Dodge City Kansas: Midwest Meets The Wild West

History is all about the famous and the infamous. Every time period has people and places of considerable notoriety. Dodge City Kansas is exactly one of those notorious places filled with many infamous people. Along the Old Santa Fe Trail, Fort Dodge and later Dodge City itself, was a prominent stop.

Let’s Go Learn Things about Dodge City, Kansas….

Fall in love with Kansas

Beautiful Kansas prairie
The prairie has a beauty all its own. Photo credit Patrick Emerson

One of my primary reasons for following the Old Santa Fe Trail across the country was to find interesting destinations in overlooked regions. Let’s be honest, most cross-country travelers dread the miles across Nebraska, Kansas or Oklahoma (depending on which route you choose). I intend to change that perception. Certainly the terrain is mostly flat prairie and plains. But that has a unique beauty if you are open to it.

Midwest transitions to the West

If you Google “Midwest States” Kansas just makes the cut in the far southwest corner of the region. Kansas is a unique transitional state between Midwest agricultural heartland and Western rambling rangeland. Since 1865 Dodge City, Kansas has been an essential crossroads for this transition.

Dodge City Kansas History and Legends

Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty, James Arness, John Wayne….Dodge City abounds with history and characters, some real, some fictional. Dodge City has a “checkered” past and they are proud to share it with you.

Santa Fe Trail and Beyond

Santa Fe Trail marker Fort Larned
Santa Fe Trail Marker at Fort Larned

Dodge City’s existence is due to the Old Santa Fe Trail, so that is the best place to start. If you do the math from this marker at Fort Larned, Dodge City was 345 miles from the starting point of Independence, MO. With the destination of Santa Fe still 481 miles away, you were  not quite halfway.

This portion of the Santa Fe Trail followed
the Arkansas River and required several crossings. It was riff with Indian attacks as the settlers trespassed across the home of Kiowa, Cheyenne and Apache tribes. By 1865 the U.S. military built Fort Dodge as a post for protection and trading along the commerce trail.

Beyond the Santa Fe Trail

However, the Fort left some souls feeling confined. In 1872 George Hoover established the actual town of Dodge City, Kansas. Tired of the alcohol-free Fort Dodge, he marked off the legal 5 miles and set up shop selling whiskey. Of course, as they say….The rest is history…

Dodge City Santa Fe Trail Boot Hill Distillery Whiskey
It is only fitting that Boot Hill Distillery now sells their whiskey near George Hoover’s spot


Fortunately, for Dodge City, as one mode of transportation passed away a new mode for commerce took hold. In 1883 the railroad came to town. Like all the towns along the Santa Fe Trail, the arrival of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe would change the landscape forever.  The traders who had plied the miles of the Santa Fe Trail now had access to the railroad. For two short years, Dodge City boomed with the new found market of buffalo hides. Buffalo were mercilessly hunted across the prairie and plains and brought into trading posts such as Dodge City. With a record shipping of 850,000 buffalo hide in these two years, it is no wonder that the buffalo soon disappeared.

Santa Fe Trail trading posts
A buffalo hide press in a trading post. Hides were compressed and packaged for a train ride to the east coast
Santa Fe Railroad
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad

Dodge City Depot

If you are a train geek, Kansas is your destination. Across the state I learned so much at these historic depots. Dodge City was one of the best restored and utilized sites. The central entrance and original Harvey House Lobby are still used today by Amtrak trains. Many of the hotel rooms are now office space and the Harvey Girls dorms are lovingly used as the local dinner theater. 

Fred Harvey the pioneer hotelier would be proud

Boot Hill Museum

Boot Hill Museum is a centerpiece of historic Dodge City, KS. I was visiting after their bustling summer season so Front Street was hushed. But in the summer the Museum pops with reenactors along the dirt streets and lounging in the replica stores and saloons. 

Even in the quiet fall season the museum is packed with history and artifacts from the heydays of Dodge City. I was quite impressed with the research and details that went into these structures and displays. 

A special Thank You and shoutout to my private tour guide Zachariah.

Boot Hill Dodge City Kansas Santa Fe Trail
My young tour guide for Boot Hill. A true budding historian.

Dodge City Kansas Today

Dodge City Trail of Fame
Matt Dillon stands guard over the Dodge City Depot on the Trail of Fame

Dodge City Kansas is working towards a balance of the historic and the contemporary. As with most small towns across the Midwest this is a work in progress. What I found was a tourism board with a deep knowledge of their historic community and a passion to make sure you enjoy your visit. I also discovered an entrepreneurial spirit busily investing in the downtown.

Drinking in Dodge City?

Distillery

Boot Hill Distillery Dodge City Santa Fe Trail
Boot Hill Distillery is a classy throwback saloon

Brewery

Dodge City Brewing
Dodge City Brewing

Coffee

Dodge City Victuals

It goes without saying that beef is a popular item on the menu in Dodge City. The town has several great steak places and a strong showing of TexMex options. I stumbled upon my favorite dining spot of the whole trip at the local country club. Prime on the Nine was the best food and friendliest staff in all of Kansas. So good, I returned for a second night. 

Prime on the Nine Dodge City Kansas along Santa Fe Trail
OK Dodge City had plenty of food choices, but I fell in love with Prime on the NIne. This is chicken fried steak!!

Casino and Arena

Trail of Fame

Dodge City boasts a Trail of Fame. Bronzes and sidewalk plaques (like the Hollywood Walk of Fame) commemorate the real and fictional characters.

Dodge City Days and Rodeos

My hosts from the Dodge City Tourism Board convinced me to return in the summer for Dodge City Days and the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo. Both are world renowned events. During Dodge City Days cowboys actually drive the cattle through the streets. 

“Get the Heck Into Dodge!”

This is their motto in Dodge City, Kansas and I heartily agree. Kansas is a long state to drive across. But a stop in Dodge City definitely puts the fun into your trek. For all those snowbirds road tripping to sunny environs, don’t skip Dodge City. Check in with the staff at Visit Dodge City for help with your visit.

  • Disclosure: I was hosted by Visit Dodge City for this visit. All opinions are my own. 

Be sure to read more about my trip following the Santa Fe Trail, and sign up for my newsletter to keep  up with all the places to Go Learn Things.

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Dodge City fun along Santa Fe Trail

4 thoughts on “Dodge City Kansas: Midwest Meets The Wild West”

  1. Love this – I’ve never really been to Kansas,,,,,but it’s on my list. This post makes me want to get it done

    1. Thank you Jai, Kansas is a state to take your time hunting for hidden gems, and friendly people.

  2. We went through Kansas when we drove Route 66 but that road only cuts the corner so only around 12 miles actually go through Kansas!

    1. Yes, I chose the Santa Fe Trail to highlight some other areas than the typical Route 66. I actually really enjoyed Kansas

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