Remembering a hero

2013-05-27T06:00:00Z 2013-09-17T15:41:36Z Remembering a heroBy PAT KINNEY, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

FREDERICKSBURG, Iowa --- For decades, a military hero's remains rested in a forgotten, unmarked grave in Rose Hill Cemetery.

That's about to change.

A U.S. Army cavalryman who fought alongside William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and received the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars will have a marker formally installed on his grave here June 22.

LeRoy H. Vokes was a first sergeant with the 3rd U.S. Cavalry. He was one of four individuals, including Scott County native Cody, who received the nation's highest military honor for leading a counterattack against a raiding party of Minneconjou Sioux near Loupe Fork of the Platte River in Nebraska on April 26, 1872.

Vokes, a career soldier, died in Washington, D.C., in 1924 and was buried in the family plot in Fredericksburg. There is no indication the grave was ever marked. Records and recollections of his final resting place were lost over time until local genealogist Jeanette Kottke said she received an information request from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Kottke, who has researched genealogy for many families in Fredericksburg and Chickasaw County, found a 1924 New Hampton Tribune newspaper article on Vokes' burial. That led Kottke to the family plot, where cemetery superintendent Wes Isenhower determined a casket-sized depression in the ground was Vokes' final resting place.

"There was an indentation of about a foot where he was buried," Kottke said. "Apparently there was no marker at all," because no records showed up in a cemetery survey conducted by the federal Works Progress Administration in the 1930s not long after his death. He is buried near his mother, Eliza Vokes, and at the feet of his sister, Alice Ellsworth.

Paula Ellsworth of Iowa City, a grandniece of Leroy Vokes, credited Kottke's diligence in discovering the unmarked grave.

"My family did not know of his award or that he was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery," Ellsworth said. "It was such a wonderful surprise, and such a wonderful honor for LeRoy to receive this award after all this time."

Kottke said that, according to her research, Vokes was born in Illinois in 1849 but his family moved to Iowa in 1854. He enlisted in the Army in 1868. An older brother, Calvin, had served in the Union Army and died during the Civil War.

According to online accounts, including one in the Military Times, a Minneconjou party raided McPherson Station, Neb., on the Union Pacific Railroad, near Fort McPherson where Vokes was serving, on April 26, 1872, killing two or three soldiers and stealing a large number of horses. Cody, a civilian scout serving with the cavalry, guided a cavalry detachment after the raiding party. Cody and six soldiers, including Vokes, scouted out the Minneconjou emplacement and attacked despite being outnumbered, killing six of the 13 Minneconjou, with the rest put to flight by a cavalry relief force drawn to the scene by the sound of the battle.

According to some accounts, Vokes was wounded in the battle.

Cody, Vokes and cavalrymen Pvt. William Strayer and Irish-born Sgt. John H. Foley were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions.

Cody is buried atop Lookout Mountain park near Golden, Colo. Foley is buried at Benicia Arsenal Post Cemetery in California. No records of Strayer have been found.

According to information Kottke, Vokes was discharged from the military at Fort Snelling, Minn., in 1890, after which he took nurse's training and worked 25 years as a nurse in Rochester, Minn. He lived there though the 1920s, eventually moving to the Washington, D.C., Soldiers Home and Hospital where he died.

Vokes' marker will be installed in a 10 a.m. military ceremony June 22 at the cemetery. Program details are still being finalized.

Copyright 2015 Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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