Populating Boot Hill in Dodge City, Kansas


By Robert M. Wright in 1913


Dodge City Boot Hill Cemetery, courtesy Boot Hill Museum

Dodge City Boot Hill Cemetery, courtesy Boot Hill Museum


The first man killed in Dodge City was a big, tall, black negro by the name of Tex, and who, though a little fresh, was inoffensive. He was killed by a gambler named Denver. Mr. Kelly had a raised platform in front of his house, and the darky was standing in front and below, in the street, during some excitement. There was a crowd gathered, and some shots were fired over the heads of the crowds when this gambler fired at Texas and he fell dead. No one knew who fired the shot and they all thought it was an accident, but years afterward the gambler bragged about it. Some say it was one of the most unprovoked murders ever committed, and that Denver had not the slightest cause to kill, but did it out of pure cussedness when no one was looking. Others say the men had an altercation of some kind, and Denver shot him for fear Tex would get the drop on him. Anyhow, no one knew who killed him, until Denver bragged about it, a long time afterward, and a long way from Dodge City, and said he shot him in the top of the head just to see him kick.

The first big killing was down in Tom Sherman’s dance hall, some time afterward, between gamblers and soldiers from the fort, in which row, I think, three or four were killed and several wounded. One of the wounded crawled off into the weeds where he was found next day, and, strange to say, he got well, although he was shot all to pieces. There was not much said about this fight, I think because a soldier by the name of Hennessey was killed. He was a bad man and the bully of the company, and I expect they thought he was a good riddance.

Before this fight, there was “a man for breakfast,” to use a common expression, every once in a while, and this was kept up all through the winter of 1872. It was a common occurrence; in fact, so numerous were the killings that it is impossible to remember them all, and I shall only note some of them.

A man by the name of [William “Billy”] Brooks, acting assistant-marshal, shot Browney, the yard-master, through the head-over a girl, of course, by the name of Captain Drew. Browney was removed to an old deserted room at the Dodge House, and his girl, Captain Drew, waited on him, and indeed she was a faithful nurse. The ball entered the back of his head, and one could plainly see the brains and bloody matter oozing out of the wound until it mattered over. One of the finest surgeons in the United States army attended him. About the second day after the shooting, I went with this surgeon to see him.

He and his girl were both crying; he was crying for something to eat; she was crying because she could not give it to him. She said: “Doctor, he wants fat bacon and cabbage and potatoes and fat greasy beef, and says he’s starving.” The doctor said to her: “Oh, well, let him have whatever he wants. It is only a question of time, and short time, for him on earth, but it is astonishing how strong he keeps. You see, the ball is in his head, and if I probe for it, it will kill him instantly.”

Now there was no ball in his head. The ball entered one side of his head and came out the other, just breaking one of the brain or cell pans at the back of his head, and this only was broken. The third day and the fourth day he was alive, and the fifth day they took him east to a hospital. As soon as the old blood and matter was washed off, they saw what was the matter, and he soon got well and was back at his old job in a few months.

A hunter by the name of Kirk Jordan and Brooks had a shooting scrape on the street. Kirk Jordan had his big buffalo gun and would have killed Brooks, but the latter jumped behind a barrel of water. The ball, they say, went through the barrel, water and all, and came out on the other side, but it had lost its force. We hid Brooks under a bed, in a livery stable, until night, when I took him to the fort, and he made the fort siding next day and took the train for the East. I think these lessons were enough for him, as he never came back. Good riddance for everybody.

Soiled Dove or Prostitute

Soiled Dove or Prostitute

These barrels of water were placed along the principal streets for protection from fire, but they were big protection in several shooting scrapes. These shooting scrapes, the first year, ended in the death of twenty-five, and perhaps more than double that number wounded. All those killed died with their boots on and were buried on Boot Hill, but few of the number in coffins, on account of the high price of lumber caused by the high freight rates. Boot Hill is the highest and about the most prominent hill in Dodge City and is near the center of the town. It derived its name from the fact that it was the burying ground, in the early days, of those who died with their boots on. There were about thirty persons buried there, all with their boots on and without coffins. Now, to protect ourselves and property, we were compelled to organize a Vigilance Committee. Our very best citizens promptly enrolled themselves, and, for a while, it fulfilled its mission to the letter and acted like a charm, and we were congratulating ourselves on our success. The committee only had to resort to extreme measures a few times and gave the hard characters warning to leave town, which they promptly did. But what I was afraid would happen did happen. I had pleaded and argued against the organization for this reason, namely: hard, bad men kept creeping in and joining until they outnumbered the men who had joined it for the public good — until they greatly outnumbered the good members, and when they felt themselves in power, they proceeded to use that power to avenge their grievances and for their own selfish purposes, until it was a farce as well as an outrage on common decency. They got so notoriously bad and committed so many crimes, that the good members deserted them, and the people arose in their might and put a stop to their doings. They had gone too far and saw their mistake after it was too late.

The last straw was the cold-blooded, brutal murder of a polite, inoffensive, industrious negro named Taylor, who drove a hack between the fort and Dodge City. Whilst Taylor was in a store, making purchases, a lot of drunken fellows got into his wagon and was driving it off. When Taylor ran out and tried to stop them, they say a man, by the name of Scotty, shot him, and, after Taylor fell, several of them kept pumping lead into him. This created a big row, as the negro had been a servant for Colonel Richard I. Dodge, commander of the fort, who took up his cause and sent some of them to the penitentiary.

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