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Rebuilding History

Leaving the Old Old

The Dalton Gang hideout is a well-preserved piece of history several hours drive from the Texas Panhandle. Located in Mede, Kansas, the small two story house belonged to the gang’s sister and her husband. A tunnel runs under the side yard into the horse barn and corral, which is now an interesting museum.

dalton gang house

Today the tunnel is cemented with stone sides for safety purposes, but it’s still in the exact location. Interviews with old timers document memories of playing in the tunnel when they were children.  As I walked through the narrow tunnel from the house back to the barn, I imagined men scurrying to their horses with spurs jingling and pistols at the ready as mounted law enforcement reined in at the front door. The musty smell of the underground tunnel and sweet smell of hay, the shouts of voices from long ago isn’t that hard to imagine, or it may have been the ghost that I heard. Reports of voices and items in the gift shop being rearranged leave many to believe the tunnel and house are haunted.

dalton gang tunnel

Dodge City

By contrast, about 45 minutes North on Highway 283 is the town of Dodge City, Kansas. Yes, THAT Dodge City! In 1967, the town council voted to participate in the government’s urban renewal and accepted funds to tear down the original “Front Street”.

The famously historic Front Street, where lawmen like Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Bill Tilghman worked to tame the wildest town in the west, is now a parking lot. About two blocks away is the impressive Boot Hill Museum and a rebuilt Front Street. The highway was widened, but the proposed hotel and pedestrian malls were never completed. As one area historian told me, where the famous Long Branch Saloon once stood is now the spot for that Honda Civic. The poor ghostly souls are left with an empty parking lot during the haunting hours.

Stepping into the Past

Walking the actual ground of history is a must for writers. As I explore old forts and settlements and historic homes, I try to imagine the sights, sounds, smells of the time. I try to imagine the people within those walls and their day-to-day lives, loves, heartaches and joy. Human emotion hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

 As I walk the ground, I can’t help but think of the countless volunteers, county boards and local historians who work to preserve these places of our past. It’s important that their efforts can become part of a writer’s research and inspiration. Historical writers work really hard to convey these sensations through words on the page with stories that transcend time and have the ability to transport readers into the worlds of our creation.

The Dalton Gang hideout tunnel goes from the house on the left, under the side yard to the right ending in the barn and corral, now a museum.

The Dalton Gang hideout tunnel goes from the house on the left, under the side yard to the right ending in the barn and corral, now a museum.