Sunday, September 2, 2007

Coffeyville, KS

Coffeyville, Kansas

The waters arrived. The rain kept falling and rivers overflowed. The ground could not soak up all the water.

This spring 42,000 gallons of oil was spilled during the floods. The refinery has offered to purchase over 300 homes damaged by the flood. They are offering 110% of the pre-flood market value. They are also advising homeowners that their insurance obligation is limited to home clean-up and removal of the first 9 inches of topsoil. Not surprisingly, some owners are not selling.

The entire Kansas-Oklahoma area is now flooded with government agents, clean-up crews, testing crews, and inspection services to certify that the clean-up crews, testing crews and reclamation teams are doing their job. Crews from Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi that have had too much experience with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are filling the hotels, doing a great job and making a lot of money.

Some parts of fields and towns look as if nothing ever happened. The fields and hills are green and lush. If you look closely, you can see crops that were pushed over and left. The locals tell that the water has soaked down and baked hard the clay.. Any more rain will just flood off immediately. After taking care of the citizens, the refinery-insurance-clean-up crews are now headed towards taking off the topsoil and replacing it... The lawyers in Texas are still working on their downstream reclamation and recovery issues

Before the floods, the biggest event to hit the Coffeyville area was the Dalton Gang. Old Town Coffeyville doesn't seem to have changed much in the last 100 years. The sun is still too hot in August. There are still too few people in this part of the world. The streets are deserted after nine in the morning.


Founded in 1869 as an Indian trading post by Col. James A. Coffey, serving the population across the Oklahoma border in what was then the Indian Territory, the town was confirmed and expanded by the arrival of the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston railroad in 1871. With the arrival of the railroad, a young surveyor, Napoleon B. Blanton, was dispatched to lay out the town. The naming of the town was left to the toss of a coin between Col. Coffey and U.S. Army Captain Blanton. Blanton lost the toss and the town was officially named Coffeyville.

Incorporated in 1872, the charter was voided, and the city was re-incorporated in March of 1873.

Coffeyville's most famous moment may have been the end of the Dalton Gang: on October 5, 1892, four of the gang were killed while Emmett Dalton survived with 23 gunshot wounds and was imprisoned for 14 years before being pardoned. They had been attempting to rob two banks, First National Bank and Condon Bank, at once when the citizens recognized them under the fake beards they were wearing and fought them after coming out of one of the banks. Three citizens, including a U.S. marshal, Marshal Charles T. Connelly, died in defense of the town.

The Dalton Gang:


The Dalton family came from Jackson County, Missouri. Lewis Dalton was a saloon keeper in Kansas City, Kansas, when he married Adeline Younger, the aunt of Cole and Jim Younger. By 1882, the family lived in northeast Oklahoma, then known as the Indian Territory, and by 1886 they had moved to Coffeyville in southeast Kansas. When the Oklahoma Territory opened for settlement in 1889, the family claimed homestead land near Kingfisher. Thirteen of the couple's 15 children survived to maturity.


One son, Frank Dalton, was a deputy United States Marshal who was killed in the line of duty in 1887. Frank had been the most stable of the brothers, well grounded and mature. He had been tracking a horse thief in the Oklahoma Territory. When he located the suspect on November 27, 1887, he confronted him and a shootout erupted, resulting in Dalton being killed. One week later, on December 3, 1887, the suspect was tracked by other lawmen, and another shootout erupted. In that second shootout, Deputy U.S. Marshal Ed Stokley shot and wounded the suspect, who then shot and killed Stokley. Other deputy U.S. Marshals returned fire, killing the suspect.

Perhaps hoping to avenge their brother's death, the three younger Dalton boys—Gratton "Grat" Dalton (b. 1861), Bob Dalton (b. 1869), and Emmett Dalton (b. 1871)—became lawmen. But in 1890, the boys moved to the other side of the law. Bob was always the wildest one. He killed a man for the first time when he was just 19. He was a deputy U.S. Marshal at the time and claimed the killing was in the line of duty. Some suspected, however, that the victim had tried to take away Bob's girlfriend. In March 1890, Bob was charged with introducing liquor into the Indian Territory, but he jumped bail and did not appear for his trial. In September 1890, Grat was arrested for stealing horses— a capital offense—but either the charges were dropped or he was released. Discredited as lawmen, the Daltons soon formed their first gang.


Bob recruited George "Bitter Creek" Newcomb, Bill McElhanie, and Blackfaced Charley Bryant to ride with him and his brother Emmett. Bryant received his nickname because of a gunpowder burn on one cheek. Grat was visiting his brother Bill in California when the gang was formed, but joined it later, as did Bill Doolin, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers. Their first robbery target was a gambling house in Silver City, New Mexico.

On February 6, 1891, after Bob Dalton had joined his brothers in California, a Southern Pacific Railroad passenger train was held up. The Daltons were accused of the robbery, based on little evidence. Bob escaped and Bill was acquitted, but Grat was arrested, convicted, and given a 20-year prison sentence. According to one account, Grat was handcuffed to one deputy and accompanied by another while being transferred by train. After the train had gone some distance, one deputy fell asleep and the other busied himself talking to other passengers. It was a hot day, and all the windows were open. Suddenly, Grat jumped up and dived head first out of the train window. He landed in the San Joaquin River, disappeared under water, and was carried downstream by the current. The deputies were astounded. Grat must have taken the key to the handcuffs from the first deputy's pocket as he slept and then timed his escape to take place when he knew the train would be on a bridge. If he had landed on the ground, he would almost certainly have been killed. Grat found his brothers, and they made their way back to Oklahoma Territory.

Between May 1891 and July 1892, the Dalton brothers robbed four trains in the Indian Territory. On May 9, 1891, the men held up a Santa Fe train at Wharton (now Perry). They got away with several hundred dollars, only, but they had worked well as a team. As they passed Orlando, they stole eight or nine horses. A posse chased them, but the gang escaped.

Four months later the Dalton gang robbed a train of $10,000 at Lillietta, Indian Territory. In June 1892, they stopped another Santa Fe train, this time at Red Rock. Blackfaced Charley Bryant and Dick Broadwell held the engineer and fireman in the locomotive. Bob and Emmett Dalton and Bill Powers walked through the passenger cars, robbing the passengers as they went. Bill Doolin and Grat Dalton took on the express car. They threw the safe out of the train. They gained little for their efforts—a few hundred dollars and some watches and jewelry from the passengers. The gang scattered after the Red Rock robbery, but soon Blackfaced Charley was caught and killed in an escape attempt.

The gang struck again in July at Adair, Oklahoma, near the Arkansas border. They went directly to the train station and took what they could find in the express and baggage rooms. Then they sat down on a bench on the platform, talking and smoking, with their Winchester rifles across their knees. When the train came in at 9:45 p.m., they backed a wagon up to the express car and unloaded all the contents. There were several armed guards on the train, but for some reason all 11 men were at the back of the train. The guards fired at the bandits through the car windows and from behind the train. In the gun fight, 200 shots were fired. None of the Dalton gang was hit. Three guards were wounded, and a town doctor was killed by a stray bullet. The robbers dropped out of sight, probably hiding out in one of several caves near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Failed bank robbery

The gang could have kept themselves busy with train robberies, but Bob Dalton wanted to make sure his name would long be remembered. He would, he claimed, "beat anything Jesse James ever did—rob two banks at once, in broad daylight." On October 5, 1892, the Dalton gang attempted this feat when they set out to rob the C.M. Condon & Company's Bank and the First National Bank in Coffeyville, Kansas. Since the locals were aware of what they looked like, they wore fake beards. But they were still identified by one of the townspeople.

While the gang was busy trying to hold up the banks, the people armed themselves and prepared for a gun battle. When the gang exited the banks, a shootout began. There were three townspeople shot, and town Marshal Charles Connelly was killed when he ran into the street after hearing gunfire. Grat Dalton, Bob Dalton, Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers were killed. Emmett Dalton received 23 gunshot wounds and survived. He was given a life sentence in the Kansas penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas, of which he served 14 years before being pardoned. He moved to California and became a real estate agent, author and actor, and died in 1937 at age 66. Bill Doolin, "Bitter Creek" Newcomb, and Charlie Pierce were the only members left of the Dalton Gang, although none was present at the Coffeyville shootout. Speculation later suggested that there had been a sixth man holding horses in an alleyway and that he had escaped, and that man was believed to have been Bill Doolin. However, that has never been confirmed.


Here should be some recent photos of the present day old parts of town. (Blogger-a wholly owned subsidiary of Google, refuses to put my photos where I want them) The old Condon Bank sits across the street from the new one. The town square has a memorial and some benches. But otherwise, it's easy to imagine the town with wagons, buggies and horseback riders 100 years ago. The past is very close here...

The Daltons are never portrayed as noble, heroic or even brave. They were thieves who planned to steal the money and kill whoever got in their way.
There was no Federal Deposit insurance, no Federal Reserve, not even much financial reserve. If the bank went broke, the town went broke. The cash the bank held was the citizens cash. It's loss meant nothing in the savings, no cash to lubricate the wheels of commerce, no money to even repay the bank loans. Buyers couldn't buy and sellers couldn't sell. That is why the citizens got involved. They were fighting for their economic life. The Museum refers to the "Defenders of Coffeyville" who died saving the town. In the real Old West outlaws were never romantic icons.

The prosperity that followed in the early part of the century has faded. There are empty old buildings everywhere... Rents are cheap. There just aren't that many people in small town America any more....

There is a lot of money in these small towns. Most have several competing banks, both local and branches of national franchises. There are depositors, lenders, and entrepreneurs. The bankers are more accessible, more friendly and know much more about their smaller depositors and creditors than in the big cities or with the national bank chains.

Most of the businesses are farms. It is rare to find a farmer that lives solely off the land. They drive trucks, drive heavy equipment moving dirt, clearing land, harvesting crops, repairing the equipment, selling used equipment, building fences, building barns, building the pens and out buildings as well as all the farm appliances, etc... Their wives most often work in town. They work at WalMart, the hospital, for the county or city, the cable company, the telephone company, the power company...all of whom pay modest wages but provide good health benefits. Everybody's kids go to the same schools. On Friday night, the entire community gathers to watch the football or basketball games. They may not all be in church on Sunday. However, there are several competing churches that are appear to be doing a fine retail business.

The ghosts of cowboys, outlaws, bankers, lawmen, townspeople, farmers and ranchers live on in America's small towns... If you haven't been, you should visit some of the small towns in the middle of the nation. There is much to recommend... Interesting history, interesting people, good food, reasonable prices, lots of blue sky and open country...

The past isn't always as it was written and taught. Getting out of the Disney-Hollywood myth and visiting the places where the events happened is good. Seeing America without the gloss, hype and spin is a wonderful way to find things about our present, as well as the past. With just a little imagination you may even see.a ghost or two out on the horizon just at sundown or sunrise, when light and day change positions...

As Roy Rogers sang so long ago.. "Happy Trails To You..... Until We Meet Again"

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