In the southwestern part of the state, Dodge City, Kansas, became famous in frontier days for cattle drives, saloon brawls and main-street shoot-outs. The western heritage of this town 155 mi/250 km west of Wichita was popularized by the long-running Gunsmoke television series, which chronicled the colorful, if fictional, exploits of Marshal Matt Dillon of Dodge City.
The town's real-life lawmen were also colorful: Both Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp served as peacekeeper for a time. And in a town as wild as Dodge, even the dentist might be a gunslinger: The infamous Doc Holliday, who was later involved in the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral in Tucson, ran a dentistry practice out of Room 24 at the Dodge House.
Be sure to visit historic Front Street, the re-created main street lined with museums, saloons, the Boot Hill Museum and Hangman's Tree. Gunfights and other Old West shenanigans are re-enacted there. Life-size figures of Miss Kitty, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid and more are on display at the Gunfighter's Wax Museum. (If there's time, make the trek about 40 mi/65 km southwest to Meade to see the Dalton Gang Hideout, a restored 19th-century house with a secret tunnel that was used by the infamous outlaws).
Take a minute to see El Capitan, the bronze statue at the corner of Second and Wyatt Earp streets. Built to commemorate the cattle drives of the 1870s, this statue (which faces south) has a twin in Abilene, Texas (that one faces north). Today, the cattle business is still big in Dodge City—visit the overlook west of town to see the massive cattle pens and feed yards. A small herd of longhorn cattle grazes at Longhorn Park.
The Dodge City Trolley, which runs Memorial Day to mid-August, takes in many of the historical sites, including Fort Dodge, which was established in 1865. The fort, a few miles/kilometers east of the city, was an important outpost in defending the Santa Fe Trail. A museum at the fort has a collection of military artifacts, and there are buildings that date to the 1860s. At a spot about 5 mi/8 km east of the fort, you can still see ruts created by wagons on the trail. Other impressive ruts are found 9 mi/14 km west of Dodge City on Highway 50.
Those who are truly taken by Old West history should be sure to stop at the Kansas Heritage Center on Second Avenue. Its collection of books on western history, particularly that of Kansas and surrounding states, is remarkable—more than 6,000 titles. You'll also find military correspondence from Fort Dodge and a repository of local newspapers dating to 1876.
Among the annual events on Dodge City's calendar are the Dodge City Days and Roundup Rodeo, the Ford County Fair (July and August), as well as Christmas in Old Dodge City (Thanksgiving-Christmas).
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