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His Fort Ended Up the “Queen of Cow Towns”

This issue’s city is Dodge City, Kansas and is named for Grenville Dodge one of the main builders of the Union Pacific Railroad after the Civil War. It is located about 100 miles west of Wichita, Kansas on US 50 and the Arkansas River.

Dodge was born in Danvers, Massachusetts and graduated from Captain Alden Partridge’s Norwich University (in Northfield, Vermont) in 1851. He moved west to Council Bluffs, Iowa surveying for several railroads including the Union Pacific. Working with Peter Dey, he surveyed a railroad line across Iowa for the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad. He then, using inputs from Mormons, trappers and explorers, mapped out a route through Utah to California and Oregon for Thomas C. Durant of the Union Pacific Railroad.

At the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the Union Army and was appointed Col. of the 4th Iowa Volunteer Infantry based upon his military training at Norwich and the fact that he had helped organize a militia company in Council Bluffs. He was head of the Bureau of Military Intelligence for General Grant in the time leading up to his victory at Vicksburg. He fought with General Sherman in the battle for Chattanooga; and, the next spring he went with Sherman when he set off to capture Atlanta and commanded the XVI Corps. After being wounded outside of Atlanta, he was promoted to Brigadier-General was made commander of the Department of the Missouri under Gen. Rosecrans where he set up another intelligence group to spy on the confederates in Missouri and Kansas. As Commander of the Department of Missouri, he fought in the Indian Wars, and while in Wyoming, discovered a pass for the Union Pacific to pass. 

 Brig. Gen. Greenville Dodge
Brig. Gen. Grenville Dodge

After the war, he was promoted to Major General and resigned from the Army in May 1866 and became Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific working again with Durant. He was also elected to the House of Representatives in 1866; but, his work on the railroad prevented him from attending much of the time and he chose not to run in the 1869 election. He completed the Union Pacific and participated in the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point in 1869. Dodge is the man on the right shaking hands with his counterpart from the Central Pacific in one of the most well-known images in American history.

 Recorded picture for the meeting of the First Transcontinental Railroad
 A. J. Russell’s famous picture recording the meeting
of the First Transcontinental Railroad

He had recommended that the Army build another fort for better protection against the Indians. It was established in 1859 on the famous Santa Fe Trail and a city that built up around it was named Dodge City after Dodge. In 1872, the city was moved to the Arkansas River and when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad entered the town it boomed and became the Queen of the Cow Towns. Wyatt Earp was sheriff between 1876 and 1879 before moving to Tombstone and his famous “Gun Fight at the OK Corral.” The phrase, “get the hell out of Dodge” was used in the TV show Gunsmoke which purportedly took place in Dodge City with Matt Dillon, Chester, Kitty and Doc as the lead characters.

In 1910 he wrote about his work in How We Built the Union Pacific Railroad and Other Railway Papers and Addresses published for the 61st Congress, 2nd Session, Document No. 44. He worked on the Texas and Pacific Railroad, Denver and Fort Worth, and the Denver, Texas and Gulf Railroads and others in the Southwest, Mexico and Cuba, after which he retired to Council Bluffs and died in 1916.

In addition to a city named for him, the I-480 Bridge across the Missouri River between Council Bluffs and Omaha is named for him, as is a building at Norwich University.