Joking with Powder and Ball
AS has been said, the well-behaved stranger, visiting Dodge City in the old days, was always treated courteously and never molested; on the other hand, however, the stranger entering town in quarrelsome, patronizing, critical, or any other boldly flaunted mood, distasteful to the resident citizens, was quite likely to receive a swift and severe check to his propensities, by being made the butt of some prank, designed to cure him forever of his offensive quality. In like manner, if one of the resident citizen chanced to assume undue airs or otherwise conduct himself in a way not strictly in accordance with the popular idea of what was comely, he was a certain candidate for some practical joke which would speedily show him the error of his ways, and even punish him for it. That such pranks and jokes were neither gentle nor considerate of the feelings of the victims, need not be said. Indeed, the humor of those wild days was often almost as startling and nerve-testing, as its warfare was desperate and its adventures were thrilling.
Our boys were in possession of a great many Indian trophies which they had captured at the adobe wall fight.
Among them were war bonnets, shields, bows and arrows, and quivers; and when twenty or more of them would don these costumes and mount their horses, also decorated with Indian fixings, at a short distance, they appeared like the Simon-pure stuff.
If a young man came to Dodge, bragging that he would like to participate in an Indian fight, he would surely get it. Once a young man, who is now a merchant in Kansas City, arrived, and expressed himself as eager to meet hostile Indians. The boys invited him to an antelope hunt. Antelope were plentiful then. Young men
in Indian costume quietly slipped out ahead. A dozen or more went along with the visitor. After proceeding ten or twelve miles his companions commenced to brace the stranger up by saying: "We had better keep a sharp lookout. Indians have been in this vicinity lately, and they say they are the 'dog soldiers,' the worst on the plains." Then they told him a few blood curdling stories about horrible atrocities, just to keep up his courage. At this junction from out of the arroyo came the most unearthly yells, and at the same time the twenty men dashed out. The boaster fled precipitately, coming into town on the dead run, yelling to everyone he saw to get his gun; the town would soon be attacked by a thousand Indians; all the other boys were killed and he had a narrow escape; to send at once to the fort for the Gatling gun and the soldiers to defend the town, as he was sure they would take it if they didn't get assistance. This young man was easily scared; but one time they got the wrong rooster.
When they ran up close to him and commenced firing at short range, (and this man Pappard, of whom I spoke before, was one of those who did it), he found his horse could not outrun the others and stopped and commenced firing back. Peppard said he heard one bullet whiz right by his head, and had enough and quit. After Peppard got in, he said it was a put-up job to get him killed, and wanted to murder the whole outfit.
Above Dodge, and nearly adjoining thereto, was a large marsh grown up with brush and high grass. Many times was the unsuspecting stranger and the young unsophisticated traveling man invited to a snipe hunt, and with sack and lantern trudged away with bounding hopes and a stomach fairly yearning for the delicious feast awaiting him next morning at breakfast, instead of the tough buffalo meat. When they got to the swamp, they would place the traveling man on a path leading into the swamp, tell him to spread his sack open with a hoop, and have his lantern at the mouth of the sack. The snipe
would see the light and run right into the sack; and as soon as the sack was full, it was to be closed. In the meantime, they would go up and beat all around the swamp and drive the snipe down to his trap. Of course, they would come home and leave the traveling man holding the sack. Some of the hunters would find their way back that same night; others came in in the morning. Along in the early years of Dodge City's existence, a doctor from the east, a specialist in venereal and private diseases, wrote persistently to our postmaster and others, to know if it was not a good field for his practice. Some of the gang got hold of his letters and wrote him that the town was overrun with disease, that even our ministers were not free, and that more than half the people were suffering. Anyhow, they made out a frightful condition our people were in and that it had got beyond our physicians, and to come at once if he wanted to make a fortune. They signed one letter, "Sim Dip, Ed Slump"; and another, "Blue Pete".
Now, if the man had had any gumption, he would have known these were fictitious names, but he took the bait and away he came. On his arrival he hunted up Sim Dip and Blue Pete. Of course he was introduced to these gentlemen. They came to me for the key and the loan of the Lady Gay Theater, a large old building. At first I refused, but they promised to do no harm, or only to scare the fellow and have some fun. They printed and put out their notices and in the afternoon started two boys with bells to ring up the town, which they did effectually, judging by the crowd assembled that night.
The house was crammed and jammed from the door to the stage. Bat Masterson was on one side of the doctor and Wyat Erb* on the other, with Jack Bridges and other gun men sitting around on the stage in chairs.
The doctor had only got on a little way in his lecture when some on in the audience called him a liar. He stopped and said to Bat, "What is that? I don't under
stand." Bat got up, pulled his gun in front, and said:
"I will kill the first man that interrupts this gentleman again." The lecturer had not gone much farther when some one again called him a vile name. Bat and Wyatt both got up and said: "This gentleman is a friend of ours, you want to understand that, and the next time he is interrupted we will begin shooting and we will shoot to kill" He had not gone much further in his talk when some one in the audience said, "You lie, you s- of a b-!" Bat, Wyatt, and Bridges all arose and began shooting at the same time. First they shot out the lights and my! what a stampede began. The people not only fell over each other, but they tumbled over each other, and rolled over, and trampled each other under foot. Some reached the doors, others took the windows, sash and all, and it was only a short time till darkness and quiet reigned in the Lady Gay. Only the smell of powder and a dense smoke was to be seen, coming out the windows and doors.
There was a broken-down, tin-horn gambler by the name of Dalton, a total wreck from morphine and whisky, whose avocation was a sure-thing game, and his specialty was robbing the stiffs (as the dead bodies were called), and he was an expert at this. Dalton happened to be asleep when this occurred, in a room back of the stage, but the noise and shooting awakened him. He located the place at once from the pistol smoke coming through the windows, and was sure there must be stiffs in the building after so much shooting.
I must interpolate here, there was scarcely anyone of that
big audience who were wise to the lecture, but nearly all thought
everything was straight and, when the shooting began, thought, as
a matter of course, it was a genuine shooting scrape, and they
could not get away from the scene of action fast enough or far
enough, but kept on running in the opposite direction and never
looking back. Now this lecturer thought as the audience did
and, as soon as the firing began, he ducked down under a table in front of the platform and there he lay, as still as a mouse, for fear someone would find him and kill him yet.
Mr. Dalton crawled along the floor on his belly, hunting the stiffs. When he came to the table, of course he felt the stiff underneath and proceeded to divest him of his wealth. But the lecturer gave one mighty spring, threw Dalton over to one side, and jumped up and ran for dear life hollowing, "Murder! Thieves!" and everything else, as loud as he could bawl. Dalton, equally scared to have a stiff come to life and pitch him off, just as he was about to rob him, took to his heels the other way. That was the last seen of the lecturer that night; he sneaked off and hid out. The next morning Sim Dip and Blue Pete waited on him and told him a fine story-how sorry they were, but if he would stay over that night, they would assure him a fine audience and ample protection to his meeting, and he, never dreaming but what it was all on the square. stayed.
The gang wanted to know of me if ten pounds of powder would hurt him. I told them a pound would kill him if it was rightly confined. This put me on my guard and, just before dark, I found out they were going to place a big lot of powder under the box on which he was going to lecture, and I knew it would blow him up and maybe kill him. So I sent to him privately and said:
"My friend, you don't know what you are up against.
"Get on the local freight, which leaves here inside an hour, and never stop until you get back to your own Illinois, because you are not fit to be so far away from home without a guardian." When the gang was certain he was gone, they touched a match to the fuse they had connected with the powder under the box, and blew it to kingdom come. It went way up in the air and came down
a mass of kindling wood. When the boys saw the result, they were glad they did not carry the joke any further. Soon after the little town of Jetmore, the county seat of Hodgeman County, twenty-five miles north of Dodge City, was started, a man who resided in that neighborhood walked to Dodge. He said he came to see the sights, the rows, and ructions, which he had heard of; that were a daily occurrence in Dodge.
After "histing" in a few big drinks that the boys had treated him to, he was full of Dutch courage, said he was wild and woolly and hard to curry, that he could whip his weight in wildcats, and the gang could not start anything too rough for him, and the sooner he got action the better it would suit him. He was a tall, lank, slabsided galoot-one of those overgrown, loose-jointed specimens of humanity, without muscle, brawn, or brains, all blow and bluster, and a weak coward one could see by his looks.
The gang saw at once there was more chance for fun than a fight, and they took him in hand and treated him accordingly. He was very poorly dressed, his pants stuck down in his old boots, an old, flap-down, dirty white hat, and a long, dirty, drab duster for a coat. This duster had once been white, but was now so ragged and dirty you could scarce tell what color it had been. Well, it was not worth two bits, and his old wollen shirt was no better.
The boys soon found him a freak from way back, and, as usual, the gang was flush, and you never struck a more liberal crowd when they had money. It was, "Come on boys! brace up to the bar and name your poison," and it was their especial delight to entertain strangers. The man from Jetmore was no exception. As fast as one would treat him another would step to the front, but it was just like pouring water down a rat hole; and, while he was drinking, someone would set his duster on fire, and I expect a dozen times they came near burning him up, until the old duster was completely used up. Of
course, the man would rave and swear and go on at a terrible rate, threatening the ones who set the fire with all kinds of punishment, if he only knew who they were.
They then bought him a new duster, but he took it so hard and raised such a row that this duster shared the same fate as the old one, until they had bought him three or four. Besides burning his duster, they had all sorts of fun with him-had gun plays with blank cartridges, but of course the man didn't know they were blank, and they frightened him nearly to death.
When they found there was no fight in him at all, they persuaded him to have these parties arrested, and, sure enough, they made several arrests for the man, appointed a sheriff, empaneled a jury, and held court that night in one of the principal saloons. There were several bright young lawyers in Dodge, and they were anxious for the play, and let me say right here, there was much wit and argument and repartee displayed on both sides. It was really a great treat to hear the witty arguments that each side put up, as well as the eloquence that flowed spontaneously from these lawyers over nothing. The twelve jurors were selected with all the decorum a regular court would exact. They were seated in chairs on a raised platform, they erected a rostrum for the. judge, a box for the prisoner, and a seat for the witness. Whenever a good point was made by either side, someone proposed a drink for all hands; judge, jury, prisoner, and witness, as well as the general crowd, all planted their stomachs up to the bar and were helped.
Soon, with the constant drinking, the crowd began to get hilarious, and began to pelt the witness, the prisoner, the sheriff, and the jury with eggs. They were fresh, (they could get no bad ones), and they kept that crowd dodging. First one and then another, and then the sheriff, the witness, and the jury would get it all together.
I tell you, the eggs fell around there as thick as hail, and no one would seem to be hit who was looking; they were
always taken by surprise. The judge sat there on his platform and just shook with laughter until the tears came out of his eyes. I never did see a more tickled man.
He just enjoyed that fun more than anyone in the crowd.
He was nicely dressed and well gotten up for the occasion, very slow and dignified, except when he gave way to laughter.
When the egging had been going on some time, I took several of the boys outside and said: "This is too good for the judge; why not give him some of the chicken pie? We're not giving him a fair deal. It is a shame to neglect him; he might feel offended. He ought to have his share of the hen fruit." The idea caught and they went back loaded. The judge was giving in his wise opinion on a point when, whang! an egg took him in the forehead and then another came. He took out his fine, large, white silk handkerchief and said: "This may be real funny to you, but d-d if I see any fun in it. You all think yourselves mighty smart!" This was too much and they just showered him, pelted him from head to foot. He got down, put on his hat, and walked out as mad as a bull, and never more was seen down town after night. It cured him completely of playing his jokes. He had been, up to that time, one of the greatest jokers Dodge City ever had, but, while he delighted in playing them on others, it made him hot to have jokes played on him. He was one of those who couldn't stand a joke. He caught the writer asleep one day, and succeeded in handcuffing him, and I had to get the services of a blacksmith. Still, he was an all around good fellow, God bless his soul! and was beloved by everyone who knew him.
Among the first signal officers sent to Dodge was Sergeant W. W. Wimberg, an innocent, nice, polite gentleman, but what a greenhorn! and he richly deserved the name-as green as a gourd. The gang soon got on to this, and what pranks they did play on him!
He was taking a young lady, on whom he was much struck, home from a dance one night, to the west part of the town, when the boys jumped out of a hollow and began firing their guns. The young lady, I think, was wise to the job, but Wimberg never bade that young lady goodnight; he stood not on the question of going, but, without looking to the east or west, he turned tail and just flew.
Mr. A. B. Webster took it upon himself to avenge the insult to the lady, said his conduct was unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and next day challenged the sergeant. He-the sergeant-took the matter up before the commanding officer at Fort Dodge, who was onto the joke and in with the boys. He promptly told Wimberg he must accept the challenge and fight Webster. He said the dignity of the army must be maintained at all hazards, but referred him to General Pope, the Commander of the Department of the Missouri, at Fort Leavenworth, saying he must consult the general by wire.
The gang had the operator fixed, so when Wimberg telegraphed General Pope, of course the message never went, but General Pope's answer was prompt and to the point: "You must fight; by all means. The dignity of the army must be maintained, or resign at once." Of course, the poor fellow was in a great; dilemma, and of the two evils he chose the least and wrote out his resignation, when mutual friends interfered and stopped the duel.
They had charades at Dodge, and the sergeant was generally head man. They got him to deliver a darkey speech, and of course he had to black up for the occasion, so they put shellac or some kind of substance into the blacking, which, when dried, could not be rubbed off nor washed off, and this poor fellow had to keep his room until the blacking wore off his face.
Once they were moving a house, just outside the back door of which there was a large sink hole, filled with vile filth, and this sink was lightly covered up to stop the
smell. An idea struck the gang, and they got Wimberg next to this door, while right across the street opposite the back door they started to shooting. Some one threw open the back door, exclaiming, "There is murder going on !" Wimberg was very excited, and this was enough for him. He made a big jump and landed in that vile filth, up to his neck, and he could not get out without assistance. He always was neatly dressed, but this day, I think he had on a white suit. He was so hounded by these rough jokes that he asked to be changed, and the boys lost their game, much to their sorrow.
Once upon a time, a long while ago, when Dodge was young and very wicked, there came a man to town, an itinerant preacher. In the present age you would call him an evangelist. Well, anyway, he possessed a wonderful magnetic power, he was marvelously gifted that way; he would cast his spell over the people, and draw crowds that no one ever dreamed of doing before, in fact he captured some of the toughest of the toughs of wicked Dodge, and from the very first he set his heart on the capture of one Dave Mathews--alias, Mysterious Dave who was city marshal at the time, said to be a very wicked man, a killer of killers. And it was and is an undoubted fact that Dave had more dead men to his credit, at that time, than any other man in the west. Seven by actual count in one night, in one house, and all at one sitting. Indeed he was more remarkable in his way than the preacher was in his.
Well, as I said, he set his heart on Dave, and he went after him regularly every morning, much to the disgust of Dave. Indeed he was so persistent, that Dave began to hate him. In the meantime, the people began to feel the power of the preacher,. for he had about him an unexplainable something that they could not resist, and the one little lone church was so crowded they had to get another building, and this soon would not hold half the audience. Finally they got a large hall known as
the "Lady Gay Dance Hall" and fitted it up with boards laid across empty boxes for seats. There was a small stage at the rear of the building, and on this was placed a goods box for a pulpit for the preacher. Now whether or not Dave had become infected by the general complaint that seized the people, or whether the earnest persistence of the preacher had captured him I know not.
Anyhow, certain it was, he promised the preacher to attend the meeting that night, and certain it was, Dave would not break his word. He was never known to do that. If he promised a man he would kill him, Dave was sure to do it.
It was soon noised around by the old "he pillars" of the church, and the "she pillars" too that Dave was captured at last, and what a crowd turned out that night to see the wonderful work of God brought about through the agency of the preacher-the capture of Mysterious Dave. Soon the hall was filled to its utmost capacity, and Dave, true to his promise, was seen to enter. He was at once conducted to the front, and given the seat of honor reserved for him in front of the preacher, and Oh! how that preacher preached straight at him. He told how wonderful was the ways of Providence in softening the heart of wicked Dave Mathews, and what rejoicing there would be in heaven over the conversion of such a man.
Then he appealed to the faithful ones, the old "he pillars" of the church, and said to them, now he was ready to die.
He had accomplished the one grand object of his life.
He had converted the wickedest man in the country, and was willing now and at once to die, for he knew he would go right straight to heaven. Then he called upon the faithful ones to arise and give in their experience, which they did, each one singly, and said, they too, like the preacher, were willing to die right now and here, for they knew that they, too, would go right straight to heaven for helping to carry out this great work. In fact, most
of them said, like the preacher, that they wanted to die right now so they could all go to heaven rejoicing together. Dave sat their silent with bowed head. He told me afterwards, he never in all his scrapes was in such a hot box in his life. He said he would much rather to have been in a hot all around fight with a dozen fellows popping at him all at once, than to have been there. He said he would have been more at ease, and felt more at home, and I expect he told the truth.
Finally he raised to his feet and acknowledged he had been hard hit and the bullet had struck a vital spot, and at last religion had been poured into him; that he felt it tingling from his toes through his whole body, even to his finger tips, and he knew he had religion now, sure, and if he died now would surely go to heaven, and pulling both of his six shooters in front of him, he said further, for fear that some of the brothers here tonight might backslide and thereby lose their chance of heaven he thought they had better all die tonight together as they had so expressed themselves, and the best plan he said would be for him to kill them all, and then kill himself. Suddenly jerking out a pistol in each hand, he said to the preacher, "I will send you first," firing over the preacher's head. Wheeling quickly he fired several shots into the air, in the direction of the faithful ones.
The much-frightened preacher fell flat behind the dry-goods box, as also did the faithful ones who ducked down as low as they could. Then Dave proceeded to shoot out the lights, remarking as he walked towards the door, "You are all a set of liars and frauds, you don't want to go to heaven with me at all." This broke up the meeting, and destroyed the usefulness of that preacher in this vicinity. His power was gone, and he departed for new fields, and I am sorry to relate, the people went back to their backsliding and wickedness.
Notwithstanding the general tone of these stories, all the joking of early days did not revolve around the six
shooter and cartridge belt. Sometimes a widely different instrument of administration was choosen, though the methods of administrating never varied; it was ever direct, vigorous, and practically merciless.
In the first years of Dodge City a merchant in the town had a government hay contract. He was also sutler at the fort. There was also a saloon keeper who kept the best billiard hall in the town, an Irishman, and a clever fellow, whom the officers preferred to patronize, by the name of Moses Waters. Now, this Waters was full of jokes, and a fighter from away back. The officers made his saloon their headquarters when they came to Dodge, but, as a general thing, upon their arrival, they sent for the sutler and had him go the rounds with them-a chaperon they deemed essential, lest they might get into difficulties, and the sutler was as eager to have their company as they were to have him along. One evening about dark the post sutler came into Dodge from his hay camp to purchase a suit of clothes' suitable for camp service. Waters, in passing along Front street, saw the sutler trying on the suit, and an idea struck him. He went immediately to his saloon, wrote a note to the sutler, as he had often seen the officers do, presenting his compliments, and requesting his presence at once at. his saloon. The buildings on Front street were all low, frame shanties with porches. On the corners of the porch roofs were placed barrels of water in case of fire, and the sutler had to pass under these porches to get to Water's saloon. As soon as he was properly rigged out in his new outfit, he hurried to Water's saloon to meet his officer friends, as he supposed, not suspecting any danger, of course. But no sooner had he passed under one of these porches on the corner, than a barrel of water was dashed over him, nearly knocking him down, wetting him to the skin, and nearly drowning him. :tie knew as soon as he had recovered his breath, and as he heard the parties running over the roof to the rear of the build-
ing and jumping to the ground, what had happened and what was up.
When he reached Water's saloon there was a crowd, looking as innocent as could be, and saying, "Come in and wet your new clothes," which was a common custom.
"Yes," the sutler said, "I will wet them. Barkeep, set up the drinks. It is all right, and I am going to get even." There were, of course, no officers in sight.
Some time previous to this, Waters, who had a lot of horses, and some fine ones by the way, had built him a large barn and painted it blood red. He took great pride in this barn, more on account of its color than anything else. He had cut out in front of each stall a place large enough for a horse to get his head through, to give the horse air and light. Waters had an Englishman, a very fine hostler, to attend his horses. One day, soon after the incident mentioned above, a tall, finely built young Missourian came to the sutler, as was frequently the case, and asked for work. The sutler said, "Yes, I can give you work. Can you white wash?" He said, "I can beat the man who invented whitewashing." The sutler got two old-fashioned cedar buckets, holding about three gallons each, and two whitewashing brushes, a short and a long-handled one. "Now," said the sutler, "I want you to mix these buckets full and thick, and go down to that red stable (showing him the stable), and plaster it thick with whitewash. I painted it red, but everyone seems to dislike the color, and I want it changed. But, say, there is a crazy Irishman, by the name of Waters, who imagines he owns the stable. He may come around and try to give you some trouble. If he does, don't give him any gentle treatment. Use him as rough as you can. Smash him with your whitewash brush, and if you can put a whitewash bucket over his head and nearly drown him, I will pay you two dollars extra. Try and do this anyway, and I will pay you more for it than for doing the job of whitewashing."
Soon after the talk, off went the big Missourian with his whitewash buckets and brushes. There was a strong west wind blowing, so he commenced on the east side of the barn. He went at it like he was mauling rails, and was doing a fine job. The Englishman was shut up inside, giving the horses their morning scrubbing. At last he was attracted by the continual knocking of the brush against the stable. In the meantime quite a crowd had gathered, looking on at the curious spectacle of the big Missourian whitewashing the stable. At last the Englishman poked out his head, demanding of the Missourian:
"What the bloody 'ell are you doing, anyway?" Down comes the Missourian's brush on the face and head of the Englishman, while at the same time he said that the man who gave him the job told him that an ignorant Irishman would try to stop him. This was too much for the Englishman, who went across the street to Water's room, dripping all over with whitewash.
Waters being a saloonkeeper and compelled to be up late at night, slept late in the morning, and was still in bed. Waters could hardly believe the Englishman's story, that anyone would dare whitewash his beautiful red barn. But he put on his pants, slippers, and hat, and went over to see. Waters was a fighter-in fact, he was something of a prize-fighter, and was a powerful and heavy-set man, and did not think he could be whipped. The reason the Missourian got such an advantage of him, Waters told me afterwards, was because he was trying to get up to him as close as possible so that he could give him a knock-out blow. But the Missourian was too quick for him. Waters approached the Missourian very slowly and deliberately, talking to him all the while in a very mild and persuasive way, but when he was almost within striking distance the Missourian put the bucket of whitewash over his head.
It almost strangled Waters, and he had to buck and back and squirm to shake the bucket off. When he did, and had shaken the whitewash out of his eyes, nose, and
mouth, what a fight began. The young Missourian was a giant, but Waters was more skilled by training. Still they had it, rough and tumble, for a long time, first Waters on top and then the Missourian. Finally, the Missourian found that Waters was getting the best of it, and, with a desperate effort, threw Waters to one side, tore loose, and made for the government reservation, only a few hundred yards distant, followed closely by Waters, amid great cheering by the crowd. It was indeed laughable, the Missourian in the lead, beating the ground with his big feet and long legs, with all the vim and energy he possessed, and as if his life depended on the race (and perhaps it did), followed by the low, squatty figure of Waters in his shirt sleeves and slippers, minus hat and coat with the whitewash dripping from him at every point, and tearing down with equal energy, as if his life, too, depended upon the race. The race of the two men presented a most laughable scene, too ludicrous for anything. They both seemed determined on the issue, but the long legs of the Missourian were evidently too much for Water's short ones, and he finally abandoned the chase.
There is nothing further to the story, except that the sutler had to hide out for a few days, until mutual friends could bring in a white flag and agree upon terms of peace.
I have related enough to show that the spirit of practical joking and raillery was very prevalent in southwestern, frontier days. Most of it was good natured and meant to be harmless; but I must confess that there was scarcely anything too sacred to be made the butt of a joke, if the trend of inclination turned that way. Even love, instead of being a serious matter, was often treated as a joke and laughed Into materialization or renunciation, as the case might be. The following love letter of
the times might have been written en route on the Texas drive, or by the camp fire in a buffalo hunter's camp:
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