Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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There really was a Long Branch in Dodge City, but no Miss Kitty

In the fabled “Gunsmoke” television series, the Long Branch Saloon was the favored hangout and chief watering hole of Marshal Dillon, Chester, Festus, Doc, and most of the other main characters. It was owned by the dazzling but business savvy “Miss Kitty” — Kitty Russell, as I recall. It was, depending on the mood of the moment and the plot of the show, a convivial place filled with music, fun, card players, lovely ladies, and hard working trail hands, town merchants, and company.

In real life, there was a Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas. It was started by partners Chalk Beeson and W.H. Harris in 1878. They sold it to Luke Short in 1883. Beeson, a music lover who had come to Dodge City from Denver, even employed a full orchestra to play at the Long Branch.

The wonderful book I have which discusses life in Dodge City and other Kansas cowtowns has a small, faded photograph of the interior of the Long Branch. No date is given for the photo. It shows two bartenders standing behind a long bar along the right hand side of the photo, with a mirror behind the bar and some longhorn steer horns on the wall. The left hand wall of the long, narrow building has some paintings or photos hanging there, and the back part of the room has a scattering of chairs with six or seven men seated and standing, obviously looking toward the photographer who appears to have stood just inside the door to get the picture. There are a couple of small light fixtures of some sort hanging from the ceiling. On the back wall, behind the group of men, is a large rack of deer or elk antlers mounted just above head level.

Throughout that book, there are stirring accounts of some shootouts in the Long Branch, and a couple of accounts of women arrested there for prostitution. Very colorful place, was the Long Branch.

But, alas, there was no Miss Kitty. And as wonderfully iconic as James Arness became acting the part, there was no Marshal Matt Dillon.

Oh, the book? In case you’re interested it’s “Great Gunfighters of the Kansas Cowtowns, 1867-1886,” by Nyle H. Miller and Joseph W. Snell (University of Nebraska Press: 1967). If you can find a copy, I highly recommend it. It’s filled with stories about all the stuff in the book’s title. Each account in the book is backed up with liberal quotations from contemporary newspapers and court records. Great stuff!

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