Ghost Towns and Gunfighters

The Last Stands of Bat Masterson and Wild Bill

Check out these ghost towns.

1. Dodge City, Kansas

When Henry Sitler began patiently carving out a sod house out of the Kansas turf, little did he know that he was literally laying the foundation for one of the most notorious towns in the Old West. He was thinking about cattle... his own.

In 1872, the Santa Fe railroad came through and built a stop not far from Sitler's habitation. It was the beginning of modern Dodge. The cowmen set up a bar. The first prostitutes arrived. Dodge was one the move.

Bat Masterson knew Dodge well. He was a one-time sheriff in Dodge in the late 1870s. By then, it was a lawless town. Bat tried to keep order. The gun battles were bad for business... the business of cows. Dead cowmen could not spend money on hats and spurs and dance hall girls. Some said, though he tried, the mild mannered Bat could not keep up. Maybe he wasn't tough enough. He lost his reelection campaign in 1879. He left.

In 1881, Masterson appears to have changed his mind. His little brother Jim had made some enemies in a business deal. Bat took a train to Dodge. He apparently did not even need to leave the rail yards before he spotted A.J Peacock, Jim's nemesis, and a man named Updegraff.

Bat was ready with the steel. Shots rang out. What happens next... is actually a lesson in good sense, personal protection, timely medical attention, and efficient justice.

Basically, everyone hid. Masterson wisely concealed himself near the rail station, Peacock and Updegraff hid behind the jail. Updegraff was wounded but apparently taken to a doctor by concerned citizens. In a reconciliation common to a weak episode of Bonanza, everyone begins taking responsibility as the closing credits roll over a painted sunset. Masterson left that night on a train, very decently paying an 8 dollar fine for the trouble he caused. Bat knew... a true bad boy always pays his court fees. Apparently satisfied that he settled his last score, it was the last gunfight for Bat.

Today, Dodge City celebrates its past. The town, with a population of 26000, boasts 19 hotels and 70 restaurants and includes a Boot Hill museum that retells the story of the men and women who settled the west.

2. Deadwood South Dakota

It turns out, Deadwood was settled by a Steve. Steve Utter and his brother Charlie set out to the gold-laden Black Hills region with the idea of setting up a lucrative commodities business. An extremely sexy woman by the name of Madame Mustache was on practically the next wagon train and set up a brothel. Look out fellas.

The worst bullet to take is the one you never see coming. In 1876, Wild Bill Hickok had a harder and harder time doing just that. In his prime, the man was a legend. Buffalo hunter, scout, gambler, actor... even JLo doesn't have as many hyphens in her resume as Wild Bill back in the day. But this was a new Wild Bill.

Wild Bill was going blind. He apparently had less to do than a homeless man trying to wash some windshields, and he started getting arrested for vagrancy. Even Wild Bill was not sure of Wild Bill. He had accidentally shot his own deputy in 1871, and was apparently demoralized. He stopped picking fights with people.

On August 2nd of 1876, not picking fights is the reason Wild Bill agreed to sit in a chair that backed up to a door. He wanted someone to switch. He could still see well enough to know that chair was dangerous. However, it was the only vacant chair and everyone had settled in with their beer. They were nice and comfortable. They didn't want that vacant chair. Moments before a fellow had lost a hand sitting that chair and slunk out. That chair was unlucky.

One of the players was a wealthy steamboat captain. Wild Bill wanted his money. He stopped arguing, bargaining, and sat down Right on cue, someone came up behind him and shot him in the head. Murphy's law, Wild Bill. That Kenny Rogers song just wrote itself.

Today, Deadwood has a population of about 1270 people. Instead of Buffalo hunting and hunting for gold, people come hunting for souvenirs and a connection to America's past. 624 Main Street is still there... unless you cajole someone to trade spots with you, that chair that backs up to the door is still vacant.

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Ghost Towns and Gunfighters