Monday, July 18, 2011

Clay Allison's Practical Joke

Curious Events in Dodge City


Clay Allison's Practical Joke

It was in my school days that I first came across the curious tales surrounding a visit the notorious Clay Allison made to Dodge City, Kansas in 1878. In the 130 + years since the events transpired the tale has been told, retold, and so embellished with each telling as such tales are, that the truth of the events are probably lost forever. The facts we can be sure of are as follows.

Clay Allison visited Dodge City, Kansas in September of 1878. The noted gunmen Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp were lawmen at the time.

Wyatt Earp was employed by the City of Dodge and Bat Masterson was Sheriff of Ford County. The friends were not bothered by jurisdiction and watched each others backs.

City law of the day stated visitors to Dodge (read cowboys from trail drives) were not allowed to wear guns in town. At the time firearms were turned over to the bartender at the first saloon they would visit and returned when they were ready to leave town.

During his visit to Dodge city Clay Allison did not surrender his guns and did not behave well at all!

During his rapage Clay was never confrounted by Bat, Wyatt or any other lawman.

Now, if you know anything about either Bat Masterson or Wyatt Earp this makes no sense at all. Bat was a professional lawman that took his job serioiusly and tried not to use excessive force doing so. Wyatt was a professional lawman who never retreated beyond "the air at his back" and didn't consider much any kind of force excessive.

In old news paper accounts and memoirs of people who were there are dozens of conflicting accounts of the day. Clay is protrayed riding up and down the streets of Dodge "looking for a lawman to kill." Some accounts have him shooting up store signs and windows, street lamps, and making a general nuisance of himself. One account has him riding his horse into saloons wearing nothing between his hat and boots but his gunbelt!

Several accounts have Clay stairing down either Bat or Wyatt, or both. Other stories have him being backed down by one of the two famious lawmen. One fanciful tale has Bat watching Clay from his hotel window with his old Sharps Buffalo Rifle ready to drop him if he went too far.

If you know anything about the men involved this is nonsense. In short, had Clay met Bat or Wyatt that day, someone's story would have come to an end.

The question becomes why didn't they meet? The mystery lasted so long because no one was entirely sure of the exact date it happened.

The answer came in the 1950's when a western historian was rereading Charlie Sidingo's tales of his days as a young cowboy titled RIADA AND SPURS.

This time he spotted something he had never picked out before. When Charlie and his cowboy friend heard about Clay's rampage whey were at the train station reading the latest details on Chief Dull Knife's raid.

Dull Knife had jumped the reservation and led a war party across the Kansas frontier. Several settlers had been killed in and around Meade, Kansas on Sepetmber 16, 1878. News of the outbreak and raids reached Dodge the next day, September 17, 1878. This was also the date of Clay ride. Now everything clicked into place.

Fort Dodge was only a short ride from Dodge City. One of the first things the commander did when informed about Dull Knifes outbreak was round up he could get his hands on. These were a couple of ex-buffalo hunters who had worked for the army as scouts before. They were none other than Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. When Clay was having his 'lawdog hunt' they were miles away helping to round up Dull Knife's band.

There is one last part of the story, but it is pure spectulation on my part. Clay Allison has been accused of being many things, a drunk, a viscous killer, a bully, but I don't think anyone ever called him stupid. I think he knew the two noted lawmen were out of town before he ever started acting up.

I believe, where ever he is today, he is still laughting about it.

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