Historically Speaking: How Dodge City got its name, maybe

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
Richard Dodge and the origin of Dodge City.

There is a controversy about how Dodge City was named.

Three people with the surname "Dodge" have been part of this argument. The debate about the name "Fort Dodge" involves two men. The third person only figures into the name of our town.

The first "Dodge" was Henry Dodge.

Born in Indiana in 1782, he was a noted veteran in the War of 1812 and of the Blackhawk War in 1823.

A prominent Democrat, President Jackson appointed Henry as the first governor of Wisconsin Territory in 1836.

Later, this Dodge became a congressman from the Territory, and he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1848. Henry Dodge died in 1867. Dodge County Wisconsin and Fort Dodge, Iowa are named after Henry Dodge.

An argument for Henry being the source of Fort Dodge's name stems from 1835 when, on an expedition from Fort Leavenworth to the Rocky Mountains, he camped on the Arkansas River four miles downstream from Dodge City's current location.

This is a strong rationale for the Fort established later in the same area being named in his honor. The prestigious Encyclopedia Britannica states Fort Dodge, Kansas was named after Henry.

Another Dodge who is part of the Fort’s discussion is Grenville who was born in 1831 in Massachusetts. During the Civil War he was a Union officer who rose to the rank of General.

After the Civil War, he was involved in the Indian Wars.

After serving a term as congressman from Iowa, he went on to do the work that made him famous - becoming the Chief Engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad.

In this capacity Grenville played a major role in the completion of the trans-continental railroad and became a wealthy private businessman. He died in 1916.

During the Indian Wars, General James H. Ford, whom Ford County, Kansas is named after, ordered Grenville Dodge to establish a fort on the Santa Fe Trail east of present-day Dodge City. Grenville directed others to carry out this order, but it makes sense the soldiers would christen it Fort Dodge in his honor.

The best evidence for this being the case is a 1910 letter from Grenville himself in which he declares the Fort was named after him by soldiers stationed there.

Ironically, they did not do this in his honor, but in disgust since they were sent to this poor location by Grenville with inadequate provisions.

Bottom line: The Fort was named either after Henry Dodge, who in reality set foot in this area; or after Grenville Dodge, who was never here, but by his own admission states the Fort was named after him in a derogatory way. You decide.

The last Dodge in this controversy is Colonel Richard I. Dodge. Since name Fort Dodge was determined well before he entered the picture, we know he had nothing to do with its designation. But his name may play a part in how Dodge City got its name.

Richard was born in 1827 in North Carolina and spend most of his adult life with the U.S. Army from 1844 until he retired just five years before he died in 1895. Richard was a loyal Union soldier who was born in the South, so he served behind the scenes in the Civil War.

He is most noted for his explorations throughout the west, being famous for naming Devil's Tower, Wyoming which later became a National Monument.

In 1872, Richard was serving as Commandant of Fort Dodge, when the A.T & S.F. Railroad reached the site of today's Dodge City then called "Buffalo City."

Later that year, the newly formed Town Company applied for a U.S. Post Office. There were already other towns in Kansas with the name "Buffalo," so they had to pick another name.

Some argue the new name "Dodge City" arose from its proximity to Fort Dodge. However, Richard Dodge was President and a charter member of the Town Company. Furthermore, fellow Town Company member, Robert M. Wright, later told author, Heinie Schmidt, the town was named in Richard's honor, but Richard insisted if anyone ever ask, tell them the city was named after Fort Dodge.

The question is: Is Dodge City named after the nearby fort, an important citizen with the same last name, or both? Again, you decide.