“Dodge is the Deadwood of Kansas”
(Hays City Sentinel in the late 1800s)
In 1865, Fort Dodge was established near the present site of Dodge City. During these rough times, the pioneers were often attacked by marauding Indians. Fort Dodge offered protection to the wagon trains from the Indians in the area, provided mail service and served as a supply base for troops engaged in the Indian Wars to the south. The 11th and 16th Kansas Cavalry Regiments began work during the harsh winter of 1865, repairing telegraph lines and reopen the travel routes. The Indians usually didn’t attack during winter months.
Thousands of wagons passed just west of Dodge City along the north bank of the Arkansas River into Colorado.
There was a shorter route, but it was more dangerous due to the vast spaces of waterless sand hills and the increased risk of Indian attacks.
In spite of all the hazards, this shorter route was preferred by many traders and travelers because there were no mountains to cross and the distance was somewhat shorter than the Mountain Route.
In 1871, a rancher by the name of Henry L. Sitler constructed a three-room sod house five miles west of Fort Dodge. Located at the foot of a hill along the Santa Fe Trail, Sitler’s home became a frequent stopping place for Buffalo hunters and traders.
Sitler would later say, “If you stood on the hill above Dodge City, there was traffic as far as you could see, 24-hours a day, seven days a week on the Santa Fe Trail.”
George M. Hoover would soon join Sitler, building Dodge City’s first business, a saloon built of sod and boards.
On August 15, 1872 a group of businessmen from Forts Dodge, Riley and Leavenworth, Kansas organized the Dodge City Town Company and began the planning and development of the town site.
At first, they called the settlement Buffalo City until they learned there was already a town by that name, so it was changed to Dodge City, after the fort.
In September 1872 the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Dodge City, which caused a tremendous growth for many years. Hastily built frame buildings and tents sprang up, adjacent to the railroad tracks, housing two grocery and general merchandise stores, a dance hall, a restaurant, a barber shop, and a blacksmith shop.
Robert M. Wright, one of the directors of the Town Company would say of this time: “Hardly had the railroad reached there, long before a depot could be built …, business began; and such a business! Dozens of cars a day were loaded with hides and meat, and dozens of carloads of grain, flour, and provisions arrived each day.
The streets of Dodge were lined with wagons, bringing in hides and meat and getting supplies from early morning to late at night.”
Initially there was no law enforcement and Dodge City quickly acquired its infamous stamp of lawlessness and gun slinging.
As the many buffalo hunters, railroad workers, drifters and soldiers streamed into the town after long treks on the prairie, they quickly found the saloons and the inevitable fights ensued.
Many gunfighters died with their boots on, so Dodge City developed the Boot Hill Cemetery, which was used until 1878.