Pick and Sledge

Curious Stories from the American West

100 Years Ago Today: Hugo Frey’s Odyssey

Fort Collins Courier, March 5, 1919
Hugo Frey in Navy uniform
From his memoir, Hugo’s Odyssey

Meg Dunn, who writes at the excellent history website, Northern Colorado History, has an in-depth article on Hugo Frey here, so I’ll just cover some highlights of his life, but definitely check out her writing, especially her five-part series on the rise of the KKK in Colorado in the 1920s.

Hugo Evon Frey’s story takes place over three distinct chapters: South Sea Navy Adventures, Colorado Public Figure, and California Newsman. He writes extensively about his time in the Navy in his memoir, Hugo’s Odyssey, a nod to the Homeric epic, which he published in 1942.

South Sea Navy Adventures

He joined the Navy during Teddy Roosevelt’s term in office (1901-1909), when the president was building the country’s naval force under the motto, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Frey was a Chief Quartermaster in Aviation, if I’m reading his rating correctly: Chf. Q. M. Av.

Frey was stationed in Pago Pago, Samoa for several of the most formative years of his life. He regularly interacted with people he’d never have seen in Fort Collins, such as cannibals, native tribal leaders, and publicly nude people. But above all, he had adventures that would supply him with a lifetime of stories, like swimming races, haunted caves, an octopus attack, and learning the language of the Samoan people.

Hugo Frey in Samoa
From Hugo’s Odyssey

Frey later gave public talks to the people of Fort Collins about his time in Samoa, according to articles written 10 or so years after his service. During U.S. involvement in WWI (1917-1918), he urged his audiences to enlist in the Navy as soon as the country was enrolling again. This was advice he’d take up himself in a few months, with unforeseen consequences.

Colorado Public Figure

After returning to the states, Hugo Frey moved back to Fort Collins where he held several positions in the public sphere, notably as a Justice of the Peace and as a Judge. Despite his formal position, Frey was not above taking justice into his own hands, literally, when he reportedly punched a man who defamed and spit on the flag.

Block image
Weekly Courier, June 30, 1916

Frey was also a curious businessman who heard about the burgeoning industry of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals like Grape Nuts, Shredded Wheat, and Corn Flakes, and the rise of cereal manufacturing companies like Post, Kellogg’s, and Quaker Oats. His idea was to use alfalfa, a grain introduced to Colorado by John Brisben Walker, as the primary ingredient in his cereal. The idea never quite panned out, perhaps because alfalfa is only delicious to rabbits and cows.

On September 18, 1918, at age 35, Frey enlisted in the WWI draft. He could not have known that the war would be over in less than two months, which makes what happened next that much more devastating. He was soon sent to the Naval Station Great Lakes in northern Illinois, which trained 125,000 sailors during the Great War, including the famous composer and band leader, Lt. John Philip Sousa. After arriving at the Navy’s only boot camp, Frey received vaccinations that would leave him “invalid” for almost two years.

Great Lakes Bldg 1.jpg
Building 1 at Naval Station Great Lakes

However, by 1920, despite having been “at the point of death for many months,” Hugo Frey was on the road to recovery. He was also on the road to California (shout out to my OC heads), where he would receive further treatment for his illness.

California Newsman

Frey, along with his wife Ada and their two kids, lived out the rest of his life in Long Beach, California, where Frey wrote for the local paper, the Long Beach Telegram.

He wrote his memoir, Hugo’s Odyssey, in 1942, perhaps in another effort to help boost support for Naval enlistment in WWII, or maybe because he just wanted to share his adventures in Samoa with the world. Hugo Frey died in 1962 in California at the age of 78.

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