February 09, 2021
With this issue loosely dedicated to self-defense, I’m departing a bit from my usual focus on a lawman, an outlaw, a hunter, or an exhibition shooter to revisit an example of how a community’s citizens came together to put an end to the lawless exploits of some infamous outlaws. I’m referring to the townsfolk of Coffeyville, Kansas.
In the 1890s, federal lawmen had been trying to capture the notorious Dalton Gang. The Daltons were robbing banks and trains all over the Oklahoma Territory and keeping things in a general state of unrest. Wells Fargo had sent in Fred Dodge, its best investigator. Dodge and Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas joined up and started to tighten the net around the Daltons. In October 1892, Thomas, Dodge, and a handpicked posse were hot on the gang’s trail. Before daylight on the morning of October 5th, the posse hit the gang’s camp, only to find that they had fled sometime during the night. While the posse was resting up and cooking breakfast, a citizen from Coffeyville, Kansas, rode in and told them the gang had just been gunned down on the streets of the town. Here’s how it unfolded.
Under Bob Dalton’s direction, the gang had planned to rob two banks in Coffeyville at the same time: the First National Bank and the C.M. Condon & Co. Bank. The banks were on opposite sides of Union Street.
As the five robbers (Bob, Emmett, and Grat Dalton, Bill Powers, and Dick Broadwell) emerged from an alley onto the plaza, they were recognized by a storekeeper. Grat, Powers, and Broadwell entered the Condon Bank while Bob and Emmett crossed the street and approached the First National Bank. Street work was being done at the time, and one of the workers noticed the men with their rifles and yelled, “The Daltons are robbing the bank!” Very soon half the businessmen around the plaza knew what was going on, and the message quickly passed throughout the town.
By the time Grat, Powers, and Broadwell had taken possession of the loot at the Condon Bank, Bob and Emmett had taken all they could get at the First National Bank and were coming out the bank’s entrance when an American Express agent saw them and opened fire with his revolver. The Daltons headed back into the bank.
In the meantime, two hardware stores had passed out guns to local citizens, and they began firing through the windows at the Condon Bank. The three robbers now trapped there returned fire, and several citizens were wounded in the exchange.
Meanwhile, Bob and Emmett ran out the backdoor of the First National Bank, where they were confronted by a citizen. Bob shot him dead and shot two more citizens as he and Emmett made their way down the alley toward their horses.
By then, Grat, Powers, and Broadwell had exited the Condon Bank and met up with Bob and Emmett in the alley.
As the gang made their way east down the alley toward the horses, town Marshal Charles T. Connelly hurried through a livery stable into the alley and ran west toward the plaza without noticing the bandits behind him. Grat shot him in the head, killing him. Behind Connelly was John Kholer, still in the stable. Grat saw him, but before he could aim, Kholer shot Grat in the throat.
Taking fire from the hardware store, Bob was hit in the head and the heart. He died instantly. Powers tried to mount his horse, but shots from the store also killed him. Emmett was able to mount his horse unwounded and began riding away, but he was eventually hit in the back with a load of buckshot. Broadwell was hit several times but managed to escape. He was found dead two miles away.
Grat and Bob Dalton, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers were all killed. Emmett Dalton received 23 gunshot wounds, survived, and was later given a life sentence in the Kansas State Penitentiary, of which he served 14 years before being pardoned.
The Dalton Gang was a vicious crew of cutthroats and bandits who stopped at nothing, including the murder of innocents, to satisfy their nefarious needs. But when they came up against a town with citizens who were determined to defend themselves and protect what was theirs, the Dalton Gang didn’t stand a chance.