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Dodge City, still a gunslinger’s paradise

For the first time in 129 years a herd of longhorn cattle has been driven down Main Street in Dodge City
For the first time in 129 years a herd of longhorn cattle has been driven down Main Street in Dodge City
Photo by Bob Nesoff

By Bob & Sandy Nesoff
Members: North American Travel Journalists Association
American Society of Journalists and Authors

Dodge City!

The name alone stirs the emotions of 12-year-old kids…and their fathers and grandfathers.

Synonymous with the mystique of the old West and the famous lawmen and outlaws that populate books, movies, television covering both fact and fictions, Dodge City today revels in its history and culture.

While much of the area is industrialized, the historic district and the original Boot Hill Cemetery draw people by the thousands. In its just completed Dodge City Days, running from July 25 to August 3, more than 100,000 people crowded into the iconic town to see recreations of gunfights, saloon gals and, for the first time in 129 years, a cattle drive down the main drag now named Wyatt Earp Boulevard.

On Saturday, Aug. 2, thousands of people lined the streets to watch as a herd of longhorn cattle, preceded by a stagecoach carrying Western entertainment celebrities, ambled along. Professional cowboys took up positions on either side of the herd to keep them in line and avoid the possibility of an onlooker ground under the hooves of a meandering beast with a seven-foot horn span.

The irony of it all was lost on the drovers and most of the spectators as the herd passed McDonald’s and Arby’s quick food joints that feature beef on the menu. But that wasn’t a problem 129 years ago.

Representatives of the Boot Hill Casino and Resort, major backers of Dodge City Days, also brought in several celebrity actors, inducted them into the Cowboy Hall of Fame and swore them in as Honorary Dodge City Marshals.

The honorees included Johnny Crawford who rose to fame playing Mark McCain, Chuck Connors’ son in the long-running TV show, The Rifleman. John Lehr, star of the popular Hulu.com show, Quick Draw, was sworn in as well. Present to guide them was Buck Taylor, a previous inductee, who played Newly on the famed TV show, Gunsmoke.

The three posed for pictures with visitors, signed autographs for literally hundreds of fans and made appearances with Brent Harris, the honorary City Marshal, who in full lawman dress looked more like Wyatt Earp than Wyatt Earp did.

But the party was only staring. Just minutes from the Boot Hill Casino and Resort was the home of the Roundup Rodeo with enough excitement and entertainment to make the hair of any PETA activist stand on end. Contrary to some misinformation given out, the animals in a rodeo are far from being mistreated. This isn’t a Mexican bullfight, but a contest between man and beast…with the beast usually coming out on top.

The rodeo isn’t aimed at only entertainment. On the Saturday night of the run, patrons are “strongly” urged to wear pink; even the men. The pink movement is designed to raise awareness of breast cancer and to raise funds for the fight against the disease.

Unfortunately the original section of Dodge City burned down years ago, but the recreation is fairly close to the city as it was when Wyatt, his brothers and Bat Masterson walked the streets. In fact, Bat’s brother, Ed, is buried somewhere near or in Boot Hill. When the graves we removed to a higher location, just above the original site, his body “…went a missin’….”

There is more, much more, to do in Dodge City, especially after the festival closes for the year. The casino features slots and table games in a relaxed atmosphere. One of the biggest draws (aside from gunslingers) is the special of prime rib steaks for $9.99. That is the regular, every day price. As tough as the longhorns are, the prime rib is tender and juicy. And at that price, arguably the best bargain in town.

Adjacent to the casino is United Wireless Arena, home to arena football, ice shows, productions shows and a popular venue for weddings and other social events.

A very short walk from the arena visitors can view longhorn cattle and buffalo in pens adjacent to the walk of fame. Amongst the inductees whose hand and boot prints were just enshrined, including those mentioned above, are famous locals like “Marshal” Brent Harris and Dr. R.C. Trotter (yup, he’s a real doctor) who is the driving force behind the rodeo.

No visit to a historic Western town is complete without a trip to a Western wear store. Out West. Just off Wyatt Earp Boulevard has an amazing collection of clothes, tack, and jewelry, all at very reasonable prices. We purchased a pair of fancy spurs and a great cowboy dress shirt as well as some jewelry. The spurs almost made it through the cattle drive but a real cowperson decided it might be dangerous for an Easterner who might suddenly be riding a horse that thought it was heading for the Camptown races instead of a leisurely ride.

For information on Dodge City Days and next year’s dates, check out www.dodgecityroundup.org.