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The Hauntings of Fort Riley
Fort Riley, Kansas
Perhaps the most haunted fort of the Old West is Fort Riley, Kansas. The fort, still active today, has been the location of many reported hauntings. There are tales of haunting at the cemetery and in General George A. Custer's house on the parade grounds. The post is so haunted there are annual ghost tours in October.
After the Civil War, Fort Riley troops protected workers on the Kansas Pacific Railroad from Indian attacks. Not only was Custer stationed at the historic base, Wild Bill Hickok served as a scout in 1867. With famous residents like these, it would seem appropriate any self respecting ghost would also naturally desire to move in. And apparently many have.
In 1893, Fort Riley became the location for the Cavalry and Light Artillery School, which continued until 1943, when the Cavalry was disbanded. Fort Riley is also where the famous 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments of all-black soldiers, referred to as Buffalo Soldiers, were stationed. Today, it is the home of the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed the Big Red One.
Some claim to have seen and heard a group of spectral riders galloping across the Cavalry Parade Field complete with voices and jangling spurs. According to reports, people have first felt the vibration of approaching horse hooves and heard sounds of distant thunder before a troop of soldiers appear galloping across the parade grounds. They slow at the intersection where Custer once lived. One rider dismounts while the rest turn and ride away.
The original home where Custer lived burned down long ago, but the house was in the vicinity of this intersection. Some believe the original dwelling stood where Quarters 21 is now located. A similar structure at quarters 24 is now Custer House which also serves as a museum. In any case, the ghostly riders are believed to be an escort for Custer.
The escort in question was one formed in 1867 while Custer was assigned to the fort. While off on a military campaign word reached him a cholera epidemic had hit the fort. His wife, Libby, was there.
Custer immediately turned command of the 7th Cavalry over to the next in command, formed an escort and rushed back. His wife was fine. However, Custer was later court-martialed for abandoning his post.
There is one odd twist to the phantom escort. Some witnesses have claimed to see and hear them simultaneously. But far more report they can see them, or hear them, but not both at the same time.
A sergeant who worked in the Custer House in the 1970's said, he often heard strange noises in the upstairs rooms when it was known no one else was in the building. The noises sounded like someone putting a boot on then stamping his foot on the floor.
He also reported a teddy bear in the children's room which wouldn’t stay put. Though he always placed it on the bed before leaving, the next day would find it moved again, usually atop a rocking horse in the room. Another soldier working at the Custer House said she would often find a bed in an upstairs room that appeared to have been slept in.
And if that isn't enough, the Infantry Parade Field, long ago used as a polo field, has been the scene of quite a shocking encounter for more than a few. Witnesses claim to have seen two polo players hard at play on the field. The two are rumored to become very upset if anyone disturbs their game.
A soldier walking across the field one evening heard faint shouts and cheers. He then saw two figures playing polo and as he watched in dismay, they began galloping toward him. One rider had no face, just a grinning skull yelling, "Leave! Now, while you still can!" Panicking, the soldier immediately fled in terror.
The Bio Medical room at the hospital has had a few strange events also. The fire alarm frequently goes off for no reason. Once, after the alarm had gone off eight times, the fire marshal came and disconnected it. The alarm sounded three more times.
Many other sightings have been reported such as a lone rider who gallops madly across a field in the morning and then vanishes without a trace. And in the old Main Post building, people have often seen the ghostly figure of an old nurse. Ghosts are said to frequent the NCO club as well. An MP reported an unseen force jerked a door he was guarding open…it was locked.
Years ago, soldiers on night duty, told of a man in period clothing who would ride through a stable and then disappear. Years later, while the stable was being repaired, the skeletons of a horse and rider were found in an old ravine nearby.
These are only a few of many haunting tales of Fort Riley. Each year the Fort Riley Historical and Archaeological Society provide a Ghost Tour telling many more tales of this historic post. Books about these many apparitions are available at the Post Museum.