Dodge City, known as the “Queen of the Cow Towns” and the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” had a reputation as a hostile, lawless town where the “fastest gun” ruled. It is the source of the idiom “get the hell out of Dodge,” meaning pack it up and move along NOW. On this stop we were getting “into” Dodge instead. “Why,” you may wonder?
The TV series Gunsmoke was based on life in and around legendary Dodge City, Kansas. The timeframe was the years between 1872 when the Santa Fe Railroad reached town, and 1885 when local farmers forced the end of the Texas cattle drives along the Western Trail.
Gunsmoke was an extremely popular TV series for many years, and is still in re-runs today. Hubby happens to be a fan of the show and Marshall Matt Dillon. Since we had a few days to kill and Dodge City wasn’t far out of our way – what the heck!
The show opens with U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon drawing down against a gunman in the streets of Dodge City. Dillon was modeled after the real lawmen who “tamed” this city, one of them being U.S. Deputy Marshall Wyatt Earp (1848-1929). The series initially ran nine years on radio before being turned into a television series that was broadcast an amazing 20 years and 635 episodes – making it one of the all-time longest running prime-time shows ever.
Upon our arrival on an overcast and rainy day, we joined an historic trolley tour to learn more about what made Dodge City the wickedest little city in the west. We heard about the evolution of Dodge from a dusty trail town to a bustling cattle and agricultural oasis in Kansas.
The first few years of the town’s existence was marked by a complete disregard for law and order. During this time Bat Basterson and Wyatt Earp were hired to establish order (on a side note, the same Wyatt Earp and his brothers were involved in what came to be known as the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” in Tombstone, Arizona – but once again I digress). Local lawmen such as Earp became legends as they fought to bring law and order to Dodge City.
We continued on our own walking tour and quickly noticed several custom pole art banners hanging in the downtown area. These cool banners depict the city’s history, and it’s easy to see what they are trying to convey.
We encountered a Longhorn statue celebrating cattle drovers between 1875 and 1886. During that time Texas cowboys drove over 4 million longhorn cattle from Texas to Dodge City. They spent fourteen to sixteen hours a day in the saddle, and for $30 a month drove the cattle 1,500 miles to the Santa Fe Railhead here. Upon reaching Dodge City, they spent their earnings on liquor, women and card games – the rest, they wasted 🙂
There were 16 saloons for the men to choose from, and that’s at a time (in 1877) when the city’s population was just over 1,000! With all of those cowboys in town drinking and gambling, disagreements were usually settled in gunfights.
Next we stopped at the Boot Hill Museum, located next to Dodge’s original Boot Hill Cemetery. We had previously visited another Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona, but this one is the original. The term refers to the fact that many of its occupants were bad guys who were actually buried with their boots on. No less than fifteen men were planted on Boot Hill, then eventually removed and reburied in the city’s first official cemetery.
We perused thousands of artifacts and a variety of exhibits portraying the culture of the city’s early years. The museum included a partial reconstruction of downtown Front Street as it existed in 1875.
After a western skit that was performed in the Long Branch Saloon, Steve happily posed with the “saloon girl”.
Today, Dodge City is promoting its western heritage. Its history has loads of entertainment riches, and the name Dodge City is synonymous with the west. Hence the lives of their local heroes and its wild history is the basis of the fictional “Gunsmoke,” although we learned that this place was much wilder than was portrayed on the show.
To complete our experience, we even stayed at – where else – Gunsmoke RV Park! It was actually a nice campground (Steve’s review here), and Steve was happy to discover that our site was located on Miss Kitty Lane 🙂
Even if you aren’t a fan of Gunsmoke, Dodge City is a fun place to spend a day or two. The history here, and the way the town presented it, definitely made for a worthwhile stop.