There is perhaps no greater tribute to Dodge City than the fact that it is now commonly used as the point of comparison for other places with a notoriously wild past. For example, Thurmond, WV was once known as the “Dodge City of the East”, Fayetteville, NC was once called the “Dodge City of the South”, the news media has labeled both Pukatawagan (a First Nations community in Manitoba, Canada) and Fairbanks, AK as the “Dodge City of the North”, and there was once even mention of the town of Cabramatta, New South Wales, Australia as the “Dodge City of the West”. There is, of course, only one true Dodge City, and it’s located right in the heart of Kansas.
Dodge City was probably the wildest town in the history of the Wild West and its reputation has endured ever since its initial founding in 1872. The town came about due to its proximity to the Santa Fe Trail, which connected Franklin, MO to Sante Fe, NM and passed through the modern-day states of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado. By the mid-1800s, the trail was one of the busiest pathways in the nation as pioneers, traders, settlers, cattle ranchers and even Civil War soldiers constantly traveled the route. As more people used the Santa Fe Trail, conflicts between travelers and Native Americans grew both in number and ferocity and the settlers responded by constructing protective forts along the trail.
The first fort built near present-day Dodge City was called Fort Mann. It was built by civilians in 1847 but destroyed by Indians in 1848. Fort Atkinson was built on the same site in 1850, this time by the U.S. Army, but it was abandoned in just three years. By 1865, conflicts with Indians in the West had grown so severe that the U.S. Army again built a fort in the area and this time the structure was named Fort Dodge. It was used to protect travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.
In 1872, Dodge City was established next to Fort Dodge and as soon as the city was platted, its first bar was opened, much to the delight of the nearby soldiers. In the same year, the Atchison, Santa Fe & Topeka Railway connected to the city and loads of new people started to pour in. The Chisholm Trail, which started in southern Texas and connected to eastern Kansas, became a heavily used trail for moving cattle and a detour was routed to Dodge City. When combined with heavy traffic along the Santa Fe Trail, Dodge City quickly turned into a boom town and, at the time, probably grew faster than any other city in American history.
The town quickly went from a collection of tents and ramshackle huts to neighborhoods full of markets, restaurants, doctor’s offices, barber shops and more, and the town also established two main streets, both known as Front Street. One Front Street was found on the north side of the railroad tracks, where it was forbidden to carry a gun, and the other was on the south side of the tracks where the attitude was “anything goes”. While the north side of town maintained some semblance of order, the south side grew into the stuff of legends and by 1876, with a population of only about 1,200, 19 different locations were selling liquor.
Dodge City was also ground zero for the decimation of the American bison that occurred in the latter half of the 19th century. An estimated 850,000 buffalo were slaughtered, processed and shipped through Dodge City between 1872-1874 and the industry brought a large number of people into the region, especially men. Inevitably, many women soon followed and prostitution became a booming business as well. Within only five years of existence the town had a reputation as one of the wildest areas of the world and a place where anyone could find prostitutes, gambling, saloons, gunfighting and just about any other vice they desired. For a while, the town had no law and the military had no jurisdiction over the area, so most arguments were settled face to face, occasionally in Western-movie-style shootouts. Many of those who were killed were workers in the cattle and bison trade and they inevitably “died with their boots on”, which led to the naming of one of Dodge City’s most famous attractions: Boot Hill Cemetery
Dodge City has also given the American lexicon a few other notable phrases. The men who worked with cattle and bison often spent their days slaughtering and transporting animals, certainly a dirty job, and they became known around town as “stinkers”. Train engineers were known to visit “soiled doves” (prostitutes) in the town and when they did so they carried their train lanterns, which glowed red. That part of town then became known as the “red light district”. Dodge City’s reputation remained so influential that even a century after the town was founded, the popular TV series Gunsmoke coined the phrase “Get the Hell out of Dodge”. The list of legendary Wild West personalities to come from Dodge City have also found a permanent place in American culture and include famous lawmen like Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. In fact, before he became a famous gunfighter, John Henry Holliday even worked as a dentist in Dodge City and during this time picked up the nickname “Doc”.
In total, about 1.5 million bison were run through Dodge City but after the species was almost completely wiped out the industry collapsed and the town went with it. Dodge City hung onto the cattle industry for another decade but in 1882 Fort Dodge was closed and in 1888 the cattle drives ended, leaving one of America’s most notorious Old West towns merely a shell of its former self. By this time, however, exploits from Dodge City were so famous that it almost instantly became a tourist destination, and a very popular one, much like it remains today. Many thousands of people still flock to Dodge City every year to see replicas of burlesque shows and gunfights, to visit legendary destinations like Boot Hill Cemetery, Fort Dodge and the Santa Fe Trail, and to experience other unique remnants of America’s Wild West. Fortunately, visitors can also find Dodge City Brewing whose 1872 Lager will help them enjoy their visit and remember a timeless piece of American history.
From the Brewer: 1872 Lager is a Pre-Prohibition Lager, like the beers brewed by German immigrants during the Mid-1800s, with brewing expertise and yeast brought from the old country and ingredients available in America. 1872 Lager is made with six-row malt, Cluster hops, and flaked corn. This is your Great-Grandpa’s pilsner, bigger, bolder, delicious, and refreshing.
ABV 5.1%, IBU 33
Larry Cook - Co-owner & Head Brewer, Sheri Cook - Co-owner & Operations Manager