Traveling through Kansas while heading to the Midwest we decided to make a stop for several days in Dodge City. After all, it is one of the most famous old west towns and we wanted to see if there was anything interesting there. We found that the city had changed quite a bit since its long ago days of cowboys and gunslingers.
The historic Front Street buildings are gone, torn down to make way for newer ones and a parking lot. The downtown seemed subdued, not vibrant as other touristy towns often are. But tourism is still alive with its heart in the “Boot Hill” area. Much of Boot Hill is currently under construction to expand and revitalize. All around the downtown are reminders that Dodge City is the “Gunsmoke” town. Gunsmoke was a popular western TV show set in old Dodge City that ran from 1955 – 1975, one of the longest running TV series. There are numerous statues and plaques commemorating stars from the show as well as other famous former citizens. Even our campground was named for the show and had an old west theme.
One day I decided to take a walk around Dodge City and soak up the atmosphere. I renewed my acquaintance with Doc Holliday who I first got to know in Tombstone. In that town he and his friend Wyatt Earp and the Earp brothers tried to bring law and order. Doc and Wyatt also spent some time in Dodge City. Doc seemed to like to pass much of his time playing cards and carousing, so fittingly the sculpture pictured below poses him in a card game setting. Wyatt became an assistant Marshall and of course he also has a statue downtown.
Although the old buildings are pretty much gone, I couldn’t help notice something that Dodge City has preserved – their red brick streets. I am a fan of cobblestoned and red brick roads, so was pleased to see these throughout the downtown. The streets were paved in bricks beginning in 1913 after the City decided to do something about their rutted and muddy roads.
The Longhorn Cattle statue honors the role they played in developing Dodge City. But before the Longhorns came, it was buffalo that kept the town busy. Before they were wiped out from the plains, the city was a major shipping point for hides and meat to the East. I learned that even in Britain, it was very fashionable to have a buffalo hide coat. The longhorns were descendants of Spanish cattle brought to Mexico in the 16th century. Between 1875 and 1886, over 4 million head were driven from Texas up the Great Western Cattle Trail to Dodge City where they could be shipped. Dodge City earned the nickname “Queen of the Cowtowns.” The days of the longhorn cattle drives ended when it was found they were transmitting Texas cattle fever through ticks.
While traveling, overlooks often give you a scenic view of the countryside or a nearby town or city. I drove several miles outside of Dodge to a different kind of overlook – an expansive view of the largest cattle feedlot one could ever hope to see. Although these feedlots are not that close to the overlook, people report that at certain times the smell can be pretty pungent. Signboards gave some interesting information to show that Dodge City is still queen of the cowtowns.
There are two beef processing companies here – Excel Corporation (6,000 cattle daily) and National Beef (4,000 cattle daily). I read that these two plants annually market enough beef to feed over 16 million people for one year. Other information was that Kansas ranks first in the U.S. in commercial cattle production. I have never been much of a beef eater, but after seeing all the feedlots while driving through the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle and now in Kansas, I am thinking of eating even less than before.
While in Dodge City I saw information about local historian Charlie Meade’s walking tours. I thought it would be fun to arrange one but unfortunately, I let the time slip away and didn’t get one scheduled. So I was surprised when Mark and I were walking in the door of a local restaurant to see a man who looked like Charlie just coming out. We struck up a conversation and he was more than eager to talk. This was after leading a tour of 3rd graders as well as two other walking tours that morning! Born in 1935, he was sworn in as a Marshall in Dodge City in 1965, which is what law officers were called at that time. Charlie told us so many stories that it was almost like having a private tour with him. He knew cast members from the Gunsmoke series and traveled around the country to promote Dodge City and Kansas history. It only makes sense that his ranch is located south of Dodge City on the famous Great Western Cattle Trail. Meeting local people and hearing their stories has been one of the nicest things about our traveling!
After meeting Charlie and finishing our meal, we headed to the Boot Hill Museum complex, located at the site of the original Boot Hill cemetery. The name is because cowboys were supposedly buried here with their boots still on. This museum has set up shops and buildings to replicate ones that were once part of old Dodge City such as a saloon, barber shop, pharmacy, bank and general store. In various rooms were exhibits and memorabilia on life in the old west which were rather nicely done.
I liked the old pharmacy with its shelves of medical cures. What really caught my attention were the orange and blue glass show globes near the window. I read that these globes were a pharmacy symbol and have been used for centuries to help illiterate people identify this as a drug store. It also showed the customer that the pharmacist knew what he was doing as it took some skill in those days to create colored water.
It seems in every old west town there has to be a historic jail and Boot Hill is no exception. I don’t pay much attention to them any more, but the story behind this one caught my interest. This 1865 jail once belonged to Fort Dodge, located several miles from the city. The local Jaycees wanted that jail for the Museum but were told that it couldn’t be given to them because it was located on Federal grounds. However, government officials and those in charge of the grounds saw no problem with it being stolen. So on November 1, 1953, the Jaycees and their accomplices, masked and on horseback rode out to Fort Dodge to “take” the jail. We were told by a woman working at Boot Hill that one of those thieves was none other than Charlie Meade.
One night at our campground I found out that Kansas has great sunsets. I will close with a photo of one.