By Dr. Ferrell Miller
Geary County Historical Society Board Member
“Willie Tarkington – A Buffalo Soldier”
Willie Tarkington was a Buffalo Soldier in the 9th Cavalry. Willie was born in 1907 in Homer, Louisiana. He left home at the age of 15 to join the United States Army. Willie was first sent to a post in Arkansas, before he was assigned to the “F” Troop of the 9th Cavalry at Fort Riley. He stayed at Fort Riley until he retired, except for some overseas duty during WWII.
While stationed at Fort Riley, Willie Tarkington was a blacksmith and veterinarian for the Cavalry. His son remembered that when Willie came back to Fort Riley from having served overseas, Willie decided the Army had changed too much when it went to a mechanized unit with tanks instead of horses. Willie decided to retire from the Army.
Following his official retirement from the Army, Willie and his brother-in-law went into business together. They bought a night club on the corner of 14th and Washington Streets in Junction City called the “49 Club”.
Sgt. Willie Tarkington passed away in 1961 in Junction City. His son, Rockne, remembered his father when he shared thoughts like: “I was proud of my father and the 9th Cavalry and my heritage as the son of a Cavalryman – a Buffalo Soldier, who has the blood of many different cultures mixing through my veins. And when things got tough – during those discouraging times when it seemed that a break would never come – if I could remember my father riding that bucking cavalry horse and coming back to pick up the guidon again, I knew I could succeed if I could just hang on. My heritage has shaped my life.”
A monument dedicated to Buffalo Soldiers is located at 18th and Buffalo Soldier Drive in Junction City. It was completed in 2000 and is near the quarters where the Buffalo Soldiers lived while they were stationed at Fort Riley. The nine foot bronze statue is of a soldier with his horse.
“The Beginning of the Public School System in Davis (Geary) County”
Junction City was incorporated in 1859. Three years later the public school system was established as District No. 1 in July of 1862. The first settlers in the area were from communities where a school was an integral part of everyday life. As soon as they were able to take care of the necessities of life, provisions were made for the education of their children. As early as 1858, select schools were in operation within Davis County, which is now Geary County.
Select schools were actually private schools wherein the parents paid the teacher directly and the teacher usually maintained the school in his or her home. No records exist today of these tuition schools and only scant mention is made of them in newspaper articles of the time. Some of these select schools existed throughout the 1860’s, becoming specialized in areas like spelling schools, singing schools and “finishing” schools for young ladies. During the winter of 1858-1859, three select schools were maintained in the immediate area; one at Bacheller (which was the first name given to Milford, Kansas), one at Junction City and one four miles northwest of town.
To finance Davis County School District No. 1, the first Board of Trustees assessed a tax of one-half of one percent for renting or building a school house, one fourth of one percent for teachers’ wages and one fourth of a percent for supplies and equipment. The school opened on November 17, 1862 with classes held in a rented room upstairs over the Ganz Building that stood on the north side of Sixth Street. The downstairs portion of the building was the jail.
The first building built specifically for education purposes was known as the “school on the hill”, but its location at the intersection of what is now Jackson Street and Walnut Street proved to be too far out from the city. Rural schools also sprang up quickly around Junction City and by 1872 just ten years after the district was established there were 20 rural schools in the county.
Unified School District #475 now has schools in Junction City, Grandview Plaza, Milford and on Fort Riley.