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Character of Dodge


What do you think of when you hear the word, character? Do you have a ‘character’ in your family tree?

‘Character’ is the #52Ancestors blogging prompt for this week. Not knowing how to approach this topic, I tried a newspapers search for the term ‘character’ in the Dodge City, Kansas newspapers between 1875 and 1885. I limited the search to Dodge City because that is my dad’s hometown. I used the 1875-1885 date range because it represents the time period in which the Crawford family migrated to Dodge City.

Instead of finding articles about a person, I found several articles about changing the character of the town. One of those articles discussed how the character of the town was appearing in newspapers around the world. So, I changed my search to look for ‘Dodge City character’ in 1883.

That search found a letter from several of the prominent citizens of Dodge City that was published in the Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, Kansas) on 18 May 1883.

A Plain Statement

Of the Recent Troubles at Dodge City, KS

As Made by the Officials of that City – Simply a Desire to Rid their Community of Blacklegs and Gamblers.

Dodge City, Ks, May 15, 1883 — There has been quite a commotion among the papers of Kansas City and Topeka, and while they would have the readers of their respective papers believe that Dodge is in the hands of a mob, and that the persons and property of peaceable citizens are in constant jeopardy from destruction, the city itself and its inhabitants have been pursuing the even tenor of their way, the city assuming an aspect peaceable — if anything more so than it has for years. The doings of violence to persons and property by the mob in Dodge City is all being done in Kansas City and Topeka through the press, while in fact Dodge City itself, the scene of all the lawlessness as stated, is quiet, orderly and peaceable.

The occasion for what the press have called trouble is only a repetition of what is found to be necessary about every two years in Dodge City; that is, a clearing out of an element composed of bold, daring men of illegal profession who, from toleration by the respectable portion of the community, are allowed to gain a prestige found difficult to unseat. This element has to be banished, or else the respectable people have to be bulldosed and browbeat by a class of men without any vested interest or visible means of support, who should be allowed to remain in a decent community only by toleration, but who, instead, after gaining prestige, they undertake to dictate the government of the better class. This is the element which Dodge City has recently ordered out of town, an act which is done in every town of good government. The facts have been misunderstood, both to and by the press and to the Governor. The true state of facts is about as follows:

At the last April election, Deger and Harris ran for mayor of the city. Harris is a gambler by profession and living in open adultry with a public prostitute, and the interest which he has in the town is merely of a local character. He could close up and settle his affairs one day. The only real estate that he owns, and on which he pays taxes, is a small house in which he lives, and he would not own that only it is cheaper than for him to rent. It is worth about $400. He is a man whose character no respectable man in the community in which he lives would vouch for. He is a man that is recognized by the decent people as a sympathizer friend and shielder of the gambler, thug, confidence man and murderer, who may be arrested by the authorities for offenses against the law. He is always to be found on their bond for recognizance, no matter how glaring the deed or heinous the offense for which they stand charted.

This man was the candidate for mayor representing the gambling element. Dager, who is a man of irreproachable character and honesty, is an old resident o f the town and represented the better class of people and as a matter of course, as was conceded, he was elected by a large majority, but it was very apparent that Harris felt very sore over his defeat. It was also very apparent that he and some of his followers who were mostly composed of gamblers were going to buck against everything the new administration done.

At the first meeting of the new administration it was found necessary to pass and revise certain ordinances and among them was one to prohibit women of lewd character from loitering around saloons and upon the streets. This ordinance was passed upon the application of a majority of the business men including the saloon men of the town. They also passed another ordinance in regard to gamblers, which they considered stringent and loudly denounced it, and upon the application of a committee representing the gamblers, the councilman made conceptions, and in fact, made all the concessions asked, in order to preserve peace and harmony. The ordinance in regard to women, went into effect two days before the concessions was made by the councilmen. The first day and night the women obeyed the ordinance without a single exception, but the second night which was the night of the concession made b the mayor and councilman, Short, Harris and another gambler, who were loud in their abuse of the ordinance, there being no women down town, went to a house of ill fame, and according to their spoken works, forced two of the inmates down to their saloon to violate the ordinance, saying that they would pay the fines and costs assessed against the women. the women, after being tried and fined for the offense had to pay their fines and costs themselves, and when ordered to leave town, and after Short and Harris refused t pay their fines, as above stated, they made a statement as above set forth, before the police judge, and since.

The officers, as was their duty, arrested the women and locked them up in the calaboose, for a violation of the city ordinance. After their arrest, Short, the partner of Harris, who is a gambler and an acknowledged hard character, attempted to assassinate L. C. Hartman, a special policeman who assisted in the arrest, by shooting at him from an obscure spot after night, which happened about as follows:

After making the arrest, Hartman walked down the principal street, and when in front of a general store, which was closed the front being dark, Hartman met Short and another gambler coming up the street. While passing by, Short and his companion, Short turned and drew a pistol and said, “There is one of the son’s of _____; lets throw it into him,” immediately firing two shots at Hartman from his six-shooter. Hartman, in his endeavor to turn upon Short, in some way fell to the ground. Short, supposing he had killed him, started to the saloon of one Tom Land, near by, but Hartman, immediately recovering himself, fired one shot at Short. Strange to say, neither of the shots fired took effect.

Short gave bonds in the sum of 42,000 and afterwards filed a complaining against Hartman, stating that Hartman had fired the first shot, half a dozen of Short’s confederates being ready to testify that he (Hartman) had done so, although there are several reliable business men who witnessed the affair, who will testify that Short fired the two first shots as above stated.

The women were locked up. Short and Harris were bound they should not remain locked up all night, as is customary with prisoners when locked up by city authorities. By intimidating some of the city officers by threats, etc., they affected their purpose. In all these proceedings, Short was the leader and spokesman. He is the man who but a few weeks ago pulled out his pistol and best one of our most respectful citizens over the head until he was carried home on a stretcher, and his life was despaired of for several days. He is a man who, on several occasions, has picked up chairs and broke them over the heads of men who, as it happened, had done something in his place of business that displeased him. He is a man that killed his man, an old gray-headed man 57 years old, in Tombstone, Arizona, and has been run out of that and other places by respectable people. He is a man who was an intimate friend of such men as Jack McCarty, the notorious and well known three card monte and confidence man, known all through the west as being a hard character, and who recently died near this place after being convicted of highway robbery and about to receive his sentence of ten years.

Harris and Short keep a saloon that is a refuge and resort for all confidence men, thieves and gamblers that visit the town, and the statements that have been made in regard to the place kept by Webster are false. He is regarded as a man of personal honor and integrity, and as mayor of the city, an office he held for two terms, he so conducted the affairs of the city, and made such vigorous war on bunko, steerers, thugs and confidence men as to gain the gratitude and respect of every law abiding citizen of the place.

It was very apparent to the mayor and councilmen of the city that this element, with Harris and short at their head, were gong to violate, encourage, shield and protect all violators of the laws of the city, and that the probability was that there would be trouble n the city during the whole of their administration if they and their followers remained. Short had attempted to assassinate an officer in the discharge of his duty, had bulldozed the city officers, had violated, aided an abetted in the violation of the laws, and at a meeting of the mayor and a large number of citizens, including the council, it was after due deliberation and consideration, determined to arrest Luke Short and his followers and let them leave town, and accordingly, he, with six other associates, were arrested on complaint and warrant and locked in the calaboose and precautions taken that they did not escape, and were allowed to leave town the next day. There was no mob violence used whatever. None but regular officers of the city made the arrest, but in the case they were resisted there was sufficient force composed of armed citizens held in reserve to aid in the arrest.

It was afterwards ascertained by one of the parties arrested, who peached on the balance, that it was known by Short and party they were to be arrested, and as soon as the officers came to arrest them it was understood they were organized and that Short was to start the shooting and the balance of the party were to follow it up, but as stated by him “somebody weakened.” The citizens understood the characters of the men they were dealing with and were prepared for them, and this was the occasion for the circulation that it was a mob. It was bona fide citizens armed to aid the officers if necessary in the enforcement of the laws.

Much of the confusion and misunderstanding regarding the situation in our city is due to the misrepresentations made to the Governor by one W. F. Petillon. Petillon is clerk of the district court and lives about six miles north of Dodge City on a claim of 160 acres. He had been recognized and identified as a Harris man some time before the lection, which cam about as follows: Jack McCarty had been arrested at this point for highway robbery, and had given bond for $2,000. Harris, as one of the bondsmen, and Short, having no property against which execution could issue, got a citizen worth some real estate to sign the bond and he (Short) deposited the amount to secure the party so signing. The bond was given for McCarty’s appearance to be tried. McCarty appeared and in the course of the trial it was evident from the evidence McCarty would be convicted. After conviction and before sentence, McCarty escaped. When his escape became known, the clerk, Petillon, was applied to for the bond, he being the proper custodian of the papers in the case. Upon application, he could not give it, as he did not know where it was. He had it at the last day of court and was the one seen to have it last. The bond was never found, although he acknowledged it was properly filed, and it is impossible to obliterate from the minds of a great many respectable people here that Petillon knew why and where that bond disappeared. it has been a noticeable feature that since that time Petillon has been a firm believer and supporter of the Harris and Short combination. This is the kind of man Governor Glick sends for, instead of sending for a proper representative as any reasonable, intelligent, discreet man should to investigate.

The condition of Dodge City at present is orderly and law-abiding, and the prospects are it will so continue if these men remain away. If they are allowed to remain it will be against the will and without the consent of a majority of the law-abiding citizens of this community, and if the Governor, through his interference and encouragement, forces these men back on us he does so at his peril, and if there is bloodshed as a result the responsibility will not rest entirely with the Governor, who had he not given the matter encouragement,, it would have passed by unnoticed, as an occurrence frequent in all cities desirous of being law-abiding, and of good government.

Dated at Dodge City, Kansas the 15th day of May, 1883.

L. E. Deger, Mayor
H. B. Bell
H. T. Drake
George S. Emerson
H. M. Beverly, Councilmen of Dodge City
R. E. Burns, Police Judge
N. B. Klaine, City Treasurer
L. C. Hartman, City Clerk
C. E. Chipman, Assistant Marshal
Fred T. M. Wente, City Attorney
J. L. Bridges, City Marshal
T. L. McCarty, City Physician

About a year after this letter was written, my 2nd great grandfather, Washington Marion Crawford, would move his family from Warren County, Indiana to Dodge City where he would join his older brother who was already living in Dodge City. Obviously the conflict in Dodge City did not prevent my ancestor from moving there. Perhaps that is due to the fact the citizens of Dodge City fought to change the character of the town.

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