Dodge City – Newspaper, Letters, and Book Excerpts

May 5, 1883 – Letter to Luke Short from Otto Muller

“The situation here in town is unchanged except so far as relates to public opinion, which is gradually but steadily changing in your favor. All your friends are at work with a determination which is bound to win in the end. Of course every movement must be made with the greatest care and caution, and as many are too timid to express themselves, it will naturally require time, before the organization that style themselves “the Vigilanters” will be convinced that they must give way to public opinion. And a beautiful lot of reformers they are, these vigilanters, under the leadership of their captain, Tom Nixon of Dance Hall fame. But no matter how slow, you may rest assured that this time will surely come. As the heat of passion subsides and men begin to look over the past more calmly, they can not help to see that a great wrong has been committed and many are frank enough to admit that fact. Men of good standing in this community, against whom nothing can be said, but who take little interest in the management of public affairs, feel that they are not safe in the enjoyment of their life and property in a place where such outrages may be committed without the interference of the authorities, and feel more alarmed when they begin to realize the fact that the outrages here were committed not only without interference, but under the guidance of the municipal government, whose duty it should be to protect even those charged with the commission of a crime against violence.”

May 9, 1883 – Kansas City Evening Star

“Just before the last city election the mayor was a man named Webster, the proprietor of a dive, half saloon and the other half gambling house and variety hall. He was a representative of the tougher element of the sporting fraternity. The head of the other faction was W. H. Harris, of Harris & Short, proprietors of the Long Branch Saloon. Harris represented the quieter and more reputable element and there was bitter feeling between the two.

At the last election Harris was beaten in the race for mayor by one Deger, Webster’s candidate, and since then it has been conceded that it was only a matter of time when all of Harris’s sympathizers would be driven out of the town. Thus Dodge has been hovering on the brink of trouble for a long time. About ten days ago it came. Mr. Short, who is Harris’s partner, and a police officer, had a shooting affray. Neither were hurt, and the evidence showed that Short was Bred on first. He was nevertheless placed under bonds, and next day thrown into jail. The marshal of Dodge, who made the arrest, is Jack Bridges, a well known character, who formerly lived here and traveled principally upon having “killed his man.”

A short time later five gamblers were arrested, and also jailed. That night a vigilance committee was formed with Tom Nixon, the proprietor of one of the hardest dance halls that ever existed in the west, at the head. This crowd repaired to the jail and notified the prisoners that they must leave town next morning and that they would be given their choice of trains going east or west. Meantime the vigilantes took possession of the town.

The correspondent of the Chicago Times and other leading papers were notified that they must not be permitted to send any telegrams in reference to the situation and a body of armed men watched the arrival of each train to see that there was no interference. A lawyer from Lamed, sent for by one of the prisoners was met by a vigilante who leveled a shotgun at his head and told him not to stop. He passed on. Next morning the five gamblers were put on a westward bound train and Short left for Kansas City where he is at present.

The trouble has by no means yet abated. The place is practically in the hands of the “vigilantes” and the situation is more serious from the fact that the mayor is acting with them and it was he who notified the prisoners that they must go. The trains are still watched and armed men guard the town, while a list of others who will be ordered out has been prepared. Every source of reliable information indicates that Dodge is now in the hands of desperadoes, and that incident to the ejection of Short and the others, the lives and property of citizens are by no means safe. For this reason martial law is being asked. That there will be trouble of a very serious character there, is anticipated.”

Cowboys at water tank in Dodge City, Kansas.

Cowboys at water tank in Dodge City, Kansas.

May 12, 1883 – Letter from Governor George Washington Glick to George Hinkle, Ford County Sheriff

“Your telegram to me of the 11th is at hand. I am glad to be assured by you that you are able to preserve the peace of Dodge City, and of your county. The accounts of the way things have been going on there are simply monstrous, and it requires that the disgrace that is being brought upon Dodge City, and the State of Kansas, by the conduct that is represented to have occurred there, should be wiped out. Your dispatch to me presents an extraordinary state of affairs, one that is outrageous upon its face. You tell me that the mayor has compelled several parties to leave the town for refusing to comply with the ordinances. Such a statement as that if true, simply shows that the mayor is unfit for his place, that he does not do his duty, and instead of occupying the position of peace maker, the man whose duty it is to see that the ordinances are enforced by legal process in the courts, starts out to head a mob to drive people away from their homes and their business.

It was the mayor’s duty, if he did anything, to have appointed and sworn in special policemen to protect citizens, and if he could not do it, to have called upon you, or have called upon me, for assistance to aid him in executing his duties as mayor, and in preserving the peace of his town. It is represented to me by affidavits, and by statements, that the best men in Dodge City have been threatened with assassination, and with being driven away from their homes, if they raised their voices against the conduct of this mob. Now if this is true, it is your duty to call to your assistance a respectable number of people, sufficient to enforce the law, and protect every man in Dodge City, without any reference to who he is, or what his business is, and if he is charged with crime, or the violation of law, to see that he has a fair trial before a proper tribunal, and that the sentence of the law is executed by you or by the authorities, according to the command of the court.

It is also represented to me that this mob is in the habit of going to the trains armed, searching for people that may be coming to their homes, and for the alleged purpose of driving any persons away, or threatening their lives, who may seek to return to their homes, and to their business. The further statement is also made to me that instead of its being disreputable characters that were driven away for the purpose of peace, it is simply a difficulty between saloon men and dance houses, and that the mayor of the town with his marshal has taken sides with one party against the other, to drive them out of business, and instead of the mayor enforcing the ordinances against lewd women visiting saloons, it is reported to me that he has called to his assistance those who were running dance houses with women in them, and entered saloons to drive out men who were keeping other saloons, and that he has set himself up as the judge as to who may violate the ordinances and who shall not, and that he proposes to permit certain parties to violate the ordinances of the city, while others are driven from their homes for violating ordinances, and not prosecuting others according to law for the violation of the ordinances.

I hope this is all untrue, and that the mayor has not been guilty of any such offenses. I cannot believe these statements of the mayor of Dodge City, as I believe him to be a clear-headed, honorable gentleman, and would not become a party to such transactions, or permit any such things to be done. I hope to learn from you that he has been wrongfully represented to me. His own good name, and the good name of the state, that is placed in his hands for protection, certainly would be sufficient inducement to him to see that such charges could not be truthfully made.

It is represented to me also that at this very time, and ever since this pretence of the mayor that he was trying to enforce two ordinances against women visiting saloons, that he has prohibited it only as to one saloon, made arrests in one case, and permitted that ordinance to be violated every day and every night, to his own personal knowledge, and that of the marshal and police officers of the city, by other men who were running saloons where women are permitted to visit, and sing and dance.

Now Mr. Sheriff, I desire to remind you that your duty as a public conservator of the peace, and also having authority over and above the mayor of Dodge City, if he fails to discharge his duties, that it is your duty to see that these things are not permitted and are not tolerated, and that no citizens shall be interfered with, that no citizen shall be driven away from his home, that the mayor of Dodge City shall not pick out men and say that the ordinances shall be enforced against them, and shall not be enforced against others.”

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