Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Wyatt Earp: Knight With A Six-Shooter

Dodge City

"Dodge boomed with a roar that split the nations ears

and still echoes in her memory."

Stuart N. Lake, author

If Wyatt had learned one thing about marshaling, it was: Lay down the law immediately.

His approach worked in Wichita and he planned to have it work in Dodge City. He didnt ride innocent-eyed into Dodge...he knew it hadnt earned the title "The Fabulous Babylon" for nothing. Plunked at the end of the Jones-Plummer Trail, it was, in all respects, the last barrel-fall. In July, cattlemen drove their herds there, got rich overnight, spent it, then tried to get rich again before they returned to Texas and New Mexico. Some tried their luck on faro, on keno, on chuck-a-luck; some on robbery and assorted larceny. Front Streets plank boards sagged under the weight of pickpockets, prostitutes, con artists, inebriates, tramps, maligners and killers. During cattle season, women and children avoided its back streets. Shopkeepers feared for their lives. If a supply wagon got stuck in the muddy streets after dark, the teamster would often find his cargo hijacked by bullies. Long into the night the walls of the Alhambra and Long Branch saloons rattled with rough words and rough deeds; cold-blooded murder was part of their fare.

In short, Dodge City didnt seem to want law and order; both seemed unnecessary commodities. And now that the cattlemen had come with their 200,000 heads of cattle, their throats dry, their libidos tingling and their handguns loaded, Marshal Larry Deger felt overwhelmed. He was the last of a long line of officers who had been run out of town or shot in the back. He was overjoyed when Wyatt appeared, for Wyatt wasted no time in "laying down the law".

Sensing Dodge a big job, his first step was to hire four assistant deputies who could be relied on to stand up to Dodges worst. These men were Bat Masterson, his old buffalo hunting friend turned lawman; Charlie Basset; Bill Tilghman; and Neal Brown. He also, much to the chagrin of many gun-toters, initiated a "Deadline" north of the railroad yards on Front Street to keep the commercial part of the city quiet; anyone carrying a gun past that mark would be jailed upon sight. These rules were in effect around the clock. Dodge Citys jail cells brimmed.

Clay Allison (Barney Hubbs)
Clay Allison
(Barney Hubbs)

As in Wichita, the bad men grumbled at Wyatts appointment. Much worse to them was the fact that Wyatt began investing in Dodge property, which indicated his intended longevity. One of their first reactions, therefore, was to "put up a pot" to pay a professional killer to slay the mighty Wyatt Earp. Their choice was ingenious the infamous Clay Allison from Las Animas, N.M. Allison was a good-looking 26-year-old devilishly clever quick-trigger who bore a lethal hatred for the law. He recently had been tried for the murder of Las Animas marshal, but despite many witnesses he was found innocent by an obviously threatened jury. If there was a demon designed for the job of killing Wyatt, Allison was it.

However astute, his stay in Dodge proved brief and unsuccessful. Wyatt had known of the contract on him and when Allison arrived in town, Earp was there to meet him. They met outside the Long Branch Saloon and, while the cowboys watched, the two notables had a long sober discussion. Whatever words were exchanged are still a mystery, but that same afternoon Allison rode out of town to never return. Wyatts reputation boomed.

Dodge City attracted more than just villains. It also attracted journalists come to write not so much about the town as about Wyatt Earp. Dime novel writer Ned Buntline, for one, found Wyatt great pulp material. In gratitude, he presented Wyatt and his deputies with a specially made Colt .45; its barrel was four inches longer than the standard, it had an attachable rifle stock for shoulder aiming and came in its own finely tooled holster. Of this Buntline Special, Wyatt said, "Mine was my favorite over any other gun. I carried it at my right hip throughout my career."

Sometimes traveling theatrical repertoires rolled into town. An amusing incident took place one night when Wyatt was awakened to gunfire in the streets. Outside, he found a shaken comedian, Eddie Foy, huddled in an alley while fellow actor Charles Chapin was taking pot shots at Foy for stealing his girl. Wyatt easily disarmed the drunken thespian and sent the players home to "sleep it off".

His off-duty hours were spent chiefly at the Alhambra Saloon where he and Bat Masterson operated a respectable faro game. They enjoyed it and found faro a pleasant pastime as long as it was kept respectable. Both Wyatt and Bat earned extra income and the Alhambra mutually benefited because the lawmens presence kept the troublemakers and tinhorns out. As the manager of the most popular game in town, Wyatt befriended many of the sporting politicos and businessmen.

While these men greatly appreciated the huge changes Wyatt had effected in the community the streets were much safer they expressed their concerns that many of the criminals still roamed the streets freely or, if they were arrested, were out on leniency the following day to cause more havoc. A part of the problem was Wyatts superior, Larry Dregnan, who had the authority but not the gumption to enact tighter reform movements.

Celia Blaylock in 1872 (Glenn G. Boyer)
Celia Blaylock in
1872
(Glenn G. Boyer)

A deal was cut. When the Alhambras proprietor James H. "Dog" Kelley decided to run for mayor in 1877, he promised to officially name Wyatt the new town marshal. When the results were in and Kelley indeed won, Wyatt took control. He plagued the courts for more severe sentencing, barred certain individuals from town, added his brother Morgan as deputy (Morgan had seen action in other towns), and organized a "citizens committee" of reformers to help watchdog the streets.

It was during his Dodge City days that, around 1877, Wyatt met Celia Anne Blaylock, whom he affectionately called "Mattie". She was probably a saloon girl. Not much is known about her, but it appears she may have come from Fort Scott, Kansas. Seemingly, they never married, but kept company as husband and wife under the strict Victorian moral code. At first, the couple was happy, but Matties deepening dependency on laudanum acquired because of an illness would soon put a strain on their relationship. They would remain together over the next three and-a-half years.

 

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