• Riley was last military governor of California

  • Riley Avenue is a semi-anonymous location on post.

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  • Quentin Schillare | Special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp
    Fort Leavenworth has several street names that appear only on maps or in small print on building identification signs, but no street signs. Riley Avenue is one of these semi-anonymous locations.
    Riley Avenue is the road that connects McPherson Avenue with the post transportation motor pool. This anonymity is interesting for two reasons — it is the only named street of several in the low ground on the north side of main post generally called the warehouse area, and it is named for an important Army officer who served in the first half of the 19th century but is little remembered today, Maj. Gen. Bennet C. Riley.
    Born in St. Mary’s County, Md., in 1790 (some sources say 1787), Riley was appointed an ensign rifleman from Maryland in January 1812. He later was commissioned as a third lieutenant (yes, the U.S. Army once had such a rank) in 1813 and then a second lieutenant in 1814. He received a regular Army commission and fought in what is today South Dakota as a captain in the 6th Infantry against the Arikara Indians in 1823 in a force commanded by Lt. Col. Henry Leavenworth. This battle was the first against native peoples by the U.S. Army west of the Missouri River.
    He stopped at Cantonment Leavenworth in 1829 on his way west and served at the post 1829-30 and 1832-34. Capt. Riley was the second commander of the post, 1829-30. During his time on post, Riley led the first military escort of a wagon train from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe in 1829. Santa Fe was then a part of the Republic of Mexico. Riley was appointed lieutenant colonel (the executive officer in today’s parlance) of the 2nd Infantry in 1839 and fought with them against the Seminoles in Florida the next year.
    He was a brigade commander in the Mexican War and later the last U.S. military governor of the California Territory, 1849-50. This was during the California Gold Rush and proved to be a very challenging time to try and maintain order and keep soldiers from deserting to try their luck in the gold fields. In California, he favored civilian rule instead of military occupation. He called the constitutional convention that led to California’s admission to the Union as the 31st state in September 1850.
    In 1850, Riley was appointed colonel of the 1st Infantry but was too ill to assume the command. Brevet Maj. Gen. Riley died in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1853. A son graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1855 and “joined the rebellion against the United States.”
    Camp Center near Junction City, Kan., was renamed Fort Riley in his honor. He is also the namesake for Riley County, Kan.
    Page 2 of 2 - The warehouse area in the low ground west of Riley Avenue is a complex of seven buildings constructed in the first decade of the 20th century to support the post quartermaster when that meant rations, supply, field services, transportation, and non-tactical construction. The most noticeable are the three buildings near McPherson Avenue, all constructed to Quartermaster General standard plans provided by the War Department.
    The earliest was building 238 a single-story brick building constructed in 1902 as a granary, a use seldom thought of today but very important to an Army that used animals as motive power. The other two, building 303 (1908) is a three-story structure with a limestone foundation and building 304 (1909), two-story brick, served as quartermaster shops and storage.
    The other buildings in the complex were constructed of wood or sheet metal over wood frames and were used for storage, including buildings 241 and 242 identified in post records as hay sheds.
    After 1908, all the buildings in the Riley and McPherson warehouse area were serviced by the Fort Leavenworth Terminal Railroad — a fact suggested by the loading docks that are railcar floor height, doors spaced to serve several boxcars at once and verified by photos in the Frontier Army Museum collection. The rail line that serviced these warehouses ended at the coal dump to the south of McPherson Avenue in the area now occupied by the new Regional Simulation Center. Long forgotten today, coal was the primary energy source in the early 20th century.
    Today, the buildings are occupied by elements of the Directorate of Public Works, the Logistics Readiness Center, and the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, as well as a few other organizations. With the exception of absence of fodder for animals, it still serves the supply, maintenance and storage functions it did more than 100 years ago.
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