Fort Dodge and Fort Larned share the distinction of having had a Medal of Honor recipient live in its barracks.
The Army completed the "new" barracks in 1867 or 1868. Before then, soldiers lived in sod dugouts or tents along the Arkansas River. Each fireplace heated dugout held three or four men who slept on bunks carved out of earth.
Stone construction began at the Fort began in 1866 when the Army quarried limestone several miles from the post near the Hodgeman County line. Much to the chagrin of the enlisted, Quartermaster Lt. Gustav A. Hesselberger prioritized the completion of storehouses ahead of housing.
Two of improved barracks were limestone and a third was adobe. Each dormitory had 22 double-tiered bunks which slept four soldiers apiece - two on the upper and two on the lower all sleeping head to toe - providing bedding for 88 men in each dorm. Part of the time, one of these men was 21-year old Corporal Leander Herron.
Herron was born in Pennsylvania in 1846. At the beginning of the Civil War, the Union Army rejected him because he was only 14. At the age of 17 at 5'1" and 100 pounds, he joined the Pennsylvania Infantry. He appears in a famous photograph with Generals Grant and Meade taken at Massaponnax Church, Virginia in 1864. At the end of the War, he mustered out, joined Company A of the 3rd Infantry and was stationed at Fort Larned.
Herron split his duties between Forts Dodge and Larned as a courier linking the two outposts. On the evening of Sept. 1, 1868, Herron left Fort Larned with mail bound for Fort Dodge. During his travels, he passed a group of four soldiers from Fort Dodge gathering wood. The next morning during his return trip with Corporal Patrick Boyle of the 7th Cavalry, things got ugly. Twelve miles east of Fort Dodge at a crossing of Coon Creek south of today's Spearville they heard gunfire. Indians were attacking the wood gathering party.
Pistols drawn, Herron and Boyle rode straight through the attackers to reach the four-man detail. Herron took charge as the six men fought 50 Indians from behind a wagon. Herron sent Boyle back to Fort Dodge for reinforcements as the remaining men faced assaults throughout the night. Ammunition got low and all men except Herron were wounded, before Boyle returned with reinforcements. The Indians fled and all men were saved.
It wasn't until 1919 - 51 years later - Leander Herron was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day and night. Having settled in Nebraska after his discharge in 1870, Herron was the first Nebraskan to receive this high honor. Leander Herron died on April 5, 1937 and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in St. Paul, Neb.
But part of him lives on in a 1930's voice recording he made recounting his actions which earned him the Medal of Honor. This was done for a radio series hosted by World War I flyer Eddie Rickenbacker. His family has recently presented Fort Larned with this recording.
The memory of the Fort Dodge quartermaster, Gustav A. Hesselberger, lives on as well as his name is carved above the entry of the two stone barracks. In the 1930's, the WPA tore down the adobe structure and joined the stone barracks with a center addition.