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Dodge City, Kansas is on the Arkansas River, is the seat of Ford County and the metropolis of southwest Kansas. The city, with its modern business and public buildings and attractive homes, breaks the monotony of the Kansas short grass country. The newer development of the business section has steadily advanced northward, the heart of the present commercial district lying two blocks north of old Front Street, the early day business thoroughfare, paralleling the Santa Fe Tracks. The looth Meridian W. passes through Dodge City and marks the division between central and mountain time.

From the old Front Street area in the lowlands around the Arkansas River the residential district also spreads northward over a series of low hills. As in many western cities, there is a scarcity of large trees, but there is a growing interest in tree planting, and the streets of the newer addi-tions are bordered with young trees, elms predominating.

Situated in one of the greatest wheat-producing areas in the world, Dodge City has been called "the buckle on the Kansas wheat belt." As the point of supply for an agricultural and cattle raising area, it is natu-rally the trading and cultural center. Industrial development was followed by a gradual production expansion, with enlarged distribution facilities for agricultural machinery and implements. During the late 1920's and the early 1930's, Dodge City experienced a period of vigorous economic development. Wheat crops in 1929 and 1930 created bank clearings in 1930 of $105,347,955 evidence of the financial security that enabled the city to weather several years of depression without serious consequences.

In 1835 the Army established a small post at the mouth of Mulberry Creek. As late as 1864, however, the only indications of colonization in the Southwest were the settlers' emigrant trains, and the freighters' outfits taking supplies from Fort Hays to the Indian Territory. Indian attacks, led by such noted chiefs as Satanta, Dull Knife, and Wild Hog, were a constant threat to travelers. Raids were especially frequent at the junction of the Santa Fe Trail and the Arkansas River Trail, a favorite campground for the wagon trains and the Government freighters on the Fort Hays-Camp Supply route. To protect this site, the Government, in 1864, established Fort Dodge, naming it for Col. Henry I. Dodge, and placing in charge his nephew, Grenville M. Dodge. It was one of the most important of the frontier forts and several Army Officers of note among them Miles, Custer, Hancock, and Sheridan held posts there. The 100th meridian W. was the approximate west boundary of the reservation.

In 1871 a sod house, the first building on the town site of Dodge City, was erected five miles west of Fort Dodge by H. L. Sitler. The spot was near a lone cottonwood tree standing near the entrance of Wright Park that marked a long-used ford across the Arkansas River. Sitler, a Government teamster, with a contract to supply wood for Fort Dodge, invested his earnings in cattle. The "soddy" was built as a cow camp and as a stopping place for freighters and buffalo hunters. It was outside the boundaries of military regulations. For obvious reasons the first Dodge City business houses tent saloons were located near Sitler 's place.

During the same year, Charles Myer, a veteran buffalo hunter, established a trading post on the Dodge City site, and did business with the hunters of a wide area to the north and south of his station.

In 1872 railroad construction gangs established headquarters near the Sitler camp and soon the clutter of tents and portable shacks became known as Buffalo City. A town site was laid out later in the year, under the name of Dodge City, by A. A. Robinson, chief engineer of the Santa Fe Railway. In September the first passenger train pulled into the drab little town, bringing the advance influx of immigrants, buffalo hunters, card sharps, gamblers, and adventurers the heterogeneous, transient population that gave early Dodge City its questionable but picturesque reputation.

Revenue was unbelievably large from the great herds of buffalo on the plains. For many years these great lumbering animals had been killed for sport and food; but with the coming of the railroad, their commercial value became evident. Before a depot could be built, the buffalo hides were hauled in by the thousands and piled up on the ground to await shipment. When this industry was at its height, R. M. Wright, Dodge City historian, estimated that 25 million of these animals were in the Dodge City hunting territory ; and added that many persons as well informed as himself put the probable number at 100 million. Hunters could travel for days without losing sight of the vast herds. Tom Nixon, buffalo hunter, once killed 120 in 40 minutes. A good shot, quick-witted and agile, could earn $100 a day. The era of the buffalo hunter was comparatively brief. Before the end of 1875 the great herds of shaggy animals were practically exterminated. But the railroad was responsible for a greater industry pushing its determined way into Dodge City the cattle industry.

Milling, bawling, Texas longhorns, driven by hundreds of cowboys and trail bosses, came over the Texas Trail, a shortcut drifting west from the Chisholm Trail to Dodge City, where the herds were shipped east on the Santa Fe Railway, or driven north to the Ellis and Wakeeney rail-heads on the Union Pacific Railroad. In addition, herds of young steers were rested and watered at Dodge on their way to the great grazing areas in the Northwest. These drives were enormous undertakings. Herds of 17,000 to 40,000 were brought in at one time, driven by cowpunchers scarcely less wild than their bucking, bellowing charges.

So, in 1882, Dodge City took its turn as the cowboy capital of the Southwest and rode high on the wave of prosperity. Outfits of cattlemen jostled freighters, hunters and soldiers in the streets that echoed to the ribald songs and yells of the cowboy, and the wild oaths of the bull-whacker and the muleskinner. The law was 100 miles away at Hays a town not without high color of its own.

The motley elements that made up the community were far too diverse for harmony. The freighter and the trader had nothing in common, except a mutual and intense dislike. The same condition existed between the cowboys and the buffalo hunters. And the soldiers, considering themselves duly authorized fighters, were not averse to taking a hand a high hand whenever and wherever a row started. Results necessitated the establishment of Boot Hill Cemetery.

With the notable exception of Wild Bill Hickock, who centered his activities at Hays and Abilene and is never definitely known to have visited Dodge City, most of the gunmen famous in the annals of the Southwest served terms as marshal or sheriff in the "Cowboy Capital." Jack Bridges, the first marshal, and several of his successors held no commissions of authority from the community but were hired by the saloon keepers and gamblers to preserve some semblance of order among their boisterous patrons.

Bat Masterson, who came to Dodge City as a boy of eighteen in 1872, followed a varied career as subcontractor for the railroad, buffalo hunter and scout before his election as sheriff in 1877. Defeated for reelection, he went to Tombstone, Arizona, where he helped Wyatt Earp, also a former Dodge City peace officer, in his efforts to clean up that notorious mining town. Bill Tilghman served as one of Masterson' s deputies during his term as sheriff while Ed Masterson, the sheriff's older brother, was town marshal.

Sheriff Masterson wore clothes of the latest cut, a pearl gray bowler hat, and a diamond stickpin. He often carried a cane, but in spite of his foppish attire he was feared as one of the deadliest gunmen on the frontier.

Other famous marshals included Mysterious Dave Mather, reputed to be the lineal descendant of Cotton Mather; Prairie Dog Dave Morrow, so-called because he carried on a profitable business of trapping prairie dogs and selling the little animals to tourists at $5 a pair; and Luke Short.

Life at Dodge City was not all violent and tragic. Though the racing cow-pony and the detonation of the sixshooter were common sights and sounds of the town, there were many citizens who carried on their business quietly during the day and took no part in the uproarious night life. These persons and their preferences were respected.

After the great herds were ruthlessly reduced to a few scattered remnants, hunters and homesteaders were forced to descend to the comparatively dull business of gathering up and selling the bones of the thousands of slaughtered buffalo. They were piled in huge ricks along the railroad and shipped East for fertilizer. By 1881 it was estimated that Kansas had received more than two million dollars for bones alone. During this period it was a popular saying that in Dodge City buffalo bones were legal tender.

In 1884, Dodge City held a Fourth of July celebration unique in the history of the State and Nation. A bull fight, with "distinguished matadors, all in Andalusian costume, . . . and 12 bulls," was given for the first and, records say, the only time in the United States. The affair was much talked of and generously advertised, creating wide-spread interest of several sorts. Humane societies protested vigorously. State and Federal authorities wired orders to stop the show; it could not be given in the United States. Mayor A. B. Webster wired tersely in reply, "Dodge City is not in the United States" and went on about his business of completing the elaborate arrangements.

On the morning of July 4th a great crowd was on the streets to see the grand parade. The procession, headed by the mayor, included the Dodge City Cowboy Band and the gaudily dressed matadors. At the fair-grounds more than 2,000 people found seats in the huge amphitheater especially built for the occasion.

The fight was repeated on the next day with an even better selection of fighting bulls, more thrills and excitement. The Ford County Globe of July 8, made this boastful comment:

Those present can testify that it was a genuine bull fight on each of the two days, just as we said it would be, and parties who witnessed the performances are free to say that they never beheld one, either in Old Mexico or Spain, that was more in dead earnest than the ones given in this city.

Gradually, as other shipping terminals were established, Dodge City became less important as a center of the cattle industry, and in 1884 the State legislature, alarmed at the increase of the cattle disease known as Texas fever, passed legislation forbidding the importation of Texas cattle between March 1 and December 1, the season of the long drives. This ended the era of the cattle trail.

The city retained a moderate importance as a shipping point for the large herds pastured in Southwest Kansas until the blizzard of 1886 destroyed the herds and the Kansas cattlemen gave up the battle with the homesteaders, which had been raging since the tide or settlement began to sweep over this section of the State in 1885. Many ranchers drove the remnants of their herds into the unorganized territory south of the State line. Others fenced a few thousand acres of grazing land and continued on a smaller scale, but by 1890 large areas near Dodge City had been broken up and sown to wheat and other crops.

From the days of the gambler and the card sharp, down through those of the cowpony race, the bull fight, and the greyhound- jackrabbit coursing, there had been a keen relish for sporting events. Today it finds outlet in dog racing and in the raising and racing of saddle and harness horses, and thoroughbred coursing hounds. The Wild Indian Kennels, just west of Wright Park, are the largest in the Middle West. A familiar sight in the environs of Dodge City is a beautiful thoroughbred jumper, followed on his morning canter by a dozen or more graceful racing dogs.

The city has a modern school system including a junior college, a denominational academy, and a business college. There are two well-equipped modern hospitals and more than a dozen churches, several of which are of architectural interest.

Points Of Interest

BOOT HILL, 4th Ave. and Spruce St., a promontory of "gyp-rock" (gypsum), and clay rising 100 feet above the Arkansas River Valley, was an early-day lookout.

About 1872 two cowboys, camped on this hill-site, had a gunfight. One was killed and the murderer fled. The dead man, friendless and unknown, was wrapped in his blankets and buried where he fell with his boots on. So was Boot Hill dedicated.

Deaths in Dodge City during the first five years were frequent and usually sudden. Often the victims were known only by a first name or an alias. Public concern with the last rites was brief. Some had rude pine coffins; others, wrapped in their blankets were buried as they fell with boots on, or under their heads for a pillow.

Merritt Beeson, local historian, and son of Chalk Beeson, widely known Dodge City pioneer, says the burial of Alice Chambers, dance hall girl, on May 5, 1878, was the last on Boot Hill.

In 1879, when a schoolhouse was built on the site, the bodies were moved to Prairie Grove Cemetery; and with one exception were buried side by side, in four rows. Alice Chambers lies a short distance away, alone.

In 1927 the city bought Boot Hill as a site for the CITY HALL, built in 1929 and 1930. It is a two-story structure built of yellow brick and concrete, with a tile roof, and houses the offices of city officials, and the fire and police departments. A. R. Mann of Hutchinson was the architect. Near the main entrance is the COWBOY STATUE, a well-proportioned figure modeled in concrete, representing the western cowboy in the act of drawing his gun. To the left of the entrance is the LONGHORN STATUE the heads and yoke of an ox team molded in concrete on a concrete base. These monuments recalling the Dodge City of the 1870's and 1880's, were modeled by the late Dr. O. H. Simpson, a local dentist.

Near the hall is a clever but rather macabre hoax, also modeled by Dr. Simpson, and "planted" as a bit of atmosphere for a Rotarian convention held in Dodge City in 1930. This is an imitation graveyard with markers at several "graves" bearing the fictitious titles of early-day tough characters "Shoot-em-up Ike," "One-Eyed Jake," "Toothless Nell." Partially exposed and weathered concrete skulls and boot toes give the expected thrill.

The local Rotarians, infected by the spirit of Dr. Simpson's hoax, "planted" an old cottonwood tree on the hillside and passed it off to visitors as the historic gallows tree from Horse Thief Canyon. It still stands a rope, dangling suggestively from a high crotch, draped around the dead trunk.

A veteran Dodge City peace officer, attired in cowboy regalia, is stationed in a small tent south of Boot Hill graveyard site. Tourists who visit the Hill are entertained with anecdotes of early day Dodge City and are requested to sign their names in the Boot Hill guest book.

WRIGHT PARK, 2nd Ave. and Water St., N. of the Arkansas River, was named in honor of Robert M. Wright, a pioneer citizen and former mayor. In it are the MEMORIAL FOUNTAINS, honoring World War veterans; the HOOVER PAVILION, a cream-colored stucco building used for entertainments and public meetings named in honor of G. M. Hoover, Dodge City banker who left a bequest of $95,000 for civic improvement; and the Great Southwest Free Fair Buildings. Multi-colored rock white and black, and varied shades of orange, red, and amber from the Sawlog, an upland stream near Dodge City, is used in various park constructions.

The OLD LONE TREE, 2nd Ave. and Water St., a cottonwood, near the entrance of Wright Park, marks the site of the ford on the Arkansas River when the town was founded in 1872. The tree is dead, but the trunk has been preserved. A memorial plate shows a prairie schooner and emigrants in bas-relief.

The SITE OF THE FIRST BUILDING, 305 2nd Ave., is marked with a bronze tablet set in the wall of the present building. It is the approximate place where H. L. Sitler built his sod house in 1871.

The SITE OF THE FIRST SCHOOL, NW. corner ist Ave. and Walnut St., was marked in 1927 by a bronze tablet set in a five-foot sandstone boulder, bearing the inscription, "Here public education had its beginning in the Southwest in 1873."

The SANTA FE MARKER, NW. corner 2nd Ave. and Trail St., is a red granite boulder about three feet high, erected in 1906 by the D. A. R. and the State of Kansas. The inscribed bronze tablet bears the dates when the old Santa Fe Trail was in use, 1822-1872.

The SITE OF OLD FORT DODGE MILITARY RESERVATION, Central and Military Aves., is marked by a tablet set in the pavement in front of the main entrance to the Lora Locke Hotel. Part of the city is built on the old reservation and the hotel is on the western boundary line.

Two SUNDIALS, Front St. and Central Ave., stand side by side, in the Santa Fe station park. They are 44 feet in diameter and separated by a space of 44 feet. Visible from the windows of passing trains, the east dial tells central standard time, the west dial, mountain time. The looth meridian W. passes between them.

The FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NW. corner Central Ave. and Vine St., is of the English Gothic style of architecture, designed by Harry W. Jones of Minneapolis, Minn. It was completed in 1925 at a cost of $150,000. The structure is of Kansas limestone trimmed with Carthage, Mo., limestone. In the church auditorium is a pipe organ, built in Lawrence and installed at a cost of $12,800.

THE SACRED HEART ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, NW. corner Central Ave. and Cedar St., designed in the Spanish Mission style, is constructed of limestone with red-tile, gable roof and domed belfry. Above the arched entrance is a life-size figure of Christ. The interior of the church is finished in tan stucco and the high ceiling of the nave is supported by rough-hewn beams, stained a dark brown color. Above the altar is an oil painting, "The Crucifixion," by George M. Stone. Designed by Cram and Ferguson of Boston, the Church was completed in 1915 on the site of the first Catholic Church in Dodge City built in 1879. Adjoining the church on the north are a parish house and a parochial grade school, which harmonize with the church in design and construction.

The CITY LIBRARY, NW. corner 2nd and Spruce Sts., an Andrew Carnegie beneficiary, is a one and one-half story brick building of modified Romanesque design, constructed in 1910. Fred Lipps of Dodge City was the architect. The library contains 14,000 volumes. (Editor Note: The Library has moved to a new location, the building is now a fine arts museum.)


Websites about Dodge City, Kansas:

  1. City of Dodge City, Kansas
  2. Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau 
  3. Boothill Museum 
  4. Dodge City Days 
  5. Dodge City Area Chamber of Commerce 
  6. Kansas Heritage Center 
  7. The Great Western Cattle Trail Association
  8. Dodge City on Wikipedia 
  9. Dodge City, Kansas Video on YouTube 
  10. The Dodge City Daily Globe ( Town Newspaper)
  11. Dodge City, Kansas: A Wicked Little Town on the Legends of America web site. 
  12. A Cowboy in Dodge City 1882 on the Eyewitness to History web site. 
  13. Dodge City Raceway Park (Car Racing) 
  14. Kansas Facts: Ford County Facts (On this Site)