The first structure on the site of what is now Dodge City was a three-room sod house constructed by Henry Sitler. It was built around 1867. Sitler was still there in June of 1872, when a young man from Canada, George Hoover, decided to set up a tent sell whiskey and cigars out of the back of his wagon a short distance from Sitler’s home.
Henry Sitler was born in August of 1837 in Crawford County Pennsylvania. He grew up hearing stories from his grandfather, who fought in the war of 1812. He knew that all his ancestors were of fighting stock, so when the Civil War broke out, he joined the 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. Henry would go on to fight in the Battle of Gettysburg, was captured by the Confederates and spend several months at Libby Prison, and was also present at Appomattox Courthouse when General Lee surrendered the Confederacy.
Following the Civil War, Henry set out west seeking adventure. He helped build Fort Hays and Fort Harker, near Ellsworth, before receiving the contract to supply wood to Fort Dodge from Sawlog and Mulberry Creeks. He realized the potential to the land around him and started ranching as well. Located on the Santa Fe Trail route, he rapidly became a stopping place for buffalo hunters and traders. Seizing the opportunity to make money, he began stocking up wares for his visitors and created a small trading post.
When the surveyors for Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad set their spikes close to his soddie, he knew there would be much more prospect for revenue. He would keep his ranching operation near Dodge City for many years, as well as supplying hay. One such hay harvest resulted in him getting shot in the leg by Indians. The injury became very serious, which resulted in his wedding to Emma Harper to be delayed until he could recover enough to travel back to Pennsylvania.
Sitler became the first brick maker in Dodge City. His bricks were all stamped with H.L.S. on them. When the wood frame Front Street buildings were rebuilt as brick, most were composed of Sitler bricks. One of his bricks was preserved by the Beeson family, and will be featured in the Raisin’ A Ruckus Exhibit in Boot Hill Museum’s STAR Bond Expansion. He also did wood working and was the Director for the Bank of Dodge City.
Sitler would live in Dodge City the remainder of his life, passing away in 1917 at the age of 80. At the time of his death his obituary read: “This aged pioneer was a remarkable character. He was never attracted by a life of ease, but preferred to be in the thickest of the fray where things were in the making.”