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A Cowboy in Dodge City, 1882

   Thomas Gilcrease Museum
   Tulsa, OK
For over 20 years after the Civil War, cowboys coaxed herds of cattle along arduous trails from the Texas grasslands north to the railheads in Kansas. At the end of the trail lay the infamous cow towns, the "Sodoms of the plains", places such as Abilene, Hays City, Wichita, Ellsworth and Dodge City. After following a slow moving herd of cattle along a dusty trail for as many as three months, these towns offered the cowboy a place to take a bath, gamble, find a woman, eat some good food and let off some steam. The towns accommodated their visitors with a liberal attitude towards their boisterous behavior. There were limits, however, and the towns hired enforcers to maintain a semblance of law and order. Law officers such as Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Luke Short and Bat Masterson became legends.

The prosperity of these towns continued only as long as the railroad provided a railhead. As the railroad moved farther west the towns fizzled while another took its place. Some, like Newton, Kansas, lasted only one season. Dodge City lasted much longer, but when the railroads pushed their tracks into Texas and closer to the grazing land, Dodge's days as a cattle town ended.

Entering Dodge City

Andy Adams' family moved from Georgia to Texas soon after the Civil War. He always wanted to take part in one of the great cattle drives north. In 1882, the dream of the twenty-three year old became reality when he was hired as a drover on a drive from the Rio Grande River to Northwestern Montana. The journey began on April 1 and lasted five months. Andy kept a journal of his adventure that was published in book form in 1903. We join Andy as the herd arrives at Dodge City, Kansas three months after the beginning of the drive:

"On reaching Dodge, we rode up to the Wright House [a general store, hotel and restaurant], where Flood [the trial boss] met us and directed our cavalcade across the railroad to a livery stable, the proprietor of which was a friend of Lovell's [the owner of the cattle].

We unsaddled and turned our horses into a large coral and while we were in the office of the livery, surrendering our artillery, Flood came in and handed each of us twenty-five dollars in gold, warning us that when that was gone no more would be advanced. On receipt of the money we scattered like partridges before a gunner. Within an hour or two, we began to return to the stable by ones and twos, and were stowing into our saddle pockets our purchases which ran from needles and thread to .45 cartridges, every mother's son reflecting the art of the barber, while John Officer has his blond mustache blackened, waxed, and curled like a French dancing master. 'If some of you boys will hold him,' said Moss Strayborn, commenting on Officer's appearance, 'I'd like to take a god smell of him, just to see if he took oil up there where the end of hs neck's haired over.' As Officer already had several drinks comfortably stowed away under his belt, and stood up strong six feet two, none of us volunteered.

   Kansas State Historical Society
The Long Branch Saloon
After packing away our plunder, we sauntered around town, drinking moderately, and visiting the various saloons and gambling houses. I clung to my Bunkie, The Rebel, during the rounds, for I had learned to like him, and had confidence he would lead me into no indiscretions. At the Long Branch, we found Quince Forest and Wyatt Roundtree playing the faro bank, the former keeping cases. They never recognized us, but were answering a great many questions, asked by the dealer and lookout, regarding the possible volume of the cattle drive that year. Down at another gambling house, The Rebel met Ben Thompson, a faro dealer not on duty and an old cavalry comrade, and the two cronied around for over an hour like long lost brothers, pledging anew their friendship over social glasses, in which I was always included. There was no telling how long this reunion would have lasted, but happily for my sake Lovell - who had been asleep all the morning - started out to round us up for dinner with him at the Wright House, which was at that day a famous hostelry, patronized almost exclusively by the Texas cowmen and cattle buyers."

Gun Fire at the Lone Star Dance Hall

The Texans made the rounds of the gambling houses, stopped at the Long Branch saloon, and then back to the Wright House for dinner. They filled their afternoon with much of the same. When night fell, they congregated at the Lone Star dance hall where months on the trail and a day of drinking led to confrontation:

"Quince Forrest was spending his winnings as well as drinking freely, and at the end of a quadrille gave vent to his hilarity in an old fashioned Comanche yell. The bouncer of the dance hall of course had his eye on our crowd, and at the end of a change, took Quince to task. He was a surly brute, and instead of couching his request in appropriate language, threatened to throw him out of the house. Forrest stood like one absent-minded and took the abuse, for physically he was no match for the bouncer, who was armed, moreover, and wore an officer's star. I was dancing in the same set with a red-headed, freckled-faced girl, who clutched my arm and wished to know if my friend was armed. I assured her that he was not, or we would have noticed of it before the bouncer's invective was ended. At the conclusion of the dance, Quince and The Rebel passed out, ([left the dance hall] giving the rest of us the word to remain as though nothing was wrong. In the course of half an hour, Priest returned and asked us to take our leave one at a time without attracting any attention, and meet at the stable.

Dodge City, 1878
The sign warns visitors to check their guns.
I remained until the last and noticed The Rebel and the bouncer taking a drink together at the bar, - the former in a most amiable mood. We passed out together shortly afterward, and found the other boys mounted and awaiting our return, it being now about midnight. It took but a moment to secure our guns, and once in the saddle, we rode through the town in the direction of the herd. On the outskirts of the town, we halted. 'I'm going back to that dance hall,' said Forrest, 'and have one round at least with that whore-herder. No man who walks this old earth can insult me, as he did, not if he has a hundred stars on him. If any of you don't want to go along, ride right on to camp, but I'd like to have you all go. And when I take his measure, it will be the signal to the rest of you to put out the lights. All that's going come on.'

There were no dissenters to the program. I saw at a glance that my Bunkie was heart and soul in the play, and took my cue and kept my mouth shut. We circled round the town to a vacant lot within a block of the rear of the dance hall. Honeyman was left to hold the horses; then, taking off our belts and hanging them on the pommels of our saddles, we secreted our six-shooters inside the waistbands of our trousers. The hall was still crowded with the revelers when we entered, a few at a time, Forrest and Priest being the last to arrive. Forrest had changed hats with The Rebel, who always wore a black one, and as the bouncer circulated around, Quince stopped squarely in front of him. There was no waste of words, but a gun-barrel flashed in the lamplight, and the bouncer, struck with the six-shooter, fell like a beef. Before the bewildered spectators could raise a hand, five six-shooters were turned into the ceiling. The lights went out at the first fire, and amidst the rush of men and the screaming of women, we reached the outside, and within a minute were in our saddles. All would have gone well had we returned by the same route and avoided the town; but after crossing the railroad track, anger and pride having not been properly satisfied, we must ride through the town.

On entering the main street, leading north and opposite the bridge on the river, somebody of our party in the rear turned his gun loose into the air. The Rebel and I were riding in the lead, and at the clattering of hoofs and shooting behind us, our horses started on the run, the shooting by this time having become general. At the second street crossing, I noticed a rope of fire belching from a Winchester in the doorway of a store building. There was no doubt in my mind but we were the object of the manipulator of that carbine, and as we reached the next cross street, a man kneeling in the shadow of a building opened fire on s with a six-shooter. Priest reined in his horse, and not having wasted cartridges in the open-air shooting, returned the compliment until he emptied his gun. By this time every officer in the town was throwing lead after us, some of which cried a little too close for comfort. When there was no longer any shooting on our flanks, we turned into a cross street and soon left the lead behind us. At the outskirts of the town we slowed up our horses and took it leisurely for a mile or so, when Quince Forrest halted us and said, 'I'm going to drop out here and see if any one follows us. I want to be alone, so that if any officers try to follow us up, I can have it out with them.

The Dodge City Peace Commission ca. 1890
As there was no time to lose in parleying, and as he had a good horse, we rode away and left him. On reaching camp, we secured a few hours' sleep, but the next morning, to our surprise, Forrest failed to appear. We explained the situation to Flood, who said if he did not show up by noon, he would go back and look for him. We all felt positive that he would not dare to go back to town; and if he was lost, as soon as the sun arose he would be able to get his bearings. While we were nooning about seven miles north of the Saw Log, some one noticed a buggy coming up the trail. As it came nearer we saw that there were two other occupants of the rig besides the driver. When it drew up old Quince, still wearing The Rebel's hat, stepped out of the rig, dragged out his saddle from under the seat, and invited his companions to dinner. They both declined, when Forrest, taking out his purse, handed a twenty-dollar gold piece to the driver with an oath. He then asked the other man what he owed him, but the later very haughtily declined any recompense, and the conveyance drove away.

'I suppose you fellows don't know what all this means,' said Quince, as he filled a plate and sat down in the shade of the wagon. 'Well, that horse of mine got a bullet plugged into him last night as we were leaving town, and before I could get him to Duck Creek, he died on me. I carried my saddle and blankets until daylight, when I hid in a draw and waited for something to turn up. I thought some of you would come back and look for me sometime, for I knew you wouldn't understand it, when all of a sudden here comes this livery rig along with that drummer - going out to Jetmore, I believe he said. I explained what I wanted, but he decided that his business was more important than mine, and refused me. I referred the matter to Judge Colt, and the judge decided that it was more important that I overtake this herd. I'd have made him take pay, too only he acted so mean about it.'"

   Adams, Andy, The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days (1903); Brown, Mark and W.R. Felton, Before Barbed Wire (1956).

How To Cite This Article:
"A Cowboy in Dodge City, 1882," EyeWitness to History, (2000).

$25.00 in 1882 is the equivalent of approximately $420.00 in today's dollars.
Before the start of the drive, each cowboy was issued 10 horses.
The herd stretched for 3/4 of a mile along the trail.
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