Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Arizona Territory’s unique tie to the nation’s badge of courage.

About 1980, a planchet was discovered near the Arizona community of Wheatfields, just a few miles north of Miami, about 40 miles east of the old San Carlos reservation.

Upon further inspection of the metal portion of the decoration, one could see it was a Medal of Honor. This priceless medal was lying in the midst of a few flat rocks, forming a square and covered by a bit of earth. Who placed it there, and why did that person do so? We may never know, just as we may never resolve the intriguing story of the man who earned it: Chiquito.

Roughly a decade before Chiquito earned his medal during the 1872-73 campaign in the Tonto Basin, the Arizona Territory became the initial link to the nation’s highest decoration for valor. Although the American Civil War gave birth to the Medal of Honor, the earliest action revered with the medal was a fire fight in what became Arizona Territory. The soldier who received it was an unlikely martial hero.

Bernard John Irwin received his MD at New York Medical College. Soon after graduation, he signed on as a military surgeon. By early 1861, he had been practicing for four years in the Southwest, when word came that troops near Apache Pass were surrounded by Indians. With only 14 men, Irwin led a rescue party eastward from Fort Buchanan to link up with besieged troops under Lt. George Bascom.

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