Old Beresford shed reveals WWI history
By Peter Harriman
The Argus Leader
BERESFORD (AP) — This started as a tale about a rare World War I era photo found in a Beresford shed, and it will get there eventually.
But in the same way Camille Gregory discovered a valuable relic in a jumbled mess of copper pipe and nameless junk, discovering Camille Gregory is a surprise that outshines an old photo. The woman can tell a story.
She and her husband, Robert, found the picture while prowling through a decrepit shed in the backyard of a property they bought. He’s a disabled Navy veteran with a chronic back injury.
But in 1986, he was a 16-year-old kid who had run away from home in western Nebraska and rode his bike to Cheyenne, Wyo. There he met a girl who was on a road trip of her own. He told her he was from France and was biking around the country. She asked whether he wanted to see it by car.
“They sold the bike for gas money” and headed for the girl’s home in South Dakota, Gregory says.
One day that same October, a Beresford teen was directed by her father to fill up his car. Before heading to the Casey’s, she got dolled up “because you never know who you’re going to meet” and cruised town. Not much was going on, so she went to the gas station, where she saw her “gypsy” friend driving past accompanied by a boy.
“Did you ever have one of those slowmotion moments?” Gregory asks. “I saw this guy in the passenger seat whip his head around so hard I thought he was going to fly into the back seat. I knew he was looking at me. It was all in slow motion.”
She hid out in the women’s restroom for a bit but eventually came out to greet her friend and the boy who was leaning against the car with his feet crossed at the ankles. “He looked over his sunglasses and said ‘Well, hello.’
“Dude, that was it. I knew I was going to marry him.”
Several years later, she did.
Before Gregory persuaded her future husband to return to Nebraska and finish high school in 1986, his parents had sold a 1965 Chevrolet Impala he had recently bought and planned to restore. At the same time in Stickney, someone bought a 1965 Impala planning to restore it. But with one thing and another, the car spent 21 years in a barn until the owner died and the Impala was sold at an estate auction to a man from Mitchell, where Gregory came across it.
“I couldn’t afford it,” she says. “But finally I decided that was the one.” She bought the car for her husband.
He drove it from Mitchell to Spencer before it overheated.
“I was in the truck following,” she says. “I was just crying, ‘Oh God, thank you.’ He finally got to drive his ’65.”
Clearly, fate is at work in her life. So when she and her husband earlier this year tore into a backyard shed so dilapidated it almost requires an act of faith to enter it, why would he not find a long glass and wood frame leaning against a wall?
Upon wiping off a thick coating of dust, why would she not discover the frame held a black-and-white photo commissioned by the U.S. Army in 1917 and showing the earliest days of Camp Funston at the Army’s Fort Riley, Kan.? Why would the aged photo not survive probably decades in a Beresford shed exposed to South Dakota’s summer heat and winter cold?
“Things like this occasionally happen. We find some of the most interesting and priceless things in history in some of the most unusual places,” says Robert J. Smith, director of museums at Fort Riley.
Gregory had contacted Smith about the photo and sent him a picture of it she had taken. He was able to determine it is the earliest existing photo of the camp. It shows troops lined up in formation surrounded by a tent city.
“With these old photos, we can actually follow the progression of the fort from different photos taken in different periods. It is almost like time-lapse photography,” Smith says.
Camp Funston, named for Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston, was one of 14 major camps built by the U.S. at the start of World War I as the Army grew rapidly from about 100,000 soldiers to 4 million. About 50,000 troops trained at Camp Funston, according to Smith. The camp also was a detention facility for conscientious objectors, including Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites who accepted being drafted into the military but cited religious objections in saying they wouldn’t fight.
Gregory suggests a Hutterite man from South Dakota who spent the war at Camp Funston took the photo from a wall in the camp and brought it home with him as a souvenir.
“That’s my best guess also,” Smith says. “Things were liberated. Camp Funston at the end of the war was dismantled rather quickly. A lot of the buildings were sold to area farmers.”
AP photo/The Argus Leader
In this Sept. 25 photo, Camille Gregory, of Beresford, shows off a military photo she and her husband, Bob Gregory, found in a shed they purchased that was taken around March or April 1917 and is the oldest known photograph of Camp Funston, a WWI training came near Manhattan, Kan.