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Dodge City

the seat of Ford County

location of Alma

History

Fort Dodge was established in 1865 on the Santa Fe Trail near the present site of the city, offering protection to wagon trains, the U.S. mail service, and serving as a supply base for troops engaged in the Indian wars.

Saloon and warehouse at Fort Dodge in 1872 or 1873.
Fort Dodge in 1872 or 1873

In 1871, Henry L. Sutler constructed a three-room sod house five miles west of the Fort at the foot of a hill along the Santa Fe Trail. Dodge City was founded the following year, with Sutler's house as the first building, and it quickly became a trade center for travelers and buffalo hunters. The arrival of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in September 1872 spurred even more growth.

An estimated 850,000 buffalo hides were shipped from Dodge City in the years 1872-1874. Farmers, during hard times, gathered buffalo bones and sold them for six to eight dollars a ton. The bones were used in the manufacture of china and fertilizer. By 1875 the buffalo were gone as a source of revenue, but the Longhorn cattle of Texas drove new dollars into town.

For ten more years, over five million head were driven up the western branch of the Chisholm and Western Trails to Dodge City. With the cattle came cowboys, most of whom were ready to "live it up" after having spent several months on the trail. The cowboys took full advantage of Dodge City's saloons and brothels, and a host of professional gamblers and other "less savory" characters were always waiting to take advantage of the cowboys. The saloons, brothels, gamblers, etc. also took care of soldiers from Fort Dodge, as well as travelers on the railroad and Trail. In 1876 the population of Dodge City was 1,200 and nineteen businesses were licensed to sell liquor.

Although Dodge City did have a well deserved reputation as a "wild west town," it was even better known for having a well respected squad of Peace Officers. Early on the city passed an ordinance that guns could not be worn or carried north of the railroad tracks, and those officers made sure to keep the unsavory elements south of the tracks.

Front Street, north side of the rairoad tracks, in the 1880's. The top sign in the foreground says "The carrying of fire arms strictly prohibited."
Front Street, Dodge City

Dodge City Peace Commissioners in 1883. Standing, from left to right: W. H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson. Sitting: Charley Bassett, Wyatt Earp, M. F. McClain, Neal Brown.
Dodge City Peace Commissioners in 1883

Fort Dodge was closed in 1882, and by 1886 the cattle drives had ended. Although the loss of two major sources of revenue led much of Dodge City's population to move elsewhere, the city itself has survived.

Economy

Meat packing is the primary industry in Dodge City, followed closely by ranching and farming (with wheat and sorghum as the principal crops). Tourism is also a major part of the economy.

Sites and Attractions

The Boot Hill Museum is dedicated to portraying the culture of Dodge City's early years. The largest exhibit is Front Street, a partial reconstruction of dowontown Dodge City as it existed in 1876. That reconstruction includes the infamous Long Branch Saloon, with its equally infamous Long Branch Variety Show. Summer visitors can even witness the occasional gunfight and/or bar brawl. [website]

The Long Branch Saloon, once a popular destination for cowboys and now a popular destination for tourists.
Long Branch Saloon

Boot Hill Casino & Resort provides modern-day gambling experience in a setting designed to recreate the feeling of the elegant old west. [website]

The 3/8-mile dirt rack of Dodge City Raceway Park hosts a variety of racing events, including the National Sprint Tour, Midget and Winged Sprints, and the Late Model Shootout. [website]

The Dodge City Trail of Fame is a walking tour of the Old Dodge City historic district. The trail is marked with sidewalk medallions and statuaries to commemorate the many famous and infamous denizens of historic Dodge City, as well as the notable movie and television stars that have portrayed famous Dodge Citians. [website]

Doc Holliday, as portrayed on the Dodge City Trail of Fame.
Doc Holliday on the Dodge City Trail of Fame

Although the military pulled out of Fort Dodge in 1882, many of its original buildings are still standing today, as part of a retirement community and nursing facility for retired Kansas veterans.

The Kansas Teachers' Hall of Fame was the first institution in the United States dedicated to honoring teachers. [website]

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
Dodge City
www.dodgecity.org/
Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau
www.visitdodgecity.org/

SEE ALSO
Longhorn Cattle
Wyatt Earp
Doc Holliday

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> The West >> Kansas >> Cities and Towns

This page was last updated on August 26, 2017.