NEW! The day Hollywood came to Dodge City
The Diocese of Dodge City at a glance
The Diocese of Dodge City was established May 19, 1951. This territory was formerly part of the Diocese of Wichita, established August 2, 1887; the Diocese of Leavenworth established May 22, 1877, and the Vicariate Apostolic of the Indian Territory established July 19, 1850.
The Diocese comprises the following 28 counties in the state of Kansas: Barber, Barton, Clark, Commanche, Edwards, Finney, Ford, Grant, Gray, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearney, Kiowa, Lane, Meade, Morton, Ness, Pawnee, Pratt, Rush, Scott, Seward, Stafford, Stanton, Stevens, Wichita. It covers 23,000 square miles.
The total population is 212,147; the Catholic population is 44,504.
Here's a brief video highlighting Dodge City, once known as the Queen of the Cow Towns.
Wyatt Earp and Dodge City
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the city which surrounds it represents not only the “heart” in the heartland of America – a Home of God on the range – but is a vivid landmark on the map of American history.
Dodge City has for decades been touted the city of the old west, a reputation built largely on Hollywood and its romanticized vision of cowboys, gunslingers, saloons and the reverberating call: “Barkeep! Whiskey!”
The Dodge City of the late 19th century was known primarily as a hub through which cattle drivers would park their steers and settle in for the night on their way from Texas or Oklahoma to Kansas or Nebraska. In 1884, more than eight million heads of cattle passed through Dodge.
The city was said to be one of the most violent in the west, but one in which the Catholic church had a growing foundation. In 1875, Benedictine Father Boniface Verheyen noted that the town had a reputation for evil and wickedness at night, but was “quiet and practically respectable during the daylight hours.”
From 1877 to1887, a time in which most of the stories repeated and exaggerated down through the ages occurred (Dodge was founded in 1872 and incorporated in 1875) the city was part of the Diocese of Leavenworth, which encompassed much of the state and beyond. Its bishop was Louis Mary Fink, and the pope at the time was Pius IX.
The diocese included 45,000 Catholics, 60 priests and more than 80 churches and chapels. It was this argument Bishop Fink related to the pope when first requesting the area be lifted from “Kansas Vicariate,” to the more dignified, “Diocese of Leavenworth.” Ten years later, most of the southern part of the state would be separated into the new “Diocese of Wichita,” and in 1951, that diocese would be further separated, and the Diocese of Dodge City would be formed.
But long before the Dodge City Theater would host the opening of the motion picture, “Dodge City” in 1939, complete with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in attendance, folks with such names as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holliday called Dodge their home. During that decade, the town boasted approximately 1,000 people.
According to information found on the Internet site, users.techline.com/nicks/early.htm, Wyatt Earp moved to Dodge City from Wichita in 1876, where he was hired to serve on the local police force. It was in Dodge City that Earp fortified his friendship with future sheriff of Ford County (in which Dodge City is located), Bat Masterson, and with gambler, killer and former dentist, John Henry “Doc” Holiday. This was three or four years before the famous “gunfight at Okay Coral” in Tombstone, Arizona.
While Earp had once been a troublemaker arrested for cattle rustling and other offenses, he now began to earn a reputation as a fearless and brave lawman. While he was never official “marshal” of Dodge City, the term was used loosely and he may have been referred to as marshal by some.
Earp reportedly only killed one man. On the contrary, he and Masterson earned a reputation for not killing, but “buffaloing” evildoers across the head with their guns before ever getting to a shoot-out. In the mean time, Earp, Masterson and Doc Holiday were earning a reputation for their gambling as well, which was apparently thought to be a respectable profession back then.
When the cattle drive season ended, Earp and his brother, Morgan, headed for the South Dakota gold rush. While he was away, Masterson’s brother Ed was murdered in Dodge. Earp soon returned to the delight of the city-folk.
According to an article in the Dodge City Times: "Wyatt Earp, who was on our police force last summer, is in town again. We hope that he will accept a position on the force once more. He had a quiet way of taking the most desperate characters into custody, which invariably gave one the impression that the city was able to enforce or mandate and preserve her dignity. It wasn't considered policy to draw a gun on Wyatt unless you got the drop and meant to burn powder without any preliminary talk."
In 1879, Earp became restless to move on. He, Morgan and Doc headed to Las Vegas, New Mexico and then to Prescott, Arizona. Before long, they heard that silver had been found in a boomtown called Tombstone.
The character of Marshall Matt Dillon, made famous on TV’s Gunsmoke, was an evolution of character traits pulled from real old west celebrities such as Earp. While the TV show may have reflected an image of the times, Hollywood took a few liberties.
For example, the famous Long Branch Saloon was the town’s hot spot until it was destroyed, along with much of the famous “front street,” in 1885. The owner was not “Miss. Kitty,” but a man name Chalk Beeson. He popularized the bar by having an orchestra perform there. During the Long Branch’s existence, more than 15 other saloons were housed in the town of 1,000, which may have largely contributed for its reputation of nightly mishaps.
Soldiers that often appeared on Gunsmoke were housed at Fort Dodge, an actual place just east of Dodge that has become a small community housing only military veterans. Dodge City was named after Fort Dodge, founded in 1864 and named for Colonel Henry I. Dodge. In fact, the show’s first episode refers to the five-mile distance from Fort Dodge.
Today, tourists can visit a re-creation of the historic “Front Street” made popular on Gunsmoke. The Boot Hill Museum, located on Wyatt Earp Blvd., contains many guns, photos and many other items from the late 1800s. While the original Boot Hill was closed in 1879 and the remains of those buried transported to another cemetery, one can still take a peak at a small patch of land that serves as a reminder of a violent and difficult era in the American west.