Dodge City’s history began with the establishment of Fort Dodge in 1865. Its purpose was to protect wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail and to serve as a supply base for troops involved in the Indian Wars to the south.
Dodge City was founded in 1872 just west of the military reservation. It quickly became a trade center for buffalo hunters and travelers. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached Dodge City in September of 1872, assuring the town’s continued existence.
For the first few years, there was no local law enforcement and the military had no jurisdiction over the town, so lawlessness reigned. Arguments between buffalo hunters, railroad workers, drifters and soldiers quickly led to shootings. This created a need for a local burial ground – Boot Hill Cemetery.
The buffalo were gone by 1876, but a new source of revenue for Dodge City soon arrived in the form of Longhorn cattle from Texas. During the next 10 years, over 5 million head were driven up the western branch of the Chisholm Trail to Dodge City. Cowboys from the cattle drives, many of whom were former confederate soldiers, and the soldiers from Fort Dodge were kept away form each other. Peace officers, such as Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Bill Tilghman, Charlie Basset and others helped maintain the law during Dodge City’s early years.
The cattle industry is still vitally important to the town’s economy. In 1874, a hardy winter wheat called “Turkey Red” was introduced into Kansas quickly turned most of the state from grazing land into crop land. As the town grew, the “wild west” slowly disappeared. Boot Hill was gone by 1880 and Fort Dodge closed in 1882. (Fort Dodge has been a Kansas State Soldiers’ Home since 1889.) By 1885, the cattle drives had stopped, but this illustrious period in Dodge City’s history gave the town international fame.