In the 1870s, Dodge City was the wildest, wickedest town west of the Mississippi. This upright businessman and "gentleman farmer" was just the opposite.
Born Dec. 29, 1833 in Prussia, Frederick C. Zimmermann began his apprenticeship as a gunsmith at the age of 14. At 20, he joined the military as an inspector of arms serving for three years.
When he was 26, he was a foreman in charge of 40 workmen for a famous Parisian gunsmith. Later he worked in London for two years. In 1863, he came to New York and continued his career throughout the Northeast and, in Connecticut, married Matilda Messinger in 1865.
In 1868, the couple left for Wyoming, Kansas and Colorado. In the spring of 1872, the Zimmermanns and daughter landed in Dodge City on a flatcar loaded with ties for the new railroad. At two months old, daughter Clarissa was the first infant to reside in Dodge City, arriving before the city’s first birth in 1873 of Dr. Thomas McCarty’s son Claude. The Zimmermanns had four other children; three died in infancy and a son died at 16. Clarissa lived her entire life in Dodge City, dying in 1954.
Dodge City was a growing town; people needed supplies to build and firearms to conquer the frontier. In July 1872, Zimmermann addressed these needs by opening a gun shop in a tent on Front Street. This business evolved into an extensive hardware store — one of the most successful businesses in 1870s and 1880s Dodge City. His store supplied firearms, ammunition, lumber, stoves and agricultural implements. An excellent gunsmith, his services were demanded by buffalo hunters and settlers.
In 1885, fire destroyed Zimmermann’s business. Despite an uninsured loss of $8,000 (almost $200,000 in 2017 dollars), he rebuilt his business on Front Street.
Involved in local politics, Republican Zimmermann tirelessly promoted Dodge City and Ford County. He joined the city’s Town Company soon after its formation.
Zimmermann was elected to Ford County’s first commission and was on the first school board. He served as Ford County Treasurer twice.
Zimmermann joined former mayor A.B. Webster in the electrification of Dodge City. Zimmermann led the city’s small, but influential, German community and was an early member of the Masons in Dodge City. Along with Morris Collar, he pushed for planting trees and flowers in the city.
His home, Fountain Grove, reflected his love for trees and plant life. This estate stood near the northwest corner of West Wyatt Earp Blvd. and North 14th Avenue, north of today’s Kwik Shop. The home had a irrigation system which watered a large orchard — a rare sight in treeless Dodge City. It also boasted vineyards, a fish pond, ice house and a vegetable garden. Zimmermann was also the first to cultivate alfalfa in Ford County.
Known as a "gentleman farmer," Zimmermann railed against gambling and saloons in early Dodge City. Opposed to Wyatt Earp’s and Bat Masterson’s "Gang," he fought Luke Short and his female "singers" (prostitutes) during the Saloon War of 1883.
Though Gang elements threatened him with bodily harm, Zimmermann was resolute and undaunted. Someone sent him a menacing "Valentine" which he proudly displayed in the front window of his shop labeling it "Bat Masterson."
Frederick C. Zimmermann died on Jan. 20, 1888 and is interred at Maple Grove Cemetery.
Kathie Bell is the curator of collections and education at Boot Hill Museum.