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1892 One Hundred Years Ago

June 2024
2min read

Dumb Day in Coffeyville

The Dalton gang was flush from their successful hit on a railroad at Pryor Creek, Oklahoma—seventeen thousand dollars for just ten minutes’ shooting- when they planned the foolhardy robbery they hoped would secure their notoriety. On the morning of October 5 the Daltons arrived in the town of Coffeyville, Kansas, intent on cleaning out two banks simultaneously, which neither their famous cousins the Youngers nor even the James brothers had ever done. If it came off, one member explained, the double robbery would make the Daltons “outshine Jesse James” himself, since even he “never tried this!”

The editor of the Coffeyville Journal , David Stewart Elliott, was among the first to spot the Daltons when they entered the town “about fifteen minutes before ten o’clock, when the most remarkable occurrence that has ever taken place in the history of our country came upon the peaceful city like a flash of lightning from a clear sky.” Elliott and others easily recognized the outlaws, despite the false goatees and mustaches, for the simple reason that the Dalton brothers had grown up in and around Coffeyville. Almost as soon as the gang divided and entered both the First National and Condon & Co. banks, their fellow citizens were arming themselves at the local hardware store.

A clerk in Condon & Co. managed to shout out, “The bank is being robbed!” while someone across the street looking into the First National saw guns drawn there too. The call to arms went around the plaza. “The volunteer defenders of law were not impelled by a sentiment; they were inspired by a high sense of duty to their neighbors and the community,” wrote Elliott. It was also their money in the banks.

Charles T. Gump had been “driving his team on the street at the time,” Elliott wrote, when, at the alarm, he “sprang from his wagon . . . ran into !sham’s [hardware] store, seized a double-barreled shotgun,” and took up his position outside First National. Bob Dalton’s first shot hit Gump’s hand, and his “gun fell in several pieces at his feet.” After the men in Rammel’s drugstore began firing into the front of the First National, Bob and Emmet Dalton left by a back way carrying twenty thousand dollars. In the alley they surprised and killed a young clerk named Lucius M. Baldwin.

At Condon & Co., however, the other three members—Gratton Dalton, Bill Powers, and Dick Broadwell—were stalled by the bank clerk through a series of ingenious evasions. The robbers were still bickering with the clerk when citizens began shooting through the heavy glass windows with borrowed Winchesters and shotguns. There was no back door through which to escape, and when the thieves came out onto the street, reported Elliott with satisfaction, “Grat Dalton and Bill Powers each received mortal wounds before they had retreated twenty steps. The dust was seen to fly from their clothes, and Powers in his desperation attempted to take refuge in the rear doorway of an adjoining store, but the door was locked . . .” He ran toward his horse and “fell dead at the feet of the animal that had carried him.” Grat lived long enough to kill the town marshal, then was dropped a second time by the marksmen inside !sham’s. Emmet was wounded mounting his horse but hung on to the money bag, then rode back for his dying brother Bob. As he leaned down toward his brother, one Carey Seaman—who had shot Broadwell as he tried to ride off—gave Emmet both barrels in the back. The fight lasted just twelve minutes.

Emmet Dalton, surprisingly, was saved by the town surgeon and served fourteen years in the Kansas State Penitentiary and then was pardoned. He married and went into business in California. In 1931 he returned to Coffeyville to reminisce with the shaky old heroes of that long-ago day. He died a few years later in Los Angeles.

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