Frank Tompkins was born in Washington, D.C., the son of a Civil War general who commanded the 1st Vermont Cavalry. His 32 years of service with the U.S. Army included stations in Cuba, the Philippines, Mexico and France. He became well-known for his pursuit of Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa during the Mexican Revolution. Tompkins’ men helped beat back Villa’s 1916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico that kicked off the famous manhunt for Villa known as the Punitive Expedition. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in that conflict.
During World War I, Tompkins commanded Boston’s famous 301st Infantry and was wounded three times during six months’ deployment in France.
Colonel Tompkins was associated with Norwich University for nearly fifty years. He first arrived at Norwich to serve as commandant (then a U.S. Army posting) from 1910 to 1913. He returned from 1917 to 1919, then served his longest stint in the position from 1919 to 1923. A cavalry man himself, Tompkins played a large role in the expansion of Norwich’s cavalry program, established by Commandant Leslie Chapman in 1909. During Tompkins’ tenure as commandant, the university constructed new stables that stand to this day, as well as the Moses Taylor Riding Hall, which later became Taylor Hockey Arena. He also coached the polo team and continued to ride the steed, Kingfisher, who famously saw him through the Mexican War.
After Tompkins retired as commandant, he served on the Board of Trustees for a number of years. In 1934, he published a book on his experience in the Punitive Expedition entitled Chasing Villa. Tompkins Hall was dedicated in his honor in 1952.
The Norwich University Archives is proud to house Frank Tompkins’ personal papers, which can be viewed in our reading room in the Kreitzberg Library.