Historically Speaking: Boot Hill Cemetery

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
The school that was built right after the closing of the Dodge City Boot Hill Cemetery.

Dodge City's most famous cemetery was unofficial. Nobody paid or received any cash for burials at Boot Hill Cemetery.

From 1872 to 1878 Dodge City had no established cemetery. People with money, friends or family were usually buried at nearby Fort Dodge.

With the killing of, Black Jack Reynolds, the first person who died violently who had no money or friends, it became clear there was a problem dealing with people who died without any means of support. The victim laid in the street until civic-minded men buried him on a nearby hill on the outskirts of town.

The people of Dodge City soon discovered that this hill was an ideal burying ground. Often being only known by their given name, many were dug up by coyotes and other animals the first night they were in their graves.

Nobody famous was interred on Boot Hill. Most of the people buried there died suddenly – with their boots on - so it became known as Boot Hill.

Not all were victims of violence. Five buffalo hunters who headed out on an unseasonably warm winter's day froze to death in a sudden blizzard.

By 1878, the area around the Hill was being developed and its real estate was too valuable to be a pauper’s cemetery.

After Prairie Grove Cemetery was platted in January 1879, when subfreezing temperatures made the task more agreeable, they moved most of the bodies to the new cemetery.

However, the only records of most Boot Hill burials were from newspaper accounts and some remains were missed.

Ironically, the man who platted Prairie Grove was one of its first "residents." He was Deputy U.S. Marshal Harry T. McCarty who was shot dead with his own gun on July 13, 1878 in the Long Branch Saloon.

The last person recorded to have been buried on Boot Hill was, Alice Chambers, who died of natural causes.

Closing in 1887, Prairie Grove did not last long. It was a private cemetery and it was profitable to build houses in the area where it stood. If family was present to advocate for the deceased, the body was moved to Dodge City’s current cemetery, Maple Grove.

Not everyone made it. An example being the discovery of Tom Nixon's headstone on Avenue C in the 1920's. Nixon, a lawman, was killed by Mysterious Dave Mather in 1884.

In the meantime, the City built a school on the site of Boot Hill Cemetery. Officially named the Third Ward School, it and its replacement, were called Boot Hill School, which did not sit well with school officials. Furthering this image, was school children often found bones of the unfortunate during recess.

In 1929, a City Hall was built on Boot Hill.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is now Boot Hill Distillery.

Many of Dodge City's founding fathers are buried in Dodge City's current cemetery, Maple Grove, including George Hoover, Chalkley Beeson, Robert M. Wright, Dr. Thomas McCarty and F.C. Zimmermann.

In 1994, the City purchased a private cemetery, Greencrest Memorial Gardens, and renamed it Maple Grove West.

It is located adjacent to the main Cemetery on the west side of Matt Down Lane.