...And Then The Town Said “Oh 4#!& No!” - Coffeyville Kansas and the Demise of the Dalton Gang

 Dear Henry,

A couple of weeks ago, Fish and I decided to take a day trip up Coffeyville Kanas to check out a museum the town had.   It's only about an hour away from Tulsa and was the site of what has come to be known as the "Dalton's Gang's Last Raid," and while neither one of us had more than a vague idea of who the Dalton Gang were, the town sounded like a great little adventure.

Coffeyville, Kansas, was first established as a trading post in 1869 by Colonel James A. Coffey. Still, it would soon grow into a town when the Levenworth, Lawerence, and Galveston Railroad decided to establish a connection there and sent US Army Captain Napoleon Blanton to plan out a city. The town's name was decided by a coin toss between Colonel Coffey and Captain Blanton.

With the addition of the railroad and the natural resources of the area (oil, gas, clay, silica), the town grew enough to support several banks. It would be these banks that drew the Daltons.

The Dalton Gang was a band of thieves that were active in the Oklahoma territory from the late 1890s until October 5, 1892. The gang consisted of the Dalton brothers Bob, Emmett, and Gratton, as well as George "Bitter Creek" Newcomb, "Blackfaced" Charlie Bryant, Bill Doolin, Dick Broadwell, Bill Powers, and Charlie Pierce. They had successfully pulled off four train robberies and had, so far, lost only one member, Charlie Bryant, in a shootout. This gave Bob Dalton the confidence to think bigger, and he decided his gang was going to "beat" the Jesse James Gang by robbing two banks in broad daylight at the same time on October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang rode into Coffeyville, intent on robbing the CM Condon and Company and the First National Bank. The gang was immediately identified as "suspicious," and the town reacted.

It was funny, on the drive up to Coffeyville, I was talking with Fish about an article I had read about the gun laws in the United States and how the largest armed civilian population is as much a deterrent to a foreign invasion as the US military itself because when push comes to shove in America, Annie gets her gun.

That's what happened in Coffeyville. When the town realized that they were being robbed, they said, to quote the Cajun gentleman who happened to be at the museum at the same time, "Oh, Hell No!"

To be fair, this was in the days before banking insurance, so had the Daltons successfully gotten away with the money, the town would have been devastated financially. But, unfortunately, the gang also didn't do themselves any favors. They hadn't planned the heist well and had parked their get-a-way horses much too far from the banks. The gang also believed the stories about "time-released locks" and spent too much time inside, and while the band was in the banks, the (heavily armed) town gathered outside.

You can guess what happened next.

When the dust settled, eight people were dead:

Of the Defenders of Coffeyville - Marshal Charles Connelly, George Cubine, Lucius Baldwin, and Charles Brown were killed, and bank clerk Thomas Ayers, who had been shot in the head, would survive but remain paralyzed for life.

Of the Dalton Gang - Gratton, Bob, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers were killed. Emmett received 23 gunshot wounds and a life sentence. He was paroled after fourteen years, moved to California, and became a real estate salesman/actor/writer  - an ending as quintessentially American as the rest of the story. Bill Doolin, who was out of town with extra horses, and George "Bitter Creek" Newcomb, who was at the hideout in Ingalls, Oklahoma, got away; they formed another gang and were eventually killed.

All but about $20.00  of the money was recovered, and the town also received additional money by selling photos of the Dalton Gang lying in the jail and other artifacts (clothing, buttons, bullets). And from what I understand, the town assisted with Thomas Ayers's care for the rest of his life.

The incident is officially known, in American history books, as "The Battle of Coffeyville."

The museum also had more to offer than just information about the Dalton Gang, and it turns out the town has quite a bit more history than just the Battle of Coffeyville.

Because of the area's natural resources, the town became well-known for brick and glass manufacturing. These industries and the oil and ranching opportunities made the region relatively prosperous. In addition, it was the offseason home for the great baseball Water "Big Train" Johnson (he grew up in a nearby town). 

The town was also the birthplace of the race car driver Johnny Rutherford, the Pentecostal gospel singer Verna Hall Linzy, and Kansas drummer Phillip W. Ehart. In addition, the town has a full community college, The Red Ravens, which was attended by actor Gary Busey and Boxer Buster Douglas. Finally, until June 22, 2003, the town held the record for the largest hailstone on record, a stone 17.5 inches around and weighing 1.67 lbs. The record was broken by an 18.75-inch stone that fell in Aurora, Nebraska. However, the Nebraska stone only weighed 1.3 lbs, so the Coffeyville stone is still the heaviest on record.

It was a fun day trip. We raided the gift shop, scoring another shot glass and a book on the history of Coffeyville. The town still has quite an active presence and few little places to wander about. The museum is open Mon-Sat 10-4 and Sun 1-4 and costs a very reasonable $8.00.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at www.takethebackroads.com, you can also read her book reviews at www.riteoffancy.com and US military biographies at www.everydaypatriot.com

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