Rough Rider Dick Shanafelt’s United Spanish-American War Veterans Medal is in the Frontier Army Museum’s collection. Frontier Army Museum photo
Megan Hunter/Frontier Army Museum museum specialist
History of Veterans Day
Veterans Day traces its roots back to Armistice Day when on Nov. 11, 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a temporary truce to stop fighting, or “armistice,” was declared between the Allied Nations and Germany during World War I.  Armistice comes from the Latin sistere meaning “to cause to stand or stop,” combined with arma meaning “weapons,” —  together it means a cessation of arms.
Although the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, the date of Nov. 11, 1918 became cemented in the public minds as the date that marked the end of “The Great War.” One year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day, a day which included parades and public gatherings. An act of Congress on May 13, 1938, made Armistice Day a legal federal holiday.
In 1954, veterans’ service organizations lobbied Congress to amend the 1938 act that created Armistice Day as a holiday, and they requested replacing the word “Armistice” with “Veterans.” On June 1, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the change into law. Ever since Nov. 11, 1954, the holiday has been known as “Veterans Day” and honors American veterans who served during war and peacetime. 
Sergeant Richard “Dick” Shanafelt
To celebrate Veterans Day, the Frontier Army Museum at Fort Leavenworth is highlighting one of the artifacts from the museum’s collection to give thanks to veterans who served their country honorably.
One artifact in the museum’s collection is a United Spanish-American War Veterans Medal.
The bottom of the medal consists of a bronze wreath with a cross inside. At the edge of each cross are names of the countries involved with the conflict: “CUBA,” “PORTO RICO,” “USA” and “PHILLIPINE ISLANDS.”
The center ring surrounds an image of two soldiers on either side of a woman kneeling. On the reverse the center ring contains 14 stars with “UNITED” underneath. Above the circle medallion is an anchor, cannon, saber and rifle crossed with one another. The anchor represents the Navy while the other elements represent branches of the Army — artillery, cavalry and infantry.
The United Spanish War Veterans Organization issued this medal to veterans who served in the Spanish–American War and Philippine–American War.  Although separate conflicts, the Spanish-American and the Philippine–American War typically were treated as the same conflict.
The U.S Army fought against Spain during the Spanish-American War from April 21, 1898, to Aug. 13, 1898, a mere 16 weeks. The purpose of the war included securing Cuban Independence from Spain and potential U.S. control in the Caribbean. The United States secured a victory, and President Theodore Roosevelt declared that it had been “a splendid little war.” With the Treaty of Paris, the United States annexed the former Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, Philippines and Guam. Approximately 280,000 U.S. sailors, Marines and soldiers served in the Spanish-American War. The United States suffered 2,061 casualties, with a majority perishing from Yellow Fever.
Soldiers who served in the Spanish–American War, Philippine–American War, and the China Relief Expedition were eligible to receive this medal. As a result, the medal itself is not rare; however, this medal is associated with Pvt. Richard “Dick” Shanafelt of the 1st U. S. Volunteer Cavalry. Shanafelt served during the Spanish-American War from May 5, 1898, to Oct. 5, 1898.
At 19 years old Dick Shanafelt enlisted in the Army in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory. As a private, the Army assigned him to Company D of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. As one of three volunteer regiments raised in 1898 for the Spanish-American War, it was the only one to see combat. The 1st Cavalry consisted of volunteers from various backgrounds including cowboys, hunters, gold miners, Native Americans, college students, police officers and military veterans. All men accepted into the 1st Cavalry needed to be skilled horsemen and ready to see combat. Unfortunately, due to a scarcity of traveling storage, many of the horses and mules were left behind. The men fought as infantry while officers had mounts. The unit arrived on Cuban shores June 23, 1898.
Col. Leonard Wood commanded the regiment at its formation. However, when Wood was promoted, his second in command, Col. Theodore Roosevelt, took command. From then on, the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment would affectionately be known as “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.” The unit is best remembered for its engagement during the Battle of San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898.
One story from the Battle of San Juan Hill of Shanafelt’s actions came from the accounts of William “Billy” McGinty, famed Oklahoma cowboy who served with the 1st Cavalry. McGinty described a time when the regiment charged over the hill but stopped when they reached the trenches. At some point during the charge, 60 men went missing. Those men charged over the hill at night and lost their position. Soon they became stuck between two firing points and were close to the enemy line. After digging a shallow trench with their knives, the men waited until the next day for support. Roosevelt, knowing that the men had little supplies in the sweltering July heat, asked for volunteers to resupply. McGinty volunteered to bring tomatoes and tack to the men. He crawled over the hill and through enemy fire to resupply the stranded troops. A short time later McGinty recounted that “another one of our boys, Dick Shanafelt, came over with a big can of coffee, and as luck would have it, we never got a scratch.” Both McGinty and Shanafelt risked their lives crawling through enemy fire to resupply their fellow cavalrymen.
The 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, along with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported the 10th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers” assault up Kettle Hill. The charge on Kettle Hill received covering fire from three Gatling guns. Roosevelt noted that the sounds of the Gatling guns raised the spirits of the men in his regiment: “There suddenly smote on our ears a peculiar drumming sound. One or two of the men cried out, ‘The Spanish machine guns!’ but, after listening a moment, I leaped to my feet and called, ‘It’s the Gatlings, men! Our Gatlings!’ Immediately the troopers began to cheer lustily, for the sound was most inspiring.”
The charge on Kettle Hill was successful. Days after the Battle of San Juan Hill, the Spanish fleet sailed from Cuba. On Aug. 13, 1898, the Spanish and Americans signed an armistice ending the war. Shanafelt served with his regiment throughout Cuba and returned safely to the United States after the war; however, shortly before returning to the United States, Shanafelt contracted Yellow Fever and spent a year recovering.
After recovering from his bout with Yellow Fever, Shanafelt re-enlisted on May 15, 1900, in Kansas City, Mo., to serve in the Philippine-American War as a sergeant in Company D, 19th Infantry Regiment. This conflict was a result of the United States annexing the Philippines under the Treaty of Paris and not acknowledging the Philippine’s declaration of independence. The Philippine-American War occurred from Feb. 4, 1899, to July 2, 1902, with approximately 125,000 U.S. troops serving in the Philippines. President Theodore Roosevelt declared an end to war in early July 1902, with the United States keeping control of the Philippines.
After serving throughout the conflict, Sgt. Shanafelt was discharged on May 14, 1903, with an excellent rating. After leaving the Army, Shanafelt worked in the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Muskogee, Okla., for 28 years. He passed away in 1967 at the age of 88.
About the Frontier Army Museum
In addition to this medal, the Frontier Army Museum has several other items associated with Shanafelt. Some of the artifacts include military service medals, a P1884 service coat he wore during the Philippine War, an 1897 drill manual containing hand-written notes and a pair of P1889 Cavalry leggings Shanafelt wore as a private charging up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. These artifacts are a physical representation of one soldier’s experience.
Artifacts hold a certain power, the power of storytelling. Artifacts create an emotional connection with the viewer by bringing stories to life. Museums use these physical representations of history to allow visitors to experience an historic event in a more intimate way. Part of the Frontier Army Museum’s mission is to educate soldiers, Department of the Army civilians and others through material culture. Artifacts help people relate to large historic events on a personal level. It is one thing to read about history in a book and another to experience and see firsthand history in a three-dimensional form.
The Frontier Army Museum at Fort Leavenworth holds nearly 6,500 objects in the public trust. These objects represent the story of the U.S. Army on the frontier from the Corps of Discovery Expedition of Capt. Meriwether Lewis and 2nd Lt. William Clark (1804) through the Pancho Villa Expedition (1917). The museum also holds artifacts related to the history of Fort Leavenworth from its establishment in 1827 to modern day.
The Frontier Army Museum at 100 Reynolds Ave., Fort Leavenworth, Kan., is free and open to the public. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 913-684-3186 or visit and


Shop Sephari