Dodge City, Kansas

The Wildest Town in the Wild West

The Beginning

As a last bastion of civilization before settling westward, this important high-volume cattle town was host to commerce, gambling, gunfighters and a very colorful history.

In April 1865, as the Indian Wars in the West began heating up, the army constructed Fort Dodge to assist Fort Larned in providing protection on the Santa Fe Trail.

The town of Dodge City can trace its origins to 1871 when rancher Henry J. Sitler built a sod house west of Fort Dodge to oversee his cattle operations in the region. Conveniently located near the Santa Fe Trail and Arkansas River, Sitler’s house quickly became a stopping point for travelers. With the Santa Fe Railroad rapidly approaching from the east, others saw the commercial potential of the region. In 1872, Dodge City was staked out on the 100th Meridian and the legal Western boundary of the Fort Dodge reservation.

Long Branch Saloon

The most well-known saloon in Dodge City, Kansas from about 1874 to 1885. The establishment provided live entertainment, notably Chalk’s five-person orchestra, and gambling. It was the scene of many altercations, shoot-outs, gunfights and standoffs often associated with the then-wild cattle town, the most famous of which was the Long Branch Saloon Gunfight, in which Frank Loving killed Levi Richardson.

The saloon was built as the result of a wager between cowboys and soldiers playing ball. Bets were placed and if the cowboys beat the soldiers, the soldiers agreed to provide building materials to construct a saloon.

The Dodge City Cattle Trade

In 1876 the Kansas State Legislature responded to pressure from farmers settling in central Kansas because of a cattle tick quarantine and once again shifted the quarantine line westward, which essentially eliminated Abilene and the other Cow Towns from the cattle trade. With no place else to go, Dodge City suddenly became Queen of the Cow Towns.

A new route, known as the Great Western Cattle Trail, or Western Trail, branched off from the Chisholm Trail to lead cattle into Dodge City. Dodge City became a boomtown, with thousands of cattle passing annually through its stockyards.

Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp

William Barclay “Bat” Masterson was a figure of the American Old West known as a buffalo hunter, U.S. Marshal and Army scout. Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was an American Deputy U.S. Marshal , Assistant Marshal and gambler. Soon after his arrival in Dodge City, Masterson came into conflict with the local marshal over the treatment of a man being arrested. He was jailed and fined, although his fine was later returned by the city council. He served as a sheriff’s deputy alongside Wyatt Earp, and within a few months he was elected county sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. As sheriff, Bat won plaudits for capturing four members of the Mike Roark gang, who had unsuccessfully held up a train at nearby Kinsley, Kansas. He also led the posse that captured Jim “Spike” Kenedy, a 23-year-old cattleman who had inadvertently killed an entertainer named Dora Hand in Dodge City; with a shot through the shoulder Masterson eventually brought Kenedy down

Dodge City War

A bloodless conflict that took place in 1883 that came at the close of the first ten years of the city’s history when the cattle drive and saloons were fading as a dominant force in the city’s politics.

From its founding, Dodge had a reputation for corruption and was often called “the Wickedest City in America.” The informal association known as the Dodge City Gang dominated the law enforcement and much of the political life of the community, and monopolized the whiskey trade. In 1879 the anti-gang faction won a closely fought election for Ford County, defeating popular gang member Bat Masterson. This was the first in a number of elections that ousted the members of the gang from positions of power.

The End of the Boom Town

As more agricultural settlers moved into western Kansas, pressure on the Kansas State Legislature to do something about splenic fever increased. Consequently, in 1885 the quarantine line was extended across the state and the Western Trail was all but shut down. By 1886, the cowboys, saloon keepers, gamblers, and brothel owners moved west to greener pastures, and Dodge City became a sleepy little town much like other communities in western Kansas.