William Croft Barnes – Sergeant, United States Army

Born at San Francisco, California, June 21, 1858, he earned the Medal of Honor while serving in the Signal Corps at Fort Apache, Arizona, on September 11, 1881 during the Indian Wars.

He also wrote “The Apache’s Last Stand In Arizona,” and “The Battle of Big Dry Wash.”

He died on December 17, 1936 and was buried in Section 6 of Arlington National Cemetery.

The Signal Corps played an important role in Arizona’s development, operating thousands of miles of telegraph lines, providing a national weather service, and, in 1886, establishing an unique heliograph network. Notable among these signalmen was Sergeant Will C. Barnes.

Later a prominent Arizonan, cattleman, and author, he first came to Fort Apache in 1879 as a private. During the Indian uprisings in 1881 at Cibecu Creek, he risked his life to climb an outlying mesa and signal the undermanned fort of the return of the main body. Time and again he alone ventured into enemy-infested areas to repair cut telegraph lines and carry dispatches. For his conspicuous gallantry, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Sergeant Barnes adopted the two orphaned sons of the Apache scout Deadshot who was executed for his part in the mutiny at Cibicu. After leaving the Army, Barnes became a cattleman in Holbrook, Arizona, was elected to Arizona’s 18th Territorial Legislative Assembly, and wrote a number of books, including his Reminiscences and Arizona Place Names, which is still the standard reference work today on geographic names.

With the cattle business waning after the turn of the century, Barnes took a position in 1907 with the Forestry Department to develop and preserve grazing lands. In 1928 he worked for the U.S. Geographic Board.

Retiring from government service in 1930, he and his wife Edith Talbot Barnes settled in Phoenix where Barnes died in 1936.

Courtesy of the United States Army Signal Corps

Will Croft Barnes

Between 1873 and 1883, the Signal Corps constructed some eight thousand miles of pole lines connecting seventy-seven frontier weather offices. Located at Army posts in the American West, These stations were interconnected by military and commercial lines to each other and to the office of the Chief Signal Officer in Washington, D.C.

Among the three distinct Signal Corps telegraph systems that were to play an outstanding role in the Indian Wars and final expansion of the continental United States to its Pacific border, was the twenty-nine station line that connected isolated posts such as Fort Bliss, Santa Fe, and Fort Apache in the Arizona territory. It was at Fort Apache that first-class Private Will Croft Barnes honored himself and the Signal Corps as a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Barnes’ daily route consisted of using the electric telegraph to dispatch administrative messages, collecting meteorological data in order in order to transmit weather reports to the Signal Office in Washington and repairing his equipment and pole line. The latter task became increasingly frequent, as the Apaches grew restless in 1881. Barnes recollected in his book Apaches and Longhorns that the situation grew tense in 1881 when a medicine man called “Nock-aye-de-Klinny” became predicting the departure of the white man and the Indian’s return to power.

After Nock-aye-de-Klinny convinced the local tribe that he had a magic shirt that protected him from the white man’s bullets, trouble began in earnest. General Carr, Fort Apache’s commander was then ordered to arrest the medicine man. Taking all available troops, about sixty in all, Carr set out to capture the troublemaker on 29 August 1881.

In an attempt to quell the fear of imminent Indian attack among those who remained behind at the fort, Barnes volunteered to climb the two-thousand-foot height of a nearby mesa and use his Signal Flags to alert the post to Indian movements. Fortunately for them all, Barnes was able to report the return of General Carr’s unit, which had completed the mission that resulted in the death of Nock-aye-de-Klinny.

But it was some time before peace was restored at Fort Apache. In a skirmish on 11 September 1881, Will Croft Barnes brought lasting recognition to himself and to the Signal Corps by displaying bravery in action against the Apaches, thereby winning one of the Corps’ Five Medals of Honor.


Rank and organization: Private First Class, Signal Corps, U.S. Army. Place and date: At Fort Apache, Arizona, 11 September 1881. Entered service at: Washington, D.C. Birth: San Francisco, Calif. Date of issue: 8 November 1882. Citation: Bravery in action.


  • United States Army
  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/17/1936


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 09/19/1873
  • DATE OF DEATH: 11/29/1964

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