The Beginnings of Dodge City

So much for one view of Dodge City, but, though common, this view was not quite universal. Sometimes a writer appeared who could recognize a few slightly better features in the border town, and who could look beyond its existing lawlessness and see the possibilities and beginnings of a higher state of things. In proof of this, I’ll quote an article written in 1878, a year later than the last, and entitled, “The Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier“:

“Standing out on the extreme border of civilization, like an oasis in the desert, or like a light-house off a rocky coast, is ‘The Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier,’ Dodge City, so termed by Lewis, editor of the ‘Kinsley Graphic.’ Dodge City is far famed, not for its virtues, but for its wickedness; the glaring phases of its vices stand preeminent, and attract the attention of the visitor; and these shadows of Babylon are reproduced in the gossip’s corner and-in the press. It is seldom the picture has fine embellishments; but the pen artist of the ‘Graphic’ put the finer touches of nature to the pen portrait of Dodge-‘she is no worse than Chicago.'”

This, we admit, is a slight leverage in the social scale, to be placed in the category of Chicago’s wickedness.

Dodge City has magnetic attractions. Few people are attracted here by curiosity; everyone has business, except the tramps, and they have no business here. But our visitors see it all before they leave, and they use the same circumspection here they would under their own vine and fig tree. Many of them are not charitable enough to tell the unvarnished truth. In vain boast and idle glory they recount the pilgrimage to Dodge as though they passed through blood, rapine, and warfully attested their courage.”

But the Kinsley Graphic pays the “Bibulous Babylon” a high compliment, besides raising the moral standard of Dodge to that of the immaculate virtue of Chicago.

Dodge City Gathering

Dodge City Gathering, late 1800’s. Click for prints & products.

Kansas has but one Dodge City. With a broad expanse of territory sufficiently vast for an empire, we have only room for one Dodge City. Without particularizing at length, we were most favorably impressed generally during a brief visit at our neighboring city Tuesday.

Beautiful for situation, cozily nestled on the ‘beach’ of the turbid Arkansas River, while on the north the palisades rise above the busy little city, which in the near future will be ornamented with cozy cottages, modern mansions, and happy homes. The view from the elegant brick court house, situated above the town, is grand. The panorama spread out west, south, and east, takes in a vast scope of valley scenery such as only can be found fringing our river. Seventy-five thousand head of cattle, recently driven in from the ranges south, can be seen lazily feeding on the nutritious native meadows, while the cowboys gallop here and there among these vast herds, displaying superior horsemanship. Five miles down the river, the old flag floats proudly over the garrison at the military Post.

The city proper is a busy beehive of bustle and business, a conglomerated aggregation of every line of business alternating with saloons. Francis Murphy don’t live in Dodge. There are a few institutions of which Dodgeites are justly proud — the ever popular Dodge House, ‘The Times’, the court house, the fire company, Mayor Kelley’s hounds, and the ‘Varieties’. Much has been said of the wickedness and unrighteousness of the city. If ‘old Probe’ should send a shower of fire and brimstone up there, we would not vouch for there being a sufficient number of righteous citizens to save the city; yet with all her wickedness, she is no worse today than Chicago and many other cities where the music of the chimes are daily heard. There is but one difference, however, which is a frontier characteristic; our neighbors do not pretend to hide their peculiarities. A few years hence Dodge City will be a model of morality and a city of no mean importance.

For courtesies shown us we acknowledge our obligations to Messrs. Kline & Shine of the lively ‘Times’, Judge Gryden (who deserves to be known as Prince Harry, and whose only fault is his rock-footed Democracy), Mayor Kelley, Hon. H. M. Sutton, the popular county attorney, E. F. Colburn, the modest city attorney, Samuel Marshal, the portly judge, Fringer, the postmaster, Hon. R. M. Wright, Dr. McCarty, Sheriff Masterson and his efficient lieutenant City Marshal Bassett, and our old friends at the signal office.”

Dodge City in 1874, courtesy Ford County Historical Society

Dodge City in 1874, courtesy Ford County Historical Society

Again, under the heading, “The Wickedest City in America,” the “Kokomo, Indiana, Dispatch,” of an issue in July, 1878, refers to Dodge:

“Its character as a hell, out on the great plains, will be,” said a local writer, “maintained in the minds of traveling newspaper writers, just so long as the city shall remain a rendezvous for the broad and immense uninhabited plains, by narrating the wildest and wickedest phases of Dodge City; but we have to commend them for complimenting Dodge on its orderly character.”

The Dispatch speaks very highly of Dodge as a commercial point, and his letter bears many complimentary features. We extract the following:

“‘My experience in Dodge was a surprise all around. I found nothing as I pictured it in my mind. I had expected, from the descriptions I had read of it, to find it a perfect bedlam, a sort of Hogathian Gin Alley, where rum ran down the street gutters and loud profanity and vile stenches contended for the mastery of the atmosphere. On the contrary, I was happily surprised to find the place in the daytime as quiet and orderly as a country village in Indiana, and at night the traffic in the wares of the fickle Goddess and human souls was conducted with a system so orderly and quiet as to actually be painful to behold. It is a most difficult task, I confess, to write up Dodge City in a manner to do impartial fairness to every interest; the place has many redeeming points, a few of which I have already mentioned. It is not nearly so awful a place as reports make it. It is not true that the stranger in the place runs a risk of being shot down in cold blood, for no offense whatever.”

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