Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Welcome to Dodge City

I've been discussing famous marshals in my last few post. However, it's the towns that made the marshals famous. Since most of us grew up around TV, probably the first western town that comes to mind is Dodge City, the home of Marshal Matt Dillon. But, what was Dodge really like?

Dodge City wasn't in the beginning. It was an area that belonged to Mexico in which the Santa Fe Trail meandered through. A U.S. fort - Fort Mann- was established in 1847 and it was the first town or settlement that was no made up of indigenous people. So, it should not be too surprising that no more than a year later (1848) an attack by Native people caused the collapse of the fort. The army sent more men in 1850 and created Fort Atkinson only to abandon it in 1853. It wasn't until the end of the hostilities between North and South that a more robust attempt was made to tame the area. 1865 brought a new fort named Fort Dodge and while the ''Indian Wars" were breaking out, it remained until 1882.

The town itself, began on a cattle ranch owned by Henry J. Sitler, who built a sod home in order to watch over his cattle operation. The area held importance because it was between to means of travel, the Santa Fe Trail and the Arkansas River. Travelers used the home as a place to stop off before venturing toward the west coast. With cattle, travel, and constant movement of people, it wasn't long before the railroads came and Dodge City was a stop. With thousands of head of cattle moving toward the rail lines, it wasn't long before Dodge was considered "Queen of the Cow towns".

With such notoriety, those looking to prosper legally or illegally stepped in. Gunfighters worked the saloons, gambling halls, and brothels. Two of the most famous homes to soiled doves were the Long Branch Saloon and The China Doll brothel. For gentleman's entertainment in 1884 the town boasted two bullfighting rings with specially chosen Longhorns.

But the expansion of the west was continuing toward the coast and by 1886, Dodge became nothing more than a sleepy little dot on the rail line.


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