The Beginnings of Dodge City

In the year 1878, the Topeka Times says, in a certain issue:

“During the year of 1873 we roughed it in the West. Our first stopping place was the famous Dodge City, at the time a perfect paradise for gamblers, cut-throats, and girls. On our first visit the buildings in the town were not buildings, with one or two exceptions, but tents and dugouts. Everyone in town, nearly, sold whisky or kept a restaurant, perhaps both. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was just then working its way up the low-banked Arkansas, and Dodge was the frontier town. Its growth was rapid, in a month from the time the railroad was completed to its borders, the place began to look like a city; frame houses, one story high, sprang up; Dodge became noted as the headquarters for the buffalo hunters, and the old town was one of the busiest of trading points, and they were a jolly set of boys there.

They carried a pair of Colt’s revolvers in their belts, wore their pants in their boots, and when they died, did so generally with their boots on. It wasn’t safe, in those times, to call a man a liar or intimate that his reputation for honesty was none of the best, unless you were spoiling for a fight. In those days, ‘Boot Hill‘ was founded, and the way it grew was astonishing to newcomers and terrifying to tenderfeet. We well remember, but now forget the date, when a party of eastern capitalists came out to look around with a view to locating. They were from Boston and wore diamonds and kid gloves. The music at one of the dance halls enticed the bald-headed sinners thither, and what with wine and women, they became exceedingly gay. But in the midst of their sport a shot was fired, and another, and, in a little time, the room gleamed with flashing pistols and angry eyes. This was enough, and the eastern capitalists hurried to the depot, where they remained until the first train bore them to the classic shades of Boston. But with all its wildness, Dodge could then, as it does yet, boast of some of the best, freest, and whitest boys in the country.

We were down there again last week, and were surprised in the change in the city. It has built up wonderfully, has a fine court house, church, good schools, large business blocks, a good hall, first-class hotels, and two live newspapers. The editor of the Times was not in, but we saw Honorable D. M. Frost, the editor of the Globe. Dodge is coming out and is destined to be a city of considerable size.”

Another writer of the Times, defending Dodge City, says:

“There is an evident purpose to malign and create false impressions concerning the character of Dodge City. It is a pretty general impression that a person here is insecure in life, and that the citizens of Dodge are walking howitzers. This is a bad impression that should, by all means, be corrected. Having but a short residence in this town, it is our deliberate opinion, from a careful observation, that Dodge is as quiet and orderly as any town of its size in Kansas. We have been treated with the utmost cordiality. We have observed officers prompt and efficient, in the discharge of their duties. There is an ordinance prohibiting the carrying of fire arms, which is rigidly enforced. The citizens are cordial, industrious, and display business alacrity, characteristic of the frontier tradesman. We are surprised to note the difference of character of this town and the impression aimed to be made upon us before coming here. There is a lurking jealousy somewhere, that gives rise to false rumors, and we trust every citizen of Dodge City will correct these false impressions, as far as lies in his power. This, alone, would efface bad impressions and false rumors, but forbearance ceases to be a virtue, and we kindly protest.”

Again, the character of early Dodge was defended by Charles D. Ulmer, of the Sterling Bulletin, thus:

Luke Short

Luke Short

“On Friday, the party visited Dodge City, the rip-roaring burg of the West. As we glided into the depot, we looked anxiously along the street, expecting to see many squads of festive cowboys, rigged out with arms enough to equip a regiment, and ready to pop a shot at any plug hat that might be in the crowd, but nothing of the kind was to be observed; instead, there was a busy, hustling little city, like many others in Kansas, with, perhaps, a few extra saloons thrown in for variety. Dodge City was a surprise to us. It is beautifully located — the residence portion on the hills which command a magnificent view of the country, east, west, and south. The business portion is on the level bottom at the foot of the hills. The railroad track is a little close to the main business street for convenience.

“The party, on landing, instead of being received by a howling lot of cowboys, with six-shooters and Winchester rifles rampant, were received by a delegation of as gentlemanly and courteous men as can be found in the state. During our stay in Dodge, we had the pleasure of meeting most of the men who have been so prominently mentioned in the late trouble at that place. Instead of low-browed ruffians and cut-throats, we found them to be cultivated gentlemen, but evidently possessing plenty of nerve for any emergency. Among those we met and conversed with was Luke Short, his partner, Mr. Harris, who is vice-president of the Dodge City bank, and Mr. Webster. The late trouble originated in differences between Messrs. Short and Webster, and, we believe, after both sides get together it could and should have been settled without the hubbub made, and interference of the state authorities. Mr. Short, Mr. Harris, and others assured us that their side, at all times, was ready and willing to submit their differences to the decision of the courts. The trouble has been amicably adjusted, and no further trouble is anticipated on the old score.”

But, as has already been stated, often only the worst side of Dodge City was written up, in a way to make the most of it. In protest against this practice, a local writer of early times refers to a write-up of the sort, in this wise:

“A verdant editor of the ‘Hays City Sentinel’ visits our brothels and bagnios. From the tone of his article, he must have gone too deep into the dark recesses of the lascivious things he speaks of, and went away in the condition of the monkey who got his tail too near the coals.

He says: ‘After a long day’s ride in the scorching sun, I arrived in 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. In short, she is an exaggerated frontier town, and all her consistencies are operated on the same principle. Her every day occurrences are such as would make the face of a Haysite, accustomed as he is to similar sights, color to the roots of his hair and draw away disgusted. Dodge is a fast town and all of her speedy proclivities exhibit to the best advantage.

The employment of many citizens is gambling. Her virtue is prostitution and her beverage is whisky. She is a merry town and the only visible means of support of a great many of her citizens is jocularity. Her rowdyism has taken a most aggravated form, and was it not for the most stringent ordinances (some of which are unconstitutional,) and a fair attempt to enforce them, the town would be suddenly depopulated and very much in the manner that Ireland got rid of her snakes. Seventeen saloons furnish inspiration and many people become inspired, not to say drunk. Every facility is afforded for the exercise of conviviality, and no restriction is placed on licentiousness. The town is full of prostitutes and every other place is a brothel. Dodge by day and Dodge by night are different towns;’ and, then he goes on with more abuse too vile and untruthful to mention. Our brother from Hays City must indeed have been hard hit, but must not have visited any good spot in Dodge City, but, on the contrary, must have confined himself entirely to the very lowest places and worst society in Dodge. Birds of a feather, you know, will flock together. We hope his dose was a mild one-though he does not deserve our sympathy.”

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