entomologist at Stanford University. Young Snow was the university chancellors son, who drowned in 1899 while he was working as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covering the return of Funston and the 20th Kansas volunteers from the Philippines.
W. S. "Cap" Franklin, who was in later years a member of the faculty at Lehigh University and subsequently professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his brother, E. C. Franklin, were also close to Funston. E.C. Franklin eventually held a chair in chemistry at Stanford University and at one time was president of the American Chemical Society. Also included among Funstons friends were William Harvey Brown, an explorer and geographer who eventually settled in Rhodesia in East Africa, and Herbert S. Hadley, the Standard Oil lawyer who won the governorship of Missouri in 1912. All of these men knew Funston well and were part of his immediate social circle at Lawrence.
Perhaps the best single example of the rollicking comraderie that Funstons group at Lawrence enjoyed was the camp-out that took place in June, July, and August of 1889. Nine boys spent these summer weeks together in a cabin by the banks of the Big Thompson river in Moraine Park above Estes Park, Colorado. They were 30 miles from the nearest railroad, and they slept all together lying side-by-side in a row atop spruce branches that they spread on the cabins floor. They set up an iron-bound rule that no one was to shave himself for the duration of the vacation. They spent their time hunting, fishing, exploring the woods, and climbing mountain peaks.
Kellogg, White, and Funston were an inseparable trio during the excursion. Billy White sometimes gathered wild berries for the camps flapjacks; sometimes he followed V. L. Kellogg and Timmy Funston on their hunts, and at times he "helped cup up the contraband mountain sheep which Funston shot." On two occassions, Billy climbed to the top of Longs Peakonce with the party that included the active Timmy and once without his short pal from Iola.
Funston was surprising clumsy in spite of his adventurous spirit and courage. White recorded that the entire group once made sport of Timmy when he could not walk a log over a creek while he was standing upright; rather he had to scramble across raccoonlike, on all fours. Funston, however, had ways of redeeming himself. At one point, after the campers had cornered a mountain lion in a cave, Funston, "with foolhardy courage, attempted to crawl... [inside] unarmed to drive the beast out." Only the combined force of his eight friends stopped Funston, whose strenuous protests fortunately were unavailing. In another instance, Funston took out his repeating rifle and went alone down to the road where painters were busily splashing up the sides of prominent boulders with root beer advertisements. He "literally chased... [the surprised and intimidated workmen] down the road," with his "unique and convincing profanity" that he "supported somewhat by his cocked rifle."
Good as they were, the high times that Funston spent with his close friends at Lawrence did not keep away feelings of ennui indefinitely. In addition, his financial needs were always pressing. So, in June, 1887, Funston turned from the campus to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad and worked with its engineering corps for three months. On June 13 his crew was at Jetmore. Then, as fall approached, he made a try at journalism in Kansas City, Missouri. Though he was totally inexperienced in newspaper work, he boldly offered his services to the midwestern citys Journal.
The editor, who was impressed by Funstons intrepidity, agreed to a trial appointment with the proviso that only good work would lead to a permanent position. Funstons assignment was the Journals police beat, and pure luck during his first work day threw his way a story that convinced his superiors that he was a natural, first-rate reporter. So, for a few weeks, Funston remained fairly contented in Kansas City. Once more he was cheek by jowlliterallywith his old pal Billy White, who was now a fellow Journal reporter and whose room and bed he shared. Three other working men also used these lodgings. The five occupied a bare room on McGee street, north of Twelfth, that contained only two double beds. But, since one man worked nights, there were always enough slots for the four tired occupants who wished to rest at any one time.
In Billys words, Funston and he "roamed the city like sheep-killing dogs" after their newspaper work was done. White generally finished with his tasks by 10:30 in the evening. Then he went straight down to the north-end police precinct house that was near the tough, redlight district where Timmy had the "dog-watch." The two usually wandered about the area, "making friends with the cops and the dopes and the toughs, male and female, who ranged the streets at midnight." When Timmy quit at about 1 A.M., the pair often walked the mile or so home and avoided the boring wait for the slow trolley car. On these occasions, the two comrades inevitably indulged in "tall talk," and as White wrote:
"I remember Funston always liked sea songs; "Blow the Man Down," he would roar in solo. And we sand together, "The sailors wife the sailors star shall be," and howled a song that had for its refrain: "And we poor sailors go skipping through the tops, While the landlubbers lie down below, below, below!" Across fifty years I can hear Funston roaring raucously: "Below, below, below," and hear the admonitory voice of a good-natured cop: "Here you boys, do you want me to call the wagon and run you in?" For generally, having loafed around headquarters, we knew the cops, and anyway, being newspapermen, we were of the privileged class to the cops."
Kansas Citys "privileged class" status, however, failed to hold attraction for the restless Funston for long. Before the fall of 1887 ran out, he had embarked on a new newspaper adventure in the Southwest. W. S. Murphy, who was the editor of the Fort Smith (Arkansas) Tribune, had written the Journals management, seeking to hire an experienced newspaperman to work on his country daily. Though he knew next to nothing about such an operation, Funston agreed to take the job on the staunchly Democratic organ, and he at once moved to western Arkansas.
Once he settled himself at Fort Smith, journalist Funston found that his new job was mainly concerned with covering the court cases and criminal activities of the area. Such work put him frequently in contact with the famous federal "Hanging Judge," Isaac C. Parker, whose special mission was largely that of stamping out the criminal element in the lawless and chaotic Indian territory to the west. For several weeks, Funston was fascinated by the details and nature of the federal courts activities. Not only did he attend the trial sessions, but Funston also met often with Judge Parker informally in his chambers. He discussed at length with Parker the problems of the territorys Indian tribes and the outlaws who his among them. For awhile, it appeared as though Funston had found his lifes occupation.
Once again, however, an activity long turned stale to Frederick Funston. Probably the underlying reason for his quitting the Tribune was the ingrained restlessness that always moved him to search for new adventures in his younger years. Going from one excitement to another certainly was his modus vivendi by this time. Yet, some immediate and practical pressures were also present. Judge Parker concluded that Funston had openly taken sides in his reporting on a dangerously explosive murder trial. Accordingly, one evening during one of his frequent chats with Funston in his study, the judge advised leaving Fort Smith at once. He told Funston that his lingering there much longer might even prove fatal to him because of the charged emotional atmosphere in the town, whose denizens had bitterly taken sides over the celebrated murder. Also, there was the genuine distaste that young Funstona strong Kansas Republican with pronounced Union sentimentsfelt for the local Democratic elements, and really the whole area about Fort Smith. The local Arkansas castigation of the party of Lincoln and their sentimental references to "The Lost Cause" of the 1860s angered him. The blatant corruption and intimidation of local elections that he witnessed thoroughly disgusted him.
It was finally this dislike of local politics that furnished Funston an unusually unorthodox way to get shed of his employment with the strongly pro-Democratic Tribune. The opportunity presented itself when editor Murphy blundered. About to leave Fort Smith on a short trip, the Tribunes chief placed the restless, piqued Funston in charge. The responsibility included the makeup for the next days edition, and on that day a shocked west Arkansas public learned that the Tribune had performed a political about-face overnight. The editorials assaulted the national Democratic party, denounced the state Democratic organization, and derided the western Arkansas "Democracy" in stinging passages that closed with an ecstatic eulogy to the Republican party.
As Funston fully anticipated, some of the local Democrats were outraged. Right away there were threats to attack and burn the Tribune offices, and Funston and the newspapers staff armed themselves and prepared to defend their shop. Murphy, who was speedily summoned by a desperate telegram sent by friends of the Tribune, returned forthwith. He made soothing reassurances and printed the proper apologies and explanations. Of course, Funston lost his job, though he dallied in Fort Smith a short time in order to show those who had promised to retaliate against him personally that he was not afraid of them. Perhaps Funston best summed up his exit from Fort Smith and the Tribune when he later related that: "I was tired of the rotten politics, and tired of the rotten town, and tired of the rotten sheet, and ready to go anyway, so I thought I might just as well wake the place up and letem know I was alive before I left.
Such an unceremonious resignation made it highly doubtful that another newspaper would be interested in hiring Funston. Since he needed income immediately, he next took a job in early 1888 as "train collector" on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad. In this post Funston was actually a combination conductor and "train bouncer." He did his work mainly on the runs between eastern Kansas and Albuquerque, N. M., and he held his post for a year, until early 1889.
Funstons experiences with the railroad as a ticket taker were not exactly unexciting. Apart from humorous anecdotes about his size, the "Assistant Collector"his official titleleft behind him many tales of his extraordinary ability to handle unruly customers. One exploit that people often recalled about the pint-sized young conductor, who was cultivating a patch of straw-colored whiskers to emphasize his maturity, involved a huge, drunken cowboy. During a regular run, this vaquero had drawn his revolver, lain of his back in the aisle, and begun to shoot holes in the cars ceiling. Funston burst into the car, kicked the weapon from the passengers hand, dragged him to the last car, and then threw him off the rear of the halted train. Angered by his ejection, the cowboy threw a piece of road-bed ballast through a train window. In retaliation, Funston leapt from the train and chased the offender a couple miles down the track. Later when he was explaining the half-hour delay to his disgruntled superintendent, Funston revealed that the window breaking really made him "mad" and he determined to get retribution.
There was another encounter with an uncooperative cowboy that people remembered. On this occasion, the recalcitrant passenger refused to give Funston his ticket, and pulled out his pistol, saying, "I ride on this." Observers recollected that the diminutive ticket taker replied, "Thats good, thats good," and went on with his collecting. However, within a few minutes, Funston returned to his armed rider, and, leveling a large-bore cocked rifle at him, declared, "I came back to punch that ticket." The chastened cowboy paid his fare.
As January, 1889, approached, Funston again wearied of a routine jobeven though it was punctuated by the excitement of the brawls and altercations with some of the Southwests more obstreperous passengers. Since he had accumulated modest savings, he again returned to the University at Lawrence for another fling at campus social life and formal education. In 1889, at the end of this campus stint, Funston enjoyed another summer outing with classmates near Estes Park. This wilderness foray actually up one of Funstons earlier adventures, because it finally led to an episode that almost cost the lives of both himself and "V. L." Kellogg, who was his companion in this event. A few months afterward, Funston wrote a lively and graphic account of this adventure for a popular monthly magazine. The passages of this article revealed Funston at his bestchallenging, struggling, risking, and winning while all along preserving his sense of humorous self-deprecation and modesty.
During their protracted camp-out of 1889, Kellogg and Funston had observed a gorge that ran between Table mountain in the Estes Park area and an adjacent precipice that Colorado people called "Stones Peak." The two hikers had seen a small stream that flowed between the two peaks, and they had determined to go up the course to its mountain source at some future date. Their chance eventually came in May, 1890, when Funstons university days had finally ended and Kellogg had a few free days. Though an old stage driver in Estes Park warned the pair that the snow on the peaks had not yet melted sufficiently to allow them to make a safe climb, the two young men were resolute in their decision to carry out their project. They put together three days supplies, rented a burro, and set off toward a campsite that sat amidst the timberlines spruce trees and that was close to the entrance of the gorge.
Early the next day, carrying only a lunch and their rifles, they began their exploration of the little canyon. The higher they climbed the deeper the unmelted snow in the gorge became and the harder the tramping became. Finally, when they were up about 11,000 feet, they abandoned the snowy gorge and took to the sides of Table mountain where they correctly estimated the light crust of the frozen snow would make walking much easier. About midday, they ate lunch in a spot well above the timberline.
During the rest that followed the meal, trouble began to develop. The sudden appearance of a late-season storm brought rising winds, thunder, dark clouds, and colder temperatures from the direction of Stones Peak. The two mountaineers realized that any idea of going farther toward the summit was out of the question. They saw that it would be a race with time just to get down below timberline and find suitable shelter before the blizzard hit them. They knew that foul weather could isolate them for days and dangerously expose them to the elements at a time when they lacked the proper equipment and supplies. The two climbers reasoned that harder snow would make better footing, so they started up the mountain and around the gorge in a frantic quest for safety. Their progress was rapid, but the storm worsened so quickly that soon their visibility was extremely limited. Also, their bodies stung from the snow that the wind flung in thin, sharp sheets across the mountain side.
At this point, the two tiring hikers came to a ring of ice-crusted snow that barred their way down into the timber and safety. Their strength failing as the storms fury mounted, Funston and Kellogg were indeed in a perilous situation. They had to move at once across the steep slippery snowfield where the slightest fall meant tumbling hundreds of feet to a rocky death. In desperation, Kellogg started to traverse the snow by using his rifle as an ice pick. He jammed the weapon butt first into the ice ahead of him as he walked and thereby steadied himself on the frigid, slick, 40-degree slope. Suddenly Funston slipped and started sliding down the terrible incline while his companion looked on in helpless terror.
Only by quickly imitating Kellogg and fiercely thrusting his own Winchester barrel first through the crust deep down into the snow did Funston save his life. Then he was able-lowly and painfullyto take out his pocket knife and open its blade with his teeth. With the sharp steel point, he cautiously cut handholds in the snow crust while he held tightly to his embedded rifle with his free hand. Once he was back up the 20 feet that he had fallen, Funston resumed his perilous trek. He again followed Kellogg, who slowly smashed footholds in the ice with his rifle butt for his comrade to use.
Finally at 6 P. M., they again got their feet on solid graniteafter 70 minutes on the icefield. Weakly they snaked down to their camp, where they built a large fire, ate, and fell exhausted into their blankets. Back in Estes Park the next day before noon, they began a few days rest. Now they were in agreement to be more cautious in the future about ignoring advice that concerned mountain climbing.
Caution to Funston, however, did not mean either taking a routine, sedentary job or languishing through a protracted period of inactivity. Between August and December, 1890shortly after his Estes Park experience with Kellogghe spent the first phase of his career as a government plant expert and explorer. He had long been interested in flora, and his course work under Professor Snow at Lawrence had further stimulated him. Though he underwent a civil service examination, his father, then chairman of the house committee on agriculture, helped him secure an appointment as a special agent of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Funstons job was to act as a field botanist with a party of botanical experts whom the department was dispatching to the plains of the Dakotas and Montana to collect specimens of native grasses. Moving about by horseback and team-drawn wagons, the expedition was busy until November. Funston worked under a scientist who was professor of natural history at the University of South Dakota. He reveled in this outdoor scientific task, and he performed his chores of collecting wild grasses so well that the Washington authorities kept him in mind as a good field man. Consequently, when a much more important expedition shaped up the next year, Funston received another commission to act as special agent and to do more field botany work for the Department of Agriculture.
In January, 1891, the Department of Agriculture sent a scientific expedition into Death Valley, the desolate, oven-hot, rugged, desert depression that is shaped into a 40-by-10 mile trough by the steep mountain ranges of southwest Nevada and southeastern California. As its name indicates, this unique region had held a dreaded reputation as an environment that was hostile to human habitation ever since 70 out of 72 of a party of California-bound "Forty-Niners,"a band that included men, women, and childrenperished of thirst and hunger on its arid stretches in 1850. Subsequent prospecting for gold and silver in the 1860s and the establishment of Tex Bennetts Furnace creek ranch in 1870 had done little to dispel the areas grisly image. The borax discoveries that miners had made later in the stifling heart of the valley had not entirely downed its bad reputation. A resource that was worked profitably by the Harmony Borax Works of Mohave, California, between 1880 and 1887, the borax endeavor had, however, added the lore of the 20-mule-team freight wagons to the areas history. Though it was colorful, this enterprise was too short-lived to erase Death Valleys distinction as a place that all men should shun.
Even on the scientific side, the region had taken on an aura of mystery, since naturalists knew little of its flora and fauna as 1890 approached, though Washington had by this time already shown scientific interest. The federal government had dispatched a mapping expedition into the sandy cauldron in 1871, and it had also sent in United States army explorers four years later. The maps that the War Department had produced, however, were quite general. Too, even after 1875, no one really held much sound knowledge of Death Valleys natural phenomena. It was to remedy this dearth of scientific information that the Department of Agriculture began its effort in December, 1890.
Heading and organizing the scientific group was naturalist Dr. C. H. Merriam of Washington, D. C. Although he was one of the departments scientists, Merriam did not personally make the trek in the desert. Under him were 17 men who actually carried out the field assignment. They included eight of agricultures field scientists and eight hired helpers who acted as teamsters and packers. A ninth man was a Chinese who served as cook. Among the scientistsaside from the field partys chiefwere four animal and bird collectors, one topographer, and two botanists.
This latter pair were 24-year-old Frederick Vernon Coville, who was in later years a well-known flora expert and who was the chief plant collector on the trek, and his assistant, Frederick Funston, who had recently proved his merit collecting grasses on the Northern Plains. Funston was humorous and modest when he related the story of his appointment as Covilles aid. He wrote to a friend that his fathers congressional influencetogether with his ability to do "cussing for the outfit"had won him a slot on the expeditions roster. Whatever true degree of "leverage" was, Funston had become a member of an important scientific expedition. This was an effort that the national government had launched to make maps and do a complete biological survey of the long-dreaded region. The expedition faced a task that forced Funston and his colleagues to spend altogether between eight and nine months in the field.
There were at least two notable features about this work of this group of scientists and their helpers who roamed the wilds in Death Valley during these months of 1891. One of these remarkable aspects was the terrible nature of the hardships that everyone endured. Just traveling in these desert surroundings--where even in January the thermometers mercury rose to 88 degree F in the shadewas a great strain on the mens stamina. Funston, who was mounted on "a little roan broncho [that was] as tough as wire," went out northward from San Bernardino, California, and moved into the Mohave desert on January 1, 1891. He rode with the group who joined the second party of the expedition on January 18. On this date, Funston and his cohorts made contact with the northern members of expedition who had begun their march from Keeler, California, at a later time. Two days after the rendezvous, the entire organization "entered northern Death Valley via the dry bend of the Amargosa" river.
Funston characterized even these preliminary treks made in the cooler weeks of winter as being pure "hell." The starkness of the colors of the desert rock formations, the sparseness of the usual types of vegetation, and the "flats of salt and soda" whose "mirages...[were, so he speculated,] finer than those of the Sahara [desert]" all left indelible impressions on his mind. Always there was the prevalent lack of moisture that extended even to finding enough potable water for the men and their 17 horses and burros. At times "three or four days" travel separated water holes, and scarcity necessitated the stringent rationing of water that the men took from the essential casks that they had carefully lashed to burro backs and wagon beds.
Although the expedition frequently broke up into smaller units in order to perform various scientific tasks, movement was never easy. In the valleys lower reaches, traveling exposed Funston and his group to a horrible death by suffocation in the event that they fell into one of the countless, half-hidden soda marshes that dotted the terrain. Up higher on the mountain slopes, the going became even more tortuous because of the incredibly difficult topography. At one juncture in late April, the merciless landscape forced Funstons party to traverse a mountain range by way of "an almost impossible canon." This wilderness gorge required the field scientists and their helpers to turn to their picks and shovels and put in "seven days of hard work" just to hack their way to their objective that was only five miles away by direct distance. Such slavish labor was not by any means a rarity. The expedition covered the entire area of Death Valley during the course of its work, though "months were spent by the trekkers in the valley of the Amargosa [river alone.]"
Funston had good cause to remember this bitter, salt- and sulphur-filled stream, because at Ash Meadows on the Amargosa the expedition underwent "the starving time." They were at a site in Nevada that was about 30 miles to the east of Furnace creek ranch. From here, the supply base for the scientists was 200 miles away. Because of "someones inexcusable blundering" and failure to send provisions, Funstons party had to live "for about two weeks on climate." As Funston recalled this hungry episode, the desperate men partook of a crude diet of "gophers, blackbirds, badgers, [and] chuck-wallies..." The latter was "a big clumsy lizard [that was] about a foot long" and that had white, tender flesh that was "suggestive of spring chicken." Though the stubby botanist later looked back on this period at Ash Meadows with a humorous eye, he also remembered that "at the time it was a very serious affair."
Of course, these events that were so filled with physical hardship and danger were Frederick Funstons meat. Aside from those perilous scrapes that were common to the entire expedition, Funston underwent several adventures that were somewhat more peculiar to himself. On February 20 Funston and Coville set out across the desert, bound for the tiny mining settlement of Panamint, California. The place was 100 miles from the partys camp, and was then serving as their post-office station.
In Funstons view, Coville and himself "made a hell of a mess of the job" of retrieving the scare and highly desired mail. Actually, considering the physical environment, they showed themselves quite plucky. In only eight days they crossed 178 miles of incredibly harsh terrain. They picked up the partys correspondence and made their way back to the new camp at Ash Meadows, Nye county, Nevada, to deliver it. This trek was a noteworthy accomplishment indeed, because no trails existed and for four days Funston and Coville, who lacked any better alternative, traveled blindly amidst a "terrible storm" just to reach the post office. Moreover, when they reached the Panamint mountains that lay on the western rim of the valley, they met such a difficult landscape that they had to quit their horses and proceed on foot. For a short distance as they moved over the snowy peaks, they literally crawled, creeping painfully along on their "hands and knees" toward their destination. Fortunately, on their return they found the abandoned mounts and were able to expedite the delivery of the mail to their colleagues back at the new camp.
On another mail run, Funston went out into the steaming desert alone. Mounted and carrying only a quart of drinking water, Funston had the mission to deliver some important communiques of the expedition to the nearest post office. At this time the mail was dispatched by the postal service at a place that was 120 miles across the desert from the campsite. As the sun reached its zenith, the temperature at the floor of Death Valley soared to an unheard of 147 degrees F. The hot, dry air blowing off the desert soon peeled Funstons skin from his face, burning his nostrils, and parched his lips so badly that they bled. Finally Funston realized that going on would surely mean death. So he picketed his horse, rested during the last afternoon and evening, and began his return to camp at 3 A. M. In the coolest hours.
The going was much better until dawn. Soon again the sun proved cruelly enervating, and Funston had to tramp on foot and lead his exhausted mount behind him. His water gone, Funston doggedly concluded that his only recourse was to keep hiking. He did, hour after hour, and at one point he heard "shots,"popping sounds that he finally recognized were only the products of his heat-seared imagination. At 4 A. M. On the next day, he stumbled blindly into a ranch house and pleaded weakly for water. By walking continually, day and night, Funston had beaten the desert. He had covered 40 miles and survived his cruelest and most trying experience in Death Valley.
There was an additional brush with death for botanist Funston at higher altitudes. During another trip that took him to the summit of a mountain range, Funston almost met a sudden demise. His horse lost his footing and fell over a cliff. In a matter of seconds the animal had plunged over a 1,000-foot high cliff to his death in a rocky gorge. The terrified mount dragged Funston skidding and rolling behind him as he careened toward the precipice. This time Funston saved himself only by seizing a fortuitously dangling shrub with a vise-like grip that arrested his fall.
The other notable aspect of the Death Valley expedition of 1891 was its considerable contribution to the science of desert botany. In this accomplishment, Funston played a significant part. Through his hikes around Death Valley and its adjacent mountain ranges, he secured many floral specimens. Altogether Coville and Funston collected 2,160 plant specimens during the course of the expedition. Later, following a short period of recuperation in Iola, Funston himself neatly pressed many of these specimens and arranged the Death Valley botanical collection for study while he continued to work as a field botanist for the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D. C. This employment busied him during the winter weeks of 1891-1892 and kept him in the capital until March, 1892.
Frederick Vernon Coville, the professional botanist who was in charge of the expeditions plant project, found much of consequence during the course of his field jaunts with Funston. Of special interest to him as a plant scientist were the reactions of Death Valleys extreme climatic conditions on its flora. His official report, "Botany of the Death Valley Expedition," soon became a classic study of desert life, and it still enjoys distinction today in the field. The successful work of the expedition immediately led Coville to seek the establishment of a laboratory for the study of desert botany, though his efforts were unavailing until 1904. Then, the board of the Carnegie Institution gave money for the building of facilities at Tucson, Arizona. Covilles satisfaction with the work of the expedition in general and the performance of his assistant Frederick Funston in particular later bore fruit elsewhere.
Satisfaction for Coville with the outcome of the expedition, however, did not mean that at heart Funston really felt likewise. Certainly he longed for a good rest, and as he had indicated to "Buck" Franklin, as early as March, 1891, he had his "belly full of roughing it for a number of years to come." At that juncture, his fondest hope was to sell his write-up of the 1890 Colorado mountain adventure, "Storm Bound Above the Clouds," and use the anticipated $75 income for "fare cabin" on a steamship that sailed "from San Francisco to New York via Panama." Though the sea trip did not materialize, the repose at Iola did. Following the disbanding of the expedition in September, 1891, Funston was able to recoup his strength at home.
Even before the fall ended and he traveled to the national capital to wind up his Death Valley assignment, Funston was again ready for more adventure. Restlessness moved him to undertake another daring bout with the wilderness. This time the call of the wild induced him to join a four-man party who were determined to make an entrance into Yellowstone Parks Yosemite valley by climbing over and down the mountains that were on the northeast side of the national reservation. This daring bit of hill-climbing turned out successfully, and it gave rise to the phrase "backdoor entrance" to the beautiful valley. Moreover, Funston and his associates had become the first men so to enter the area.
Actually the short-lived escapade on the Yosemite mountainside was well-nigh inevitable. In spite of his protestations to the contrary, Funston had not even really begun to get his fill of outdoor adventuring. Physically uncomfortable and exhausted as he was during much of his excursion around Death Valley, he had actually enjoyed fully the desert tribulations and flirtations with fate. His letters that he wrote during his sun-baked field work well showed his fascination for such activity.
Funstons graphic description of the rugged countryside demonstrated his feel for geography and topography. His characterization of "the all but deserted mining town of Panamint," whose "boot hill" cemetery drew his close attention, revealed his interest in the raucous history of the bonanza days of the American West. Too, he was enthralled by his contact with two brothers, white men, who, he thought, were "well contented with their lonely life" in the desert with their Piute Indian wives.
In the mountains to the west of Death Valley, Funston found the Panamint Indians most fascinating. They were kinsmen of the Shoshones, and they supported themselves by subsistence agriculture and hunting. Funston called these aborigines "industrious and well-behaved." He concluded that their admirable qualities stemmed from their lack of experience with "government aid, missionaries, whiskey, or any of the other things which generally come from contact with the whites." The Panamints worked as hard on their plots of corn and beans as any Kansas farmer did in his fields; they were friendly to whites; and they were a "well-disposed lot of Indians," who were, so far as he concluded, far superior to those "lazy, thieving butchers... the Apaches," who lived on the government dole.
Also pointing up Funstons enjoyment of his 1891 field work was the humor that often crept into his Death Valley letters. He found much mirth in the desert. For one thing, the expeditions burros furnished him with constant amusement, especially after he hadwith his colleagues bemused approvalnamed each of them after various prominent personalities, including the Kansas Populist leaders, Jerry Simpson and Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Lease.
Then, there was the episode of "Brer Calvin." This piously named individual was a youthful helper who came from New England. Funston depicted him as a "meek-faced, squeaky-voiced little fellow" who seemed to be a mild mannered minister-to-be and who was on a break from theology school. Accordingly Funston and the others who were on the expedition avoided the use of profane language in his presence until, while he was making his way up a rocky canon in the darkness on foot, "Brer Calvin" fell in a hole and pulled his startled horse in on top of himself. Extricated by his comrades, the stunned youth amazingly was uninjured, save for lack of breath. Then, as Funston humorously recalled in a September letter to an Iola friend:
"He did not say a word until he had got all the wind he wanted, and then we found out that we had all been fooled in "Brer Calvin." Lying there on that rock that youth unburdened his mind in a way that was simply horrifying to the mild, everyday criminal to listen to. All the swearing that he had not done in twenty years of his life came then between gasps in five minutes of time. It was wonderful and artistic and as well put up as if he had written it out beforehand with a typewriter and committed it to memory. He recovered. We changed his name from "Brer Calvin" to "Mephistopheles."
This humorous recollection, together with the other colorful and descriptive passages in his letters that he wrote from Death Valley in 1891, revealed that Funston had already fallen in love with the strenuous life of an explorer. Consequently, as the winter of 1891-1892 progressed, he prepared to concentrate his efforts seriously on this outdoor enterprise. He proposed to continue as a federal government field scientist. However, though he was not 26, this career would also prove short-lived. He would ultimately search for several more years before he found his niche in society as a professional soldier.
Still, the days of a variety of ephemeral adventures were over as Funston prepared to make a journey alone into Alaska as a field botanist for the United States Department of Agriculture. By this juncture, he had shown himself to be courageous, resourceful, energetic, and keenly intelligent, although he was also mercurially impulsive and sometimes rashly impatient as well. He had enjoyed the advantages of a farm-frontier upbringing in a locally prominent family. He had also taken at least partial advantage of the opportunity of getting the best education that his region offered.
In addition, Frederick Funston, who was indeed a companionable young man, had met a capable and earnest segment of the Kansas middle class among whom he had created life-long friendships and important contacts. He had learned that he could, in his own way, compete with his contemporaries and even outdo them, yet all the while he could maintain their respect and loyalty. In sum, he was a manalbeit a restless oneand he was ready for a mans work. Between the spring of 1892 and the summer of 1894, found such work in Americas "ice box" along the Arctic Circle.