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Kansas History

"The Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier"

Viewed by Robert Wright, Dodge City town president

The Beginnings of Dodge City,
from Dodge City, the Cowboy Capital

"Our first stopping place was the famous Dodge City, at the time a perfect paradise for gamblers, cut-throats, and girls. On our first visit the buildings in the town were not buildings, with one or two exceptions, but tents and dugouts. Everyone in town, nearly, sold whisky or kept a restaurant, perhaps both."...
[photo: Long Branch saloon interior. All rights
reserved, FCHS.]

Long Branch saloon interior, Front Street, Dodge City, circa 1878. FCHS.

So much for one view of Dodge City, but, though common, this view was not quite universal. Sometimes a writer appeared who could recognize a few slightly better features in the border town, and who could look beyond its existing lawlessness and see the possibilities and beginnings of a higher state of things.

In proof of this I'll quote an article, written in 1878, a year later than the last, and entitled, "The Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier": "Standing out on the extreme border of civilization, like an oasis in the desert, or like a light-house off a rocky coast, is 'The Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier,' Dodge City," so termed by Lewis, editor of the Kinsley Graphic. "Dodge City is far famed, not for its virtues, but for its wickedness; the glaring phases of its vices stand pre-eminent, and attract the attention of the visitor; and these shadows of Babylon are reproduced in the gossip's corner and-in the press. It is seldom the picture has fine embellishments; but the pen artist of the 'Graphic' put the finer touches of nature to the pen portrait of Dodge-'she is no worse than Chicago.' This, we admit, is a slight leverage in the social scale, to be placed in the category of Chicago's wickedness.

[Photo: Original photograph of the 'Dodge City Peace Commission' in
June, 1883. Front, l-r; Chas. E. Basset, Wyatt S. Earp, Frank McLain, and
Neil Brown. Back, l-r; W. H. Harris, Luke Short, W. B. Bat Masterson, and
W. F. Petillon. This is the version with Petillon beside Masterson. All
rights reserved. FCHS.]

Original photograph of the 'Dodge City Peace Commission' in June 1883. Front, l-r; Chas. E. Basset, Wyatt S. Earp, Frank McLain, and Neil Brown. Back, l-r; W. H. Harris, Luke Short, W. B. Bat Masterson, and W. F. Petillon. All rights reserved. FCHS.

"Dodge City has magnetic attractions. Few people are attracted here by curiosity; everyone has business, except the tramps, and they have no business here. But our visitors see it all before they leave, and they use the same circumspection here they would under their own vine and fig tree. Many of them are not charitable enough to tell the unvarnished truth. In vain boast and idle glory they recount the pilgrimage to Dodge as though they passed through blood, rapine, and warfully attested their courage.

"But the Kinsley Graphic pays the "Bibulous Babylon" a high compliment, besides raising the moral standard of Dodge to that of the immaculate virtue of Chicago. "Kansas has but one Dodge City. With a broad expanse of territory sufficiently vast for an empire, we have only room for one Dodge City. Without particularizing at length, we were most favorably impressed generally during a brief visit at our neighboring city Tuesday.

"Beautiful for situation, cozily nestled on the 'beach' of the turbid Arkansas, while on the north the palisades rise above the busy little city, which in the near future will be ornamented with cozy cottages, modern mansions, and happy homes. The view from the elegant brick court house, situated above the town, is grand. The panorama spread out west, south, and east, takes in a vast scope of valley scenery such as only can be found fringing our river. Seventy-five thousand head of cattle, recently driven in from the ranges south, can be seen lazily feeding on the nutritious native meadows, while the cowboys gallop here and there among these vast herds, displaying superior horsemanship. Five miles down the river, the old flag floats proudly over the garrison at the military Post.

"The city proper is a busy beehive of bustle and business, a conglomerated aggregation of every line of business alternating with saloons. Francis Murphy don't live in Dodge. There are a few institutions of which Dodgeites are justly proud-the ever popular Dodge House, 'The Times', the court house, the fire company, Mayor Kelley's hounds, and the 'Varieties'. "Much has been said of the wickedness and unrighteousness of the city. If 'old Probe' should send a shower of fire and brimstone up there, we would not vouch for there being a sufficient number of righteous citizens to save the city; yet with all her wickedness, she is no worse today than Chicago and many other cities where the music of the chimes are daily heard. There is but one difference, however, which is a frontier characteristic; our neighbors do not pretend to hide their peculiarities. A few years hence Dodge City will be a model of morality and a city of no mean importance."

Site author: George Laughead, manager, WWW-VL: United States History network. Thanks to the late Dr. Lynn H. Nelson, orginal author, WWW-Virtual Library: History.

Return to Dodge City History or the Kansas Heritage Group. Posted: 10 January 2009.
The Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier:Dodge City