This is not collectible.
While I have lived in Texas for nearly 50 years, I was born and grew to an adult in Kansas. When I tell someone of my origins, they almost always respond in one of two ways: “I have been there but I don’t remember much about it” or “that 400 mile drive across the state on Interstate 70 is really boring.” There is more to the state than that. The wheat grown there feeds the world, and the people are nice, but I will focus on the sometimes lawless history of the state.
Kansas achieved statehood in 1861, but it was far from civilized. From 1850 until 1900 the region was a frontier, and at the center of important events in US history: there was the westward movement of pioneers from Europe and the eastern US and the subsequent conflicts with Native Americans; the Santa Fe Trail crossed the state and the Pony Express and the Oregon Trail passed through a corner; there was a border war because Kansas was a free state and a center of the abolitionist movement, whereas neighboring Missouri was a slave state; and finally the several new railroads were extending westward into hostile territory and furthermore some of the railheads were the destinations of cattle drives from Texas. Each trackable in this series of metal travel bugs is named for towns with interesting histories (at least to me), some of which have connections to my youth.
Caldwell was established in 1871. The first building was a log house which was used as a store and the first post office. Other buildings soon followed including a hotel, other businesses, and the Red Light Saloon, which thrived with both Indian and cowboy customers. However, it remained little more than a trading post up until 1879, when it had about 260 residents.
Situated along the Chisholm Trail, Caldwell catered to the many cowboys who passed by with their large cattle herds on their way to Abilene and Wichita, even before the town became a shipping point itself. However, in 1879, the Santa Fe Railroad extended its line to Caldwell, and the town found itself in the middle of the cattle trade. In no time, it sprouted even more saloons, gambling dens, and brothels, providing a place where the cowboys could go wild after months on the dusty and treacherous trail. Caldwell was the first town north of Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). After the railroad made it to the site, the town grew quickly and soon boasted some 1,500 people. Gunfights, showdowns, general hell raising and hangings soon became commonplace. Challenging Dodge City for the cattle market in the 1880's, Caldwell was known as the "Border Queen," for her location near the Oklahoma border.
During its reckless cowtown period between 1879 and 1885, Caldwell "boasted” a higher murder rate, and loss of more law enforcement officers than other more famous cowtowns. During this period, violence claimed the lives of 18 city marshals, leading a Wichita editor to write, "As we go to press hell is again in session in Caldwell."
One of the first incidents occurred at the Moreland Saloon in1879. Deputy Constable James Wilson and a citizen, George Flatt, cornered two cowboys named Woods and Adams. The cowboys had been firing their guns outside the saloon in celebration of being paid for a Texas cattle drive earlier in the day. A gunfight followed and Woods and Adams lay dead. An innocent bystander named Kiser was wounded. Having now made a reputation for himself, citizen Flatt was made Caldwell’s first City Marshal. He gladly took credit for shooting the cowboys, but no one ever came forward to accept responsibility for wounding Kiser.
However, Flatt was not liked by local citizens and in 1880 a new mayor was elected, past Wichita Marshall Mike Meagher. One of the first things Meagher did was discharge City Marshal Flatt because he disapproved of Flatt's confrontational manner. The mayor appointed a new law enforcement staff, William Horseman as the new marshal, Frank Hunt and Dan Jones as deputies, and James Johnson stayed on as constable. In June,1880, a drunken Flatt made his rounds in a number of Caldwell saloons, voicing his complaints to anyone who would listen. Flatt encountered Frank Hunt and the two argued until after midnight when Hunt was able to persuade Flatt to go home. But Flatt wouldn't make it. On the way, he was ambushed and died in the street with a bullet in the back of his skull. It was widely believed Mayor Mike Meagher, and police officers William Horseman, Frank Hunt, James Johnson, and Dan Jones were responsible for the murder. They were soon arrested by Sumner County Sheriff, Joe Thralls. Although all of the men were bound over for trial, only William Horseman was tried. A year later he was acquitted.
Mike Meagher would die in a gunfight in December 1881. That affair should be a movie script. It began when a group of cowboys, led by Jim Talbot, interrupted a presentation of the play "Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in the Opera House. Talbot, a Texas cowboy, and his friends who included Jim Martin, Bob Bigtree, Tom Love, Bob Munson, Dick Eddleman, and "Comanche Bill” Mankin, had been in Caldwell for about 30 days, gambling, drinking and hell-raising the entire time. A newspaper editorial criticizing the cowboys’ behavior seemed only esculate their rowdiness.
One of Talbot’s men, Tom Love, was later causing a disturbance in a saloon. Mike Meagher, went to the home of the current marshal, John Wilson, and asked him to go downtown to stop "a riot.” The pair then returned to the saloon to arrest Tom Love but as they headed to the courthouse, they were confronted by Talbot and his cowboys. However, Marshal Wilson took aim at the ruffians, threatening to shoot the first one who made a move. Talbot and companions retreated. Love was taken to court and almost immediately released.
Later in the day, Marshal Wilson and Deputy Bill Fossett arrested cowboy Jim Martin for carrying firearms and for rowdy behavior. He was taken to the courthouse and fined. With Deputy Fossett escorting him, Martin left to get the money to pay the fine. However, encountered Talbot, Love, Munson, and Eddleman wher upon the cowboys relieved the Deputy of his prisoner.
Marshal Wilson heard the commotion and went to intervene. He demanded the cowboys hand over their weapons. Instead, Talbot fired two shots at Wilson and the cowboys ran. Wilson enlisted the help of Meagher and chased the cowboys. A citizen, Ed Rathbun, joined them. In an alley behind Pulaski’s store, this group confronted four of the cowboys. Gunfire was exchanged andMeagher was hit; he died about 30 minutes later. Talbot’s cowboys fled the scene.
Meanwhile, the gunfight lasted long enough for a hardware store to pass guns and ammunition out to townspeople who joined the battle. With bullets rainning on the fleeing cowboys, George Spears, a former policeman who switched to the Talbot side, was shot and killed. A running fight continued for the next twelve miles until the gang split up and managed to escape south to Indian Territory. Though more posses were formed they were unable to find the cowboys.
A coroner’s jury returned a verdict that Mike Meagher was murdered by Jim Talbot, and that Bob Bigtree, Jim Martin, Tom Love, Dick Eddleman, Bob Munson, and Doug Hill, were accessories to the crime. Dead or alive rewards totaling $1100 (1882 dollars) were offered for the capture of the men.
Tom Love was captured but acquitted. Love went on to become a lawman. He would later help to track down outlaw Bill Cook (Cherokee Kid). Eddleman was also captured but was never convicted. Five years later, in 1887, Doug Hill was brought back from Texas. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the fourth degree, and received a sentence of six months in the county jail. Jim Talbot was finally arrested in California in 1895 and returned to Kansas. However, his first trial ended in a hung jury and the second in acquittal. Talbot returned to California and the next summer was gunned down by an unknown assailant. Some believe the killer may have been Mike Meagher's twin brother, John who was seen following Talbot from the courthouse.