Dodge City, Kansas – A Wicked Little Town

Dodge City Peace Commission

Dodge City Peace Commission

In his role as Chief Deputy Marshal, Earp would go after famed train robber, Dave Rudabaugh, following the outlaw’s trail for 400 miles to Fort Griffin, Texas. While there, Wyatt visited the largest saloon in town, Shanssey’s, asking about Rudabaugh. Owner John Shanssey said that Rudabaugh had been there earlier in the week, but didn’t know where he was bound. He directed Wyatt to Doc Holliday who had played cards with Rudabaugh.

Wyatt was skeptical about talking to Holliday, as it was well known that Doc hated lawmen. However, when Wyatt found him that evening at Shanssey’s, he was surprised at Holliday’s willingness to talk. Doc told Wyatt that he thought that Rudabaugh had back-trailed to Kansas. Wyatt wired this information to Bat Masterson and the news was instrumental in apprehending Rudabaugh. The unlikely pair formed a friendship in Shanssey’s that would last for years.

In the fall of 1876, Wyatt Earp and his brother Morgan left Dodge City for a while, traveling for the Black Hills outside of Deadwood, South Dakota in search of gold. However, he returned to Dodge in May of 1877 after James H. “Dog” Kelley, Dodge City’s new mayor, wired him, asking him to help with the Texas cowboys who were shooting up the town.

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

When he returned, Wyatt was made the new town marshal and deputized his brother Morgan. He plagued the courts for more severe sentencing, barred certain men from the town, and organized a “citizens’ committee” of reformers to help watchdog the streets.

In June 1877, Ed Masterson was appointed an assistant marshal in Dodge City. Later in the same year, his younger brother Bat Masterson was chosen as an under-sheriff, until January 1878, when he became the sheriff. On April 9, 1878, Ed Masterson was killed in a gunfight. A third Masterson brother, James was appointed to the Dodge City police force in June of 1878.

By the late 1870s Dodge City’s reputation for lawlessness had spread as far as Washington, D.C. In a letter in the Washington D.C.’s Evening Star of January 1, 1878, stated, “Dodge City is a wicked little town. Indeed, its character is so clearly and egregiously bad that one might conclude, were the evidence in the later times positive of its possibility, that it was marked for special Providential punishment.”

Later an editor of the Hays City Sentinel would write, after visiting Dodge City, “Dodge is the Deadwood of Kansas. Her incorporate limits are the rendezvous of all the unemployed scallawagism in seven states. Her principal business is polygamy without the sanction of religion, her code of morals is the honor of thieves, and decency she knows not.”

Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday

In 1878, Doc Holliday arrived in Dodge City with Big Nose Kate Elder, posing as his wife. Settling in room 24 of the Dodge House, Doc mostly drank and gambled, but occasionally, he provided professional services to the townspeople. Shortly after his arrival, an ad appeared in the Dodge City Times pronouncing: “J.H. Holliday, Dentist, very respectfully offers his professional services to the citizens of Dodge City and surrounding country during the summer.”

But mostly he was gambling at the Alhambra and dealing cards at the Long Branch Saloon. Though Dodge City citizens thought the friendship between Wyatt and Doc was strange, Wyatt ignored them and Doc kept the law while in Dodge City.

During those first years, the population varied according to the season, swelling during the summer with the influx of cowboys, cattle buyers, gamblers and prostitutes. Business houses, dance halls, and saloons catered to the Texas trade. Gambling ranged from a game of five-cent “Chuck-aluck” to thousand dollar poker pots.

In June 1879, the Ford County Globe reported, “The boys and girls across the deadline had a high old time last Friday. They sang and danced, and fought and bit, and cut and had a good time generally, making music for the entire settlement. Our reporter summed up five knockdowns, three broken heads, two cuts, and several incidental bruises. Unfortunately, none of the injuries will prove fatal.”

Dodge City, Kansas about 1875

Dodge City, Kansas about 1875

In September 1879, Virgil Earp sent word to Wyatt of the boom in Tombstone and Wyatt headed West with Doc Holliday following shortly thereafter. By January 1880, Bat Masterson also left Dodge City for the West.

In 1880, the Santa Fe Railroad reached Santa Fe, marking the death of the Santa Fe Trail and the many travelers passing through Dodge City. With the Indians effectively “lodged” on reservations, there was no longer a need for a military presence and Fort Dodge was closed in 1882. By 1886, the cattle drives had stopped.

An illustrious period of history was over but the legend lives on in Dodge City’s historic preservation of its romantic and internationally famous Old West frontier history. Today, 100,000 tourists relive the legend each year by visiting the Boot Hill Museum and historic Front Street reconstruction.

Things to do and experience in Dodge City:

Boot Hill Museum – The museum is open 362 days a year, but plan your trip during the summer months for historical interpreters, exciting gunfights and other re-enactments.

Gunfighters Wax Museum – See Wyatt Earp, Belle Starr, Doc Holliday, Miss Kitty and more in this life-sized wax museum, located in the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame.

Boot Hill Casino Resort – A one of a kind designed to recreate the feeling of the elegant old west.

Fort Dodge – Where it all began.

Historic Trolly Tours – Offered Memorial Weekend through Labor Day.

and much more… Visit this website for more.

Today, Dodge City is called home to about 30,000 people. It is located 150 miles west of Wichita in Southwest Kansas.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated May 2019.


“Dodge is the Deadwood of Kansas.

Hays City Sentinel in the late 1800s.

Front Street and Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, Kansas

Front Street and Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, Kansas

Also See:

Cowtowns of Kansas – Lawlessness on the Prairie

Fort Dodge History and Hauntings

John Henry “Doc” Holliday – Deadly Doctor of the Frontier

Wyatt Earp – Frontier Lawman of the American West


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