Friday, August 10, 2012

Coffeyville's Death Alley

Although my dad was a serious man, there were times when he put his law books down and entered Stage Front Right.  This happened when out-of-town guests came to visit.  Dad took on the role of a charming, folksy tour guide and the alley behind his law office was the stage.

"Let me tell you about the demise of the Dalton boys," he'd begin in an exaggerated Midwestern drawl.  "They got greedy.  Instead of robbing one bank that fateful day, they decided to rob two."

My husband (being one of those guests once upon a time) ate it up.  My dad walked down Death Alley with him, pointing out the old jail, the old stores, the banks, and the exact spots where Bob and Grat Dalton died.  That fateful day was October 5, 1892, and it put Coffeyville, Kansas on the map.

After the Civil War, gangs of thieves continued to terrorize the Midwest.  The Dalton boys were children, living in Westport, Missouri, during the war's aftermath.  They moved to the Oklahoma Territory in 1889, but the atrocities they witnessed forever blurred right and wrong on their impressionable minds.  That Grat and Bob Dalton were deputy marshals who slipped easily into a life of crime was not unusual for the time.  Their big brother, Frank, was also a lawman but died in the line of duty.  Would he have become an outlaw, too?  Probably.

By the time they entered Coffeyville, they had robbed several trains and killed many men in the process.  A reward was put on their heads of $5,000 each.
Five of the gang members rode into Coffeyville around 9 a.m. that morning and tied up their horses in the alley.  They wore fake beards, but it fooled no one.  They were recognized.  Grat Dalton, Bill Power and Dick Broadwell entered the Condon Bank.  Bob and Emmett Dalton crossed the plaza and went into the First National Bank.  The citizens of Coffeyville immediately armed themselves with rifles from the local hardware store and took up positions to defend the town.  "They went into the hardware store and got themselves some hardware!" my dad liked to say.

When they charged out of the banks, a gun battle ensued and lasted 12 minutes.  When the smoke cleared,  four gang members and four citizens were dead.  Emmett Dalton was riddled with 20 bullets and a doctor told everyone he'd be dead by nightfall, but miraculously, he survived.  He stood trial and was sentenced to life in prison. 
The four outlaws were initially buried together in an unmarked grave.  The old metal pipe, which served as a hitching post for their horses, was placed over the grave.  The family of Dick Broadwell had him later reinterred  in Hutchinson, Kansas. 

In 1907, Emmett Dalton was pardoned.  Before moving to California, he came to Coffeyville once again and had a proper stone made for his brothers.  This time he was treated like a minor celebrity.  Even today, the outlaws' grave is adorned with flowers and trinkets.  It's not so much we idolize them, but how we love the story! 

Yes, we love America's Wild Wild West.  The Condon Bank in Coffeyville is on the National Register of Historic Places.  You can hear the story behind the alley or go to the excellent Dalton museum.  "They got greedy.  Instead of robbing one bank that fateful day, they decided to rob two."

1 comment:

  1. It's me again! Very interesting stuff. I enjoyed your Thomas Hart Benton blog as well. I bookmarked your site so I can read some more of it later. Thanks for posting all.