Populating Boot Hill in Dodge City, Kansas

Scotty got away and was never heard of afterward.

When railroads and other companies wanted fighting men (or gunmen, as they are now called), to protect their interests, they came to Dodge City after them, and here they could sure be found. Large sums of money were paid out to them, and here they came back to spend it.

Cowboys at water tank in Dodge City, Kansas.

Cowboys at water tank in Dodge City, Kansas.

This all added to Dodge’s notoriety, and many a bunch of gunmen went from Dodge City. Besides these men being good shots, they did not know what fear was — they had been too well trained by experience and hardships. The buffalo hunters lived on the prairie or out in the open, enduring all kinds of weather, and living on wild game, often without bread, and scarcely ever did they have vegetables of any description. Strong, black coffee was their drink, as water was scarce and hardly ever pure, and they were often out for six months without seeing inside of a house. The cowboys were about as hardy and wild, as they, too, were in the open for months without coming in contact with civilization, and when they reached Dodge City, they made Rome howl. The freighters were about the same kind of animals, perfectly fearless. Most of these men were naturally brave, and their manner of living made them more so. Indeed, they did not know fear or any such thing as sickness-poorly fed and poorer clad; but they enjoyed good pay for the privations they endured, and when these three elements got together, with a few drinks of red liquor under their belts, you could reckon there was something doing. They feared neither God, man, nor the devil, and so reckless they would pit themselves, like Ajax, against lightning, if they ran into it.

It had always been the cowboys’ boast as well as delight to intimidate the officers of every town on the trail, run the officers out of town, and run the town themselves, shooting up buildings, through doors and windows, and even at innocent persons on the street, just for amusement, but not so in Dodge. They only tried it a few times, and they got such a dose, they never attempted it again. You see, here the cowboys were up against a tougher crowd than themselves and equally as brave and reckless, and they were the hunters, and freighters — “bull-whackers” and “mule-skinners,” they were called. The good citizens of Dodge were wise enough to choose officers who were equal to the emergency. The high officials of the Santa Fe Railroad wrote me several times not to choose such rough officers — to get nice, gentlemanly, young fellows to look after the welfare of Dodge and enforce its laws.

Dodge City Gathering

Dodge City Gathering

I promptly answered them back that you must fight the devil with fire, and, if we put in a tenderfoot for marshal, they would run him out of town. We had to put in men who were good shots and would sure go to the front when they were called on, and these desperadoes knew it. The last time the cowboys attempted to run the town, they had chosen their time well. Along late in the afternoon was the quiet time in Dodge; the marshal took his rest then, for this reason. So the cowboys tanked up pretty well, jumped their horses, and rode recklessly up and down Front Street shooting their guns and firing through doors and windows, and then making a dash for camp. But before they got to the bridge, Jack Bridges, our marshal, was out with a big buffalo gun, and he dropped one of them, his horse went on, and so did the others. It was a long shot and probably a chance one, as Jack was several hundred yards distant.

There was big excitement over this. I said: “Put me on the jury and I will be elected foreman and settle this question forever.” I said to the jury: “We must bring in a verdict of justifiable homicide. We are bound to do this to protect our officers and save further killings. It is the best thing we can do for both sides.” Some argued that these men had stopped their lawlessness, were trying to get back to camp, were nearly out of the town limits, and the officer ought to have let them go; and if we returned such a verdict, the stockmen would boycott me, and, instead of my store being headquarters for the stockmen and selling them more than twice the amount of goods that all the other stores sold together, they would quit me entirely and I would sell them nothing.

I said: “I will risk all that. They may be angry at first, but when they reflect that if we had condemned the officer for shooting the cowboy, it would give them encouragement, and they would come over and shoot up the town, regardless of consequences, and in the end, there would be a dozen killed.” I was satisfied the part we took would stop it forever, and so it did. As soon as the stockmen got over their anger, they came to me and congratulated me on the stand I took and said they could see it now in the light I presented it. There was no more shooting up the town. Strict orders were given by the marshal, when cowboys rode in, to take their guns out of the holsters, and bring them across to Wright & Beverley’s store, where a receipt was given for them. And, my! what piles there were of them. At times they were piled up by the hundred. This order was strictly obeyed and proved to be a grand success because many of the cowboys would proceed at once to tank up, and many would have been the killings if they could have got their guns when they were drunk, but they were never given back unless the owners were perfectly sober.

In the spring of 1878, there was a big fight between Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad and the Denver & Rio Grande, to get possession of and hold the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River where it comes out of the mountains just above Canon City, Colorado. Of course, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe folks came to Dodge City for fighters and gunmen. It was natural for them to do so, for where in the whole universe were there to be found bitter men for a desperate encounter of this kind.

Dodge City bred such bold, reckless men, and it was their pride and delight to be called upon to do such work. They were quick and accurate on the trigger, and these little encounters kept them in good training. They were called to arms by the railroad agent, Mr. J. H. Phillips. Twenty of the brave boys promptly responded, among whom might be numbered some of Dodge’s most accomplished sluggers and bruisers and dead shots, headed by the gallant Captain Webb. They put down their names with a firm resolve to get to the joint in credible style, in case of danger. The Dodge City Times remarks:

“Towering like a giant among smaller men was one of Erin’s bravest sons whose name is Kinch Riley. Jerry Converse, a Scotchman, descendant from a warlike clan, joined the ranks of war. There were other braves who joined the ranks, but we are unable to get a list of their names. We will bet a ten-cent note they clear the track of every obstruction.”

Which they did in creditable style. Shooting all along the line, and only one man hurt! This does seem marvelous, for the number of shots fired, yet the record is true of the story I am about to relate.

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