Frederick Funston is extremely atypical of American heroic generals. Born in 1885 in Ohio and raised in Kansas, he failed the admissions test for West Point and dropped out of the University of Kansas after three years, turning to work as a trainman before becoming a journalist in 1890. He spent only a year in that line of work before joining an expedition to Death Valley, and later moved to Alaska where he worked for the Department of Agriculture.
Funston's rise to fame began when he joined the Cuban Revolutionary Army in 1896 after hearing a speech by Civil War hero General Dan Sickles in New York. In Cuba, he contracted malaria and was sent home to recover, at which point the Spanish-American War broke out. While in Kansas, he was commissioned a colonel in the state militia and given command of the 20th Kansas Infantry, which was being sent to the Philippines.
In the Philippines, the war against the Spanish quickly phased into the Philippine Insurrection, and Funston's Kansans were in the thick of it. His courageous leadership at Calumpit earned him a promotion to Brigadier General of Volunteers and the Medal of Honor in 1900, but his true fame came for his planning and leading the mission that resulted in the capture of Emilio Aguinaldo the following year. That mission involved Funston and a small band of volunteers posing as prisoners of the Macabebes, who in turn were posing as members of Aguinaldo's insurrectos. With Aguinaldo a prisoner, the insurrection quickly fizzled out; Funston was rewarded with a Brigadier General's commission in the Regular Army at the age of 35, a move that saved his career since he was due to be mustered out of Federal service.
Funston was an enthusiastic advocate of the American occupation of the Philippines and toured the country making intemperate speeches in support of the war, which were ridiculed by Samuel Clemens, who opposed the war. Funston's advocacy of lynching not only Filipino rebels but American pacifists as well caused President Roosevelt to order him silenced and officially reprimanded.
This official disfavor did not prevent Funston from taking command of the Presidio of San Francisco, where he again caused controversy by his actions during the 1906 earthquake. Despite there being no declaration of martial law, Funston took command of the city and directed the demolition of buildings to control the fire that followed the earthquake. Some called him a hero whose actions saved lives and property, while others claimed that he has exceeded his authority and in fact caused more death and destruction by his haste. He went on to lead troops in the suppression of "Wobbly" strikers in Nevada, after which he served as Commandant of the Army Service School at Fort Leavenworth, commander of the Luzon Department in the Philippines, and commander of the Hawaiian Department.
Funston was promoted to Major General and subsequently sent to lead the American forces that occupied Veracruz in 1914. He would return to Mexico in 1916, leading the Punitive Expedition that unsuccessfully hunted Pancho Villa.
As commander of the Punitive Expedition, he was President Wilson's first choice to lead the American Expeditionary Force when the United States entered World War I in 1917. Unfortunately, Funston's habit of hard work caught up with him at this point and he died in San Antonio of a heart attack at the age of 51. He laid in state at the Alamo and San Francisco City Hall, the first person to be so honored by the city, before being buried in San Francisco National Cemetery. Command of the AEF was given to his second-in-command in Mexico, General "Black Jack" Pershing.