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Dodge City, Ford County

Dodge City was established in 1872, just before the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad. It initially did a booming business in buffalo bones and hides, as well as serving as a rendezvous for soldiers from Fort Dodge. By 1875 its days as a cattle town had arrived and for the next 10 years it was the "Cowboy Capital" of the world, and "Queen of the Cowtowns." It was served by more top notch lawmen and gunfighters than any other. Wyatt Earp; Bat, Ed, and Jim Masterson; Doc Holliday; William Tilghman; Clay Allison; Ben and Billy Thompson; Lake Short; and many others spent time in Dodge City.

Dodge City's status as a cattle market was aided by an act of the 1876 legislature which moved the quarantine line west and cut Wichita out of the trade. Thousands of cattle were shipped to Dodge City between 1876 and 1885. Shipping peaked between 1883 and 1884.

To say the town was wild at times is an understatement. It was often difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Drovers came to town looking for guns, gambling, liquor, and women and the city supplied it all. Local businesses continued to supply liquor even through the temperance movement and temperance legislation. The city was run by businessmen, most of them saloon owners, and they preferred to pay the penalty, amounting to more than $5000 per year, rather than enforce the law.

By 1885 Dodge City's days as a roaring cattle town were numbered. New developments in agriculture allowed the arid southwest to be irrigated and cultivated. Subsequently, the quarantine border was moved further west to the Colorado border and Dodge City was no longer a cattle driving town. Two fires in 1885 served to effectively rid the city  of the first period of commercial development, paving the way for reinvention. By 1887, the city had rebuilt with stately, more permanent brick structures and the wild past was put behind them. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, the population of Dodge City exploded and many new businesses were established.

By the 1930s Dodge City had spent nearly 50 years trying to live down its past. However, during the years of the Great Depression, Hollywood filmmakers were making millions glorifying the wild west. Dodge City was the subject of several movies and was even host to the premiere of the movie of the same name. It was also the setting of the long running TV western Gunsmoke.

Today, downtown Dodge City consists of buildings that post date the cattle town days and represent subsequent periods of development. Downtown was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Entry: Dodge City, Ford County

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: January 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.