Dodge City, KS, the wildest Town in the Wild West
The Origin of Dodge City
Dodge City was created around 1860, during and especially after the Civil War. It was a hub of the Santa Fe Trail, the very lucrative trade route that connected Kansas City in Missouri with Santa Fe in Mexico. Very soon a strong trade developed, and along the route several Trading Posts mushroomed, to supply the traders and settlers.
In 1872 the railroad decided to build a station and a depot in Dodge City, and it became the terminus of the Chisholm Trail. This trail had brought in more than three million heads of cattle from Texas in ten years time, for transport to the east.
The Indians saw the influx of cattle barons, settlers, traders and farmers, and the umpteenth violation of the treaties with disquiet, and they attacked the transports to protect their hunting grounds. Fort Dodge was established in 1864, one of a series of forts to protect the white colonists (but more importantly, the huge financial interests of the railroads...). In 1872, Dodge City was officially opened, and it was named after the fort.
The Wildest town in the Wild West...
The military had no mandate to enforce the law, and furthermore, there was no local police. The many Texas cattle drivers and cowboys, who had been underway for months, were therefore glad to be able to immediately spend their relatively high wages with eating, drinking, women and cards. This combination turned the city into a veritable nest of saloons, violence and killings, and it quickly received a notorious reputation of the wildest town in the Wild West.
This period of lawlessness, debauchery and murder lasted from 1865 to 1880, until almost simultaneously several factors caused a profound change in the situation.
The city set up a local police to enforce order, and to protect the traders and the citizens. The most famous law enforcement officers were Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, who did "clean up" the "chic" part of the city, north of the railroad, but they left the other half untouched.
Especially Wyatt Earp didn't follow the letter of the law too closely, and usually blew away the troublemakers, and only afterwards asked questions...
The main reason for the change however, was that an infectious cattle disease appeared in Texas.
Dodge city, like many other cities, immediately instituted a full quarantine on the import of Texan cattle, in order to protect the local livestock. Almost immediately the flow of imported cattle dried up, as did the flow of trouble making cowboys...
Meanwhile, the local traders developed their own industry, and soon switched to local cattle raisers, agriculture, manufacture of agricultural machinery, and their own meat processing industry.
The current economy consists of 75 % agriculture, especially grain, compared with 25 % livestock. The city has two enormous meat-processing companies, which together slaughter 20,000 cattle per day and employ 6,000 workers ! The very extensive rail network still refers to the glorious past of animal transport, but it is perfect for all transport.
Dodge City, but actually almost the whole of Kansas, also has a major water problem. The entire state's fresh water supply is pumped out of a vast underground lake, with a surface of some 200 km2. However, modern farming techniques require considerable irrigation, and the present water use is many times larger than the natural replenishment of the lake.
It has been calculated that the underground reservoir will be exhausted within twenty years. All kinds of important committees have already debated the issue, and though they provide work to several politicians, not much has been done. About the only visible measure is that the public is prohibited from washing their vehicles... Everything is under control...
Dodge City, KS
Read about our visit to Dodge City in Kansas