Editor’s Note

This is the seventh in a 10-part series that began on July 2 and takes a closer look at Richland County’s eight Medal of Honor winners. Coming Sunday: Matthias Day disobeys orders to save two comrades during the Battle of Las Animas Canyon  in 1879 in New Mexico.

This series is supported by Mansfield Cemetery Association.

BELLVILLE — John F. Rowalt was a 19-year-old private in Company L of the 8th U.S. Cavalry Regiment in October 1869, fighting in battles nearly 2,000 miles from his birthplace in Bellville.

Unlike the Civil War that ended three years before Rowalt enlisted in 1868 in Cincinnati, battle records in the so-called Indian Campaigns were not meticulously kept nor maintained.

In fact, of the eight soldiers profiled in this 10-part series, information about Rowalt was the most lacking.

But in a fight on Oct. 14 in Lynx Creek in the Arizona Territory, likely during the Apache Wars, Rowalt distinguished himself, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor for “gallantry in action with Indians,” according to the award’s citation.

8th Cavalry

Gold was discovered in Lynx Creek in May 1863, a find that led to conflicts between miners and their families and Native Americans in the area. 

Lynx Creek became known as the most productive gold-bearing stream in Arizona. 

In 1865, the first permanent settlers arrived in the area, according to “A Short History of Camp Verde, Arizona, to 1890,” written by a historian named Lloyd Pierson.

The U.S. Army Cavalry was tasked with protecting those miners and settlers from the Native Americans, a population of people who were largely simply trying to maintain their way of life in a rapidly-changing world.

Those conflicts quickly grew violent.

(Click above to listen to today’s accompanying podcast. You may also listen to the first six episodes of this podcast series.)

According to historical records, troops including Rowalt’s Company L on Oct. 14 “pursued a band of Indians, pressing them so close as to cause them to abandon all their camp equipment, which was afterwards destroyed.”

It must have been a fierce battle.

Two other privates in Company L — David Goodman from Massachusetts and John Raerick from Cincinnati — also earned Medals of Honor for their bravery that day.

Rowalt received his Medal of Honor on March 3, 1870.

The battle, about 95 miles outside of today’s Phoenix, was typical of the action seen by Rowalt, who served five years in the cavalry.

According to records, more conflicts with Indians occurred in the states bordering Mexico than in the interior states. Arizona ranked highest, with 310 known battles fought within the state’s boundaries between Americans and Indians.

The Apache Wars were conflicts that occurred between 1861 and 1886 in the territories of Arizona and New Mexico.

Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache chief, led many of these battles against the U.S. Army, alongside his father-in-law, Mangas Coloradas, who was captured in 1863, and later executed.

The Native Americans first fought against Spanish armies from the south and then the U.S. as Americans spread westward across the country. There were cycles of trading, fighting and treaties and then broken treaties that began the cycle again.

Arizona ranked highest of the states in deaths from the wars. At least 4,340 people were killed, including both the settlers and the Indians, more than twice as many as occurred in Texas, the second highest-ranking state.

Most of the deaths in Arizona were caused by the Apaches. More than half  of the battles took place in Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico between 1850 and 1890, accounting for 37 percent of the casualties in the country west of the Mississippi River.

The Eighth Cavalry, organized in 1866, was one of four cavalry regiments by which the military peace establishment was increased under an Act of Congress on July 28 of that year.

Rowalt was discharged on May 11, 1873, at Fort Union, N.M., and returned to Cincinnati.

John Rowalt

He died on Nov. 7, 1875, at the age of 25. The cause of death was not reported, though cholera was rampant in Cincinnati at the time.

He is buried in the Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Ky., just a few miles south of Cincinnati.

(Coming Sunday: 2nd Lt. Matthias Day, a Mansfield native, risked his own life to save two wounded soldiers in his command.)

Previously in this series:

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *