Mom grew up in Dodge City with her folks and older brother. Both siblings left town for a while before coming back to the area. Uncle Lee and his family moved back to Dodge and Mom and our family moved to Great Bend. Once we moved back to Kansas, we spent many weekends in Dodge.
We stayed with Mom’s folks when we visited, sleeping in the back bedroom. There were two twin beds in that room that we would push together and we’d all pile in. Dad got to sleep in the crack between the beds and the rest of us just found a place around him.
When my brother and I got older, Dad got pushed out to the couch in the living room. That only lasted once and the four of us ended up moving to the basement where there was a “big” full-sized bed.
Grandma and Grandpa’s house was at the top of a hill and at the bottom was the train depot. During WWII, celebrities would come through on the train and the town would come out to see them. Harry Truman even came through when he was president!
By the time we moved back to Kansas and visited Dodge City, there weren’t any more famous people coming through by train – but the trains still ran. Late at night you could hear the train whistles in the distance. For some reason, that was a comforting sound for me. It was a haunting, lonesome sound late at night, but I knew that there was someone else awake and moving around. Now, I have train tracks a half a block away from my house and the sound isn’t quite as haunting! Now, it’s just loud!
I had seven cousins to run around with in Dodge – six girls and one boy. The oldest four were a year apart and I came along a year after the youngest, so we were pretty stair-step cousins. Whenever we were in Dodge, arrangements would be made for me to spend time with “the girls”.
Lots of times, we would be given a quarter each and sent off to Boot Hill where we could wander through the “cemetery” where the bad guys would be hung in the “hanging tree” – an old dead tree with a noose hanging from one of the lower branches. Supposedly, the outlaws would then be buried under the tree – with their boots on! There were a few “boot toes” sticking up from the ground so we knew the bad guys were there.
The old Boot Hill museum was a great place to hang out! They had stuffed Siamese twin calves connected at the spine. It was like two calves stuck together – one on top of the other – two heads and eight legs!
There was a saloon where we could belly up to the bar and order root beer. In the evening, the saloon had dancing girls and a piano player. I’m thinking that the piano play was a dentist or an optometrist during the day. His wife was Miss Kitty at night, in charge of the dancing girls. There was even a general store down the street and a stagecoach you could ride down to the park and back. They had a shoot out every afternoon and you could see the bad guys get shot up by the town marshal and his posse!
One of my favorite memories, however, was when we discovered that there was a “Men Only” section of the museum. For a nickel, you could watch a movie of Dancing Girls, but it was not for ladies! You looked through these binocular-like things. They looked like those old stereopticon things that you looked through to see 3D pictures. A nickel would go into the slot and music would start playing and you could watch this old movie.
Somehow, the two youngest cousins were designated as lookouts while the older three got to watch the movie first. If anyone looked like they were going to come into the room, we were supposed to let the older girls know and we’d beat a retreat.
There were a lot of whoops and hollers from the older girls watching the movie while Dianne and I had to wait our turn. When we finally got to watch the movie, there was a lot of laughter from the older girls while we watched a line of women wearing barrels dancing around a stage. I had somehow been expecting a little more!
Boot Hill has changed a lot since those days – as has Dodge City. Grandma’s house was moved off her hill and the old Front Street was finally torn down. The character of the city has evolved. It’s still a great place to visit but the two headed calf is gone and I’m afraid the hanging tree finally met its match!