When Henry Gideon Lyon was born on April 17, 1865, it had been a tumultuous week of events that had national and local significance. On April 9th, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War. Two days later, the village of Lockport was incorporated as a city, and then on April 14th, Abraham Lincoln was shot and died the next day, so Henry was born during a period of deep mourning in the United States.
Sources differ as to whether Lyon was born in Buffalo, Lockport or Royalton, but the 1865 New York State census indicates he was born in Erie County so it was most likely Buffalo. Five years later the family was still living in Buffalo but Henry’s life soon changed when his mother died in 1873. Within a few years, he was sent to live with the George N. Brown family who resided on Tonawanda Creek Road near Burdick’s Bridge in the town of Royalton. He is listed as Brown’s “adopted son” in the 1880 census.
Upon completion of eighth grade, young Lyon taught for a year in a district school and then entered the Lockport Union School, probably boarding in the city during the week. During his three years at the Union School, Lyon consistently earned high honors and perfect scores in several academic exams. He graduated in June 1884 and went back to Buffalo to study law under George Wadsworth. It was during this time that Lyon took and passed the exam to enter the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and also received the required Congressional appointment needed to attend.
When Lyon graduated from West Point in 1890, he ranked 42nd in his class and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. His first assignment was with the 17th Infantry at Fort D. A. Russell in Wyoming. This was during the time of the Indian Wars in the western territories and 2nd Lieutenant Lyon fought in engagements against the Sioux. In 1894 he was transferred to the Columbus Barracks in Ohio and served there for the next three years.
It was while he was stationed in Ohio that 2nd Lt. Lyon married Flora Dresel of Columbus. He was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant on his 32nd birthday and briefly served at Fort Niagara that summer as officer in charge of the ordnance and rifle range. He was glad to get a chance to be near his home and regularly visited and corresponded with family and friends in Niagara County.
Later that year, 1st Lt. Lyon was assigned as an officer to the 24th Infantry, an African-American regiment. In April 1898, the Spanish-American War started and Lyon and the 24th Infantry sailed for duty in Cuba. On July 1st, the 24th Infantry, along with two all black cavalry units, stormed San Juan Hill with the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the Rough Riders, led by Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt. During the battle, Lyon was shot in the leg and seriously wounded. He spent several months at Fort McPhearson, Georgia, recovering from his injuries.
Over the next few years, Lyon was stationed at Army bases in Utah and Wyoming. In December 1899, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and made Commander at Fort Harrison, Montana. This assignment only lasted a short time because Roosevelt, now Governor of New York, asked him to return to his home state and “whip the National Guard into fighting trim.” From May to August of 1900, Lyon worked directly with Roosevelt to strengthen the capabilities of the New York National Guard. Lyon then returned to Columbus Barracks until he was sent on the first of three tours to the Philippines in January 1901, as the Quartermaster of the 22nd Regiment.
Lyon spent more than a year in the Philippines. He corresponded with a friend in Buffalo who said, “He writes entertainingly of the life of a soldier in the East and of the military and political situation there.” When he returned to the United States, he again spent a summer working with the New York National Guard.
The early years of the 20th century saw Lyon stationed both in the U. S. and overseas. In 1902, he was appointed commander of the 17th Infantry at Fort Lawton, Washington, and a year later served two years on Jolo Island in the Philippines as a Post Exchange Officer. Upon his return, he again took charge of the New York National Guard before taking the post of Paymaster at a base in St. Louis. He then spent another 15 months in the Philippines and upon his return was promoted to the rank of Major and assigned to the 26th Infantry. By this time however, his health was failing and he was hospitalized in San Francisco in late 1910.
Lyon retired from the Army due to “disability contracted in the line of duty” in May 1911 and died on Sept. 11, 1911, at the age of 46. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.