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RICHARDSON, WILDS PRESTON

RICHARDSON, WILDS PRESTON (1861–1929). Wilds Preston Richardson, United States Army officer, was born to Oliver Preston and Hester Foster (Wingo) Richardson in Hunt County, Texas, on March 20, 1861. He apparently attended school in the county, then entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in the summer of 1880. After graduating he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Eighth United States Cavalry, on June 15, 1884. He served in California and at various posts on the western frontier, including Apache territory. Richardson was promoted to lieutenant on December 16, 1889, and returned to West Point as an instructor in 1892. He held this appointment for six years. In August 1897 he reported to Alaska, where he remained, in various military capacities, for the next twenty years. His activities in the territory included selection of sites for and oversight of construction of American military posts. He was appointed president of the Alaska Roads Commission in March 1905 and directed the extensive federal road-construction project there. His most important work in this capacity involved building a 380-mile road from Valdez, on the southern Alaskan coast, northward to Fairbanks, in the interior. In recognition of his efforts the road was named the Richardson Trail by executive order. Richardson's work in Alaska was recommended by a succession of secretaries of war, and he rose through the ranks to captain in 1898, major in 1904, lieutenant colonel in 1911, and colonel in 1914.

American entry into World War I in April 1917 brought Richardson a promotion to the rank of brigadier general on August 5, 1917. He was appointed to the command of the Seventy-eighth Infantry Brigade, Thirty-ninth Division, then at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, in March 1918. With his division he arrived at Brest, France, on September 3, 1918, and participated in some of the closing movements of the war. Because of his experience in extreme weather conditions in Alaska and his general record as a soldier, Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of American forces in Europe, placed him in command of United States troops in the short-lived Allied invasion of northern Russia. At Murmansk he resolved confusion among allied commands.

After the war Richardson returned to the rank of colonel and on October 31, 1920, retired from the army. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on April 14, 1922. Drawing upon his experience, he wrote and published the article "Alaska" in the January 1928 edition of the Atlantic Monthly. This essay, in addition to mildly criticizing the federal government's construction of a little-used railroad into Alaska, called for government incentives to attract settlers to the territory, for increased territorial home rule, and for intensified advertising of Alaska as a tourist and sportsman's attraction. The article generated some discussion, likely due to the author's criticism of the manner in which Alaska had been developed. He wanted to see the territory settled and developed gradually and rationally rather than in a way that would either thoughtlessly exploit its natural resources or prohibit their development. Richardson lived all of his retired life at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C. Besides his membership in this club, he belonged to the Military Order of the Carabao, the Alfalfa Club of Washington, the Lambs of New York City, and the University Clubs of New York City. He died at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., on May 20, 1929, and was buried at West Point.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Dictionary of American Biography. Washington Post, May 21, 1929.

Brian Hart

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Brian Hart, "RICHARDSON, WILDS PRESTON," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fri12), accessed October 31, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.