Dodge City (1939)



Director:    Michael Curtiz.

Starring:     Errol Flynn (Wade Hatton), Olivia de Havilland (Abbie Irving), Ann Sheridan (Ruby Gilman), Bruce Cabot (Jeff Surrett), Frank McHugh (Joe Clemens), Alan Hale (Rusty Hart), Victor Jory (Yancey), Ward Bond (Bud Taylor).

There really isn't that much history here, even though the town of Dodge City has a very interesting past. Errol Flynn takes on the job of sheriff without being identified as any of the famous sheriffs that worked in Dodge City, including Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.



Historical Background:

The Real West: Bloody Dodge City (from The History Channel)

Three reasons why there were Kansas cow towns:

1) they were railroad towns;

2) in the heart of buffalo country; and

3) were the terminus of the epic cattle drives.

The most famous trails were the Chisholm and the Western trails. There were no trail heads in Texas so they took them up to the rail heads in Kansas.

500-1500 head at a time came up the trails. The drive could last three months and be as much as 1500 miles long. They feared the stampede the most.

1872  --  Dodge City was founded, primarily serving as a civilian community to nearby Fort Dodge.

Dee Brown, historian, said that the phrase red light district arose from Dodge City and its Red Light Saloon where the prostitutes and dance halls were supposed to stay on that side of Dodge.

There was the Front Street and then to the north of them there was Gospel Ridge and a church or two and some homes. They strove desperately to try to be like they were back east. Front Street was there primarily to fleece the cowboy.

Saloons outnumbered other businesses by two to one.

Eddie Foye came to Dodge City. He was the Bob Hope of his day. He would apply his humor to the area he was in. He had a peculiar little strut in his walk and a funny way of talking and he just loved people. He became a favorite of the cowboys.

The cow towns were made wild by the inhabitants of the towns in order to fleece the cowboys. They knew if they cracked down too hard on the cowboys, they could go elsewhere.

Dodge city was a supply base and camp for buffalo hunters. Its first building was a sod hut. It was named Buffalo, but changed its name to Doge because there were too many Kansas towns named Buffalo. They picked the name Dodge because of the nearby Fort Dodge.

1872 the railroad finally arrived in Dodge City.

1872  --  Billy Brooks killed two men in Dodge.

1874  --  Brooks was arrested with a gang of mule thieves. An angry mob of Sumner County residents yanked Brooks and two other men from the jail and hanged them.

1875  --  25 people died of gunshot wounds.

1876-1877 -- Wyatt Earp becomes a peace officer in Dodge City, Kansas (home of the Long Branch saloon, of which Luke Short was a co-owner); Bat Masterson was there also.

1877 -- Wyatt keeps company with Celia Anne Blaylock, called "Mattie."

1877-1880  --  Batt Masterson joined his brothers in Dodge City.  Jim was a partner in a saloon and Ed was a deputy sheriff.   He became a sheriff's deputy, working alongside Wyatt Earp.  Within a few months he was elected County Sheriff of Ford County, Kansas.  Meanwhile, brother Ed was Marshal of Dodge City.

1878 (April 9)  --  Ed Masterson was killed in the line of duty by two drunken cowboys.

1878-1879  --  Wyatt Earp came back to Dodge as peace officer. 

The Boot Hill cemetery in Dodge only lasted a few years.

1879 Boot Hill cemetery was closed and the bodies buried there moved to the Prairie Grove Cemetery.

1879, December -- Wyatt and Mattie arrived in Tombstone, Arizona (southeast AZ near Mexican border), called there by brother Virgil, a deputy marshal; also there was brother Morgan, also a city policeman.

early 1880s  --  the Dodge City Cowboy Band was organized.

1883-1884  -- David Mather served as assistant marshal.  (He was also co-owner of the Opera House Saloon on Front Street.)

1884  --  Thomas Nixon became the next assistant city marshal.  He also owned a dance hall.  Nixon and Mather battled to put each other out of the dance hall business.  One day Nixon fired some shots at Mather and three days later, Mather shot Nixon dead

1884-1886  --  Bill Tilghman was marshal of Dodge City.  He later became co-owner of the Crystal Palace saloon in Dodge.

1885-1886  --  Bat Masterson was a peace officer in Dodge.

The cattle tick had Texas fever or Spanish Fever brought north from the Texas cows (who were immune to the fever). The northern cows started dying. Fearful for their livelihoods the Kansas farmers moved to drive the Texas cattlemen out of the state of Kansas.

The Temperance movement was a big factor in determining which behaviors would be tolerated in town. The Kansas legislature limited the Texas cattle to only certain parts of Kansas. It was a quarantine line. One by one the Kansas quarantine line was extended to the Kansas cow towns.

1885 --- the state legislature put the quarantine line all the way to the southern border, thereby excluding Texas cattle and their cowboys from Kansas. The Kansas Grangers finally had their way.

Another reason for the decline of the Kansas cow towns, the railways were extended to Texas and there was no need for cattle drives any more.


(Source: Kansas State Historical Society;

Also see See Wyatt Earp (1994)


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