Police history: ‘Community policing’ in the Wild West
The Coffeyville raid of 1892 brought together the town’s marshal and civilians to battle the murderous Dalton gang
In the waning days of the Wild West, Bob Dalton had a dream of outdoing the legendary James-Younger gang. He and his brothers formed the Dalton Gang, earning a murderous reputation by robbing and killing their way across Oklahoma and California. Eventually Bob hatched a plan to rob two banks at once in the Daltons’ hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas, in a deliberate effort to out-do Frank and Jesse James.
COMMUNITY POLICING IN COFFEYVILLE
At 9 a.m. on October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang rode into Coffeyville. To fool their former neighbors, the gang wore new clothes and fake beards and mustaches. No one was fooled. Word spread like a prairie fire through Coffeyville that the Daltons were in town and heading for the banks.
Unaware that the element of surprise was lost, gang members Bob and Emmett Dalton strolled with a confident nonchalance into the First National Bank, while the rest of the gang, Dick Broadwell, Bill Powers and Grat Dalton, entered the Condon Bank across the street.
Meanwhile, Marshal Charles T. Connelly, of the Coffeyville Police, had quickly recruited a dozen volunteers that gathered at the strategically located Isham’s Hardware. Those who were unarmed were provided Winchesters and ammunition by the store’s owner. In those days before Federal Depositors Insurance Corporation, if a bank’s money was stolen, it would create great hardship for the depositors, as well as the bank. The citizens of Coffeyville were saying with their actions, “You’ll take our money over our dead bodies.”
THE GANG SOWS THE WIND AND REAPS THE WHIRLWIND
Once inside the Condon Bank and after announcing the robbery, Grat Dalton was told by a cashier that the vault was on a time lock and couldn’t be opened. Before Grat could respond to this dilemma, the front windows were shattered by bullets from Connelly’s volunteers.
In the swirling storm of bullets that followed, Dalton Broadwell and Powers scooped up $1,500 and attempted to force two bank employees to form a human shield, but not even the threat of death could compel the employees to comply. The Condon Bank employees held tight to their cover as the robbers furiously returned fire at the assembled volunteers.
Inside the First National Bank, Bob and Emmett Dalton also tried to employ the human-shield tactic, but the relentless storm of gunfire proved the effort useless.
Powers, Broadwell, and Grat Dalton burst out of the bank shooting on the run. Dalton and Powers were hit immediately.
The wounded Powers frantically tried to enter a nearby store but was foiled by a locked door. Powers alternately ran for his horse, which was tied up in a nearby alley, but skid to a stop, shot dead, right next to his horse. Dalton saw his partner in crime fall and took cover under an oil tank in the alley.
Marshal Connelly, who was also a Civil War veteran, ran across a vacant lot into the alley. The marshal, probably experiencing tunnel vision, did not see Grat Dalton by the oil tank. As the marshal bent over Bill Powers, Grat shot Connelly in the back. Marshal Connelly died instantly in that alley, which would be called “Death Alley” from then on.
In the melee, Dick Broadwell leaped on his horse and spurred him on toward freedom. Livery owner John Kloehr fired a round into the criminal as Broadwell rode past him. Undoubtedly fueled by adrenaline, Broadwell did not even react to the serious wound he received and continued his flight. However, the town barber also fired a load of buckshot into the fleeing bandit. Broadwell managed to ride clear of the deadly gauntlet only to slip dead off his horse a half mile out of town.
THE BITTER END OF THE DALTON GANG
Back in the gauntlet, Bob Dalton reached “Death Alley” firing continuously at the armed citizens of Coffeyville.
Just before reaching his horse, Bob was hit by gunfire from volunteers inside Isham’s Hardware. He stumbled backward and flopped down on some piled curbstones near the jail. After catching his breath, Bob was up again, advancing as he raised his gun to John Kloehr. The intrepid livery owner shot back first, hitting Bob square in the chest, dropping the bandit.
Grat Dalton, probably fueled by anger after witnessing his brother being shot down, leapt up from his hiding spot. After he checked quickly to confirm the marshal was finished, he turned his Winchester toward the livery owner. However, Kloehr’s rifle barked first, striking Grat in the throat, killing him instantly.
Emmett Dalton was still in the fight but moving from cover to cover, slowed by the money bag he carried. It contained $20,000 (comparable to more than $550,000 today). Emmett reached his horse and climbed into his saddle but at that moment he was hit in the right arm, hip and groin by a volley of gunfire from at least six townspeople.
Undeterred by his wounds, Emmett galloped over to his brother Bob and reached down to help him up. Bob’s only response to this gesture was to declare in a raspy whisper, with his dying breath, “It’s no use.” This last tender moment between the brothers was punctuated by a shotgun blast from the town barber. The youngest of the Dalton brothers, Emmett, toppled from his horse.
The desperate gun battle was over.
THE LAST DALTON
Emmett Dalton would eventually recover from his 23 wounds to serve 14 years in prison and be given a second chance at life. After his release from prison, he lived a full, productive life as a writer/speaker/actor and died of natural causes at age 66.
During their hard-won victory, Coffeyville lost the courageous Marshal Connelly, as well three volunteers, Lucius Baldwin, Charles Brown and George Cubine. Thomas G. Ayres, T. Arthur Reynolds and Charles T. Gump all suffered wounds inflicted by the criminal Dalton Gang.
Sir Robert Peel, the twice-serving former British Prime Minister also known as the “Father of Modern Policing,” said, “Police are the public and the public are the police. The police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties that are incumbent on every citizen in the interest of community welfare and existence.”
The citizens and marshal of Coffeyville, even though they probably never heard these words, defined them. They proved that when the police are the public and the public are the police and are standing together, no criminal element can stand long against them.
Cimino A. Gunfighters: A Chronicle of Dangerous Men & Violent Death, 2016.
Marcou D. Law Dogs: Great Cops in American History, Sep 1, 2016.
Silva LA. Dressed to Kill, The Raid on Coffeyville.
Trachtman P. The Gunfighters, Jan 1, 1980.
- Police History