Populating Boot Hill in Dodge City, Kansas

On the following Monday evening, Mather called to Nixon, and fired the fatal shot. This circumstance is mentioned as one of the cold-blooded deeds, frequently taking place in frontier days. And, as usual, to use the French proverb for the cause, “Search the woman.”

A wild tale of the plains is an account of a horrible crime committed in Nebraska, and the story seems almost incredible. A young Englishman, violating the confidence of his friend, a ranchman, is found in bed with the latter’s wife. This continues for some months until, in the latter part of May 1884, one of the cowboys, who had a grievance against Burbank, surprised him and Mrs. Wilson in a compromising situation and reported it to the woman’s husband, whose jealousy had already been aroused. At night, Burbank was captured while asleep in bed, by Wilson and three of his men, and bound before he had any show to make resistance.

After mutilating him in a shocking manner, Burbank had been stripped of every bit of clothing and bound on the back of a wild bronco, which was started off by a vigorous lashing. Before morning, Burbank became unconscious, and was, therefore, unable to tell anything about his terrible trip.

He thinks the outrage was committed on the night of May 27th, and he was rescued on the morning of June 3rd, which would make seven days that he had been traveling about the plains on the horse’s back, without food or drink, and exposed to the sun and wind. Wilson’s ranch is two hundred miles from the spot where Burbank was found, but it is hardly probable that the bronco took a direct course, and, therefore must have covered many more miles in his wild journey. When fully restored to health, Burbank proposed to make a visit of retaliation on Wilson, but it is unknown what took place.

The young man was unconscious when found, and his recovery was slow. The details, in full, of the story, would lend credence to the tale; but this modern Mazeppa suffered a greater ordeal than the orthodox Mazeppa.

Dodge City, Kansas 1876

Dodge City, Kansas 1876

This story is vouched for as true, and it is printed in these pages as an example of plains’ civilization.

“Odd characters” would hardly express the meaning of the term, “bad men” — the gun shooters of the frontier days; and many of these men had a habitation in Dodge City. There was Wild Bill, who was gentle in manner; Buffalo Bill, who was a typical plains gentleman; Cherokee Bill, with too many Indian characteristics to be designated otherwise; Prairie Dog Dave, uncompromising and turbulent; Mysterious Dave, who stealthily employed his time; Fat Jack, a jolly fellow and wore good clothes; Cock-Eyed Frank, credited with drowning a man at Dodge City; Dutch Henry, a man of passive nature, but a slick one in horses and murders; and many others too numerous to mention; and many of them, no doubt, have paid the penalty of their crimes.

Several times, in these pages, the “dead line” is mentioned. The term had two meanings, in early Dodge phraseology. One was used in connection with the cattle trade; the other referred to the deeds of violence which were so frequent in the border town, and was an imaginary line, running east and west, south of the railroad track in Dodge City, having particular reference to the danger of passing this line after nine o’clock of an evening, owing to the vicious character of certain citizens who haunted the south side. If a tenderfoot crossed this “dead” line after the hour named, he was likely to become a “creature of circumstances”; and yet, there were men who did not heed the warning, and took their lives in their own hands.

“Wicked Dodge” was frequently done up in prose and verse, and its deeds atoned for in extenuating circumstances; but in every phase of betterment the well being was given newspaper mention, for it is stated: “Dodge City is not the town it used to be. That is, it is not so bad a place in the eyes of the people who do not sanction outlawry and lewdness.” But Dodge City progressed in morality and goodness until it became a city of excellent character.

Even the memory of the wild, wicked days will soon be effaced, but, as yet, when one recounts their wild stories and looks upon the scenes of that wildness and wickedness, one can almost fancy the shades of defunct bad men still walking up and down their old haunts and glaring savagely at the insipidity of their present civilized aspect. The “Denver Republican” expresses a similar thought in a certain short poem, thus:

The Two-Gun Man

The Two-Gun Man walked through the town,
And found the sidewalk clear;
He looked around, with ugly frown,
But not a soul was near.

The streets were silent.
Loud and shrill,
No cowboy raised a shout;
Like panther bent upon the kill,

The Two-Gun Man walked out.
The Two-Gun Man was small and quick;
His eyes were narrow slits;
He didn’t hail from Bitter Creek,

Nor shoot the town to bits;
He drank, alone, deep draughts of sin,
Then pushed away his glass

And silenced was each dance hall’s din,

When by the door he’d pass.
One day, rode forth this man of wrath,
Upon the distant plain,
And ne’er did he retrace his path,

Nor was he seen again;
The cowtown fell into decay;
No spurred heels pressed its walks;
But, through its grass-grown ways, they say,

The Two-Gun Man still stalks.

 

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February 2018.

Robert M. Wright

Robert M. Wright

Author and Notes: The Beginnings of Dodge City was written by Robert M. Wright in 1913. The article was Chapter seven of his book, Dodge City, The Cowboy Capital, and the Great Southwest: In The Days Of The Wild Indian, The Buffalo, The Cowboy, Dance Halls, Gambling Halls, And Bad Men (now in the public domain.) The article is not 100% verbatim, as minor grammatical and spelling corrections have been made. Wright came west from Maryland at the age of 16, first settling in Missouri. Later he worked as a freighter and became a trader at Fort Dodge. He then settled in Dodge City, where he was known as a farmer, stockman, merchant, and politician. He served as Dodge City’s postmaster, the city’s first mayor, and later represented Ford County in the Legislature for four terms.

Also See:

Dodge City – A Wicked Little Town

Dodge City Historical Text

Fort Dodge History and Hauntings

Hell-Raising Dodge

Long Branch Saloon

Long Branch Saloon Shootout

 

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