Lying Dead in Coffeyville Historical Fiction Setting: Coffeyville, KS, on October 5, 1892 Prompt: Turning Point (see description) Story Word Count: 2549
The first light of day was filtering into the world as Marshal Connelly stepped off his porch. Connelly started walking through Coffeyville to get to his office. For early October, it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day in Coffeyville. The people on the street greeted the Marshal as he passed them, and Connelly returned their greetings. Outlaw gangs still roamed the American West, and the citizens of Coffeyville were grateful to have the Marshal in town.
Earlier, before the break of dawn, six members of the Dalton Gang had loaded up their horses and broke camp. It was another US Marshal, Heck Thomas, who worried the gang. Thomas was closing in on the Dalton Gang. Bob Dalton wanted to leave the area, riding hard until they were far away. But the Dalton Gang needed money.
In addition to the money, Bob Dalton also longed for notoriety. It wasn't that the Dalton Gang lacked publicity. The gang was well-known, but the James-Younger Gang had overshadowed them. Jesse James’ reputation had spread across the West and even east of the Mississippi. Even though Jesse was an outlaw, he had become something of a folk-hero to many. Bob Dalton envied that fame. So, Bob had come up with a plan that would put the Dalton Gang in the history books. The Dalton Gang was going to rob two banks at the same time.
Bill Doolin, the best gun in the gang, was nervous about the plan. The night before, Bill had confronted Bob with his concerns. The two banks were in Coffeyville, Kansas. Coffeyville was home for the Dalton family. Bill worried that someone in Coffeyville would recognize Bob, Emmett, or Grat. Given the gang's reputation, that would alert the town would to the robberies. Because of the Bill Doolin’s concerns, the Daltons had agreed to disguise themselves before entering Coffeyville. Otherwise, the plan was simple.
The two banks, the C.M. Condon & Co. Bank and the First National Bank, were downtown and across a narrow street from one another. There was a hitching post nearby where the Dalton Gang could tie up their horses. Once the gang had tied their horses up, the gang would split up into two groups of three. Grat Dalton would take Bill Power and Dick Broadwell to rob the Condon Bank. Bob Dalton would take Emmett Dalton and Bill Doolin to rob the First National Bank. When they had the money, the groups would come out, jump on their horses, and ride away. The gang wasn’t averse to killing anyone who tried to stop them, but with luck, they’d get away without gunfire.
The six men of the Dalton Gang reached the outskirts of Coffeyville around the same time that Marshal Connelly was leaving for his office. Bill Doolin suggested that he ride into town to survey the area. Bob Dalton agreed it was a good idea, so Bill rode off. Bob knew it was important that they do this right, but Bob was anxious. The Dalton Gang was about to go down in history.
Bill Doolin was nervous. Something about this didn’t feel right to Bill. The Dalton brothers had started out as lawmen. The brothers hadn't turned to lives of crime until outlaws had killed the oldest of the brothers, Frank Dalton, in a shoot-out. It would start with Bob Dalton being charged with supplying alcohol to the Indians. Bob had fled rather than stand trial. Then Bob convinced his brothers and others to join him in robbing trains.
Bill Doolin knew robbing trains was what the gang was good at doing. The problem with train robberies was you never knew what you were going to get. Sometimes, the gang had gotten thousands of dollars. Other times, only a few hundred. That made banks tempting targets. But to try two at once seemed foolish to Bill. Bill worried that Bob’s desire to be famous was clouding Bob’s judgment.
Bill rode into Coffeyville at a normal gate. Bill appeared to be another cowboy come to town for a visit. Workers were busy paving the main street, so Bill had to ride to one side. Being a natural criminal, Bill was able to survey the area without drawing attention to himself. Bill tipped his hat to those that noticed him, using the opportunity to look at the buildings.
The banks were close together, as Bob had said. At the end of the main street, the C.M. Condon Bank sat in the middle of the street. The First National bank sat on the right-hand side as Bill faced the Condon Bank. To the left was the alley Bob Dalton said they could use to ride out of town. Using the alley would help cover their escape. On the main street, the gang would have been easy targets, but not in the alley. Bill’s confidence in the plan increased. Bill was growing confident that this could work out well for the Dalton Gang, as long as they were not recognized.
Then Bill Doolin saw a problem. To do the road paving the work crew had removed the hitching post. That could be a problem. If the gang was going to do this, they would need another place to tie the horses. Bill Doolin continued his ride through town. Once out of sight, he turned back and skirted the town to get back to the gang.
“Well shit,” Bob Dalton said when Bill told him about the hitching post.
“Maybe we shouldn’t do this, Bob,” Bill Doolin said.
“Horseshit,” Bob replied. “We need the money. That Deputy Marshal can’t be more than a couple of days behind us. We need to do this today and then get as far away from here as possible. I’ve got no desire to die in a gunfight like Frank did. There’s enough money in those two banks that we can go somewhere and not have to rob banks or trains.”
That sounded good, Bill Doolin thought, but was a lie. Bob was less concerned with the money than with the notoriety. Bob would go someplace else, but he’d brag about what he had done even if he never robbed another bank or train. Bill knew the law was going to catch up with Bob Dalton. The only question was when.
“I guess we’ll tie the horses up in the alley. We planned to leave that way anyway. All right boys, time to for us to get moving. There’s a fortune for the taking in those banks,” Bob said.
Grat and Emmett put on the fake beard and wigs they had. Bill Doolin looked at Bob, who was not putting on his. “What about your disguise, Bob?” Bill asked.
“You rode through town, and no one recognized you,” Bob said. “It’s been so long since I’ve been there, no one’s going to recognize me either.”
This pissed Bill off. Bill sensed Bob wanted someone to recognize him because recognition was what Bob Dalton craved. But Bill knew arguing with Bob would get him nowhere. Bill decided that if he were ever part of another gang, it would be his gang. But for now, this was Bob's show, and Bill would go along.
As the six men rode toward Coffeyville, they passed others heading to the fields or different towns. The gang would nod and tip their hats, and the others would do the same. The gang looked like any other group of people traveling through the ever-growing West. The only unusual thing they did different was to enter the town via the alley instead of the main street. But even that didn't draw attention. After all, the main street was under construction.
During the ride, Bill Doolin made another decision. That decision would save his life. As the six men entered the alley, Bill talked to Bob.
“Bob, I’m going to stay with the horses.”
“What? Why would you do that?” Bob asked.
“In case something goes wrong, I can cover you or bring the horses to you,” Bill said.
Bob thought about it. Bill Doolin was one of the meanest people Bob Dalton had ever met. Also, Bill wasn’t afraid of anything. If someone else had said this, Bob might have suspected they were yellow, but not Bill. Plus, the idea had merit. Having to tie the horses up back here had weighed on Bob’s mind during the ride. Bill was a good shot. If a gunfight started, having Bill out here to cover them wasn’t a bad idea. He and Emmett wouldn't have a problem robbing the First National Bank without Bill being in the bank. On this last part, Bob was right.
“Okay,” Bob said. The more Bob thought about it, the more he liked the idea. Having Bill in place to shoot anyone who was chasing the gang as they left the banks and came down the alley was smart. Bill Doolin had a lot of good ideas when it came robbery.
Bob Dalton looked at his watch. It was nine-thirty on October 5, 1892. That seemed like a good time to make history. Bob and the other four men walked out of the alley toward the C.M. Condon Bank. As they neared it, Grat Dalton, Bill Power, and Dick Broadwell turned to go in. Bob and Emmett Dalton ran across the broad street toward the First National Bank.
That’s when Bill Doolin’s concern became a reality. Bob Dalton was tall and handsome. Not the kind of man many would forget, and Bob knew it. One of the people in the town recognized him. The man looked through the windows into the C.M. Condon bank. He saw that the three men who had entered that bank had pulled their guns. The witness then altered the townspeople that the banks were being robbed.
So, as the robberies were underway, in the nearby hardware stores, townspeople were loading weapons. Bill Doolin watched from the alley as the town prepared to face his friends when they came out of the banks. Inside the C.M. Condon bank, a teller lied and told Grat Dalton that the safe couldn’t be opened yet. The teller said there was a timer that only allowed entrance to the vault after a certain time. So Grat, Bill Power, and Dick Broadwell gathered whatever money they could from the drawers while waiting for the vault to open.
In the National Bank, Bob and Emmett Dalton had a better time. They gathered tens of thousands of dollars that they would never be able to spend. Bob Dalton’s spirits were high. As far as Bob knew, everything was going to plan.
Bill Doolin knew otherwise. Bill watched as a group of townsmen took up positions around the banks. Bill expected that the townsmen would wait until the gang exited the banks. Bill was wrong. Once in place, the townsmen fired shots through the windows. This was worse than anything Bill Doolin had thought could happen.
Grat Dalton asked for another exit out of the bank. The tellers informed Grat there was no other exit. That left the three men with no choice but to leave via the front. The idea of surrender never crossed their minds. Bullets were already flying. Grat knew it was do or die. "Last one to his horse is the most likely to get shot," Grat said as he ran out the door.
Bob Dalton’s luck held. The First National Bank had an exit in the back. Emmett grabbed the money they had collected; then both men exited via the back door. Bob and Emmet crossed the main street behind the C.M. Condon Bank. The buildings protected them from most of the gunfire. Then they made their way behind the buildings on the left side of the street to the alley. Once in the alley, it would be a short run to their horses, then away they would ride. The plan had fallen apart, but Bob still thought they could pull the robberies off.
Grat soon had any hope of that crushed. Marshal Connelly heard the gunfire. Connelly was a smart man who recognized that the alley was the best escape route. So, Connelly skirted around the backs of buildings on the other side of the Alley from Bob and Emmett. Connelly heard the horses and entered the alley. Connelly saw Bill Doolin on his horse. Connelly took Bill by surprise and might have killed him. Except Grat Dalton, who was coming up behind Connelly, killed him first.
Bill Doolin knew he owed his life to Grat Dalton. But Bill didn’t try to return the favor. Bill kicked his horse and began to ride. Not long after Bill Doolin cleared the ally, Bill Power reached his horse. But Power never mounted it. A bullet ended his life before he could get on the horse. Dick Broadwell was wounded but got on his horse. Dick thought he was going to get away but had not ridden far when a bullet hit him in the back. Dick held onto the horse and continued to ride. But a posse would find Dick's dead body later outside of Coffeyville.
Bob Dalton entered the alley opposite of where Marshal Connelly had died. Bob had been hit by gunfire but was still moving. Bob was not happy to see that Bill Doolin had already fled. But there was nothing Bob could do about it unless he too escaped. Bob made a run for his horse. More gunfire sent Bob to the ground, where he sat and returned fire. But, John Kloehr, one of the better shots in town, took careful aim, and John's bullet hit Bob Dalton. This wound was serious and caused Bob to stop shooting.
Grat Dalton was angry and afraid. Grat ran past Connelly’s dead body. Almost to the horses, Grat turned and fired back at the town. John Kloehr’s rifle barked again, killing Grat Dalton. Emmett, still hiding behind buildings, could only watch as another brother died.
Emmett had been smart and lucky. To this point, the youngest Dalton had not been shot. Emmett raced for his horse, receiving injuries as he ran. But Emmett got on his horse. Had Emmett followed Bill Doolin's example, he might have escaped with the money. But instead of riding out of town, Emmett rode back to get Bob. Too late, Bob said, “Ride, Emmett. I’m a dead man.” On this point, Bob Dalton was right.
A blast from a shotgun to the back of Emmett Dalton knocked him off his horse. The fighting was done. Four members of the Dalton Gang were dead, and Emmett had serious gunshot wounds. But Emmett would live to stand trial and serve time for the robberies.
As for Bill Doolin, Bill rode hard to get as far away from Coffeyville as he could. Bill's escape allowed him to keep his promise to himself. Bill's next gang, formed with Bill Dalton, another of the Dalton brothers, would be the Doolin-Dalton Gang. The end of the Dalton Gang might have been the first step toward ending lawlessness in the west. Instead, Bill Doolin's decision to flee created one of the worst gangs in the West. The Doolin-Dalton Gang would become better known as The Wild Bunch, the most feared group of outlaws in the west.
Lying Dead in Coffeyville Historical Fiction Setting: Coffeyville, KS, on October 5, 1892 Prompt: Turning Point (see description) Story Word Count: 2549
This piece was written for this contest: Turning Points: A Historical Fiction Contest. There's several good pieces on the web for the attempted robberies in Coffeyville that ended the careers of most of the Dalton brothers (Bill being the exception). One of the better ones is this article from Historynet.
As the article points out, there is no way to know whether Bill Doolin or someone else, or even no one else, road with the five robbers to Coffeyville. What is clear is that the deaths in Coffeyville spurred the creation of the the Wild Bunch. Had Bill Doolin chosen to participate in the robberies, he would have almost certainly been killed. That would have meant one of the worst of gangs of the Wild West would never have come to be. Instead, Bill would continue to terrorize the West for almost four more years before meeting his own violent end in 1896.
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