Though movies and television would like us to believe otherwise, it was very rare when gunfights occurred with the two gunfighters squarely facing each other from a distance in a dusty street. This romanticized image of the Old West gunfight was born in the dime novels of the late 19th century and perpetuated in the film era, to such a point that this fictional version is what our mind’s eye quickly conjures up when we hear the word "gunfight.”
There are a number of gunfighters that whose names were well-known while they were still alive and are just as quickly recognized today, including Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holliday. Their reputations spread by word of mouth, usually resulting in a number of exaggerations and inaccuracies. These already exaggerated tales grew bigger with the retelling, often in the popular dime novels of the time.
In Dodge City, by the spring of 1876 the cattle trade had shifted west from Ellsworth and Wichita, Kansas, to Dodge City. As the Longhorn cattle from Texas were driven up the western branch of the Chisholm Trail to the railroad at Dodge City.
But the cowboys brought even more lawlessness to Dodge City and by 1878 the mayor contacted Wyatt Earp, who was working as a Wichita lawman. Pleading for Earp's help, he offered Wyatt the position of Chief Deputy Marshal with unheard of salary of $250 per month.
The city passed an ordinance that guns could not be worn or carried north of the "deadline" which was the railroad tracks. The south side where "anything went" was wide open. The gun-toting rule was in effect around the clock and anyone wearing a gun was immediately jailed. Soon, Dodge City's jail was filled.
At The Old West Festival, we have (at least) four gunfights break-out a day! But unlike the real Dodge in 1878, ours are all for fun. We will talk about gun safety and explain that the gunfight you are about to see is just for fun. So come out and enjoy our gunfights, knowing you won’t get caught in the crossfire!