Meet Fighting Fred Funston, a man whose path from journalist to war hero defied expectations and shaped history. Discover the audacious courage and enduring legacy that make his story a true testament to the indomitable spirit of a hero.

A Spirited Beginning

Frederick Funston’s journey to heroism began long before the Spanish-American War. Born on November 9, 1865, in New Carlisle, Ohio, Funston exhibited an adventurous spirit from a young age. His early years were marked by curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, and an innate desire to challenge himself. This thirst for adventure led him to explore the untamed landscapes of the American West, where he developed survival skills that would serve him well in the years to come.

Despite his unassuming stature – standing at just 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing a mere 120 pounds – Funston defied expectations and embarked on a journey that would prove his mettle in ways unimaginable. Rejected from the United States Military Academy in 1886 due to his size, Funston’s determination remained unwavering. After graduating from Iola High School that same year, he forged ahead, enrolling at the University of Kansas. During his time there, he not only pursued academic excellence but also formed lasting bonds, joining the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and cultivating a friendship with none other than the future Pulitzer Prize-winning writer William Allen White. The twists of fate then led him from the tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad, where he worked as a trainman, to the bustling world of journalism in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1890. Through these seemingly disparate experiences, Funston honed his resilience, resourcefulness, and unwavering spirit – qualities that would shape his path to becoming a true American hero.

(Image source: Kansas Historical Society, Wikimedia Commons)

Exploration, Revolution, and Duty: Funston’s Transformative Path

Funston’s journey took a fascinating turn when he transitioned from the world of journalism to scientific exploration, particularly in the realm of botany. Venturing into the unknown, he embarked on a surveying expedition through the rugged landscapes of Death Valley, California, an experience that would undoubtedly shape his tenacity and thirst for discovery. Yet, his subsequent assignment with the United States Department of Agriculture in the vast wilderness of Alaska revealed his unyielding dedication to expanding his horizons. However, it was not long before his insatiable spirit led him down another path. Stirred by the impassioned words of Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, Funston felt a calling deep within his heart. He joined the Cuban Revolutionary Army in 1896, their noble fight for independence from Spain igniting a fire within him.

Despite his fervor, adversity struck in the form of malaria, causing his weight to plummet to a worrisome 95 pounds. The Cubans granted him a respite, acknowledging the toll his dedication had taken. Upon returning to his homeland, Funston’s unwavering commitment again caught fate’s attention. Commissioned as a colonel of the 20th Kansas Infantry Regiment in the United States Army at the dawn of the Spanish-American War, he stood ready to answer the call of duty. During the chaotic time of the war, Funston met Eda Blankart at a patriotic event, and they quickly fell in love. They got married, but soon after, things got messy, and just within a mere fortnight of their union, Funston had to say goodbye to his new wife to go on a mission that would take him to distant shores.

The Crucible of War

Landing in the Philippines as part of the American forces, Funston found himself thrust into the crucible of the Philippine-American War, a continuation of the broader Spanish-American conflict. The tropical terrain and challenging conditions mirrored the harshness he had faced in his earlier endeavors, but his resilience remained unbroken. Funston’s capacity to transform adversity into opportunity, a thread woven throughout his life, now propelled him forward on the battlefield. His experiences as a journalist, explorer, and even a soldier in the Cuban Revolutionary Army converged to forge an unbreakable spirit—one that would prove instrumental in the conflict ahead.

During this time, Funston experienced his defining moment, bringing forth his audacious and daring nature. In a move that would go down in history as a masterpiece of strategy and execution, Funston orchestrated the capture of Emilio Aguinaldo, the revolutionary leader of the Philippine forces.

American forces in action in the Philippines circa 1899 (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The daring operation involved a covert mission to infiltrate enemy lines and extract Aguinaldo from his heavily guarded stronghold. Funston’s meticulous planning, combined with his ability to inspire unwavering loyalty from his troops, led to the successful apprehension of Aguinaldo, who was also serving as the first President of the Philippines. The audacity of the operation showcased Funston’s fearless character and willingness to take calculated risks for the greater good, earning him the moniker “Fighting Fred Funston” or “Fearless Freddie.”