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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • No Time for Formalities

  •      Dodge City was founded in 1872: informally when George M. Hoover and John G. McDonald set up their tent and opened a saloon on June 17, and formally when the Dodge City Town Company was formed on August 15, when a group of hunters, Indian traders, freighters, herdsmen and army officers at Ford...
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  •      Dodge City was founded in 1872: informally when George M. Hoover and John G. McDonald set up their tent and opened a saloon on June 17, and formally when the Dodge City Town Company was formed on August 15, when a group of hunters, Indian traders, freighters, herdsmen and army officers at Ford Dodge filed documents to form a corporation to be known as The Dodge City Town Company for the purpose of creating a town.
         The town grew quickly and sometimes haphazardly.
         In his book, "Dodge City: The Early Years, 1872 — 1886," Wm. B. Shillingberg quotes Calvina Anthony, wife of A. J. Anthony who often traveled to Missouri to purchase supplies for Robert Wright's sutler store. Calvina had moved to Missouri from Louisiana after the death of her first husband. There she met A.J. and returned to Dodge City with him, bringing her three children.
         Calvina kept a journal and made the following notes during her first few days in the young town:
         "Just before our marriage, the town of Dodge City was started, on what might be called the borders of Sahara. Very few families had yet shown the courage to locate in this frontier town. The morning I arrived, I looked around in vain for a woman's face, and did not see one until I was taken into the Dodge House and introduced to the landlady. We sat down to our first breakfast with a great crowd of long-haired hunters, with their buckskin suits and pistols.
         "Dodge City was then a freighting town to all points south and west, and while yet a border hamlet in size, became a great camp for cowboys, freighters, traders, and speculators of every sort.
         "In the nature of things a good many rough characters herded here, and the early life of the city took a decidedly eventful turn. The revolver being a very strong factor in all departments of social life, differences and disputes often ending in violence, as Boot Hill could testify, if it could speak. Every few days we used to hear of some poor soul gone to his account, from sudden death."
         In the early days, those who lost such arguments were hastily buried on a hill north of town — in an area that quickly got the nickname "Boot Hill," thanks to the fact that many of the unfortunate souls were buried in the clothes they were wearing when they died, including their boots.
         By May of 1878, editor Nicholas Klaine wrote in his newspaper, "There are about twenty ... graves of persons who met death by violent means. There were a few who died from natural causes, but who possessed no money or friends to give them a more aristocratic burial place. When Gabriel blows his horn, verily it will be a motley crowd of sinners that the graves of Boot Hill send forth to attend the final judgment."
    Page 2 of 2 -      The land on which Boot Hill sat was owned by the Dodge City Town Company. They sold it to speculators who intended to sub-divide it for housing and by January of 1879, all the bodies that could be located were moved to Prairie Grove Cemetery.
         Given the hill's history, no one wanted to live there and the speculators failed to develop the property.
    Plans were made to put a new schoolhouse on the hill and the Hays City newspaper took note:
         "Boot Hill in Dodge has been chosen as the site of the grand new school house. The proudest evidence of enlightenment upon the one surviving relic of barbarism! It is consistent."
         In his dedication address, the county attorney, Mike Sutton, a strong proponent of locating the school on the hill, expressed the sentiment of many in the crowd when he declared confidently that the name Boot Hill would soon be forgotten.
         Little did he know that the town's citizens would soon call the school not by its name — the Third Ward School — but by an appropriate nickname — Boot Hill School.
         As Dodge City continued to grow at the beginning of the 20th century, the early denizens gave way to law and order, families, churches, schools and libraries.
         In Shillingberg's analysis, "The celebrated romance of the frontier was replaced by reality. Dodge City became civilized — somehow sadly ordinary."
         In February of 1926, a group of residents circulated a petition for the city to buy the land on which Boot Hill sat and preserve it, calling it the last historic spot of the city.
         A competing petition opposed the plan, saying "Boot Hill represents a history that should not be memoralized. it represents the history of the prostitute, the gambler and the thug. May it's identity be forgotten."
         Dr. O.H. Simpson, preparing for a Rotary Club convention in 1937 to be held in Dodge City, made concrete sculptures of faces and the toes of boots and arranged them on the hill to look like buried miscreants.
         The exhibit was so popular that the club decided to keep it going as a tourist attraction and Boot Hill was reborn as an odd combination of the authentic and the preposterous.
    EDITOR'S NOTE: As a way of celebrating Dodge City's 140th birthday this year, the Daily Globe is taking a look at a few events that shaped the town's history. Next week, we'll take a look at the development of Boot Hill Museum.
    These stories are produced with the help of the Kansas Heritage Center.  
     

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