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There is a sense that this "Examiner" story is not quite accurate, but two of the soldiers involved were awarded the Army's Certificates of Merit, and senior officers vouched for their actions.

Privates Demonstrate That it Doesn't Take Straps to Make Brains.

There isn't any Kipling to chronicle the adventures of these "Soldiers Three," but the irrepressible Mulvaney, Private Stanley Ortheris and Learoyd never had an adventure to compare with what befell their American prototypes, McGurty, Ziegler and Johnson of Company E, Twenty-second United States Infantry, during the San Francisco fire.

This trio of regulars, "recruited from God knows where," proved the ability of the American soldier to think and act for himself without any Congress-made officer to bawl drill regulations. It also disproved the the allegation recently made by a Cabinet officer that "service in the army disqualifies men for using their brains in emergencies."

This is what happened to the three: Separated from their command while trying to save fire apparatus.


This is what they did: Organized a relief expedition of their own. Formed wagon trains by pressing vehicles into service with no other badge of authority than a rifle made by Jorgensen and Krag, and transported supplies for refugees at North Beach. Built two villages, one for 1,500 people and another of tents for 500 people.

McGurty took charge of operations—his name tells why—and with his mates showed the people how to put up army tents. Like Tom Sawyer and his white-washing, those three soldiers made the refugees think that putting up tents was fun, and the white city went up as easily as an army corps going into camp.

"We didn't have no authority," says McGurty, "but something had to be done, and it seemed to be up to us. Of course, we wouldn't have shoot anybody, but we had our Krags and 120 rounds of ammunition each, and our [two words missing].

"One Italian I tried to make work complained that he was sick and had nothing to eat. I went to his shack and found that he had a pile of stuff which he had looted. He went to work.

"Sometimes we handled our rifles and bayonets just to make our bluff hold water, but there were many good men working with us who backed us up in everything we did and kept the crowd going our way.

About the 22nd Colonel [Lea] Febiger found us while he was on a tour of inspection. We showed him what we were doing, and he told us to go ahead.

"He got us an order from the Mayor assigning me in charge of a food supply station at Bay and Montgomery streets [now Bay and Columbus Ave. near Fishermen's Wharf] and giving me a pass to and from the Folsom-street supply station.

"We held the job down ten days, and besides feeding the people of the neighborhood, we issued 2,000 pairs of blankets, 1,500 pairs of men's shoes, 2,500 pairs of women's and children's shoes.

"In one place we found a bunch of Chinamen in the top of a cannery with a lot of choice provisions.

"I picked out a big chink and asked him if he wanted to work. 'No,' he said; 'me slick.' I made a pass with my gun and cured him.

"There was piled in the neighborhood at this time 4,000 cases of champagne and about fifty barrels of red wine. How did I know it was red? Just smelled it. These were claimed by private persons, but we would not allow them to break them open or carry any away.


"All this time we were absent from the company and our Captain thought we had deserted, but Colonel Febiger fixed it up for us. We were finally relieved by a Red Cross man, and we hunted up our company, and reported for duty."

Colonel Febiger applied to Major-General Greely for these men and they were detailed on special duty around his headquarters.

Privates Frank P. McGurty, William Ziegler and Henry Johnson have all heard the bullets singing about their ears, and they know the bolo-rush of the fanatical Moro. The Twenty-second Infantry saw hard service with the third Sulu expedition of General Wood, during which several engagements were fought in a march of 150 miles, twenty-eight datos or native chiefs captured and 141 rifles.

In the campaign of the allied forces before Pekin foreign critics commented freely upon the apparent lack of discipline and the "devil-may-care" of the American soldiers.

The military power of the United States lies in the fact that the American regular soldier can be a machine when a machine is needed, but when a command is so separated that each man acts on his own iniitiative Mr. Private Soldier uses his brains as well as his eyes, whether his name be McGurty, Ziegler or Johnson, or any other American sounding name.

San Francisco Examiner
June 10, 1906
Return to the 1906 Earthquake Exhibit.

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