The Beginnings of Dodge City

The Santa Fe railroad was another great factor in making the wealth and splendid prosperity of Dodge City. Indeed, it was the first cause of the development of Dodge City’s greatness. It was this road, you might say, that made us. It, at least, gave us a big start. Hundreds of its employees made it their home from the very beginning. Dodge was not only its terminus, for awhile, but it always has been the end of a division. The officers of the road and the people of the town have always enjoyed great harmony. They have treated us justly and kindly, favoring us whenever and in whatever way they could, and, in return and to show them gratitude, the Dodge people have worked right in with them; and never have they been at outs, or has the least thing ever arisen which would lessen the friendship between them. Even yet, (1913), the railroad company is making great improvements in buildings, grades, yardage, etc., at Dodge City.

Another great feature belonging to Dodge City, and which brought many people there at an early date, is its beautiful, health giving climate and pure air. It was, and is, a great resort for invalids afflicted with the white plague. This should be the stopping off place for all those badly afflicted with this dread disease, as the great change in altitude, from lowlands to mountains, is often to sudden. I have known many people to stop off here until they got accustomed to light air and great altitude, and then go on to the mountains, and, in time, be completely cured. Others would stop only a short time and take the consequences. Others, after a short stay here, would feel so much better they would return home, thinking they were cured, and make a grand mistake. A lovely lady, the wife of one of Missouri’s greatest lawyers, stopped off here a short time, and her health improved so wonderfully that she went back to Missouri, but we heard of her death a short time afterwards. I have known several parties who would receive so great a benefit from a short stay in Dodge, they would insist, against the wishes of their doctor and friends, on going on to the mountains, and come back, in a few weeks, in a box, or return to die among their eastern friends. You see, they did not stay in Dodge long enough to get used to the great altitude of the mountains.

Dodge City was conspicuous in the sight of newspaper men, and complimentary notices of its business men were often unique. For instance, the Walnut City Blade, says:

“The gentlemen of Dodge City are whole-souled fellows and fine business men. Although our acquaintance was limited, we can say that Sutton, Whitelaw, Winnie, Gryden, Bob Wright, Shinn, Klaine, and Frost are each a whole team with a mule colt following.”

As an instance of the splendid liberality of Dodge City in times of emergency, as already mentioned, its response to Governor St. John’s petition for the cyclone sufferers has been given. Another instance, among any number that might be given, was the conduct of Dodge City toward the yellow fever situation, in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1878. September 10th, of that year, a mass meeting was called for the purpose of alleviating the sufferers of Memphis from the terrible yellow fever scourge. The people only had a few hours’ notice of the meeting, but, in such short time, two or three hundred gathered. A few speeches were made by some of our prominent citizens, when Mr. P. L. Beaty jumped upon a stand and said: “I have been a victim of this yellow fever, and know how these people in the South suffer; here’s what talks I” at the same time throwing a ten dollar bill into the hat, amidst wildest enthusiasm. Other speeches followed, while contributions flowed into the hat in splendid style, the poor bootblack dropping in his nickel, and the rich merchant his ten dollar bill. The total amount collected was over three hundred dollars, which was promptly forwarded to the Howard Association of Memphis. Instances of charity equal to that of Dodge City are as scarce on the records as, elsewhere, the rarity of Christian charity is plentiful. Hurrah, for little Dodge! She is still bad in war, good in peace, and has a bigger heart, for her size, than any town in Kansas. A short time after this meeting, it was found that the terrible scourge of yellow fever still held Memphis in its grip; and at another mass meeting to relieve the suffering, Dodge City sent more than double the former amount.

This puts me in mind of a little priest, by the name of Father Swineberg, who was a little fellow with a big heart, with charity for all and malice toward none, no matter what the denomination. He was very highly educated, could speak fluently more than a half-dozen different languages, and visited Fort Dodge to look after his flock and minister to the wants of his people, years before Dodge City was established. It was the writer’s happy luck to be able to accommodate him several times, in driving him from one post to another, looking after the needs of the church and his ministerial duties, and, in that way, the writer and he became warm friends.

Vintage Fort Dodge, Kansas

Vintage Fort Dodge, Kansas, 1867

In the course of time, he called on me at the fort, armed with letters to the commanding officer of Fort Dodge City, and instructing said officer to give Father Swineberg all the assistance in his power. His objective point was way down in old Mexico, across the borders of that unknown region, those days, of New MexicoArizona, and old Mexico, a distance from Fort Elliott, his starting point, of over one thousand miles. It was a desert, entirely unknown, in those days, without water, wood, or habitations, or civilization of any kind. His stock of trade was splendid maps of the region he was to traverse, encased in an oil-cloth covered tin tube.

I, being familiar with the terrible dangers and privations he would have to undergo, from lack of food and water, exposure to the elements both heat and cold, as well as the terrible storms that visited that country, and some big rivers to cross, tried to persuade him to desist.

I told him it was as much as his life was worth — that he must not go. He said he had to go. I asked him, why. Shrugging his shoulders, like a Frenchman would, he said: “Because my bishop ordered me.” The commanding officer at Fort Elliott fitted out Father Swineberg and another priest, who was to be his traveling companion, with two fine horses, what grub they could conveniently carry, and blankets. They had no arms of any kind or description except knives; they said they didn’t need any. Remarkable to relate, they made the trip, accomplished their object, and came back safely. Father Swineberg told me that they enjoyed the trip. That once, when they were in one of the greatest straits and lost without food or water, they ran into a very large band of Indians, who received them kindly, and several of the band understood Spanish and some understood French. They stayed with the Indians about a week, preaching alternately in French and Spanish, which a good many of the Indians seemed to understand and enjoy and appreciate.

Now comes my yellow fever episode which reminded me of this story. When the great call was made from the South to the North, for aid and nurses to subdue the terrible scourge, Father Swineberg, with twenty-odd other priests, nobly responded, well knowing they were going to their death. Very few ever returned, and Father Swineberg was among the number that went down. His was a noble life.

There was a society known as “The Orients,” in Dodge City, with charitable work as its real object, and fun as a side line. A few disparaging remarks, made by a young blood who desired membership, subjected the individual to a “side degree,” upon which lavish hand performed all sorts of excruciating tricks, which were absurd and ridiculous. When it came to ridicule, the old-timer was not sparing in punishment.

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