Custer Lives!

Fort Riley, Kansas

 

In July 2009 I visited Fort Riley in Kansas. Please remember when visiting Fort Riley, it is an active US Army base, not a museum piece. Expect a slight delay at the gate to be checked out by security personnel. If you are the person in your party who is driving in, you must produce a valid driving license, valid vehicle registration, and valid vehicle insurance. All others in your vehicle must produce a photo ID. You will need to state the purpose of your visit and possibly be asked to open all the vehicle's doors, trunk, and the hood. If further investigation is needed you will be asked to pull off into a separate lot. Make sure you have no firearms with you. You will at best be only denied entry. If you get to the gate with one somewhere in your vehicle, tell the guard and follow their commands to the letter. All the gate personnel, both US Army and civilian, were extremely professional and helpful. Every one I spoke to was a shining example of their profession and their country. Use of a cell phone while driving is prohibited unless you have a hands free device. Speed limits are strictly enforced. If the sign says 25 MPH, it means 25 MPH not 26 MPH.

As I was preparing to enter I saw an AH-64 Longbow Apache approaching for a landing. It's a magnificent machine and the pilot put it down with an amazing display of precision. Military rotary aviation is one of my other primary interests and there were lots of choppers to see and marvel at. I stopped at the visitor center to grab what printed materials I could and set off. I was lucky enough to see some horses being ridden near the gates. I'm not sure, but I believe they were part of a drill team. In any event they were beautiful animals being trained by experts. Quite a sight to see.

I found a place to park and began to plan my visit. There's a lot to see here. I decided to begin with the Fort's Custer House. General George Armstrong Custer did not reside in Fort Riley's Custer House. It burned down many years ago but was very close to where this one, Quarters 24, stands. Some say it was just down the street where Quarters 21 now stands. The Custer House hadn't opened for tours yet when I arrived so I went across the street to look at the remains of the Cavalry Parade Grounds. There was a lot of construction going on and a lot of it appeared to be a parking lot. Too bad. Near the Cavalry Parade Grounds stands a statue honoring the United States Cavalry and it's roll in settling the West. At the base of the statue is the grave of Chief, who at the time of his death in 1968 was the last Cavalry mount on the rolls of the United States Army. Chief was born in 1932 and joined Uncle Sam's US Army in 1940. Chief retired in 1949. The area with the Cavalry statue and Chief's grave is a quite well laid out little park.

Once the Custer House opened I ventured inside. It always interests me to view dwellings from another era. I especially like this 1860's-1870's era. The Custer House Museum is furnished from that era. Although spartan by today's standards, it had many fine pieces of furniture and was quite appealing to the eye. The staff was knowledgeable and helpful.

As I drove around this large base I marveled at the size and architecture of the many buildings. Several of the many buildings at the Fort were built with native limestone of the area, many of which continue to stand today. The buildings are large and formidable looking. As I walked about I came upon many of our young Soldiers. I thanked each and every one for their service. These fine young men and women were so polite and helpful. I couldn't be prouder of them. I was honored to be in their presence.

I made my way over to the Fort Riley and Junction City Railway Station. The sign in front of it was broken and not repaired which I thought was unusual for an active US Military Base. You can't enter the Station but you can peer inside. Not much to see except an old stove and a fire extinguisher sitting next to it. A portion of the train tracks still sits in front of the station.

I next ventured over to the Wounded Knee Monument. The Monument is to the Troopers involved only and not the Indian participants. As I was video taping the Monument, two MP's pulled up in a police vehicle. The passenger motioned me over with his hand and called out "Hey Chief, come over here please.". Being one quarter Shawnee and viewing a Wounded Knee memorial, I was quite bemused by his comment. As I approached the vehicle I asked "How did you know I was Shawnee?". The young MP looked a little surprised but I'm sure he realized I wasn't offended when a big smile broke out on my face. I wasn't smiling a minute latter when he informed me there could be no photography or video taken anywhere on the base. The MP told me I could keep what I had, just put the cameras away. I placed them in the trunk of my vehicle and continued my sightseeing with a heavy heart.

The US Cavalry Museum was the best part of my visit. It was a beautiful facility. All the displays were top notch. The lighting was perfect and everything was easy to see inside it's displays. The Cavalry's history is laid out in chronological order and boy is there a lot to see. Most of the items displayed are authentic and reproductions are plainly stated when used. I learned a great deal about the early US Cavalry. The Big Red One's Regimental Museum was full of history and great exhibits also. This famous and historic regiment certainly gets it's due here. There's a lot of military vehicles and weapons you can examine near the museums. A gift shop inside the Cavalry Museum had a lot of really cool things to check out. Most of the wares dealt with the modern US Army or the Big Red One but there was still an ample amount of Frontier Army items to cause me to part with my hard earned cash. The clerk was very pleasant and packed my fragile items in a manner to ensure their safe travel back to Indiana.

There's more to see than I've covered here. You can visit the Kansas Tourism website and Fort Riley's website to get a full list. As I left Fort Riley and traveled east, I discovered I was driving on the very first mile ever constructed of the US Interstate Highway system. A long and rewarding day came to a close.

An AH-64 Longbow Apache preparing to land.

The Custer House at Fort Riley. It's open for guided tours.

The former Cavalry Parade Grounds.

Chief's grave is in the six small poles on the right.

This brass plaque is on a wall across the street from the Custer House.

The former railway station. I didn't see any ghosts fortunately.

 

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