The Dodge City Vigilantes were established in 1872 when Dodge City, Kansas was teeming with buffalo hunters, railroad men, soldiers, transients, and desperadoes. In the first year of its existence an estimated 15 men were killed in Dodge City, all winding up in Boot Hill.
By early 1873, local businessmen were concerned about the violence in the town that was not yet organized with city officials or lawmen. They soon hired a gunfighter named Billy Brooks as a private lawman. However, when Brooks did not tame the lawlessness of the city, men began to take matters into their own hands by forming a vigilante committee.
The committee effectively rid the town of some of the worst offenders by notifying six of the leading desperadoes that they must leave Dodge immediately. Four went, but two were defiant and remained. When the specified hour had passed, twelve double-barreled shotguns were loaded with buckshot, the men were hunted down and then killed.
However, the vigilante group, like many others in the west, soon became the main source of violence. With power gone to their heads and attracting violent men, things were quickly out of hand. On March 134, 1873, Tom Sherman, who ran a dancehall, chased a man out of his saloon and shot him. As the man lay dying and writhing in pain, Sherman walked over to him and said, “I’d better shoot him again, hadn’t I boys?” He then aimed his gun at the man’s head and pulled the trigger point-blank.
On June 3, 1873, the violence escalated to the point that two of the vigilante members killed a man named William Taylor. However, Taylor was employed by Colonel Richard Dodge, the commanding officer of Fort Dodge. The officer was so outraged that he immediately telegraphed the Kansas Governor and gained special permission to arrest the guilty parties. His troops entered Dodge City the next day and arrested Bill Hicks who was later convicted. On June 5th, the soldiers arrested five more of the worst vigilantes, including Tom Sherman.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated January 2020.