We left Hutchinson and headed west, passing fields of yellow flowers and pumps pumping oil. We have seen quite a few of these pumps throughout Kansas. As we drove through the small town of Kingsley we saw that it is nicknamed “Midway, U.S.A” because it is halfway between New York City and San Francisco.
In the late 1800’s its Front Street was one of the wildest on the western frontier. There was one saloon for every twenty citizens, as well as card sharks and brothels. Cattlemen, buffalo hunters, soldiers, settlers, railroad men and gunfighters crowded the streets with drinking, gambling and fighting. Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp were two of the most famous lawmen who tried to bring law and order to the town.
Dodge City grew up near Fort Dodge which offered them protection.
Dodge City was a stopover on the Santa Fe Trail, and by late 1872, a station on the railroad. Buffalo hunting was popular and the trading and selling of buffalo hides, meat and bones brought considerable wealth to the area. By the time buffalo became almost extinct, the cattle trade had taken over with herds of Texas cattle being the main source of income. Dodge City was one of the largest cattle markets in the country. Today it is still a meat processing, major cattle shipping point as well as a supply and trade center for wheat.
Boot Hill was the highest point in Dodge City and the original location of the Boot Hill Cemetery. From this lookout point you could see wild game and buffalo as well as enemies approaching. Huge herds of buffalo roamed the prairie. Boot Hill was a burial ground for about six years from 1872 to 1878. During the town’s first year nearly thirty people were killed, a large number for a town of 500. Boot Hill became a cemetery for those who did not have money for a proper burial at Fort Dodge. They were stripped of their valuables and any clothes worth saving, and buried without a coffin or ceremony. They were buried with their boots on, thus giving the area the name Boot Hill. They thought it better to bury bodies on a slope so they would be better preserved because the water would run down the hill and not soak in. One theory is burying them on the hill gave them a boost to Heaven which they thought some needed. In 1878 a new cemetery was built east of town. The bodies in Boot Hill were moved to the cemetery. Today there are no known bodies remaining at Boot Hill and the markers and boots sticking up are there just to entertain and fascinate tourists.
We paid admission to visit the Boot Hill Museum and tour Front Street. We began our visit by seeing a short movie on the history of the area, with some emphasis on the settlement’s impact on the Native Americans. We were saddened to learn that the U.S. soldiers and settlers purposely killed off the buffalo herds to take away the Native American’s food supply and force them off their land.
After the movie we toured the Boot Hill Cemetery, the jail and the museum with exhibits on Native Americans and life in 1876 Dodge City. They had fake storefronts of shops such as the general store, post office, gunsmith, undertaker, bank and doctor’s office. They had a working saloon but we were the only ones there when we walked through. I was disappointed to see it really didn’t look much like the Long Branch Saloon on Gunsmoke. Supposedly they have Miss Kitty there and fake gunfights only on the weekends.
Inside the museum they had a room of Gunsmoke memorabilia which we enjoyed. I guess Gunsmoke is what brings many people to Dodge City, including us. But if you come thinking it will look like Dodge City on Gunsmoke, you will be disappointed. We didn’t have high expectations and knew ahead of time it was a tourist trap.
We didn’t have a campground reservation and had considered staying overnight in Dodge City, but our museum visit didn’t take long and we had most of the afternoon ahead, so we decided to press on.
As we continued west we passed one tiny town after another with mile after mile of flat land and frankly, pretty much a lot of nothingness. Each little town had a few houses and each one seemed to have a huge grain elevator, nicknamed “Prairie Cathedrals”. It was a long smelly ride since we passed a lot of very large feedlots crammed full of cattle. The horrible smell was overpowering at times, taking our breath away.
We stopped for the night in the little town of Elkhart, right on the border of Kansas and Oklahoma at a small and economical RV park with full hookups. It was perfect for a one night stopover and sure beats a Walmart parking lot!
We noticed a nearby geocache a few miles down the road so after dinner at the local cafe we drove over to it. The geocache was located at a tri-state point, a point where Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado states meet. We took pictures standing in three states at once!
After a great night’s sleep we continued west, crossing into Oklahoma. We took a two mile detour to find another tri-state point, this one for Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. So in twelve hours time we stood in five states!
We left Oklahoma and crossed into New Mexico, our home for the next two months. We were excited to see the mountains of New Mexico ahead of us. We love the west and are really excited to be back!
We arrived at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico for a five night stay.
- Robert Dole, U.S. Senator and war hero
- Clyde Cessna of Cessna aircraft
- Russell Stover of the candy company
- Edward Asner, actor
- Kirstie Alley, actress
- Burt Bacharach, singer and songwriter
- Martina McBride, singer and songwriter
- Walter Chrysler of Chrysler Motors, established in 1925
- Amelia Earhart, female pilot and first woman to fly nonstop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean
- Aneta Corsaut, played Helen on “The Andy Griffith Show”
- Milburn Stone, played Doc on “Gunsmoke