The Beginnings of Dodge City

The lexicographers of today should credit Dodge City with contributions to our language, as certain significations or meanings of three words, now very much used, can be traced to our early philologists. The words are “stinker,” “stiff,” and “joint.” These words are not considered the sweetest nor most elegant in the language, by our institutions of learning nor in the realms of culture and refinement, yet they are very expressive and are warranted by sufficient use. The word “stinker”, or rather the signification in which it is used when applied to a person in a contemptuous way, originated in this way. In the early days of this country, the buffalo or bison densely populated the plains. The killing of this noble animal for the hide was a great industry, and it was nothing uncommon for the buffalo hunter to get a stand on a herd and kill scores of them in a very short time. Such occurrences were sometimes in winter, and, before the hunters could skin all the animals, the carcasses would freeze and he would be compelled to leave many frozen on the prairies. When the weather moderated and the carcasses thawed, newcomers or “tenderfeet,” as we called them, would skin them for the hides. Natural causes and decay would render such hides very inferior and almost worthless, and, as these thrifty beneficiaries of the prowess of the genuine buffalo hunter were despised by him, the name “stinker” was originated and applied to him, and the word has since supplied the vocabulary of many, when their systems were surcharged with contempt and hatred.

The word “stiff,” as applied to people in a contemptuous way, originated in Dodge City. The readers of this book will gather from this record of the early history of Dodge City, the fact that the lifeless remains of people were a common sight here, in those days, and veneration and respect for the dead was somewhat stinted, unless some tie of friendship or relationship existed with the departed. As the lifeless body of a human being soon becomes rigid, our philologists substituted the easily spoken word “stiff” for the ghostly word “corpse,” in referring to the dead in which they had no special interest, and, from this, the word received an appropriate application to such people as suggest death or worthlessness, or, in other words, “dead ones.”

A very common signification or meaning of the word “joint” is easily traced to Dodge City, and I here submit my proof. I quote from an edition of the Dodge City Times, dated June 2nd, 1877:

“Washington, D. C., May 17, ’77

Editor Dodge City Times:

I trust you will not take this, from its postmark outside, as being an appointment to a lucrative official position. Such is not the case. I write to the far West seeking information. I see, at times, in your sprightly paper, the use of the term or terms, ‘go to the joint,’ or ‘gone to the joint,’ etc. Will you please inform me what it means?


“We are always willing to give the people of Washington City any information they may desire on matters of public interest. In order that the president and his cabinet may get a clear idea of this grave question, we will endeavor to be explicit. Gilmore, on municipal elections, page 77, says, ‘The gang got to the joint in good shape.’ This is the best authority we have. As an instance more easily understood by the average Washingtonian, suppose Hayes and Morton should get on a bender and put their jewelry in soak for booze, then it would be appropriate to say they ‘got to the joint’ by this means.

For further particulars, address, L. McGlue”

I remember well the first child born in Dodge. Early in the morning, a young doctor came into the only drugstore in Dodge, with a look of thorough disgust on his countenance, saying, “My God! I did something last night that I never thought is possible to fall to my lot, and I am so ashamed that I never will again practice in Dodge. I delivered an illegitimate child from a notorious woman, in a house of prostitution.” The druggist and I both laughed at him and told him he must not think of leaving the profession for such a little thing as that; he must keep right on and fortune would sure follow, as it was a great field for his profession, and we knew he was fully capable; and so he did, and has become one of the most prominent, as well as skillful physicians, not only of Dodge City, but the whole state of Kansas. This was in the fall of 1872. Soon after, followed the birth of Claude, son of Dr. T. L. and Sallie McCarty; and close after him, Jesse Rath was born, son of Charles and Carrie Rath, who died in infancy. So Claude McCarty can well claim the distinction of being the first legitimate child born in the town, and the eldest native.

Robert M. Wright, 1913. Compiled & edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March, 2017.

Robert M. Wright

Robert M. Wright

Author and NotesThe 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

The Long Branch Saloon

Long Branch Saloon Shootout

Populating Boot Hill


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *