Thursday, April 11, 2024

HGB Ep. 533 - Fort Riley

Moment in Oddity - The Rock and Roll Granny

Rock-and-Roll Granny isn't a label you hear very often. However this is the moniker that Cordell Jackson had been bestowed. She was born in 1923 in Mississippi and with her father's career as a musician, Cordell was taught guitar, double bass and piano from a young age. She started performing with her father's band and eventually began writing music and lyrics. In 1943 she married and moved to Memphis, Tennessee. She then began installing recording equipment in her new home so she could record herself as well as other local artists. One demo recording was of Sam Phillips who ended up creating Sun Records who became the label for icons like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. In 1956, Cordell founded Moon Records label on the advice of RCA Records' Chet Atkins. She had been having a difficult time competing with male artists so this was a more effective way to get her music out to the world. Cordell wrote, engineered, produced and arranged her own music and soon she had recruited other performers like Allen Page, Earl Patterson and Johnny Tate. Primarily a solo artist, the 'rock and roll granny' would occasionally have a back up band. Cordell performed on shows like 'Late Night with David Letterman' and appeared in a Budweiser commercial featuring dueling guitars with Brian Setzer. She had a prolific musical career but only released one solo full length album titled 'Cordell Jackson-Live in Chicago', which was released in 1997. The 'rock and roll granny' died on October 14, 2004 of pancreatic cancer in her beloved home of Memphis, Tennessee.

This Month in History -  The Birth of Washington Irving

In the month of April, on the 3rd, in 1783, Washington Irving was born in Manhattan, New York. Irving was an American short-story writer, historian, biographer and diplomat. He was well known for his collection titled, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent, which contained literary pieces like "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". Irving began his career with an array of observational letters to the Morning Chronicle written under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. In 1815, he moved to England for a short time and that is where he first published The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. A few of his historical biographies included Muhammad, Oliver Goldsmith and George Washington. He also wrote several histories of 15th century Spain, covering topics like Christopher Columbus, and the Moors. in the 1840's Washington Irving served as an American Ambassador to Spain. He was one of the premier American writers to earn recognition in Europe, and he supported other writers like Longfellow, Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe. Irving championed writing as a legitimate profession and he worked to establish better laws to protect American writers from copyright infringement. Washington discovered Tarrytown, now known as Sleepy Hollow, during a yellow fever outbreak in Manhattan which had prompted his parents to send him up the Hudson river to stay with a friend. He fell in love with the area and would make several additional trips to the region. Washington Irving died of a heart attack in 1859, just eight months after finishing his Washington biography.

Fort Riley (Suggested by: Ed Jones)

Fort Riley sits on the north bank of the Kansas River near Junction City in Kansas. The military installation has a history that stretches back more than 150 years. Early on, the soldiers' missions were to protect the overland trails that settlers were using to move west. Eventually, they protected the railways being built. The fort would eventually become important in training the cavalry and served as a training center for every major war. Today, it still is a working base with several museums dedicated to its history. Many locations reputedly have some strange things happening. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Fort Riley!

Fort Riley started off as Camp Center in north central Kansas. That name was because the outpost was considered the center of America. Surveyors laid it out in the fall of 1852 and three companies of the 6th infantry arrived in the spring to build temporary quarters. The name of the camp was changed to Fort Riley on June 27, 1853 in honor of Major General Bennett C. Riley who had led the first military escort along the Santa Fe Trail in 1829. Using his name makes sense since the initial goal of the post was to protect people taking in part in Westward Expansion over the Oregon and Santa Fe trails. Between 1840 and 1860, nearly 400,000 people used the Oregon Trail, which stretched 2,170 miles between the Missouri River and the Oregon Territory. The original trail was laid out by fur traders starting in 1811. The route branched off into the Bozeman Trail, the California Trail and Mormon Trail. Many towns were established along the way. The Santa Fe Trail was established in 1822 and connected Franklin, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. This trail was started by Native Americans and then came the trappers and traders and then the settlers.

The particular spot chosen for Fort Riley was on a plain overlooking the Kansas River valley. Materials in the area were used in the construction and this was mainly limestone that was cut in a pasture cut style. This means it had a smooth surface. The design was typical of the time with a central parade field with officer's quarters on the north and south sides and enlisted barracks on the east and west sides. A hospital was also built on the east side and other buildings were on the south and west sides, including stables and quartermaster's storage. In 1856, a cholera outbreak left 75 to 125 people dead. Listeners are probably aware that before the Civil War, states like Kansas and Missouri had internal strife about whether they would be slave states or not. Between 1854 to 1859 there were several scuffles that got increasingly more violent that were called "Bleeding Kansas." 

Proslavers were called "border ruffians" and abolitionists were called "free-staters." Both sides carried out raids, assaults and murders with at least 56 political killings. The main issue, of course, was whether Kansas would gain statehood as a slave or free state and the reason this was so critical was because with statehood, Kansas would get two senators that would affect the balance of power in the Senate. The Senate was split on the issue. Missouri had entered as a slave state in 1821, so it tried to influence what was happening during Bleeding Kansas. Kansas eventually broke into a state-level civil war with two separate capitals and constitutions. Kansas was admitted as a free state, but it revealed that a national Civil War was inevitable. Troops from Fort Riley were asked to not only patrol the Santa Fe Trail, but now they were needed to put down outbreaks of violence across the territory.

The Civil War broke out and while there were still pro-slavery people in Kansas, the Union always maintained control, but there were many skirmishes along the Missouri and Kansas border. During the war, many troops were sent eastward to fight, but some stayed at the post, so it could be used as a prisoner of war camp. And there were still people traveling west that needed protection. After the war, the troops were used to guard construction of the Kansas Pacific Railroad from Native American attacks. The plan was to build the railroad from Kansas City to Colorado and then onto California, but there were not enough funds to get past Colorado. Eventually it was consolidated with the Union Pacific in 1880 and is still a part of that today. A couple of interesting characters that were stationed at the post in 1867 were Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer and Wild Bill Hickok who served as a scout. Custer was sent off to the plains of eastern Colorado on a campaign and was later court martialed and suspended for one year when he returned to Fort Riley without permission so that he could see his wife. In the mid-1880s, the Army decided to officially establish the Cavalry and Light Artillery School at Fort Riley and more buildings were added with these stones being rough edged that is referred to as a hammered stone.

A well known group that was stationed at Fort Riley were the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments of all-black soldiers, otherwise known as Buffalo Soldiers. The indigenous people called them that because their hair reminded them of the hair on buffaloes. Their main time here was in the 1920s and 1930s and during World War II, they joined the 2nd Cavalry Division. Training that troops in cavalry tactics at Fort Riley was the finest in the world. The relationship between rider and horse was refined here. Cavalrymen were always testing their skills and one intense ride was called were the "Russian Ride." This was a three-mile ride that had twenty-four jumps of varying degrees of difficulty and some objects were very unusual. And a student couldn't graduate from the Cavalry School until they had conquered the dreaded "Cemetery Hill." This was a hill that was a very steep drop. Ever see the movie "The Man From Snowy River?" This was a very similar and treacherous ride that tested skill and bravery. In the movie, the character of Jim is lying almost completely back on the horse as they traverse down a very steep mountain side. The scene was done in one take and is one of the most memorable in movie history. It will give you chills.

The Cavalry School continued until October 1946 and any tactical training with mounted troops in the Army ended in 1947. The last horse-mounted cavalry charge by a U.S. Cavalry unit took place on the Bataan Peninsula, in the Philippines in early 1942 during World War II. There are still ceremonial horse-mounted cavalry, but the term now is used for mounted reconnaissance and target acquisition. Helicopters are referred to as Air Cavalry and there is a mechanized Armored Cavalry. Basically, tanks are the new horses. "Here comes the Cavalry" or "The Cavalry has arrived" is used in our modern vernacular to indicate that something has arrived just when needed.

The World Wars required lots of men to be trained quickly to go to war. In 1917, Camp Funston was built five miles east of Fort Riley and this became a training site for up to 50,000 men. The first division trained here was sent to France in the spring of 1918. Around this same time, the Spanish Flu of 1918 hit Fort Riley. That camp would later be dismantled, only to be rebuilt again in 1940 for World War II. In an area known as Republican Flats, a barracks was built and called Camp Forsyth. Through to 1945, 125,000 soldiers were trained between Camp Funston and Camp Forsyth. Boxing great Joe Louis and movie star Mickey Rooney were two of those soldiers. President Franklin Roosevelt visited Fort Riley on Easter Sunday in 1943. Camp Funston eventually became a prisoner of war camp.

Fort Riley became a key training facility during the Korean War. Recruits came from all over the United States and the 37th Infantry Division, made up of units from the Ohio National Guard. During the Cold War, members of "The Big Red One" started arriving at Fort Riley. This is the 1st Infantry Division and got its nickname from its shoulder patch, which is a big red number 1. They initially occupied the barracks at Camp Funston. New quarters and barracks were built and called Custer Hill. A new hospital was also built and named for Major General Irwin. In 1966, 50,000 more acres was added to Fort Riley. The 1st Infantry Division was deployed to Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The Big Red One returned in April 1970.

The Gulf War saw Fort Riley deploying troops again. Most of the Big Red One was transferred to Leighton Barracks in Germany in 1995 and it wouldn't be until 2006 that they were welcomed back home. With that, a new era began and a new Division headquarters was built, along with barracks and dining hall and improvements were made to Marshal Army Airfield. Troops were sent to Iraq to train Iraqi Security forces. The Army website says of the Big Red One and Fort Riley, "The 1st Infantry Division continues to proudly serve our homeland. Ever brave, responsible and on point, the Big Red One team is absolutely committed to each other, our families and our communities. That sense of teamwork is what makes Fort Riley a great place to come home to and what separates us from other Army divisions or installations. Fort Riley and the 1st Infantry Division — first for the nation."

With this long history, it is no wonder that there are many areas that have reportedly experienced strange happenings. The central Artillery Parade Field is on historic Main Post. In 1887, the cavalry and artillery split their parade fields with the cavalry taking the original and a new one being set up for the artillery. The Artillery Parade Field now hosts the annual Fall Apple Day Festival. This has a very strange apparition. People claim to see a woman wrapped in chains walking across the field on clear nights. 

The Cavalry Parade Field has its own haunts too. There are claims that a group of spectral riders is seen galloping across the field. They are also heard. Most reports claim that there is a sound like thunder and the feeling of a low vibration and then the group of riders appears. Then the riders slow at the intersection of Sheridan and Forsyth Avenues, where a rider dismounts and then the rest of the troop wheels around and rides away. That intersection is where Custer had once lived. The house burned down many years ago, but apparently the riders are accompanying Custer on his ride home as his escorts. The story behind this could be that Custer wanted to get back to the fort because he was worried about the cholera outbreak and he thought his wife might be in danger. He had an escort of his men ride back with him and he found his wife Libby to be fine. Could this be a residual haunting?

Near where the Custer house once stood is what was called Quarters 24. This was constructed from limestone in the 1850s and today is a museum named the Custer House. The house has been renovated and has furnishings from the 1870s and 1880s and best represents the kind of building Custer would have lived in with his wife. Hauntings here date back to 1855 when many people lost their lived to cholera in the building. Soldiers claimed to see full-bodied apparitions and people visiting the museum claim to hear moans and to see ghosts. A sergeant who worked in the building in the 1970s claimed to often hear strange noises coming from the upstairs rooms. These sounds resembled what sounded like stamping feet on the floor. Other people claim to hear what sounds like someone pulling a boot on and then stamping the foot to get the boot on fully. When people go to investigate the sound, they find no one upstairs. This sergeant also reported that a teddy bear in the children’s room kept moving around. He would place it on the bed before leaving and then when he got there the next day, he would find the bear on a rocking horse in the room. A female soldier would arrive in the morning and find a bed looking as if it had been slept in and she also always felt like she was being watched in the museum. 

The Infantry Parade Field was used for a time as a polo field. The ghosts of two polo-playing men are seen riding their horses and playing polo. A soldier was walking across the field one night when he began to hear faint shouts and cheers from a distance. Then he saw what looked like two figures playing polo. The ball came flying up towards him and then the players started galloping towards him. As they close enough for him to see details, he noticed that one of the figures had no face, but instead a grinning skull. The spirit them yelled at him, " Leave! Now, while you still can!" The soldier listened and ran. The Lower Parade Field has a ghost rider too. This spectre gallops madly across the field in the morning, only to disappear as quickly as he appeared.

The Spanish Flu pandemic that hit in 1918, took many soldiers' lives. One of them is thought to haunt an area outside of the old World War I era gymnasium. A Public Works employee was repairing some downed electric lines in the late 1960s when he reported seeing the ghost of a soldier in a World War I uniform. He appeared to be continuing his patrol wearing a heavy wool overcoat and carrying a rifle over his shoulder. The weird thing was that a snowstorm had downed the lines and when the worker went over to offer the soldier some hot coffee from his thermos, the soldier disappeared. And there were no footprints in the snow.

The main hospital has had issues with its fire alarms going off on their own. Especially in the Bio-Medical room. One day, the alarm went off eight different times and the fire marshal got tired of coming out for false alarms, so he disconnected the alarm. It didn't help. The alarm went off three more times after that. The NCO Club had an MP report that an unseen force jerked open the door he was guarding. The door had been locked. The No. 1 Stable had years of reports from soldiers serving on night guard duty that they would see a man in period clothing ride through the stable and then disappear. There was actually something to back up these stories when years later some renovation work was being done and the skeletons of a horse and rider were found in an old ravine.

There is a house known as Quarters 124 and a legend claims that a woman drowned herself in a well on the fort grounds in the 1860s. This woman now haunts the house and residents have reported hearing loud noises during the night that include what sounds like someone dragging a wooden box up and down the stairs. The noise got so unbearable that a priest was called in to do an exorcism. The noises stopped for a time, but eventually returned.

The Post Cemetery is haunted by Major Lewis A. Armistead of the Sixth United States Infantry Regiment. His wife Cornelia Armistead died of the cholera epidemic in the summer of 1855. Before that, the Major had taken his men southwest to keep them from getting sick. They only got about nine miles away before the disease took hold among his men and they had to stop. Major Armistead returned to the fort and found that his wife had died. The Major was later killed during the Civil War in 1863 and after that, his ghost was seen wearing a dark blue uniform, kneeling and weeping at his wife's grave. 

A woman named Susan Fox lived with her step-father in a small frame building across the creek from the Fort Riley Trolley Station in 1855. She was engaged to be married to a soldier who was away. She spent much of her time caring for people who had contracted cholera in the nearby town of Pawnee City. Her father was away when she contracted the dreaded disease herself and she died alone at the house. Her fiancee returned and discovered her body. It was decided to bury her in her wedding dress in a small grave near the railway bridge to the trolley station. People who have lived in the house claim that Susan haunts the place. The first to do so was her fiancee who said, "It was a difficult passage for her, and Susan came back to her old home several times demanding to be let in." Residents have reported shrieks and strange noises and one woman who was ironing when the apparition of Susan appeared, threw the iron through the window. A Post Commander got so fed up with the reports that he paid out of the Fort's funds for a priest to come and exorcise the house. That didn't work so they demolished the house. That hasn't stopped Susan who has been sighted hanging around the Trolley Station.

And speaking of Pawnee City, the first Territorial Capitol of Kansas was built here along the eastern border of Fort Riley. Pawnee City eventually just became part of Fort Riley and this is the only building that still exists from the town. The building only served as the capitol for five days before the capitol was moved to another city. The Kaw River Nature and History Trail is near the building. People claim to hear the sorrowful voice of a woman. One man described the voice singing a sad melody. He went to look for the woman who sounded as though she were near the river. He claimed to see the shaded form of a flatboat or barge being pulled across the river by a human-shaped shadow figure. When the apparition and the phantom boat reached the other side of the river, both vanished. Legend claims that a slave woman used to pull the ferry back and forth across the river and some believe that is where this ghost originates.

Fort Riley has been an important military base and continues to train America's fighting force. Soldiers don't typical welcome stories of the supernatural, nor do they readily share them. So hearing stories about ghosts on bases seems a little more believable. Is Fort Riley haunted? That is for you to decide!

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