Monday, July 26, 2010

Dodge City, Kansas, Part I

We were up early on Wednesday, July 22, and on the road by eight o'clock.  We decided to head west and then north, in hopes of finding cooler temperatures and no mosquitoes.  When Alan was stationed at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, and we returned to Arkansas for visits, we often stopped at the KOA in Clinton/Elk City, Oklahoma.  We're not high on KOAs now, but back in the day -- before computers and the ability to research -- we always stopped at KOAs, so we had very fond memories of the KOA in Clinton/Elk City, mainly because there's a drop in humidity at this point in Oklahoma.  It's still a quality KOA we think -- they  still offer dinners and all-you-can-eat pancakes in the mornings and they've added made-from-scratch pies.  Like most KOAs, it's right on I-40 and we like the easy-on, easy-off access when we are stopping for a night.  It really hasn't changed much since the last time we stopped here with Alissa and grandkids in 2001 as we traveled to New Mexico for a visit.

Thursday morning, July 23, we were up and on the road early.  We planned to be in Dodge City, Kansas, early afternoon.  We took Hwy 283 north out of Sayre, Oklahoma.  It was a two-lane state highway and very quiet in comparison to driving the interstate.  The terrain reminded us of New Mexico and South Dakota -- wide-open spaces. 


We crossed into Kansas and stopped at a roadside picnic area for a sandwich of bologna and cheese (Alan) and turkey and cheese (Marilyn).  It was cool and windy.
We had reservations at Gunsmoke RV Park in Dodge City and arrived at the park in the early afternoon.

Reviews of this campground all talked about the cobblestone entryway and how difficult it was to drive over, but Alan took it nice and slow without any problems.

The western theme was carried throughout the park.


For some reason, they covered the swimming pool at night -- perhaps to keep out unwanted visitors.

They also locked the entryway gate at 10:00 P.M. to prohibit late-night arrivals. 

We had a 70' pull-thru in the back, where the sites also consisted of the same rock as the entryway.

This was our view out our front window.

It was a nice, quiet, clean park at the cost of $33 for full hookups, including cable and WiFi.  It is also for sale -- just in case someone is interested.

Dodge City, Kansas, is famous for its history as a wild frontier town of the Old West.  Famous gunslingers, as well as sheriffs, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, are a part of Dodge City history.  The first settlement of people in the area was Fort Mann.  Built by civilians in 1847, Fort Mann was intended to provide protection for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.  However, Fort Mann collapsed a short year later following an Indian attack.  In 1850, the Army arrived to provide protection in the area and constructed Fort Atkinson on the old Fort Mann site, but the Army abandoned Fort Atkinson in 1853.  Military forces on the Santa Fe Trail were reestablished north and east at Fort Larned in 1859.  In 1865, Fort Dodge was constructed by the Army to help Fort Larned in providing protection on the Santa Fe Trail.

The town of Dodge City traces its origin to 1871 when rancher Henry Sitler built a sod house  to oversee his cattle operations.  Located near the Santa Fe Trail and the Arkansas River, Sitler's house soon became a stopping point for travelers.  In 1872, five miles west of Fort Dodge, settlers founded the town of Dodge City.  With the arrival of the railroad to the area, the early settlers became involved in the cattle trade business and  Dodge City became the Queen of the Cow Towns in the West.

After a quick trip to Wal-Mart, we were off to Boot Hill.  Alan loves old Western movies and was sure someone he "knew" was buried at the cemetery.  When we arrived, we opted to see the museum, as well as participate in a chuck-wagon style dinner and then attend a show at the Long Branch Saloon -- all for $56 for the both of us.

Boot Hill (or Boothill) is the name for several cemeteries in approximately two dozen states, mainly in the West.  During the 1800s, it was a common name for the burial grounds of gunfighters or those who died with their boots on -- usually in a violent manner.  Boot Hill graves were also made for those who died in a strange town without money for a burial 

The first place we headed to was the cemetery. 

The hangin' tree

One of the first questions asked at the museum is, "Is this the first Boot Hill and are people really buried here?"  The answer is yes, they believe so.   From 1872 to 1878, there was no regular burial ground in Dodge.  During the town's first year, it saw nearly 30 killings, which was high, considering the population was only 500.  Boot Hill became the resting place for those who did not have the money to be buried at Fort Dodge.  Few had ceremonies and none had coffins.  Important persons who had friends, relatives and money were taken to Fort Dodge for burial -- four-and-a half miles down the Arkansas River.  The others were stripped of their possessions, rolled in blankets and buried.  Frequently, the body was that of a visitor at the saloon who was shot and thrown in the alley.  In 1878, the decision was made to build a new cemetery east of town and the bodies would be moved there.  According to a newspaper report, there were over 60 bodies buried on Boot Hill and in 1879, the bodies of 32 men and women were relocated to the new cemetery.  

We made our way through the Museum -- from the looks of it on the outside, it didn't look like much, but once you got inside, it grew and we saw a lot and learned a lot.

The first people who settled the Great Plains were the Kiowa, Comanche, Kiowa-Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Plains Apache and the Crow.  

These tribes braved violent thunderstorms, tornadoes, droughts, fires, blizzards and freezing temperatures.  The basic goal of these tribes was hunting food to survive.  The tribes followed the migrating herds of buffalo.  Setting up temporary camps, the tribes would travel up to 20 miles a day following the bison.  They would circle around them and slowly close in, while hunters confused the animals by yelling and running.  The hunters used stone-tipped spears that were thrust in to the animal.  The introduction of the horse changed their way of life forever.  Not only did the buffalo provide meat, their hides were used for clothing, to wrap the outside of their Tipi's, and bones were used to make weapons, tools, etc.  These natives depended on bison for many, many things.  When the White Man arrived, all that changed.  There were approximately 65,000,000 (that isn't a misprint) bison on the Great Plains and within a relatively short period of time after the arrival of the White Man, the number was reduced to around 1,000.  As high as 3500 were killed in a day...pretty incredible.

The Tipi, from the Sioux language meaning "used to dwell in" provided a portable home for the tribes of the Plains.

The Tipi stayed cool on the hottest days in the summer and offered warmth and protection against the harsh winter storms.  It was also easy to dismantle as they followed the bison.  The circular floor plan symbolized the earth, while the dirt floor represented the fertility of the earth.  The walls of the structure stood for the sky, while the poles symbolized the Great Spirit who dwelt on high.  The women were the ones responsible for constructing the Tipi.  They gathered the thin, long logs, stripped the bark and skinned over a dozen buffalo to create the hide walls.  And it was up to the women to decide the location of the Tipi.  Within an hour they would clear an area and erect the Tipi.  They used a Tipi covering until it was beyond repair.  Then they would recycle the scraps for something new.  The top portion of the Tipi was filled with smoke and ashes from the fire which made it waterproof.  The Tipi was very important to the tribes and served many needs in their lives.  We could certainly learn a lot from these American Natives.

I bet you didn't know there was Tipi etiquette.  If the door was open, the friend could enter.  If closed, the friend announced his presence and waited to be invited in.  The male visitor entered and moved to the right where he waited for the host to offer him the guest place to the left of the owner.  The woman entered after the man and moved to the left.  When asked to dinner, guests brought their own bowls and spoons and were expected to eat all that was given to them.  No visitor ever walked between the fire in the center and the other people but passed behind the guests who leaned forward to allow room for them to pass.  The men sat cross-legged and the women could only sit on their heels or with their legs to the side.  If only men were present, the older ones started any conversation, while the younger ones remained silent until they were asked to speak.  When the host began to clean his pipe, everyone was expected to leave.  The Tipi was considered sacred and the rules were followed to show respect for the shelter and mobility it provided to the tribes.  

Without many trees or stones to build homes, the settlers discovered that buffalo grass sod that covered the prairie was good building material. 

According to the settlers, it was best to obtain the sod after a soaking rain or snow.  Builders cut straight "bricks" 2 1/4" thick and 12" long.  Because the walls settled so much, windows and doors were framed first and walls built around them.  After the walls were up, forks of trees were placed at each end and in the middle.  Rails were laid from the walls to the pole and then covered with anything  available (sorghum stalks, willow switches, straw, etc) to keep the sod roof dirt from falling through the rafters.  If a settler had the money, the ceiling would be covered in muslin to combat the dirt problem.  The roof was constructed of pine or cottonwood boards, covered with a layer of sod.  Tar paper was placed between the boards to help control leaks.  Oftentimes, the interior walls were plastered with a mixture of sand and native clay and then whitewashed.  This tended to keep down the bedbugs.  Wooden floors were used to help keep down fleas.

Chuckwagons were very important to the cowboy.

They carried much-needed supplies for the cowboys who were herding cattle.   Pulled by four horses, they traveled ahead of the cowboys so food would be ready for them when they finished their day of  work.  The drovers ate in groups, while taking turns sitting around the chuckwagons or campfires and taking care of the horses and cattle.  A cowboy's diet consisted of beef, beans and bread.  Any cattle that could not be sold due to injury was butchered and eaten on the trail.  Armadillo and rattlesnakes were also used in stews and chilis-- YUK.  That's why there were no women chuckwagon cooks.  The cook was responsible for stocking the wagon with enough food and supplies to last one to two months without spoiling.  They usually carried sugar, dried fruit, flour, beans, coffee and tobacco.  One drawer held razors, scissors, Castor oil and a sewing kit.  The cook also served as a doctor, barber and tailor.  A sling made of cow hide hung beneath the wagon and held cow chips and wood for fires.

The last area of this particular museum was devoted to the radio and television show "Gunsmoke."  Do you remember listening to Gunsmoke on the radio before it became a hit on television?  The man responsible for writing most of the scripts -- John Meston -- decided to expand his passion for western fiction by writing about an actual location known for its rough and untamed past -- Dodge City, Kansas.


America tuned in weekly to hear:

"Around Dodge City and in the territory of the West, there is only one way to handle the killers and the spoilers, and that's with a US Marshall and the smell of Gunsmoke, starring William Conrad.  The transcribed story of the violence that moved West with young America and the story of the man who moved with it."
 And Dillon replied:

"I'm that man, Matt Dillon, United States Marshall, the first man they look for, and the last they want to meet.  It's a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful and a little lonely."  

And with that, Matt Dillon -- played by William Conrad -- was created as the US Marshall in Dodge City.  At some point, William Conrad was replaced with James Arness on the television series.  Other characters -- Ms Killy, Doc, Chester, Festus -- were created as well. 

At the museum, they play reruns of Gunsmoke on this old television set:

The last Marshall of Dodge City was Marshall Kenneth Ramon House.  He was born in Kentucky in 1915. Knowing from an early age, he wanted a career in civil service, he left home at the age of sixteen to enlist in the U.S. Calvary.  After the military he returned to Kentucky and joined the Louisville Police Department.  In 1956, he transferred to the Dodge City Police Department because of his love of the "Old West."  His office, an air conditioned replica of Matt Dillon's office housed a roll-top desk, early law books, records, etc.  Marshall House left his city post in the early 1990's.  

Since the information we want to share from Dodge City is lengthy, I have decided to divide it up in parts -- thus, this is Part I.

We are truly enjoying our journey.  Every day we talk about how blessed we are to have this opportunity -- so many people do not have the chance to visit such interesting places and learn so much about our great land.  We hope whoever reads our blog will also enjoy our adventures.

Stay tuned for Dodge City, Kansas, Part II -- in the meantime, may God continue to bless our voyage and may God bless our family and friends.

1 comment:

  1. Loved learning about 'teepee' etiquette. However, begs the question if the flap is closed, how do you knock? LOL

    Remember fondly Gunsmoke...especially Paul who watched it every Sunday day when they visited his grandparents.