Dodge City – Newspaper, Letters, and Book Excerpts

Dodge City, Kansas 1876

Dodge City, Kansas 1876.

Dodge City is a wicked little town. Here those nomads in regions remote from the restraints of moral, civil, social, and law-enforcing life, the Texas cattle drovers, from the very tendencies of their situation the embodiment of waywardness and wantonness, end the journey with their herds, and here they loiter and dissipate, sometimes for months, and share the boughten dalliances of fallen women.

 – January 1, 1878 – Letter in the Washington, D. C.Evening Star

October 1873 – Letter from Frances Marie Antoinette Mack Roe

Frances Roe

Frances was the wife of Fayette Washington Roe, a  Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. In October 1871, Roe was sent to Fort Lyon in Colorado Territory, and his wife Frances went with him. During this time, she wrote a number of letters describing her experiences on the frontier. In 1909, these were published in a book called Army Letters From an Officer’s Wife.

Dodge City used to be that way, and there was a reign of terror in the town until finally, the twelve organized vigilantes became desperate and took affairs in their own hands. They notified six of the leading desperadoes that they must be out of the place by a certain day and hour. Four went, but two were defiant and remained. When the specified hour had passed, twelve double-barreled shotguns were loaded with buckshot, and in a body, the vigilantes hunted these men down as they would mad dogs and riddled each one through and through with the big shot! It was an awful thing to do, but it seems to have been absolutely necessary and the only way of establishing law and order. Our friends at Fort Dodge tell us that the place is now quite decent and that a man can safely walk in the streets without pistols and a belt full of cartridges.”

May 13, 1874 – Resolution of the Ford County Commissioners

“Any person who is not engaged in any legitimate business, and any person under influence of intoxicating drinks, and any person who has ever borne arms against the Government of the United States, who shall be found within the limits of the town of Dodge City, bearing on his person a pistol, bowie knife, dirk, or other deadly weapon, shall be subject to arrest upon a charge of misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined in a sum not exceeding $100, or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding three months, or both, at the discretion of the court, and same to take effect on date.”

June 25, 1874 – Dodge City Messenger

“Dodge City Town Company, Ford Co., Kansas. Inducements offered to actual settlers! Prospects of the town better than any other in the upper Arkansas Valley! Free Bridge across the Arkansas River! The town a little over one-year-old, and contains over seventy buildings! Good school, hotel, etc. AT&SF RR depot in town.  Enquire of: R. M. Wright at Chas. Rath & Co. store or E. B. Kirk, Secy and Treas., Fort Dodge, June 25, 1874.”

April 24, 1876 – Letter from Governor Thomas Osborn to Charles Bassett, Sheriff of Ford County, Kansas

Charlie Bassett, Dodge City Lawman

Charlie Bassett, Dodge City Lawman

“This will be handed to you by Mr. R. C. Callaham, whose son, John F. Callaham, was executed by mob violence in your county on the 8th. He visits Ford County for the purpose of making a thorough investigation of all the facts and circumstances attending the death of his son. He claims that there is no doubt of his son’s innocence, and if this claim is correct, the atrocity of the crime – an utterly law-defying one at the best – certainly demands the attention of all law-abiding people, and more especially of the officers to whom is entrusted the execution of the law and the preservation of the public peace.

I trust that you will extend to Mr. Callaham all the “assistance, counsel, and encouragement which it may be in your power to extend. There must be an end to mob violence in this state, and local officers exercising vigilance and energy in its suppression and punishment may rely upon the Executive for support and assistance. Let me know in what manner I can be of service in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this recent outrage, and I shall not be slow in responding to any practical suggestion. In the meantime I trust that you will do everything in your power to facilitate the inquiry which Mr. Callaham proposes to institute.”

April 28, 1876 – Response to Osborn from Sheriff Bassett

“Through what little information I gave him and his own exertions, he has ascertained the fact that his son, John Calleham, was at Dodge City on the 3rd day of April 1876 the day on which we held our municipal election. It appears from the statements made by the Sumner County and other papers that the horses were stolen on the 30th, and that the parties in pursuit followed the thieves a distance of 30 miles. The theory is that if the deceased John Calleham was here on the 3rd day of April that it would be physically impossible for him to have stolen those horses. Several Citizens of good standing are willing to qualify that they spoke with him on the 3rd of April, at Dodge City. If he was one of the thieves the time given him to travel over 300 miles of ground was 3 days from the night of the 30th of March to the morning of the 3rd of April. I do not hesitate to say that this fete could not be performed by any one horse or horseman in the time given, especially as the ground was so soft, as to leave an impression, so plain that it could be followed at a very rapid gait.

To be brief I am now of the opinion that the man was innocent of the crime alleged, and for which he has suffered death. Mr. Calleham wishes me to go to Sumner County and arrest the parties interested in the hanging, but without the assistance of the executive department I am totally unable to do anything, as I am in a poor fix financially to undertake so lengthy a journey.”

July 7, 1877 – Dodge City Times

Wyatt Earp, who was on our city police force last summer, is in town again. We hope he will accept a position on the force once more. He had a quiet way of taking the most desperate characters into custody which invariably gave one the impression that the city was able to enforce her mandates and preserve her dignity. It wasn’t considered policy to draw a gun on Wyatt unless you got the drop and meant to bum powder without any preliminary talk.”

July 7, 1877 – Dodge City Times

“Mr. G. C. Noble, of the Atchison Champion, made the following observations during his recent visit here:

‘At Dodge City we found everything and everybody busy as they could comfortably be. This being our first visit to the metropolis of the West, we were very pleasantly surprised, after the cock and bull stories that lunatic correspondents had given the public. Not a man was seen swinging from a telegraph pole; not a pistol was fired; no disturbance of any kind was noted. Instead of being called on to disgorge the few ducats in our possession, we were hospitably treated by all. It might be unpleasant for one or two old-time correspondents to be seen here, but they deserve all that would be meeted [meted] out to them. The Texas cattle men and cow-boys, instead of being armed to the teeth, with blood in their eye, conduct themselves with propriety, many of them being thorough gentlemen.

Dodge City is supported principally by the immense cattle trade that is carried on here. During the season that has just now fairly opened, not less than 200,000 head will find a market here; and there are nearly an hundred purchasers who make their headquarters here during the season. Mr. A. H. Johnson, the gentlemanly stock agent of the A.T.& S.F. Co. informs us that the drive to this point during the season will be larger than ever before. May it prove a matter of great good to the company and to Dodge City.

From our window in the Dodge House — which, by the way, is one of the best and most commodious in the West — can be seen five herds, ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 each, that are awaiting transportation. The stockyards here are the largest west of St. Louis and just now are well filled.

Chas. Rath & Co. have a yard in which are about 50,000 green and dried buffalo hides.

F. C. Zimmermann, an old patron of the Champion, runs a general outfitting store and flourishes financially and physically.

Many other friends of the leading journal are doing business and are awaiting patiently the opening up of the country to agricultural purposes.

In the long run, Dodge is destined to become the metropolis of Western Kansas and only awaits the development of its vast resources.'”

August 11, 1877 – Dodge City Times

“The blood spilling events of the past week if accurately related would make our friends abroad think we were not such a strictly moral town as we pretend to be. To begin with, slugging has been the order of the day. All along the line, this pastime has been general; no less than five or six of the wayward females have had their bewitching countenances pounded into unnatural shape by the fists of their more muscular companions. We hope things will move more smoothly hereafter, as broken heads and disfigured countenances are not pleasant to look upon.”

August 11, 1877 – Reminiscences of Dodge by Frank Barnard of the Corpus Christi Gazette, reprinted in the Dodge City Times

Charles Rath sitting atop buffalo hides in Dodge City, 1878.

Charles Rath sitting atop buffalo hides in Dodge City, 1878.

“By virtue of the falling off in the cattle drive to Kansas for this year and the large number of cattle driven under contract, Dodge City became the principal depot for the sale of surplus stock; buyers met drovers at this point, purchased and received purchases without unnecessary delay, thereby greatly facilitating business and enabling quick returns of both owners and hands. In the future, situated as it is upon one of the best railroads traversing the country from east to west, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, it will probably occupy an enviable position as a cattle market. “Dodge has many characteristics which prevent its being classed as a town of strictly moral ideas and principles, notwithstanding it is supplied with a church, courthouse, and jail. Other institutions counterbalance the good works supposed to emanate from the first mentioned. Like all frontier towns of this modern day, fast men and fast women are around by the score, seeking whom they may devour, hunting for a soft snap, taking him in for cash, and many are the Texas cowboy who can testify as to their ability to follow up successfully the calling they have embraced in quest of money.

Gambling ranges from a game of five-cent chuck-aluck to a thousand-dollar poker pot. Nothing is secret, but with open doors upon the main streets, the ball rolls on uninterruptedly. More than occasionally some darkeyed virago or some brazen-faced blonde, with a modern sundown, will saunter in among the roughs of the gambling houses and saloons, entering with inexplicable zest into the disgusting sport, breathing the immoral atmosphere with a gusto which I defy modern writers to explain. Dance houses are ranged along the convenient distances and supplied with all the trappings and paraphernalia which go to complete institutions of that character. Here you see the greatest abandon. Men of every grade assemble to join in the dance. Nice men with white neckties, the cattle dealer with his good clothes, the sport with his well-turned fingers, smooth tongue, and artistically twisted mustache, and last but not least the cowboy, booted and spurred as he comes from the trail, his hard earnings in his pocket, all join in the wild revel; and yet with all this mixture of strange human nature a remarkable degree of order is preserved. Arms are not allowed to be worn, and any noisy whisky demonstrations are promptly checked by incarceration in the lock-up. Even the mayor of the city indulges in the giddy dance with the girls, and with his cigar in one corner of his mouth and his hat tilted to one side, he makes a charming-looking officer.

Some things occur in Dodge that the world never knows of. Probably it is best so. Other things occur that leak out by degrees, notwithstanding the use of hush money. That, too, is perhaps the best. Men learn by such means.

Most places are satisfied with one abode of the dead. In the grave, there is no distinction. The rich are known from the poor only by their tombstones, so the sods that are upon the grave fail to reflect the characters buried beneath them. And yet Dodge boasts of two burying spots, one for the tainted whose very souls were steeped in immorality and who have generally died with their boots on. ‘Boot Hill‘ is the somewhat singular title applied to the burial place of the class just mentioned. The other is not designated by any particular title, but it is supposed to contain the bodies of those who died with a clean sheet on their beds-the soul, in this case, is a secondary consideration.”