Get out of Dodge! That was sound advice in the wild 1880s, when cowboys, money, whiskey and women turned many a drunken Spring Break into a fatal shootout, so today we mark


This is the 153rd Anniversary of Dodge City’s first saloon opening, when George M. Hoover began selling whiskey to the soldiers from nearby Fort Dodge out of a tent on June 17, 1871, firmly establishing the character of the town that would come to symbolize the Wild West.

The previous fort had been conquered by the Indians in the Indian Wars, and the town of Dodge City was not much more than a rest stop for weary travelers on their way to someplace better.

Enter the railroad and cattle, and Dodge became a boomtown overnight, the Queen of The Cowtowns, its streets lined with drunken cowboys, saloons, brothels and all the desperadoes, cardsharps and conmen that combination attracts.

The place needed not only a sheriff, but a whole bunch of deputies, to say nothing of an ambitious undertaker or two to fill the town’s infamous cemetery, Boot Hill. Dodge City, Kansas was like Disney World to that dangerous breed of Westerner, outlaws.

Promoted nationally by hack dime novelists as knights errant with a taste for the nightlife and defending their easily-bruised honor, the gunslingers of the Old West were in reality drunken psychopaths with guns, whose presence prompted townsfolk to hire smarter psychopaths with guns to get rid of them.

Among the famous lawmen who put their hand to cleaning up Dodge City were Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Charlie Basset, with varying degrees of success. Earp was a shady casino operator who banned guns from city limits, while his former boss Basset was the proprietor of the legendary Long Branch Saloon and would go on to be either a lawman, a saloon keeper or both in a half dozen more storied towns in the Old West, including the notorious Kansas City.

Quebec-born Bat Masterson was a professional gambler whose avenged his brother’s murder on Main Street by gunning down his assailants, and who wound up as a major NYC newspaper sportswriter and a close friend of President Teddy Roosevelt, who appointed Masterson deputy U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of New York, one of Roosevelt’s so-called “White House Gunfighters” who received such appointments, guys like Pat Garret of killing Billy the Kid fame.

What finally cleaned up Dodge for good was the disappearance of the cows and the money to other towns, and missing out on becoming a major railroad hub, the kind that put other towns on the map, and by 1887 Dodge City was once again just one more sleepy little West Kansas village.

•Suggested Activities: Riding off into the sunset.


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