#2 Dodge City, Kansas
Dodge City is among the best-known towns of the Old West, thanks in no small part to the popularity of Gunsmoke.
But the rugged cattle town was far more than just a convenient setting for a TV show. Dodge City was the real deal, alive with all the elements we associate with the era—cattle and cowboys, outlaws and lawmen, saloons and shady ladies.
Legions of local preservationists ensure that the Old West lives on in the “Queen of the Cow Towns.”
Dodge City today has nearly 28,000 residents, yet it hosted nearly 150,000 visitors last year during the 140th anniversary of the town’s founding. (Just imagine what will happen for the 150th!)
What did those folks get to see?
Among the town’s historic buildings are: the George Hinkle House (circa 1880), the Hardesty House at Boot Hill Museum (1878), the First Presbyterian Church (1880) and the St. Cornelius Episcopal Church (1898).
Dodge City is also home to nearly two dozen locally designated landmarks, as well as 11 historic sites listed on the National Register.
Boot Hill Museum shares information on virtually all aspects of the town’s heritage—American Indian culture, Fort Dodge, the railroads and, of course, many of the colorful characters who once lived here.
The museum inducts five new members into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame every year, and it is recognized as one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas History.”
Last year’s Dodge City Days, a 10-day festival organized by the Chamber of Commerce, featured the 52nd annual Western Parade, a Country Western concert, the 20th annual Backyard Barbeque Contest, the 17th annual Western Art Show, a chuckwagon breakfast and five nights of rodeo action, among many other activities.
But perhaps one of the biggest tells that Dodge City is truly a special kind of Old West heritage town is singer, songwriter and cowboy poet Allen Bailey. As Dodge City’s official marshal and unofficial goodwill ambassador, Bailey always dresses in period clothing when he gives presentations and tours of Dodge City, which he also promotes on his weekly radio show.
For years, the town has attracted visitors through its impressive Trail of Fame Walking Tour, where markers, medallions and statues commemorate some of Dodge City’s notable residents, both fictional and historical. A statue of the gunfighting dentist Doc Holliday and a medallion to honor legendary lawman Hamilton “Ham” Bell are currently in the works for the trail.
Even more, Dodge City has been working with the National Parks Service to develop the Great Western Cattle Trail. A feasibility study has been presented to the legislature; passage is expected this spring. (Fingers crossed!)