Some mornings I need a little something extra to get me going. Wait. That’s an understatement. I need a little something extra to get me going every morning. And that little something extra is coffee. You see, I don’t wake up with all six cylinders firing. It takes a jolt of coffee, the elixir of life, to get my spark plugs sparkin’. This morning, as I was trying to get that little something extra flowing through my veins, I started thinking about how great it would be if I could combine my love of coffee with my love of the Old West.
Well, sure enough, some little spark managed to fire somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind. And that little spark made me think of Coffeyville, which sounds to me like coffee-ville. Coffeyville made me think of the Dalton Gang’s infamous raid on that fair town. I thought that would be the perfect topic for our weekly chat around the campfire, because, with all due respect to the infamous outlaws, I am of the belief that the Dalton Gang didn’t have all cylinders firing at all times . . . and I’m not even sure if coffee could have helped them.
The Family (Dis)honor was at Stake
The Dalton portion of the Dalton Gang consisted of three Dalton brothers. Gratton “Grat” Dalton was born in 1861. Robert “Bob” Dalton was born in 1869. And Emmett “Em” Dalton, the baby of the bunch, was born in 1871. They were from a long line of outlaws and lawmen, which, in the Old West, could be roughly equivalent. The gang was rounded out with friends, Bill Power and Dick Broadwell.
In any career, it’s a good idea to specialize, and this group specialized in train and bank robberies. The Daltons had a lot of ambition, and there was a certain amount of family rivalry.
The cousins of the Dalton brothers were none other than the infamous Younger brothers, who frequently rode with Jesse James. That meant there was some stiff competition to be named the best (worst?) outlaw at the annual family reunion. Bob Dalton set his sights on one-upping anything that Jesse James ever did. So, Bob declared that the Dalton Gang was going to do something Jesse James and the Youngers had never even thought of: They were going to rob two banks at the same time. In outlaw terms, that has about the same degree of difficulty as Evel Knievel jumping the Snake River.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Yes, members of the Dalton Gang made quite a name for themselves, which was ultimately part of their problem. Not only did this group of three brothers and two spares think it would be good idea to rob two banks at the same time, they also thought it would be a good idea to rob two banks just miles away from where they grew up. Now, I know that hindsight is 20/20 and that it’s easy for me to sit here with my cup of coffee, questioning their decision-making skills. But, it seems to me that if you wanted to rob a bank – – let alone two banks – – you would not do it where everybody knows your name.
The Dalton Gang must not have seen it that way, because they set off to Coffeyville, Kansas to rob the First National Bank and the Condon Bank. The men rode into town at about 9:00 AM on October 5, 1892. They went down the bustling streets and tied their horses in an alley across from the banks. Disguised in fake beards, Grat Dalton, Bill Power and Dick Broadwell headed to the Condon Bank, while Emmett and Bob Dalton went to the First National Bank.
Those Party City-ish beards didn’t do much to prevent people from recognizing them. Townsman Aleck McKenna knew a Dalton when he saw one. He watched the trio that went into the Condon Bank. As soon as he saw a gun pointing at the cashier, McKenna turned into the town crier and yelled, “The bank is being robbed!” Word spread faster than butter on a hot biscuit! The townsmen armed themselves with guns from the hardware store, and were pretty darned thankful that Old West hardware stores made a habit of selling more substantial weapons than rakes and fire ant poison.
Meanwhile, on the Other Side of the Street
Meanwhile, a bank owner, a bookkeeper, and a cashier were all taken hostage inside the Condon Bank. The cashier told the trio of fake beard wearers that the vault was on a time lock and couldn’t be opened for another ten minutes. Grat, Power and Broadwell bought the story and settled in for the wait. While they were waiting, the townsmen got ready for a shootout.
Across the street, Bob and Emmett also had three hostages. They forced the hostages to start shoveling cash into bags. The Daltons thought they could waltz right out the front door of the bank, using their hostages as shields. Old West Life Lesson #1: A bunch of vigilantes armed with hardware store weapons don’t give a rip what hostage is shielding you; they will shoot! Bob and Em quickly reassessed the situation and decided that the backdoor might make for a more efficient exit . . . it didn’t.
I could go into great detail about what guns were fired, but the bottom line is that three townspeople and the town marshal were killed. Four out five members of the Dalton Gang were killed. Baby Emmett had more holes in him than a piece of Swiss cheese, but he survived.
The Write Stuff
Emmett Dalton was tried and given a life sentence, and was sent to the penitentiary at Lansing, Kansas. Ultimately, he was pardoned after serving fourteen years, due in part to finding religion while behind bars. What does a pardoned outlaw with more than twenty bullet scars do after he is released from prison? Why, he moves to Hollywood, of course!
Emmett Dalton spent the rest of his days writing, acting and consulting on films about the Wild West. In the photo above, Emmett is consulting with Hollywood cowboy icon Tom Mix . . . and I particularly like his comment in signing it! Emmett wrote a book, When the Daltons Rode, which was the basis for the 1940 film by the same name. He also dabbled in real estate and campaigned for prison reform. He died in Los Angeles in 1937.
I’m Going to Need More Coffee
There has been more than 100 years of speculation about the possibility of a sixth rider with the Dalton Gang on that day in 1892. I’ve read many of the theories and weighed their merit. So, what do I believe? I believe that before I tackle that subject, I’m going to need more coffee!
Here’s an interesting dramatization of the shootout, with documentary photos, directed and produced by the descendants of Dalton Gang member Dick Broadwell!