Where the Swindler Flourished and Grew Fat
WITH its cosmopolitan crowds and free and easy life . with the broad frontier for refuge close at hand, it was natural that Dodge City, in its early days, should be a fruitful field for the street fraud and professional swindler of every description. Probably, there was not a confidence game nor a fake proposition known, at that time, that was not worked to the full on the streets of Dodge City, and even the open-hearted kindness and liberality which so characterized the town in cases of distress and need, was often made material for dishonest manipulation, and the foundation for ill-gotten gains, by unprincipled individuals.
So proverbial had the liberality of the citizens of Dodge City become that it was known for miles up and down the old Santa Fe trail. Unprincipled immigrants and strangers took advantage of it. For instance, a strong, hearty, middle-aged man, bronzed from exposure to the weather, and having other appearances of an honest, hard working, industrious man who was taking Horace Greeley's advice and moving west to better his condition, carne into Dodge, one afternoon, hitched in harness by the side of a poor, old raw-boned horse, drawing a wagon in which was the younger portion of his family. The others were barefooted and walking. He claimed that his other horse got alkalied and died some distance down the river, which was a likely story, as they were lots of alkali pools in the river bottom. Some sympathetic persons went around with a hat in their hands and his hardluck story on their tongues, and soon enough money was raised to buy him a good span of horses, grub for his family, and to pay his expenses for some time. He went on his way, saying in his heart, "What fools these people
be! They have much more generosity than sense," for he had sent his hired man around north of town with two good horses, and we heard he was fairly well to do. Another time, a poor family, with a dilapidated wagon and horses to match, the wagon full of children, rolled into Dodge and exhibited a dead baby and a sick mother. No money, no clothes, no food, and, as a Mexican says, "no nather." This was a piteous sight to behold, and soon the generous feeling, always slumbering in the hearts of the good people of Dodge, was aroused and they raised a subscription for a coffin and buried the little one, and gave the mother quite a snug little sum of money, and bought groceries for the family. That night they dug up the corpse and took it and the coffin to the next town, after filling up the grave. You see, it was a wax babya good imitation. We heard of them playing the same trick on other towns. One morning in the early days of Dodge City, two gentlemen, elegantly dressed and groomed, made their appearance at the Long Branch saloon. One could see at a glance they were educated and refined, and both men had lovely manners and exceedingly great persuasive powers. They were quiet and unassuming, both were liberal spenders as well as drinkers, but they never were under the influence of liquor. It was only a short time until they had captivated a lot of friends, and I among the number. They were admirable story tellers. One we will call Doc Holiday, the other Creek. They had traveled all over Europe, spoke several languages, and the doctor had diplomas from several colleges in Europe, having finIshed his education in Heidelberg. They and I soon became very intimate. Of course, before our friendship ripened, I took them to be what I thought them, elegant gentlemen; but, to my surprise, under a promise from me not to betray them, they told me they were big crooks and gold brick men. The first year -249-
of the great boom at Leadville, they gold-bricked an Ohio banker. The banker came to Leadville with scads of ready money, hunting soft snaps. Their stool pigeons soon discovered him and brought them together. The gold brick men claimed they were the last of a gang of mountain bandits who robbed the Deadwood stage. Most of these gold bricks, they said, belonged to the government and were being shipped to the mint at Denver when they were captured. The government had a record of the number of the bricks and the actual weight of each brick, so they could be identified, which was the reason they were making such a sacrifice, for they, themselves could not possibly dispose of the bricks, to get anywhere near their value. The price was soon fixed at about twenty thousand dollars, but then came the test. The old banker thought he was very cunning. They brought a brick and had the banker file it at the ends, center, and middle, took the filings to an isolated spot in a fine, white silk handkerchief, and applied the acid. The filings stood the test because they had exchanged handkerchiefs, substituting genuine gold filings for the base metal. The banker then demanded to see all the bricks. They had them sunk in a little lake in the mountains, with a gravelly bottom. They dove down and brought up a brick which the banker filed the same as the other, and took the filings, that night after dark, to an old log cabin on the outskirts of the town. When they were about to make the acid test again, someone knocked. They blew out the light and made the grand change again, and told the banker to take the filings himself to a jeweler, and apply the acid. Of course, the test was approved by the jeweler and the banker, because the dust was genuine gold dust. Now then, Creek stayed with the banker, at his request, as far as Chicago. This was playing into their hands, of course. The banker was anxious to have Creek
of the great boom at Leadville, they gold-bricked an Ohio banker. The banker came to Leadville with scads of ready money, hunting soft snaps. Their stool pigeons soon discovered him and brought them together. The gold brick men claimed they were the last of a gang of mountain bandits who robbed the Deadwood stage. Most of these gold bricks, they said, belonged to the government and were being shipped to the mint at Denver when they were captured. The government had a record of the number of the bricks and the actual weight of each brick, so they could be identified, which was the reason they were making such a sacrifice, for they, themselves could not possibly dispose of the bricks, to get anywhere near their value. The price was soon fixed at about twenty thousand dollars, but then came the test. The old banker thought he was very cunning. They brought a brick and had the banker file it at the ends, center, and middle, took the filings to an isolated spot in a fine, white silk handkerchief, and applied the acid. The filings stood the test because they had exchanged handkerchiefs, substituting genuine gold filings for the base metal. The banker then demanded to see all the bricks. They had them sunk in a little lake in the mountains, with a gravelly bottom. They dove down and brought up a brick whIch the banker filed the same as the other, and took the filings, that night after dark, to an old log cabin on the outskirts of the town. When they were about to make the acid test again, someone knocked. They blew out the light and made the grand change again, and told the banker to take the filings himself to a jeweler, and apply the acid. Of course, the test was approved by the jeweler and the banker, because the dust was genuine gold dust. Now then, Creek stayed with the banker, at his request, as far as Chicago. This was playing into their hands, of course. The banker was anxious to have Creek -250- .
at the final test in Chicago, but Creek had no such notion. Of course, these men were disguised, and had their own plans, and were in constant communication with each other. At some large city east of the Missouri River, an officer came on board, put his hand on the banker's' shoulder, and said: "I arrest you as an accomplice in a theft of government gold, which I have reason to believe you have with you, and, if you promise to behave, I won't put the handcuffs on you." The officer who made the arrest said to his deputy who stood behind him, "Look out for this man and his partner, too (meaning Creek); while I go out and get us some lunch, as I don't intend they shall leave this train until it pulls into Chicago." As soon as the officer was gone, Creek said to the deputy, "Please go with me to the closet." When they returned, Creek said to the banker, "The deputy wants to talk to you privately." The deputy said, "Why not buy off this United States marshal? You will not only lose your bricks, but you will be disgraced forever, and may go to the penitentiary for a long term. Try him when he gets back." Of course, at first, the United States marshal was very indignant, but finally said he would turn the banker loose on the payment of fifteen thousand dollars, and he got the money soon after reaching Chicago. It is needless to say the United States marshal was no one else but Doc Holiday. The last I saw of the two, they were starting south, overland, in a buckboard, with tent, cooking utensils, and camp equipage of all kinds. They had along a race horse, a prize fighter, a fighting bulldog, and two prize-winning game cocks. They were sports, every inch of them, if they were crooks, and both were dead shots with the six-shooter. These men were in Dodge City under cover, and stayed all summer, or until the hunt for them had been abandoned. Dodge was the hiding place for a great many crooks of every description. They even say Jesse
James was here, for a short time, under cover, and Bob Ford, his murderer, was also. On one occasion, word reached Dodge City several days in advance, of the arrival of a large band of Gypsies, headed for Dodge City. Large bodies move slowly, and so it was with this band, so the "gang" had plenty of time to prepare a proper reception for them. This band was the most filthy set of vagabonds imaginable, and their animals and outfit were worse, if such a thing could be. They anticipated a rich harvest here, as they had heard of the liberality and generosity of our people and expected large returns from fortune telling, horse racing, horse trading, begging, and all the tricks in which they are proficient. They began business with horse racing, but the gang "hokey-pokied" their horses, and the result . was the throwing of the riders over the horses' heads, and the bucking, kicking, and pitching of the animals, until they got to camp. The second day, the women brought in their chimpanzees, and they had some monsters, but they were mangy, skinny, and repulsive, and their monkeys, bears, parrots, and other animals were in the same condition. They were a scabby looking lot. For shelter, the Gypsies had a hundred little low dog tents, black with smoke, dirt, and filth, and their wagons were dilapidated, wabbly, and of all sizes and descriptions, from a wheelbarrow and dog cart to a two-horse wagon. Their chimpanzees were intelligent and well trained and understood their business, but they did not understand their trouble when they received a liberal application of "hokey-pokey" from the gang, and it made them vicious and crazy. They had sense enough, however, to know who applied it to them, and they went after the fellows and very nearly caught some of them. What a fight and struggle the women had to control these ani-252- .
mals, and it certainly was an interesting and amusIng diversion to see them. . There was a large, smooth, piece of ground, just outside the town limits, where they camped, expecting to stay a long time. They had one very large, ferocious bear, and twenty or t:h,irty dogs of all kinds and varieties, with which they would give their big show or "principal attraction." This attraction they would not put on unless they got their price. Their big performance was to tie a rope, several hundred feet long, to this big, half-starved bear, give him a large beef bone, then turn in the whole pack of half-starved dogs with him. Now this was a fight, as they say here, "for your whiskers." They announced their first exhibition for Saturday evening, it was soon advertised all over town, and another exhibition was announced for the following morning. It was a beautiful summer morning, and I do not think that many went to church that day, judging from the crowd on the grounds. The boys were posted from the exhibition of the evening before, and were ready to make a slight change in the program. Just as the bear was turned out, with the rope attached, he received an application of the "hokey-pokey" and he was doped plentifully. At the same time, every cage containing a wolf, coyote, bear, monkey, or chimpanzee, which had been previously assigned to some member of the gang for attention was carefully attended to, and all of the animals were doped. The work was perfectly done, and the results were highly satisfactory. The bear just simply went crazy, and he struck the dogs right and left, as they came to him, and every lick sent a dog some distances in some direction. The dogs were just as determined and industrious as the bear, and would come at him more fiercely than ever, but they made no impression on him. He wanted to get away from something, he did not know what. He would run the whole length of the rope, when
the men at the other end of the rope would check him. Ht would then take a swing in some other direction, and the people would fall all over each other and in every direction. The bear had the right of way and used it. Our marshal, Low Warren, was busy, trying to keep the people out of the way of the bear and danger, and to restore order, but, notwithstanding he was perhaps the largest man in the county, he might as well have tried to stop the flow of the Arkansas river. In an attempt to get some women and children out of the way, he went sprawling down and took several more with him. As here related, all the animals were doped at the same time, and the effect was the same on all, and at the same time. The howling, screaming, moaning, and acrobatic performances of people and animals were certainly worth the price of admission, and such confusion I never saw. When the Gypsies could come to a realization of what had happened, the women made a charge on the gang, armed with sticks, stones, and everything that would serve as a weapon of offensive warfare. The disregard for polite language was very noticeable, and the confusion of tongues was bewildering. As a fitting climax to this unique entertainment, a young fellow named Gibson, rode up to the outskirts of the camp, on a fiery young colt, and was viewing the results of the performance, when some member of the fraternity slipped up behind the colt and doped him. Gibson and the colt parted company immediately, and the colt took his departure, giving an excellent exhibition of pitching and bucking through the camp, scattering the women and children of the Gypsies, and adding fuel to their already consuming passions and rage. They concluded that Dodge City was certainly the capital of all the demons in existence, and, the next day, they folded their tents and departed for more congenial parts. Dodge City was too much for them.
A unique but decidedly significant warning to the swindlers and crooks infesting Dodge City, was made by a newly elected mayor, A. B. Webster, who, upon assuming office, issued the following proclamation: "To all whom it may concern: All thieves, thugs, confidence men, and persons without visible means of support, will take notice that the ordinances, enacted for their special benefit, will be rigorously enforced after April 7th, 1881."
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