Many of us moved here without knowing that somewhere in our family history an ancestor or two had lived in this area during the gold rush, or had perhaps visited here a century or more ago.
In my case, a maternal great-grandfather was a freight agent in Grass Valley and later served as secretary of the California Stage Company –– acquired by Wells Fargo in the 1860s.
I knew from family oral history that he had been secretary of an early stage line, but it was only a few years ago, after spotting a mention of his death in San Francisco in an 1882 Grass Valley Union article, that I discovered he had actually lived and worked here.
In the case of Nevada City Councilwoman Reinette Senum, however, she didn’t know as a child, nor even as a young adult, that Major General Frederick Funston was her great-grandfather –– much less that he ever stepped foot in Nevada City. But about 20 years ago, Reinette discovered that her birth name had been Marcella Funston and that Gen. Funston was her maternal great-grandfather.
Eight years ago, scanning local newspaper microfilm at the Doris Foley Library, I noticed that Gen. Funston had vacationed here in 1905, staying at the National Hotel. In fact, he celebrated his 40th birthday at the National –– a private dinner on the evening of September 11, hosted by hotel owner John Rector and Nevada City Mayor Chester W. Chapman.
Frederick Funston –– a scrappy 5-foot 5-inch soldier known as Fearless Freddie –– was a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded for his bravery during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).
He also fought in the Spanish-American War (1898), but not before meeting and marrying Reinette’s great-grandmother, Eda Blankart. It was a whirlwind two-day courtship necessitated by the fact that Funston, then a colonel, was being shipped from the Presidio of San Francisco to the Philippines.
In September 1905, Funston, now a brigadier general and in command of the Presidio, decided to organize a hunting and fishing excursion into the Sierra foothills, arriving in Nevada City on September 10.
The morning after his birthday dinner, the general left on horseback with two local guides and two military aides, headed east with pack mules tethered behind them. He had just completed a tour of several California military bases and was here for an outdoors vacation accompanied by two aides-de-camp, including Lt. Burton Mitchell –– Funston’s first cousin who, like the general, was a native of New Carlisle, Ohio.
Before leaving on his hunting and fishing trip, Funston met with a reporter from the Union and told them, “I am really surprised to see such a pretty city up in the hills,” adding, “I like the looks of Nevada City; it appeals to my fancy.”
Ten days later the Funston party returned to the National Hotel for a night’s sleep, then left the next morning on the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad for San Francisco.
Although Funston’s hunting experience fell short of expectations, he told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, “the fishing was the finest I have ever seen.”
On February 19, 1917, Frederick Funston was sitting in the lobby of the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, listening to an orchestra play “The Blue Danube,” when a young girl, Inez Silverberg from Iowa, walked up and befriended the 51-year-old general.
He lifted her onto his lap, pointed to the orchestra and said, “How beautiful it is,” then collapsed. His death was immediate –– a heart attack.
Reinette Senum’s great-grandfather, Medal of Honor recipient Frederick Funston, is buried at San Francisco National Cemetery, located on the grounds of the Presidio. Her great-grandmother, Eda (1875–1932), is buried next to her husband.
Steve Cottrell is a historian, former city councilman and mayor and a longtime Nevada City resident. He now lives in St. Augustine, Fla. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.