“Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp. Brave, courageous, and bold. Long live his fame, and long live his glory, and long may his story be told.”
Over the years, Dodge City, Kansas has been synonymous with well-known names such as Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday, and being one of the wildest towns in the old West. Even the fictitious Matt Dillon, Chester Goode, and Doc Adams roamed the Long Branch and made their homes in Dodge.
Like most baby boomers, I grew up with the TV cowboys, Cheyenne Bodie, the Maverick brothers, Bret and Bart, Bronco Lane, the Lone Ranger, and have had a lifelong fascination with them. My wife, Brenda and I took a trip a couple of years ago to John Wayne’s hometown in Winterset, Iowa, a small village in the northern part of the state, to see the dedication of his museum.
We discussed hopping the train to Dodge City for a brief vacation before swinging west to California. I searched the internet looking for a hotel in Dodge, but surprisingly I came across a story titled, “Thinking about going to Dodge City? Save your money.”
A travel reporter had visited the town and to say he was less than impressed was an understatement. He said the downtown was miserable. Far too many buildings had broken windows, boarded up doors and were vacant. According to the writer, the citizens were rude, and the merchants were indifferent.
Interestingly, a couple of years later, it seems the good people of Dodge City brought in a couple of consultants from Chicago for advice to fix-up the town. The consultants agreed with the travel reporter. The town needed a makeover.
It seemed amazingly simple to me that Dodge City was sitting on a gold mine. The consultant’s advice was short and to the point: fix up the downtown and recapture the Dodge City of the old west.
City officials took their advice. They demolished North and South Streets, replacing them with new structures. The first order of business was to change the street names. Walnut became Gunsmoke. Chestnut became Wyatt Earp.
Dodge City is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and city leaders were looking to the future. The city’s goal is to revitalize the historic downtown area. The $13.9 million dollar effort will take about two-and-a-half years to complete.
Designers kept in mind that the town has a rich Old West history. The top attractions to visit are the Boot Hill Museum, Historic Dodge City Santa Fe Depot, where Marshall Dillon and Chester ran the riffraff out of town before sundown. Just down the streets sits the Long Branch Saloon.
Dodge City is now flourishing. New buildings, new homes and new people are flocking to town, which of course, it is bringing in tourists in by the trainload.
Brenda and I decided we might take the train from Chicago to Dodge City and sample a taste of the Old West in the spring.
One of our goals is to visit the museum, where allegedly there are quotes from Chester Goode:
Commenting of Doc Adam’s grumpy disposition: “What’s the matter Doc? Someone pull you through a knothole.?”
Observing a prisoner Matt is releasing from jail, Chester addresses the prisoner, “You look like the dogs had you under the house.”
On a long ride with Matt, Chester declares, “Why I’m so hungry, my stomach is growing teeth.”
Or hear a townswoman say, “It’s a place of joy, this place, ain’t it, Marshal? You know how we spent last Christmas? He got drunk and set fire to me! Honest, if I hadn’t run out in that snow, I would’ve burned up. And he wouldn’t let me back in and I near froze to death.
Her husband responds, “Taught you a lesson.”
“Oh, yeah, honey. It was the best Christmas I ever spent. I won’t ever forget it!”
And long may their stories be told.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff.