After traveling through the back roads of Western Kansas, we arrived in Dodge City. I admit to being more than a little excited by this since I grew up with the legends of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holiday. I hoped to see their shootout enactment, but we missed this by arriving too late in the year. Nonetheless, there was an extensive museum complete with building re-creations.
Let’s start with a little history. Dodge City had its roots in the early 1800s when the Army established Fort Dodge to protect settlers who were beginning to make their way west on the Santa Fe Trail. A local rancher built a home and started supplying the troops with comforts. After the Civil War, the westward migration picked up and a town began to grow. Finally, with the completion of the railroad, ranchers in Texas began to drive their longhorn cattle north to the railheads in Dodge City. The boom years for the town were in the 1880s. As farmers began to move further west in Kansas, they did not like the cattle drives. The longhorns made their kept cattle sick. So the settlers started to fence off their property with barbed wire, which eventually ended most of the cattle drives. Dodge City became a sleepy Kansas town, and many of the gamblers, speculators, and cowboys left. But the legends remained… And in the West, if you have a choice between the truth and the legend, keep the legend.
The museum had displays of the local Indian tribes, cowboys, and settlers. The pics above show their collections of arrowheads, cowboy branding irons, and barbed wire designs used by the settlers.
Let’s get to the good stuff… For those who have been following me for a while, Monument Valley was quoted as being the area that exemplified the Old West for two generations of Americans. Well, for me, Dodge City rivaled that vision. I grew up with TV shows about Bat Masterson, movies about Wyatt Earp, and although I wasn’t a big fan, the TV show “Gunsmoke,” which took place in Dodge City. The two most memorable features were the exploits of Wyatt Earp as sheriff of Dodge City, and Boot Hill. While much of Wyatt’s exploits were legends, the real Boot Hill is pictured above. The cemetery got its name because gunslingers were not buried in coffins, but they were with their boots on their feet. Jack Wagner, above, was the cowboy who shot and killed Sheriff Ed Masterson. Ed may or may not have shot Jack during the same fight, but Jack also met his demise that night and was buried at Boot Hill.
As for “Gunsmoke,” the characters in the show were fictional, but the Longbranch Saloon actually existed. I had my photo taken with the Longbranch’s bartender, who acts as a cowboy in Dodge City’s summer shootout re-enactments.
There was a whole block of boardwalk and shops to walk through. And Mrs Bear sprung me from jail. Overall, the Dodge City Museum was a nice mix of real and simulated, old and new.
On the way out of town, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center to pick up a map of the statues around town of their historical figures. I snapped the pics above… Sheriff Dillon of “Gunsmoke,” Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp, and the Texas Longhorn. A great way to work our way out of town, “ before sunset.”