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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • How Buffalo City got its start

  • Before the town called Dodge City sprang up on the prairie, the land was dominated by buffalo.

    The huge herds of bison roamed freely between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, from the Texas plains to the Canadian plains. In 1850, the buffalo population was estimated to be over 50 million.


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  •      Before the town called Dodge City sprang up on the prairie, the land was dominated by buffalo.
         The huge herds of bison roamed freely between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, from the Texas plains to the Canadian plains. In 1850, the buffalo population was estimated to be over 50 million.
         As the country expanded to the west, the buffalo represented the chance to make a lot of money. Hunting was easy and profitable and the buffalo trade was one force that drew attention to southwest Kansas and suggested the founding of a town.
         The presence of Fort Dodge added to the mix.
         The fort brought travelers along the Santa Fe Trail a sense of safety, making the decision to pack up and move west a little easier.
         And the railroads were coming.
         Slowly, but surely, tracks were being built ever westward.
         And the U.S. government and the railroad empires had good reason for promoting the settlement of the west.
         In order to create towns on the prairie, they began marketing incentives to attract pioneer settlers.
         Recognizing a captive market, hastily-built saloons and brothels began to appear south of the Arkansas River, across from the fort.
         Major Richard Dodge assumed command of the fort on June 4, 1872.
         Anxious to move the temptations farther from his fort, Dodge partnered with Robert Wright, a hay rancher who had wrangled permission to open a store on the fort. They made plans to organize a town five miles west of the fort, just past the western boundary.
         This would move the riff-raff away from the fort and the pair envisioned certain prosperity as the buffalo trade increased and the railroads arrived.
         Henry Sitler, after serving in the Civil War, drifted into Kansas. He tried his hand at farming then headed out to hunt buffalo. He established a ranch west of the fort and contracted to provide hay to the forts along the trail.
         His modest sod house, built in the early summer of  1872, was the first structure on the Dodge City townsite.
         Then George M. Hoover and John G. McDonald, having heard rumors about the new town and anxious to get there before anyone else, considered their options and decided to open a saloon on the town site.
         They put up a tent, piled up some sod and laid some planks across it to make a bar and opened for business on June 17, 1872.
         George W. Brown and Charley Stewart put up the town's second structure, a house that served as a bar. They drove a wagon to Hays to buy lumber. When they found none there, they drove to Russell. The house was fourteen feet square with a dirt floor.
    Page 2 of 3 -      With a competitive liquor supply, Dodge City's next establishment was Fred Zimmerman's gunsmith shop, a logical choice for a town called "Buffalo City."
         Zimmerman and other businessmen began throwing up simple buildings along what would become Front Street, facing the eventual path of the Santa Fe Railroad.
         On August 15, 1872, Robert Wright and Maj. Dodge, along with other officers, civilians and businessmen, created the Dodge City Town Company.
         In early September, the Santa Fe Railroad opened its line to Dodge City and the boom was on.
         Occupied mostly by buffalo hunters and those providing their necessities and entertainment, Dodge City became known for its rowdy, sometimes lawless, demeanor.
         Whiskey was an important commodity.
         In his book, "The Delectable Burg: An Irreverent History of Dodge City — 1872 to 1886," author Fredric R. Young suggests that "if Dodge City used an average of 150 barrels per year from 1872 to 1886, the total would have been ... approximately 4,536,000 drinks."
         "Ford County Globe" editor, Lloyd Shinn, wrote in 1878: "Kansas has but one Dodge City. We have only room for one Dodge City. Yet with all of her wickedness, there is this difference, a frontier characteristic: our neighbors do not pretend to hide their peculiarities."
         An agent for an express company in Dodge City sent this report to an Iowa newspaper:
         "If any of your readers anticipate immigrating to Kansas, advise them to shun Dodge City as they would the yellow fever, measles, smallpox and seven year itch combined, as I think they would all be preferable in a civilized country to residence in this town. My opinion of this place is pretty much the same as that of a certain Santa Fe conductor. A drunken Texas cowboy boarded his train east of here and when he called 'tickets' Texas responded 'hint got none.' 'Where are you going?' 'Goin' to — hic — hell.' 'All right, give me fifty cents and get off at Dodge.'
    The buffalo hunting years were followed by the cattle drive years and Dodge City matured into a more civilized and respectable town.
         Although nearly slaughtered into extinction, the buffalo have been rescued from extinction.
         Cattle, along with wheat, continue to be the backbone of the local economy.
         One wonders what Robert Wright and Maj. Dodge would think of Dodge City today.
         They would recognize the entrepreneurial spirit. They would be astonished to see the river dry.
         They would see we still have a general store and a few bars.
         They probably never expected their little town to reach the stately age of 140.
    EDITOR'S NOTE: As a way of celebrating Dodge City's 140th birthday this year, the Daily Globe will take a look at a few events that shaped the town's history. This week, the founding of the town.
    Page 3 of 3 - These stories are produced with the help of the Kansas Heritage Center and information from "Dodge City: The Early Years, 1872-1886," by Wm. B. Shillingberg and "The Delectable Burg: An Irreverent History of Dodge City — 1872 to 1886," by Fredric R. Young. Both books are available for sale at the Kansas Heritage Center and available for check out at the Dodge City Public Library.
    Dodge City's official 140th birthday celebration is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, June 16 at the Ford County Government Center. Tickets may be picked up from City Hall, or the Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
    Additional information: Contact Melissa McCoy at (620) 225-8100.
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