Dodge City’s All-Stars

Looking back, 125 years later, at the peace commission photo.
Looking back, 125 years later, at the peace commission photo.

The formation of the Dodge City Peace Commission took place 125 years ago this June, so I’m wondering, “Why all the hoopla?”

Okay, so there isn’t a whole lot of hoopla. I asked the Dodge City Convention & Visitors Bureau, Boot Hill Museum and Chamber of Commerce if the Queen of the Cowtowns had anything special planned to mark the occasion. I haven’t heard that much laughter since attending the Long Branch Variety Show. Okay, they didn’t really laugh at me, but I could hear them thinking, “Get a job!”

Not that the Peace Commission deserves anything special. Considering its all-star cast, it was a bloodless affair. That’s why Hollywood makes movies about the O.K. Corral and not the Dodge City Peace Commission. The Dodge City War fizzled into a political statement, without many consequences. (This probably explains why All the President’s Men led to an enrollment boom at journalism schools, while the Dodge City Peace Commission did little for bartending colleges.)

Basically, the Dodge City War pitted civic-minded reformers (think the Moral Majority, Kansas Chapter, of 1883) against saloon owner Luke Short when Dodge’s new mayor called for the “Suppressing of Vice and Immorality within the City of Dodge City” (just what Kansas needs, another Topeka). The reformers struck at Luke, who called in his gun-toting comrades, dubbed the Dodge City Peace Commission, to lead the protest. As a result, the cowardly reformers negotiated a truce. Short sold out a short while later and headed down to Texas.

So what did the Dodge City War and the not-that-notorious Peace Commission leave to history? Well, it left behind a historic photograph that many consider a who’s who of Old West gunfighters.

I beg to differ. I mean, look at those guys in the photograph.

Charlie Bassett: My basset hound’s in better shape than you are, Charlie. You might consider switching to a light beer at the Long Branch.

Wyatt Earp: Brave, courageous and bold? Henry Fonda? James Garner? Kurt Russell? No, he looks more like Pa Kettle.

Frank McLain: That mustache was the only thing that kept the Kansas wind from blowing you all the way to Leavenworth, Frank.

Neil (or Neal) Brown: Is that a cigar in your hand, or are you just happy to see Squirrel Tooth Alice?

W.H. Harris: Put a mustache on Orson Welles, before Orson bloated up to Charlie Bassett size, and you have W.H. Harris. Does he look ticked off, or what?

Luke Short: Short is right. Why didn’t the photographer have you seated and make Wyatt stand? And, goodness, have you no sense of style? Button that top coat button, mister!

Bat Masterson: He is the only one in the photo who looks more bored than Luke Short. Bat’s not exactly Gene Barry, but a bowler looks a lot better on Bat than on W.H. Harris.

W.F. Petillion: I can hear Wyatt and Bat grumbling, “We wanted Doc Holliday, and we got W.F. Petillion?” (How did Dundreary whiskers ever become fashionable?)

I shouldn’t talk. We all have had unflattering photographs taken of us, like that one of my grandmother and me where I look like Jerry Lewis and Granny resembles Dean Martin. Or the one I took in high school of my friend Tricia that she called “repulsive,” tore up in my hands, burned the negative and didn’t speak to me again for a year.

Tricia, by the way, looked nothing like Charlie Bassett, but I must admit, I have resembled W.H. Harris in some photos—only, I never wear bowlers.

If casting a movie about the Dodge City Peace Commission today, Johnny D. Boggs would opt for Pamela Anderson, Eva Mendes, Jennifer Aniston, Salma Hayek, Cameron Diaz, Anna Kournikova, Kim Possible and Jake Gyllenhaal.

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