CAUTION: This blog post will include graphic images of the slain Dalton brothers.
Just over 100 years ago, the United States was a very different country. Far from being the global superpower that it is today, much of the fledgling nation was still unsettled and vast streams of hopeful pilgrims migrated westward in search of verdant land and the promise of wealth. Many of these settlers staked their claims along their way across the frontier and set up small towns and mining encampments.
In order to keep these towns supplied, as well as to fuel further expansion, the United States government worked in tandem with titans of industry to construct the great American railroad system. These railroad trains transported huge amounts of people, provisions and gold back and forth across the frontier. Although this infrastructure was the living backbone of the American westward expansion, it also provided opportunities to an unsavory sort of frontier denizen: the robber gangs.
In the 19th century, and into the beginning of the 20th century, these robber gangs roamed the plains and the prairies, carrying out stickup robberies of trains, banks and small towns across the great unsettled west.
This was a unique time in American history. The vast, unsettled frontier was a wild land where, in many cases, the presence of law enforcement was scarce, if it existed at all. At the same time, many of the settlers in the small mining towns and growing settlements were often in possession of large amounts of wealth, whether from trade or from digging up huge payloads of gold and silver ore.
Add in to this mixture the fact that the huge, unsettled landscapes provided plenty of room for criminals to hide out and escape, and you had a recipe for the birth of American legends.
Enter the Dalton Gang.
When the Dalton clan moved to Kansas in the late 19th century, some of the Dalton boys found work as U.S. lawmen on the frontier. Frank, Bob, Emmett and Grat Dalton worked as U.S. Deputy Marshals or ranch hands and earned quite a good reputation for themselves as efficient and effective lawmen who were capable of skilled gunplay and daring bravery.
However, this sterling reputation would not last very long.
The boys began to go bad. After committing small crimes and escaping to the California Gold Rush territory, the Dalton boys converted their brother Bill to a life of crime and began committing a series of train robberies.
They eventually made their way back to the Oklahoma Indian Territory, where they continued their crime spree. They eventually fell victim to their own greed and nearly all of the gang were killed during a botched attempt of a double bank robbery in broad daylight in their former home town of Coffeyville, Kansas. Only Emmett Dalton survived this failed plan and he was sentenced to prison.
Bill Dalton, in the meantime, had escaped justice from the gang’s early robberies and decided to form a gang of his own. He joined up with other outlaws and formed the Wild Bunch, one of the most infamous robber gangs to ever stalk the plains of the Wild West. Eventually, Bill split with this posse and recruited a few more outlaws to form the new Dalton Gang.
They planned a daring raid in 1894 on the First National Bank on Fredonia Street in Longview, Texas where I live. Though they struck quickly, they barely escaped with their lives. Eventually, all of the new Dalton Gang was tracked down and killed or imprisoned.
This was not only the last ride of the Dalton Gang, it was one of the last rides of the outlaws of the Old West. The 19th century soon gave way to the 20th, and with the passage of time came further modernization and industrialization. Soon, the vast frontier was largely settled and the outlaw gangs of the Wild West mostly disappeared.
However, civilized society can’t keep an outlaw down for long. In some ways embodying the spirit of the Wild West bank robbers, new outlaws appeared in the early 20th century, eager to plunder the spoils of growing American towns and taking advantage of the black market created by the passage of Prohibition.
It seems that the days of the gunfighter and the bank robber on horseback were impossibly long ago but, in reality, it was just a short span of years ago when these legends were men in the flesh.
Tune in to this episode to learn how one of the last great robber gangs of the American frontier pulled of an ill-fated raid right here in the middle of nowhere in Longview.