I left Pratt, the Evergreen Resort and my little caboose after a delicious and again, extremely cheap breakfast at Rick’s Family Restaurant. My plan for the day was to drive to Dodge City and explore Boot Hill and learn the history of the wild, wild West that brought this town into existence, before making the last push to cross the rest of Kansas and drive into Colorado.
I had Google-ed Dodge City and found that I if I wanted to learn about the history of this place, I needed to visit the Boot Hill Museum. I downloaded a copy of the Visitor’s Guide and was ready to go.
As I drove into the outskirts of Dodge City, I was amazed at the size and number of the petro-chemical plants, plus the inevitable feed lot filled with cattle, that took over the town. The number of huge, ugly, stinky trunks coming at your from every direction made driving difficult and the Town Fathers have not seen fit to ‘sign’ where to go or how to get there very well. Thank goodness for GPS. But even with this aid, I would have driven right by the museum, which is really quite large, if I hadn’t made a wrong turn and had to double back. What is it about directional signs in this town?
Now here’s where it gets interesting. See that rather cute cowboy on the ‘Get Into Dodge’ photo? As I parked and got out of my car in front of the museum entrance, this man, who looked a lot like the cowboy in the photo, though wearing a baseball cap, plaid shirt and jeans instead of a Stetson, was standing outside the entrance. I looked at him and asked…”Aren’t you the person known as ‘the Face of Dodge City?” and he admitted he was. (Though he normally looks like this on a regular ‘work day!)
We started chatting and we talked for way over an hour. Even though it was his day off, Brent Harris took the time to tell me much more about the history of Dodge City, how the museum and its fabulous collection of Western artifacts and clothing came into being and how what’s left of the Boot Hill (most of the bodies where relocated several years ago) still can be found ‘up the hill’ inside the museum.
He told about the man who had the vision back in the early 1900’s to start assembling pieces of history that made Dodge City the meanest, wildest, baddest town in all of the U.S. for 100 years.
I learned that the original Front Street had burned down, several times, but that it had been meticulously recreated as part of the museum complex and each ‘store front’ was filled with original artifacts and even the guns actually used by noted lawmen Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.
Television brought more fame to Dodge City as Gunsmoke became the longest running TV show of it’s time, with Marshall Dillon keeping the dusty streets of Dodge safe and Miss Kitty ruling over the patrons at the Longbranch Saloon.
Today Brent and a troop of actors, dancers and singers keep the traditions alive each day. A rough and tumble gun fight at high noon is re-enacted in front of an audience of wide-eyed children and their parents and each evening the show moves inside The Longbranch Saloon for rollicking song and dance performed by the ladies of the evening.
I so enjoyed spending several hours touring this wonderful step-back-into-history and cannot thank Brent Harris enough for his time and generosity. As I pulled OUTof Dodge City there was the sign in my rearview mirror! I thought about how hard life in the West really was, how it had started with the buffalo and ended with the loss of the buffalo and that perhaps I should buy a pair of red cowboy boots and return someday and find my own gunslinger!
I managed to cross the rest of Kansas without mishap, making it to Lamar, CO where I spent the night. (Now on Mountain Time!) Except for 2 loud, booming and crashing thunder storms that rolled in during the night and filled the with Jeep with water (thank goodness I had thought to cover the seats with my trusty, travelin’ shower curtain and therefore only had very wet carpeting to contend with when I awoke, I am now off to find The Rockies and spend the next 4 days high up in the mining town of Creede, Colorado.
Until next time….