THANK GOD for the Boys in Blue!” was the ardent and praiseful exclamation of the people of San Francisco during and after the terrible days that rent by shock and consumed by fire their beautiful city. And as their courage and devotion to save and protect, and their tenderness towards the dying and the dead became known the entire country re-echoed the tribute. For it was the soldiers of Uncle Sam, untiring and unafraid amidst horrors and dangers seen and unseen, that stood between half-crazed refugees from the quake and the fire and downright starvation and anarchy.
When the catastrophe occurred Major General A. W. Greely, in command of the military department of the Pacific, was on his way east to attend the marriage of his daughter, and so the command of the troops and of the department devolved on Brigadier General Frederick Funston; and as on previous occasions when pluck and wise decision were required he showed himself equal to the emergency. The first thing that was done was to divide that portion of the city where order and protection were most needed into six districts, four of them being guarded by the military, one by the marine and one by the navy. Other portions of the city were patrolled by the National Guard and by the city’s police force. Because of these arrangements there was thereafter but little trouble, and practically no more looting. During the fire General Funston established his headquarters at Fort Mason on the cliffs of Black Point, and at once it became the busiest and most picturesque spot in San Francisco. There was an awe-inspiring dignity about the place, with its many guards, military ensemble and the businesslike movements of officers and men. Few were allowed to enter within its gates, and the missions of those who did find their way within were disposed of with that accuracy and dispatch peculiar to government headquarters. Scores of automobiles rushed in and out of the gate, and each car contained an armed guardsman in the front seat furiously blowing a sentry whistle to clear the roadway. At the sound of that tremolo the crowds scattered as if by magic. San Francisco was virtually under martial law, and order was wrought from chaos.
After the quake the President and Secretary Taft were chiefly concerned at first’ with getting supplies, and that work was per-formed with extraordinary expedition and thoroughness. At the same time they were rushing troops, marines, and sailors to guard the devastated city.
The marvelous work done by the soldiers, from General Funston down to the newest recruit, won the admiration and congratulations of the entire country. The sentiment everywhere was and is that the army has demonstrated its splendid capacity not only to preserve peace in the face of armed resistance, but to take charge of affairs in a stricken city at a time when intelligent discipline was more needed than everything else.
Secretary Taft expressed the belief that congress would have to give him absolution for the violence he had done the constitution in those terrible days. He ordered General Funston to take complete command of the city, to put martial law into effect, and to enforce sanitary regulations without regard to the wishes of the people.
The war department had been morally responsible for the unhesitating way in which the troops shot down looters and the people who refused to understand that great situations must be controlled without regard to law.
It was the soldiers apparently who brought order out of chaos. They headed the unfortunate refugees farther and farther on ahead of the flames, until finally they had located the vast home-less mob in the Presidio, in the Golden Gate Park, and in other wide expanses. General Funston had not exceeded his orders. He was given full discretion to employ his forces as he saw fit. He turned loose the soldiers under him with general instructions to act as their own good sense dictated, and it is to the eternal credit of the noncommissioned officers and the privates that every report sent to the war department and all the descriptions in the press reports indicated that the army had saved the situation in San Francisco.
When a sturdy sergeant brought down the butt of his musket on the counter of a bake shop where they were beginning to sell bread at 75 cents a loaf, and announced that bread thereafter in that concern would be sold at 10 cents a loaf or there would be one less baker in the world, he was guilty of an act which in any other time might have landed him in’ prison.
If he is punished for it now, it will only be after the Secretary of War and the President are impeached, because he was only obeying the spirit if not the letter of their instructions to General Funston,
Soldiers guarded the water wagons, which were driven about the streets, and this show of force was necessary, so that the scanty supplies might be distributed with even-handed justice. In the same way, when General Funston issued orders as the result of which the soldiers compelled citizens to dig graves for the temporary interment of the dead, he violated the law most flagrantly, but he acted as the emergency demanded, and the incident contributed with other things to make the army organization of the United States a little bit the most popular thing in the country in these days,
When the army was reduced at the close of the Philippine insurrection, the machinery was left intact. In this way, although the quartermasters’ stores in San Francisco were wiped out of existence, it was possible to hurry supplies to San Francisco. They began arriving there promptly and the danger of famine was averted.
It is the purpose of the war department to continue practical martial law in San Francisco.
It is believed the greatest work of the soldiers, in which term of course are to be included the marines and sailors as well, was in the prevention of pestilence. Practically all of the house to house sewage system of San Francisco had been destroyed. An army of two or three hundred thousand men encamped in the suburbs of a great city would ordinarily die like flies unless it provided itself with proper facilities for the removal of garbage and the general sanitary cleansing of the immense camp. Even with trained soldiers under strict discipline it was an extremely difficult thing to enforce sanitary regulations.
Immense supplies of medical necessities already had been for-warded from the bureau at St. Louis, and General Funston organized at once a series of camps on military lines. The refugees were compelled to live up to sanitary rules whether they liked it or not. Those who refused felt the pick of a bayonet.
Furthermore, out of the tens of thousands of homeless people the soldiers forced as many as were needed to go to work for the common good, putting up shelters, erecting tents, devising store-houses, and, above all, creating the necessary sanitary appliances and safeguards to prevent the outbreak of pestilence.
It required the utmost vigilance on the part of the army officers and the most constant attention by the medical corps to pre-vent an outbreak of typhoid, dysentery, and the ordinary train of nearly fatal diseases which are common to large military camps, and which are almost inevitable when dealing with an unorganized and unintelligent mob.
Efforts were made to compel every man, woman, and child to obey constantly the strict sanitary regulations which the army provides for its own protection.
Every medical officer and every man in the hospital corps within a wide range of San Francisco had been ordered to report at once for duty under General Funston. With the flames practically under control and with millions of army rations on the grounds or actually in sight of the people, the efforts of the War Department became directed to the preservation of health and in a secondary degree to the location and registration of the dead, the wounded, and the saved.
Following close upon the heels of the rations and the tents there came tons upon tons of disinfectants unloaded at Oakland and every possible device was being employed by the medical bureau to make as good a record in this regard as the quartermaster and commissary departments had already produced in supplying food and shelter.
Meanwhile the ever-ready American private soldier and his splendid executive officer, the American noncom., were really the rulers at San Francisco. They defied the law every minute, but evidently they acted with characteristic good sense. The price of bread was kept down, the mob was being systematized and taught to respect authority, and enough thieves had summarily been shot in San Francisco to render looting a dangerous and an unprofitable avocation.
People who went through the great fire at Chicago in 1871 remember that when Gen. Sheridan brought in regular soldiers he established order within a brief period of time, and there was a feeling of relief when men under his command began to blow up houses in the vicinity of Wabash avenue and Congress street.
The laws of the United States had been violated every minute. Supplies were purchased in the open market, government property had been handed out without receipts to anybody who seemed to have authority to receive it, and the distribution of supplies had been wholly free from the slightest suspicion of red tape
In spite of these facts, the President and Secretary Taft felt proud of the fact that the army organization had proved itself able to withstand the sudden strain put upon it, while the enlisted man showed his ability to act at a distance from his commissioned officer with an intelligence and an initiative which would be impossible in the European armies.
As during the days of disaster and terror stricken San Francisco was absolutely under the control of General Funston, a few facts about his career will be appropriate here. Red-headed, red-blooded; a pygmy in stature, a giant in experience; true son of Romany in peace and of Erin in warthe capture of Aguinaldo in the wilds of North Luzon and his control of affairs in San Francisco fairly top off the adventurous career of Frederick Funston, fighter.
General Funston was born in Ohio, but when he was two years old his family moved to Kansas. After passing through the high school he entered the University of Kansas. His father had been a congressman for a number of years. His ambition was to enter West Point, but he failed to pass its examination. He later broke into the newspaper business, but his career in that field was short. In 1900 his father secured him an appointment as botanist in the Department of Agriculture. After a trip to Montana and the Dakotas he was attached to the party which made the first Government survey of Death Valley, the famous California death-trap. Seven months were spent in this work, and Funston is the only man of the party alive and sane today.
In 1891-92 the Government sent him to make a botanic survey of certain parts of the Alaskan coast, and in 1893 he returned to the Arctic and made a similar survey of the Yukon. He. negotiated Chilkoot Pass, then an untrodden pathway. After trying to start a coffee plantation in Central America and to fill a job with the Santa Fe railroad, the torch of the Cuban revolution became a beacon to his adventurous spirit. He joined a filibustering party which the Dauntless landed at Camaguay in August, 1896. He was assigned by Garcia to the artillery arm of the insurgent service.
Twenty- three battles in Cuba was his record with his guns. Once he was captured and sentenced to death, but escaped. Later still a steel-tipped Mauser bullet pierced his lungs. This healed, but the fever struck him down, and compelled his return to the United States. As he was preparing to return to Cuba the Maine was blown up and in his certainty that war with Spain would result he awaited the issue. Governor Leedy, of Kansas, telegraphed for him, and he became Colonel of the Twentieth Kansas. He went with General Miles to Cuba in June, 1898, and sailed with his regiment for Manila in October. Three weeks before he sailed Colonel Funston met Miss Ella Blankhart of Oakland. As impetuous in love as in war he wooed and won her, the marriage taking place the day before the transport sailed.
Of his daring risks and feats in the Philippines and of his capture of Aguinaldo the general public is so familiar as not to need recapitulation here. Of his qualities as a fighting man pure and simple, there can be no two opinions. Says General Harrison G. Otis : “Funston is the greatest daredevil in the army, and would rather fight than eat. I never saw a man who enjoyed fighting so much.” Another friend of his once said that Funston was a sixteenth-century hero, born four hundred years or so too late, who had ever since been seeking to remedy the chronological error of his birth.