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Dodge: "The Wicked Little City"

Updated on November 20, 2011

Dodge City, Circa 1874

Circa 1879

Dodge City, Kansas was named after Major General Greville Dodge. He was the commanding officer of Fort Dodge, also named after him, when it was built in 1865 near the city’s present site. The Fort was considered a necessity to protect west bound pioneers and wagon trains from Indian attacks. The fort was also commanded by another man with the same surname in 1872, Colonel Richard I. Dodge.

The fort was also used for postal services and a supply depot for soldiers battling Indians further south. And as with other forts in the Old West, towns or settlements soon sprang up around them as settlers and businessmen knew they would be protected.

One such man was rancher Henry J. Sitler, who in 1871 built a sod house near Fort Dodge. He decided it was a good location for some of his cattle operations since it was near the Santa Fe Trail and Arkansas River. That and the fact the Santa Fe Railroad was laying track in their direction sealed Dodge City’s destiny as a major hub for the cattle Industry.

Black Sunday, April 1935

But, before cattle there were the buffalo. Ironically, the town’s founding fathers had intended to call it Buffalo City, but the name was already taken. Ford County wasn't established until 1873 and Dodge City wasn't officially incorporated until November 1875, so there was no law or government in Dodge. At that time Dodge was a major shipping point for buffalo hunters. But, within a few years the buffalo had all but disappeared from over hunting. The buffalo hunter disappeared along with them and was replaced by the cowboy.

Robert M. Wright, a town director, explained that even before the railroad arrived or a depot built, many businesses had already begun springing up. By 1877 it had become firmly established as a cow town and as such attracted not only legitimate businesses, but more seedy enterprises as well. Gambling halls, saloons and prostitutes and other activities catering to trail weary and lonely cowboys flourished. Along with them came the thieves, con men, outlaws and gunfighters.

Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp

Cattle towns thrived from the 1860s through the early 1890s. Abilene, Kansas is considered to be the first, succeeded by Wichita and Dodge City. However, in the 1880s Dodge City stole Abilene’s glory by calling itself the "Cowboy Capital of the World."

Historians say Dodge was not only founded on cattle business, but the whiskey barrel as well. And the city’s politics revolved around whiskey. This is one underlying reason Dodge acquired its reputation as the “Wickedest Little City in America.” Whiskey was at the core of what was to become known as the “Dodge City War.”

The Dodge City War initially began when Colonel Dodge prohibited the sale of alcohol at the fort in 1872. An enterprising 24 year old Canadian, George M. Hoover, immediately saw a business opportunity and set off for Eastern Kansas where he loaded up a wagon full of whiskey. He returned and went into business about 5 miles west of the Fort. He was later to become the richest man in Dodge and its first mayor.

By 1877 Dodge had a population of less than 1,000, but 16 saloons. The early city government and law enforcement were corrupt, controlled by a group known as the “Dodge City Gang.” They were made up of factions wanting to keep Dodge a wide-open town. See: http://jy3502.hubpages.com/hub/-Hoodoo-Browns-Dodge-City-Gang

Boot Hill Musum

Some of the Old West's most famous lawmen worked under this and later administrations, such as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. But, by 1879 public animosity towards the Dodge City Gang began building and a push for reform commenced. People wanted a safe, moral environment in which to live and raise their families. The “Reformers” as they became known had had enough of newspapers across the country smearing their town. For instance, the New York Herald wrote “…saloons, gambling rooms and dance halls run with perfect freedom and their proprietors are the leading men in town.”

Before it was all over famous lawmen and gunfighters around the country were headed for Dodge. One of those was noted Tombstone gun slinger Luke Short who was already living in Dodge and part owner of the Long Branch Saloon. His saloon was largely responsible for the Dodge City War. Ordinances had been passed concerning saloon operations. But, it seemed even the reformers new mayor, Alonzo B. Webster, was only concerned with controlling the profits.

The Long Branch Saloon presented strong competition to city officials, most of who owned saloons or were heavily invested in them. So, while infractions of their ordinances were by and large ignored by other saloons the Long Branch was continually harassed with fines and arrests of their employees. Eventually, Short went to the city jail wearing his revolvers and a gunfight erupted. No one was injured but several days later Short was arrested for assault. He was released on bond but told to get out of Dodge.

Short, who was friends with Bat and Wyatt, wired other well known lawmen and gunmen to round up support. Those who rallied to the cause included the likes of Doc Holliday, Shotgun Collins, Rowdy Joe Lowe and Charlie Bassett. With such a show of force the opposition decided to back down. The Dodge City War was over…and not a drop of blood had been spilled.

Today, Dodge City is a thriving metropolis. However, its citizens manage to maintain elements of their Old West heritage. Around the city are historical sites, museums and landmarks dedicated to preserving Dodge City’s history.


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    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 5 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon

      Holy crap! What did they need 16 saloons for? That was probably one of the causes of the city being so harsh.....everyone was drunk off their ass.

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      At least 1 per city official wouldn't you say?

    • USHISTORY4YOU profile image

      Anthony Carrell 5 years ago from Lemoore California

      Grenville Dodge was an interesting man. After resigning from the Army he became the Chief Engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad and was one of the early driving forces behind the transcontinental railroad. He was also elected to congress in 1866.

    • USHISTORY4YOU profile image

      Anthony Carrell 5 years ago from Lemoore California

      By the way,Great Hub. Voted Up

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      USHISTORY4YOU, You sure know your stuff. I might have to start bringing you in for consultation. Thanks for the comments.

    • Brooke Lorren profile image

      Brooke Lorren 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Good job. I love hubs where you can learn something and it's obvious people put some work into their hubs.

      Gives new meaning to the phrase "Get out of Dodge" which was probably named after this city, I'm guessing.

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Brooke Lorren, I was planning to maybe work that phrase in there somewhere, but I thought it might be a little to "cutesy."

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Sixteen saloons for 1000 people does seem a bit excessive. They were hard drinkers back in those days.

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      This hubber has copied your hub...I have flagged it

      http://hubpages.com/@issamamghar

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Shoot Paradise, I got 16 Saloons in my back yard!

      Uninvited, I see, thanks for tagging it for me.

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 5 years ago

      Another example of how prohibition never seems to work. Demand will inevitably lead to suppliers. At least their "war" didn't lead to all sorts of dead bodies.

    • profile image

      me 5 years ago

      Are you not required to cite your sources? Or did I miss something?

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      me, This is not a college essay. The facts I have stated are available everywhere. My sources didn't cite theirs. Did you find any mistakes?

    • USHISTORY4YOU profile image

      Anthony Carrell 5 years ago from Lemoore California

      Having to cite your sources for something like this is ridiculous. A great deal of my facts come from the books I've read through the years.It's fair to say we all must use outside sources.History repeats itself.Historians repeat each other.

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      USHISTORY, actually he's correct. But most writer's don't attribute a source if it is well known facts and information easily found. But thanks for the support!

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