19th-century Wichita was riddled with vice

08/06/2012 12:00 AM

08/06/2012 8:50 AM

By Old West standards, the age of the gunfighter was from 1865 to 1900.

Through much of that time, Wichita flourished as one of the first cowtowns in the West.

In 1872, Wichita had signs posted at all four main entrances into town.

“Everything Goes In Wichita. Leave your revolvers at police headquarters and get a check. Carrying concealed weapons strictly forbidden.”

It was the days of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.

In his book, “Wichita: The Early Years,” Craig Miner describes early Wichita first as a smelly, crowded place. During the summer of 1871, fresh buffalo hides were laid to dry along Wichita’s streets, which in turn attracted a winged flurry of bluebottle flies.

Add to that about 15,000 to 20,000 head of longhorn cattle passing through the Wichita area each week on their way to the railroad for shipping. And, cowboys — almost all carrying guns.

While Wichita leaders welcomed the commerce, they didn’t always welcome the vices that came from those who had been out on the trail for a long time, nor the potential for violence once those guys had a few drinks, played a few cards and socialized with a soiled dove or two.

And, it was from those days that Wichitans developed a long-standing attitude about their city: east Wichita was where the culture resided in the community; west Wichita was filled with vices.

In 1872 and 1873, Keno Corner was located at the corner of Main Street and Douglas Avenue.

On Jan. 20, 1930, The Wichita Eagle, in reflecting on Wichita’s cowtown days, described the corner as “the world’s vortex of bright lights, drinking, gambling, music and women. It was a seething humanity that has never been paralleled to the present day … Day and night this sweltering corner was lined on either side by unbroken rows of cow ponies tethered to the hitching rails. Horse corrals were filled to overflowing. Flimsy hotels were sleeping six and eight cattlemen to the room. Along the old board walks from saloon to gambling house, to dance hall to stores and back to saloons again, roamed hundreds of Texas men, in sombreros, chaps and high-heeled boots, looking for recreation and excitement.”

And that was why Mike Meagher was appointed city marshal. Meagher’s job was to enforce the city’s ordinance on checking a visitor’s gun at the marshal’s office on North Main.

But it was vices that paid his salary and made improvements throughout the city.

With no property or sales taxes, gambling, liquor and prostitution were taxed to finance city and county operations, including the salaries of the mayor, police and sheriff’s departments.

Men such as Wyatt Earp were hired to walk the city’s streets as police officers.

It was during the 1870s that an Illinois farm family came to Wichita, and three of the brothers soon became buffalo hunters, lawmen and Old West legends. Ed, William "Bat" and Jim Masterson, and their family settled on an 80-acre farm near Sunnydale, 14 miles northeast of Wichita.

Join the Discussion

The Wichita Eagle is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service