Thursday, September 6, 2012

Confronting the Dalton Gang

One of my problems with history is organizing various historical events in my mind in relation to each other.  When I picture the wealthy women of the Gilded Age arriving for a party at one of the mansions along 5th Avenue wearing their long strands of pearls and exotic feathers artfully arranged in their hair, it is hard for me to place them chronologically alongside prairie women raising their children in a dugout.  Yet, they shared the same period in history.  One of the interesting experiences in researching and writing the book about Isaac B. Werner was putting the events of Isaac's time together like pieces of a puzzle.
When I told my husband that I was writing this blog about the Dalton Gang, he asked, "Were they robbing banks in Isaac's time?"  The answer is, "Yes, they were."  The County Capital, to which Isaac subscribed, reported the Coffyville bank robbery on the front page of its October 7, 1892 issue.

The days of the notorious outlaws of the American West had nearly ended by the time the Dalton brothers began robbing trains.  However, they were continuing a sort of family tradition, since the Younger brothers who rode with Jesse James had been their first cousins.  Jesse James was known for robbing banks, and it was said that Bob Dalton decided to cement his outlaw reputation by doing something Jesse James never did--robbing two banks at once in broad daylight.

The bodies of the Dalton Gang
Perhaps they chose their hometown for the site of the dual robbery because of its familiarity to them, but whatever the reason, it was a bad idea.  They had hardly entered Coffeyville the morning of October 5, 1892 when they were recognized, despite the false beards they wore.  The gang consisted of Bob, Grat, and Emmett Dalton, and two other outlaws named Dick Broadwell and Bill Power.  Three of them went to the C. M. Condon Bank and two entered the First National Bank on what proved to be the last day of their lives for all but Emmett.
Oldest brother Frank Dalton
However, this is not a post about these bank robbers.  Instead, it is a story of two lawmen.  Ironically, the oldest of the Dalton brothers was a Deputy US Marshal who served honorably and was killed when he attempted to arrest a horse thief in the Oklahoma Territory on November 27, 1888.  His brothers chose to follow in their older brother's footsteps, but their service was not so honorable, and they traded their badges for the outlaw life that killed all but one of them.
The rest of this story is about Town Marshal Charles T. Connelly, who rushed to defend  his town when the Dalton Gang rode into Coffeyville.  The members of the gang tried to make their get-away, but getting to their horses that were tied in an alley complicated their escape.  Grat did reach the alley, although he was mortally wounded, and when Marshal Connelly ran into the alley from the south end, Grat let him pass and then shot him in the back at close range. 
Charles T. Connelly was only 47 years old, but he had lived an admirable life, beginning when he enlisted in the Ninth Indiana at the age of 17 to serve as a Union soldier in the Civil War.  As a civilian after the war, he had been a teacher, and according to an interview his son gave the Kansas City Star, Marshal Connelly had accepted the position of high school principal and would have left his office as town marshal in a matter of days.  His son told the newspaper that his father had served for about five months, agreeing to accept the position during the summer when school was not in session.  He was approached by citizens who wanted more law and order enforced in their town, and he and the citizens thought he was a man who could get that job done quickly.
Grave stone of C. T. Connelly
Charles T. Connelly had two children with his first wife, and after her death he married again and had two more children, only one of those two still living when he was killed.  The memoriam in the Coffeyville newspaper said:  "As city marshal he discharged his duty with great courage, and absolute fidelity to the best interests of the city.  He gave his life freely in defense of the lives and property of our citizens and his faithfulness to duty will ever be held in grateful remembrance by the people of Coffeyville."
The public schools were dismissed, and students and teachers marched to the depot to met the train bearing his body, and honor guards from the GAR, the Ancient Order of United Workmen, and the Modern Woodmen marched in front of the hearse.  Charles T. Connelly was a respected man whose life was cut short by the famous Dalton Gang, whose name is remembered, while the name of the honorable marshal they shot in the back is largely forgotten.
At on the Officer Down Memorial page, Marshal Connelly is honored.  (All of the Dalton brothers were killed except Emmett, who was sentenced to life but pardoned after 14 years.  Three men who had ridden with the gang, Newcomb, Pierce, and Doolin, were not part of the Coffeyville robbery, although rumors persisted that Doolin had been there.  The reference on the Officer Down page to a shootout by the Dalton Gang a year later is unclear, as no Dalton could have been a participant. 
For an eye-witness account of the attempted bank robberies, you may visit "The Dalton Gang's Last Raid, 1892," at .
Visit for the newspaper obituary, interview of his son, and funeral accounts (also the source for the image of Connelly's grave stone). 


1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

As an avid Western Fan (Haycox, Louis L'Amour) I found this post fascinating. It was still The Old West, though it was gasping its last. The Dalton boys obviously needed to be weeded from the gene pool. Too dumb to live. Coffeyville was far enough from Isaac's homestead he was not likely to be hit by a stray bullet. The Spearville bank, held up by The Wild Bunch in early November 1892 was a little closer. It took a bit longer for all but one of them to be gunned down in various locations.
There were two peaks, if you can call them that, of lawlessness. One after the Civil War when the economy was in ruins and the armies were disbanded and the second beginning in the late 1880's as the big ranches began to break up, leaving many cowboys out of work.
An interesting side story to the breakup of the ranches is "The Hollywood Posse" by
Diana Serra Cary.