Historically Speaking: The Long Branch Saloon

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
The Long Branch Saloon was established in Dodge City in 1878 and lasted until 1970.

In 1878 Dodge City’s population was less than 1,000, yet the town sported 16 of this type of establishment.

Some had Texan names like the Alamo, the Alhambra, the Saratoga, the Nueces, the Lone Star and the Stock Exchange. Others were named after their proprietors; Hoover’s, Peacock’s, Beatty & Kelley’s and Sturm’s.

Many were connected with hotels, dance halls, or theaters; the Dodge House, the Lady Gay, the Varieties, the Comique, and the Opera House. They all had one thing in common. They were watering holes for the "thirsty" cowboys up from Texas.

Saloons ranged from one-room shanties with dirt floors to 30 by 100 foot wooden buildings with painted interiors, fancily carved mahogany bars, mirrors, and paintings.

Dance halls and saloons south of the tracks, or “dead line,” offered elevated stages and, in some instances, back rooms where soiled doves would "entertain."

North of the tracks, saloons were refined with an air of sophistication, giving cattlemen a place to conduct business.

The most renowned of these was the Long Branch Saloon. Located between the Rath General Store and Hoover’s Saloon, the Long Branch quickly became Dodge City’s fanciest gathering place, popular with both cattlemen and gamblers. Chalkley Beeson and William Harris purchased it in 1878.

With taxidermied steer head adorning the front awning, the Saloon was long and narrow like a boxcar and was divided into a front room which had an ornate bar, a billiards table, and stove. The middle room was for private gambling. The back room held storage and an area where drunks could sober up.

Dancing was prohibited north of the tracks, so entertainment was provided by Chalkley Beeson’s five piece orchestra, which later evolved into the famous Dodge City Cowboy Band. The Long Branch served milk, lemonade, tea, sarsaparilla and alcohol, including Budweiser Beer, known then as Anheuser-Busch.

The Long Branch was the scene of several shootings.

On July 13, 1878, a drunken cattle camp cook shot and killed Deputy U.S. Marshal H.T. McCarty with his own gun. And a year later, on April 5, 1879, freighter Levi Richardson and gambler Frank Loving engaged in a gun battle in the Long Branch. They chased each other around the front stove and billiards table so closely the ends of their pistols almost touched.

After the two fired approximately eleven shots, Levi Richardson lay mortally wounded, and Frank Loving had only a small wound. The coroner cleared Loving of any wrong doing, stating the killing was done in self defense.

In 1879, Luke Short bought Chalkley Beeson’s interest in the Long Branch. In 1883 city officials attempted to shut down Short and Harris’s operation and run Short out of town for having female "entertainers."

This resulted in the Dodge City Saloon War which ended bloodlessly after the Dodge City Peace Commission consisting of Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and others returned to Dodge City.

Afterwards Luke Short and William Harris sold their interest in the Long Branch Saloon to members of Chalk Beeson’s cowboy band, Roy Drake and Frank Warren. Drake and Warren owned the Long Branch when it burned with the rest of Front Street in 1885. After rebuilding the structure in brick, Harris and Drake reopened the Long Branch. The building remained for years, but the saloon closed when Dodge City finally entered prohibition.

In 1970, the old Long Branch Saloon, fell victim to Urban Renewal’s wrecking ball.