Member of the Regiment biography for
SGT Will Croft Barnes
In its westward expansion, America depended on the 8,000
miles of wire the Signal Corps constructed between 1873 and 1883 to connect 77 frontier
telegraph and weather offices. The Signal Corps was responsible for three telegraph
systems that carried both military and commercial traffic, and which played a key role in
the Indian Wars and final expansion of the continental United States to its Pacific
border. Among these systems was the 29-station line that connected isolated posts such as
Fort Bliss, Santa Fe and Fort Apache in the Arizona Territory. It was at Fort Apache, one
of the most pivotal posts in the military Department of Arizona, that first-class PVT Will
Croft Barnes honored himself and the Signal Corps. PVT Barnes Medal of Honor was not
recommended for any specific event but for his actions during August and September 1881.
In the summer of 1881, Apache medicine man
was stirring up the Indians in the Fort Apache area, including the Armys Indian
scouts. Fort Apaches commander, COL Eugene Carr, was ordered to arrest the medicine
man Aug. 15, the same day the telegraph line between Fort Apache and Camp Thomas some 90
miles away went down (it remained down until early September). Fort Apache was cut off
from outside wire communication. The fort was further isolated when heavy rains and
floodwaters hit the area, preventing arrival of reinforcements.
COL Carr set out Aug. 29 with 117 men to capture
Nock-aye-Klinny, who was at an Indian village on Cibeque Creek some 45 miles northwest of
the post. Less than 70 soldiers, along with a number of civilians, were left at Fort
Apache. Shortly after COL Carrs departure, nearby Indians began to ride toward his
trail. MAJ Melville Cochran, Fort Apaches acting commander, warned COL Carr about
the Indians and began preparing the post for an attack.
Rumors played havoc at Fort Apache. Word came the evening
of Aug. 29 that Indians had killed COL Carrs entire command. MAJ Cochran sent
couriers to warn Camp Thomas and a nearby ranch, then dispatched another courier to the
Black River to bring in two soldiers working on the ferry on the road to Camp Thomas.
Indians killed the ferrymen and the soldier sent to alert them. On the morning of Aug. 31,
MAJ Cochran heard from the post trader that five of COL Carrs officers and most of
his men were dead. MAJ Cochran sent a second message to Camp Thomas for reinforcements.
Camp Thomas never received that dispatch. Thomas Owens, a civilian mail carrier who had
volunteered for the mission, traveled only a few miles from Fort Apache before Indians
Their relief attempts thwarted, their telegraph still
down, and their uncertainty over what really happened to COL Carr sent a wave of
apprehension throughout Fort Apache. Anxiety was heightened by the fact it was impossible
to see more than a mile westward. The Indians or COL Carr, if still alive, might approach
from that direction.
PVT Barnes volunteered to go alone to a mesa which stood
some 2,000 feet high about a mile to the north of the fort. The mesa would serve as a
"tower" from which PVT Barnes could signal. In spite of the proximity of four or
five Apaches "with no friendly intent," PVT Barnes held his position. Then off
to the west he saw a cloud of dust; it turned out to be COL Carrs advance guard. A
half-mile behind the guard PVT Barnes saw some 50 cavalrymen. He signaled the good news to
As matters turned out, COL Carr had arrested
Nock-aye-Klinny at Cibeque. In a rescue attempt, the Indians who had followed COL
Carrs trail attacked the party, and the Indian scouts mutinied. Nock-aye-Klinny was
killed, as well as four soldiers.
The following week tensions continued. PVT Barnes and SGT
John Smith were guarding a cemetery detail Sept. 1 a half-mile away from the fort when
Indians began firing at them. About the same time Indians attacked the post. PVT Barnes
and SGT Smith returned fire. PVT Barnes also went out Sept. 8-9 with an armed escort to
repair the telegraph line.
To COL Carr MAJ Cochran applauded PVT Barnes conduct
"during all the trouble," adding "he was prompt and unhesitating in the
discharge of all duties assigned him, more than once being exposed to great danger."
COL Carr endorsed 12 officers and enlisted men for the Medal of Honor, singling out PVT
Barnes for his actions during the Indian attack on Fort Apache Sept. 1 and for his
"good conduct and attention to duty" during the "trying period" Aug.
GEN William Sherman, the Armys commanding general
and the acting secretary of war, approved the Medal of Honor Nov. 8, 1882, for PVT Barnes
and the others (an investigation into the Battle of Cibeque delayed action on COL
Carrs recommendations). In spring 1883, Barnes -- by then a sergeant -- received the
medal in a retreat ceremony at Fort Apache.
SGT Barnes remained at Fort Apache until he received a
medical discharge Sept. 15, 1883. In his post-Army years Barnes was a rancher, legislator,
forester, preservationist and a noted and copious writer. He died in Phoenix, Ariz., Dec.
17, 1936, and his ashes were interred at Arlington National Cemetery in 1937. The Signal
Regiment inducted him as a Distinguished Member of the Regiment in 1998.
Barnes as a private, circa 1879.