Dodge City War
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|Location||Dodge City, Kansas, USA|
The Dodge City War was a bloodless conflict that took place in 1883 in Dodge City, Kansas. It came at the close of the first ten years of the city's history at a time when the cattle drive and saloons were fading as a dominant force in the city's politics.
From its founding, Dodge had a reputation for corruption and was often called "the Wickedest City in America." The informal association known as the Dodge City Gang dominated the law enforcement and much of the political life of the community, and monopolized the whiskey trade. In 1879 the anti-gang faction won a closely fought election for Ford County, defeating popular gang member Bat Masterson. This was the first in a number of elections that ousted the members of the gang from positions of power.
The new political faction identified themselves as reformers, but it seems more likely that they wanted to reap the profits of the whiskey trade for themselves. Mayor Alonzo B. Webster, elected mayor in 1881, owned two saloons himself. The new mayor lost no time in firing Bat's brother Jim Masterson as city marshal and posting a series of new 'moral' ordinances, complete with a warning.
To all whom it may concern: All thieves, thugs, confidence men, and persons without visible means of support, will take notice that the ordinance enacted for their special benefit will be rigorously enforced on and after tomorrow.
The Long Branch Saloon
Tensions built between the Mastersons and Webster and his allies over the next several months. In 1883, gambler and gunfighter Luke Short settled in Dodge City, where he purchased a half interest in the now famous Long Branch Saloon in partnership with friend W. H. Harris. Short and Nicholas B. Klaine, the editor of the Dodge City Times, fought for influence and control of the city. In the mayoral election later that year, Klaine supported Larry Deger against Short's partner W. H. Harris. Deger defeated Harris 214 to 143. Deger passed Ordinance No 70, which made prostitution illegal in Dodge City. Several prostitutes were arrested who worked for Short's saloon, and Short went to the jail to protest the matter but was confronted by city policeman Louis C. Hartman, who had taken part in arresting the prostitutes. The two men exchanged shots, but no one was hurt. Short mistakenly believed that he had killed Hartman and barricaded himself in the Long Branch. When he learned that Hartman was unharmed, Short submitted to arrest. He was sent out of town as an 'undesirable' several days later.
Short was discussing the matter with Governor George Washington Glick in Kansas City, and Bat Masterson called in favors from old friends including Wyatt Earp, Charlie Bassett, Johnny Millsap, Shotgun John Collins, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Johnny Green. They marched up Front Street into Short's saloon where they were sworn in as deputies by constable "Prairie Dog" Dave Marrow. The town council offered a compromise to allow Short to return for ten days to get his affairs in order, but Earp refused to compromise. When Short returned, there was no force ready to turn him away. Short's Saloon reopened, and the Dodge City War ended without anyone getting shot.:p67
Webster was intimidated by the show of force and negotiated peace with the lawmen and gunfighters. Short returned to his place of business in return for a promise that there would be no violence. Later that year, Short sold his interest and moved south to Fort Worth, Texas.
Dodge City Peace Commission Photograph
The pseudo-war was over without any deaths. Seven of Short's allies posed with him for what became a famous photo, titled the Dodge City Peace Commission. The photo included Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain, Neal Brown, W. H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, and W. F. Petillon. More than one photo was taken and lawman Bill Tilghman may have appeared in another version.
- The Dodge City War by P.A. Mallory
- Dodge City Peace Commission
- Dodge City Peace Commission June 1883. Original photograph, Ford County Historical Society
- Series of Photographs