May 19, 2014

Pvt. James F. Ayers

Awarded for actions during the Indian Campaigns

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private James F. Ayers, United States Army, for rapid pursuit, gallantry, energy, and enterprise in an engagement with Indians on 23 April 1875, while serving with Company H, 6th U.S. Cavalry, in action at Sappa Creek, Kansas.

General Orders: Date of Issue: November 16, 1876

Action Date: April 23, 1875

Service: Army

Rank: Private

Company: Company H

Division: 6th U.S. Cavalry

James F. Ayers is thought to have been born c1849 in OH.  He married Matilda R. Shiller on Apr. 28, 1883 at Junction City in Geary Co., KS.*

In what has become a controversial battle, Sappa Creek has been described by some authors** as a "massacre."

Led by Lt. Austin Henely, who had immigrated from Ireland to the US and later graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point, his Co. H of the 6th Cavalry and a detachment of troops from Co. K of the 19th US Infantry, attacked on Apr. 23, 1875 a band of Cheyennes on Sappa Creek in Kansas.  Reports indicate that between 19 and 27 Cheyenne were killed while only two soldiers were killed.  Eight Medals of Honor were awarded to members of the military for their actions on that date.

The following citation was provided by the Museum of the Kansas National Guard found at


Organization: Company H, 6th U.S. Cavalry. Place and date: At Sappa Creek, Kans., 23 April 1875. Entered service at: ------. Birth: Collinstown, Va. Date of issue: 16 November 1876. Citation: Rapid pursuit, gallantry, energy, and enterprise in an engagement with Indians.

Ayers and Matilda had at least three children during their marriage; he died on Jan. 18, 1895, probably in Junction City, and was buried at Fort Riley Post Cemetery, Fort Riley, KS.  One of the children was a daughter, Maude, born Jan. 25, 1885 in OK.

Maude's mother married a second time on Nov. 5, 1896 at Junction City to William G. Leithoff, a native of Rhode Island, born there in 1866.  They also had several children.

Maude was married on May 14, 1903 to Jonathon Horton Coffey (Estes***) and they had three children:  Lawrence A., born Feb. 19, 1904 in KS, died Dec. 10, 1975 in Wyandotte Co., KS, and was buried at Penwell-Gabel Cemetery in Topeka, Shawnee Co., KS; Hellen, born c1907, said to have married a Mr. Bodagllalacqua+; and, Walter John, born Feb. 5, 1912, died Jun. 19, 1964 in Kansas City, MO.  He is buried at Leavenworth National Cemetery at Leavenworth, KS.

Jonathon and Maude lived at least 15 years in Geary Co. and was in Shawnee Co. before 1930.++  He died on Oct. 31, 1961 in Norton, Norton Co., KS.  Maude died Oct. 10, 1969 in Topeka.  Both are buried at Penwell-Gabel.

Additions and corrections welcomed!



"Kansas Marriages, 1840-1935", index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 19 May 2014), James F. Ayres and Matilda R. Schiller, 28 Apr 1883; citing Junction City, Geary, Kansas, reference p 62; FHL microfilm 1685972.

** John H. Monnett, Author, Massacre at Cheyenne Hole: Lieutenant Austin Heneley and the Sappa Creek Controversy (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 1999), Book Review.

*** See blog posts and

+ This surname not yet found by me in any Kansas record.

++ They appeared in the 1910 and 1920 Geary Co., census, the 1930 Shawnee Co., census and in 1940 were recorded in Pawnee Co., KS

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