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Fuss over Army facility names recalls the legend of Fort Riley, Kansas

By: Keith Kappes
Columnist
Carter County Times

Folks are cussing and fussing about the possibility of the U. S. Army changing the names of 10 of its installations within the United States because they were named for Confederate generals.

Listening to those discussions helped me remember a visit I made many years ago to Fort Riley, Kansas, which is not among those disputed names of Army posts.

I was working at Morehead State University when President Adron Doran assigned me and another staff member, Charlie Myers, to represent him and MSU on an official visit to Fort Riley.

The purpose of the visit was to check the morale and living conditions of about 50 MSU students training there that summer as Army ROTC cadets, along with hundreds of other cadets from colleges across the U. S.

Other than flying from Kansas City to Manhattan, Kansas, in a single engine plane with 10 other nervous passengers and a pilot who drank at least six cans of beer during a one-hour flight, the trip proved to be interesting, if not entertaining.

Our escort officer was an Army major, a member of MSU’s ROTC faculty, who was assigned there for the entire summer. He had been stationed earlier at Fort Riley, our nation’s oldest Army post, and loved to give tours to visitors.

As we made the rounds of facilities and training areas, including a herd of buffalo, our host told us lots of stories about the old cavalry post and its historic past. 

I mentioned to him a few times that I was surprised that Fort Riley, home of the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One), perhaps the Army’s most famous combat unit, was located at such an old, rundown facility.

On our last day, having lunch with him at the Officers’ Club, he said he wanted to tell us the secret of why Fort Riley had become such a shabby place.

It seems that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, a former general, rode out of there in 1876 as commander of the 7th Cavalry Regiment on his way to fight the Plains Indians at the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory.

As the brave troopers rode their horses out through the main gate, legend has it that Custer yelled to an officer in charge of the gate and told them not to do anything until he returned.

And they still haven’t.

Keith Kappes can be reached at keithkappes@gmail.com


Personal Note – As a proud son of Carter County, I’m pleased to be reconnected with home folks and with individuals committed to community journalism at its best. Please encourage your family and friends to support the Carter County Times.

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