THE GHOSTS OF FORT RILEY
Ghost stories from old military sites have always been plentiful, especially in the Old West. The lingering spirits range from victims of disease to murdered soldiers to suicides to pioneers who mysteriously vanished without a trace. They have all become a part of the lore of the frontier forts......
From THE HAUNTING OF AMERICA
According to some, Fort Riley, Kansas is one of the most haunted of our old military installations. This fort, and others like it, were once located on the edge of the wild plains of the west and were the last refuge for many travelers and settlers heading out into the wilderness. They were also staging areas for the Army's bitter campaign against the American Indians, leading to tragedy and death. Because of this, these forts, still in use today have become well known as places where the dead do not rest easily.
These stories all take place around Fort Riley, a historic place in its own right and a post that once served as home to General George Armstrong Custer. Custer and his wife, Libby, resided at the fort with the Seventh Cavalry Regiment between 1866 and 1867. I suppose that it is no surprise to hear that Custer's ghost has been spotted at the fort and at his former residence on Sheridan Avenue.
There has been some confusion as to where exactly Custer lived while stationed at Fort Riley but Quarters 24 had been renovated and named the "Custer House". It stands today as a museum to life at the fort in the late 1860's. Ghost stories and strange tales abound at the house, whether because of Custer or because of the history of the house is unknown.
The building is a limestone structure and one of only four buildings that remain from the 1850's. It was used for over 120 years, until the 1970's, when it was turned into the museum. The stories have been a part of the house, and of the fort itself, since at least 1855. It was in this year that the first cholera epidemic hit the fort and claimed many lives.
According to the legends, not all of the victims of the horrible disease chose to rest in peace and have wandered the grounds of the fort ever since.
Another famous ghost of the fort is one whose source can also be traced back to the 1860's. It seems that a woman who was living in Quarters 124 at that time drowned herself in a well on the fort grounds. Her body was buried in an open pasture behind the house and that pasture is now someone's back yard.
About 70 years later, another woman living in the Quarters began reporting horrible noises in her house at night. She described them as being unbearably loud and sounding as though someone was dragging a wooden box up and down the stairs with chains. The sounds continued night after night and finally a priest was called in to do an exorcism. The ceremony was apparently successful for awhile, but years later, the ghost returned to wreak havoc again. The stories continued to be told for some time, but she apparently has not been heard in some time now.
Another haunted place on the grounds of the fort is said to be the Lower Parade Ground. Those who have gone there early in the morning claim to have seen a lone rider who gallops madly across the field and then disappears. There is no clue as to who the man might be but he has been seen there for many years.
Many years ago, when the cavalry still used horses, soldiers patrolled the pasture lands around the fort buildings. It was said that one of the shacks was haunted by a ghost who was often heard there, but never seen. Soldiers who bunked there for the night would hear the outside door open and would hear an invisible presence come inside. When they would go to check on the sounds, they would discover there was no one else present.
Another horse-related story involves the No. 1 Stable, where soldiers on night duty would report seeing a man in old-fashioned clothing ride through the stable and then disappear. Years later, when work was being done to the stable, the skeletons of horse and rider were found in an old ravine. Could this have been the man who had been seen riding there?
Fort Riley is located in the central region of Kansas, just outside of the town of Manhattan.
Copyright 1998 by Troy Taylor
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