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.
Kansas achieved statehood in 1861, but it was far from civilized. Until about the 1890s 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 and Pony Express both crossed the state; there were border wars because Kansas was a free state and a center of the abolitionist movement, whereas neighboring Missouri was a slave state; and finally the several Kansas 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.
Dodge City was a stop along the Santa Fe Trail and served as a civilian community to nearby Fort Dodge. Later it developed into a buffalo hunting town, then as a terminus for cattle drives. In 1865, Fort Dodge was established to protect travelers on the Santa Fe Trail, to provide mail service and to serve as a supply base for troops engaged in the Indian Wars to the south. Major General Greville Dodge was placed in command of the 11th and 16th Kansas Cavalry Regiments and began work during the harsh winter of 1865, to repair telegraph lines and reopen travel routes. The Indians usually refrained from attacks during winter months.
In 1871, a rancher by the name of Henry L. Sitler constructed a three-room sod house five miles west of Fort Dodge. At the foot of a hill along the Santa Fe Trail, Sitler's home became a frequent stopping place for buffalo hunters and traders. Of the Santa Fe Trail and its many wagon trains, Sitler would later say, "If you stood on the hill above Dodge City, there was traffic as far as you could see, 24-hours a day, seven days a week on the Santa Fe Trail." The mountain branch of the trail followed the north bank of the Arkansas River into Colorado then south into New Mexico. A shorter, but more dangerous route to Santa Fe was the Cimarron Cutoff, which crossed the river near Dodge City heading southwest to the Cimarron River. This trail was much more dangerous due to the vast spaces of waterless sand hills and increased risk of Indian attacks. In spite of all the hazards, this route was preferred by many traders and travelers because there were no mountains to be crossed.
Soon, another man George M. Hoover would join Sitler, building Dodge City's first business, a saloon built of sod and boards. In 1872 a group of businessmen from forts Dodge, Riley and Leavenworth, organized the Dodge City Town Company and began the planning and development of the town site. At first, the settlement was named Buffalo City until they learned there was already a town by that name, so it was changed to Dodge City, after the fort.
In September, 1872 the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Dodge City, which would initiate a tremendous growth for many years. Dozens of cars a day were loaded with hides and meat, and dozens of carloads of grain, flour, and provisions arrived each day. The streets of Dodge were lined with wagons from early morning to late at night. One observer wrote” I have been to several mining camps where rich strikes had been made, but I never saw any town to equal Dodge.”
Dodge City became the buffalo capital of the west and buffalo hides towered along Front Street awaiting shipment. Filthy buffalo hunters and traders filled the town’s establishment and the term "stinker” was coined. However, when General William Sherman, Army Commander-in-Chief, ordered the slaughter of buffalo in order to drive the Indians onto reservations, the prairie was littered with decaying carcasses.
Though Sherman's tactic of killing the buffalo was effective in winning the Indian Wars, it placed hundreds of buffalo hunters out of business. Most of the buffalo were gone by 1876, but over 1.5 million hides had been shipped from Dodge City on the railroad. For years farmers, during hard times, gathered the buffalo bones and sold them for six to eight dollars a ton. The bones were used in the manufacture of china and fertilizer.
When quarantine laws closed Wichita to the cattle trade, Dodge City emerged as the "Queen of the Cowtowns."
However, by the spring of 1876 the cattle trade had shifted west from Ellsworth and Wichita, Kansas, to Dodge City. Longhorn cattle from Texas were driven up the western branch of the Chisholm Trail. During the next 10 years, over 5 million head were driven on the trail into Dodge City. Many thousands more were driven through Dodge to stock northern ranges or to be shipped from other railheads.
Dance halls, saloons, and brothels increased in number to accommodate the many cowboys, buffalo hunters, railroad workers, drifters and soldiers. There was initially no law enforcement and Dodge City. Alcohol-fueled killings were common. Many of the dead were without families or otherwise unknown and and were buried as is, without preparation or ceremony, with their boots on. Thus, is the origin of the boot hill cemetery.
During its worst years, Dodge City hosted list of colorful Old West characters, including Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, Clay Allison, Luke Short, Dave Mather, Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday, and dozens of others. Without doubt, Dodge City was the most wicked and well-known of the Kansas cowtowns.
But the cowboys brought even more lawlessness to Dodge City and soon the mayor contacted Wyatt Earp, who was working as a Wichita lawman. Pleading for Earp's help, he offered Wyatt the position of Chief Deputy Marshal with unheard of salary of $250 per month. When Wyatt arrived, Dodge City 's population was 1,200 and nineteen businesses were licensed to sell liquor. Soon, four assistant deputies were hired, Bat Masterson (Earp’s old buffalo hunting friend), Charlie Basset, Bill Tilghman and Neal Brown.
Intending to restore order, one of the first things the new lawmen did was to initiate a "Deadline” north of the railroad yards on Front Street to keep the commercial part of the city quiet. On the north side, the city passed an ordinance that guns could not be worn or carried. On the south side of the "deadline”, those who supported the lawlessness continued to operate as usual, with a host of saloons, brothels, and frequent gunfights. The expression "Red Light District” was coined in Dodge City when the train masters took their red caboose lanterns with them when they visited the town’s brothels. The gun-toting rule was in effect around the clock and anyone wearing a gun was immediately jailed—soon the jail was filled.
In his role as Chief Deputy Marshal, Earp would go after famed train robber, Dave Rudabaugh, following the outlaw's trail for 400 miles to Fort Griffin, Texas. While there, Wyatt visited the largest saloon in town, Shanssey’s, asking about Rudabaugh. Owner John Shanssey said that Rudabaugh had been there earlier in the week, but didn’t know where he was bound. He directed Wyatt to Doc Holliday who had played cards with Rudabaugh.
Wyatt was skeptical about talking to Holliday, as it was well known that Doc hated lawmen. However, when Wyatt found him that evening at Shanssey’s, he was surprised at Holliday’s willingness to talk. Doc told Wyatt that he thought that Rudabaugh had back-trailed to Kansas. Wyatt wired this information to Bat Masterson and the news was instrumental in apprehending Rudabaugh. Earp and Holliday were an unlikely pair but formed a friendship in Shanssey’s that would last for years.
In June 1877, Ed Masterson was appointed an assistant marshal in Dodge City. Later in the same year, his younger brother Bat Masterson was chosen as an under-sheriff, until January 1878, when he became the sheriff. On April 9, 1878, Ed Masterson was killed in a gunfight. A third Masterson brother, James was appointed to the Dodge City police force in June of 1878.
In September 1879, Virgil Earp sent word to Wyatt of the boom in Tombstone and Wyatt headed West with Doc Holliday following shortly thereafter. By January 1880, Bat Masterson also left Dodge City for the West.
In 1880, the Santa Fe Railroad reached Santa Fe , marking the death of the Santa Fe Trail and the many travelers passing through Dodge City. With the Indians effectively "lodged” on reservations, there was no longer a need for a military presence and Fort Dodge was closed in 1882. By 1886, the cattle drives had stopped.
My earliest connection to Dodge City was our high school senior trip.(1957). It was a quiet town, we went to the Boot Hill Museum and goofed-off in the city park. One of our female number spent the entire day at the movie, Elvis' first, Love Me Tender. We had to go get her to go back home. It is hard to believe what a tourist trap it has becaome. However, there are caches all along the old Santa Fe trail, including some around Dodge City.