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Dragging Wyatt Earp

Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Ohio University Press,
Pages: 236
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    Dragging Wyatt Earp
    Book Description:

    In Dragging Wyatt Earp essayist Robert Rebein explores what it means to grow up in, leave, and ultimately return to the iconic Western town of Dodge City, Kansas. In chapters ranging from memoir to reportage to revisionist history, Rebein contrasts his hometown's Old West heritage with a New West reality that includes salvage yards, beefpacking plants, and bored teenagers cruising up and down Wyatt Earp Boulevard. Along the way, Rebein covers a vast expanse of place and time and revisits a number of Western myths, including those surrounding Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the Cheyenne chief Black Kettle, George Armstrong Custer, and of course Wyatt Earp himself. Rebein rides a bronc in a rodeo, spends a day as a pen rider at a local feedlot, and attempts to "buck the tiger" at Dodge City's new Boot Hill Casino and Resort. Funny and incisive, Dragging Wyatt Earp is an exciting new entry in what is sometimes called the nonfiction of place. It is a must- read for anyone interested in Western history, contemporary memoir, or the collision of Old and New West on the High Plains of Kansas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8040-4052-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-10)

    Christmas Eve 1990. I’m in a car on my way west across Kansas, the heart of it all, the prairie-bound stomach of the country, headed for a white-frame farmhouse where I know one light still burns in the kitchen. Outside, a cold, dry winter has set in. The Flint Hills are brown. Six states lay stretched out behind me. And I’m thinking, Here comes full circle, here comes the loop the ropers say you rebuild every time it gets tangled. From the horse’s back you rebuild it, hand over hand, loop upon loop, until all the rope is in.



    • House on Wheels
      (pp. 13-32)

      The house I grew up in was a sprawling brick affair with a four-car garage, a fenced-in patio, and wide lawns of fescue that stretched off on either side of a concrete driveway that more than one neighbor half-jokingly described as “a parking lot.” It was an impressive house, to be sure, but also a little odd. That oddity had to do, at least in part, with the neighborhood where the house was located, which was full of much smaller, two- and three-bedroom bungalows compared to which our five-bedroom house looked like a bloated mansion. But even more than this,...

    • In the Land of Crashed Cars and Junkyard Dogs
      (pp. 33-56)

      When I was a boy growing up in western Kansas, my father and his older brother, Harold, owned an auto body salvage yard in the sand hills south of Dodge City. The place was called B & B Auto Parts, or, more simply, B & B. That was the name of the business when they bought it in 1966, and that’s the name it retains to this day, long after they sold it and my father returned to full-time farming and ranching. I remember, as a very small boy, asking my mother what the name stood for and why they never bothered...

    • The Identity Factory
      (pp. 57-75)

      “Never forget who and, more importantly, what you are,” Monsignor Husman said, shaking a white finger at us where we sat in the front pews of the old mission-style church a mile east of Dodge City’s infamous Boot Hill. “Just because you’re going over to the junior high next year doesn’t mean you can ignore everything you’ve been taught and start acting like a bunch of little fools. You’re one of us. You represent us. Is that understood?”

      “Yes, Monsignor,” we intoned as one.

      It was the spring of 1979, a few weeks before graduation at Sacred Heart Cathedral School,...

    • Dragging Wyatt Earp
      (pp. 76-90)

      Hear the words Dodge City, Kansas, these days and you’re apt to think, depending on your age, either of a moribund 1970s TV series—the wildly fictitious Gunsmoke, featuring Miss Kitty, Festus, and Marshal Matt Dillon—or else of a favorite phrase of screen hacks and gleeful, road-tripping frat boys: Let’s get the hell out of Dodge! Few are the souls who would hear the town’s name and think of the real Dodge City, self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World,” with its beef packing plants and used car lots and the tired tones of boosterism (“Come Grow with Us!”) emanating...

    • Photographs
      (pp. None)

    • The Greatest Game Country on Earth
      (pp. 93-108)

      Before I knew anything of his Civil War record or iconic death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, I knew George Armstrong Custer as a hunter on the plains of Kansas. This knowledge was conferred on me in fourth or fifth grade, during a field trip my classmates and I took to Old Fort Dodge, a few miles east of our dusty and denuded hometown. After pointing out the windblown parade ground and squat, stone barracks, our tour guide, a man so consumed by wrinkles it seemed to me he might have known Custer personally, led us into Sutler’s...

    • Sisyphus of the Plains
      (pp. 109-122)

      Every summer between the ages of twelve and seventeen, I worked for my father on the farm he bought in his early forties as part of a larger, midlife upheaval I had no way of understanding at the time. Buying the Knoeber place was a return of sorts for my father, who grew up on a farm and still had farming in his blood despite the decade he’d spent managing an auto body salvage yard in town. But for the rest of our large family, particularly those of us who followed the old man out to the Knoeber place to...

    • A Most Romantic Spot
      (pp. 123-136)

      August 2005. Just past dawn on a clear, crisp morning, I leave my parents’ ranch on Sawlog Creek and head west across the plains toward Colorado. Later the air will turn hot, but for now I leave the windows on my Jeep Cherokee rolled down so I can feel the wind in my face and smell the alfalfa drying in the bottom ground lining the Arkansas River. The day before, I had stood in my driveway in Indianapolis, trying to explain to my eight-year-old daughter that I was off to visit a couple of Indian villages I had been reading...

    • The Search for Quivira
      (pp. 137-150)

      I first became aware of the Coronado expedition in the middle of third grade, when my teacher, a young nun named Sister Fidel Marie, took our class on a tour of the stained glass windows in Dodge City’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. Most of the saints depicted in the windows—Frances Cabrini, Martin de Porres, Rose of Lima—were New World saints of a fairly recent vintage, Sister informed us. However, only one of them had walked the very ground where we now stood.

      “Which one?” we demanded to know.

      “Father Padilla,” Sister said, pointing to a blue window in the...


    • Horse Latitudes
      (pp. 153-163)

      The worst month of my life was spent in an unairconditioned hotel room in Kairouan, Tunisia, in September 1989. I had no friends and no money, an unfinished master’s thesis hanging over my head, and a case of dysentery so bad I might have died had the hotel staff not forced me to drink cup after cup of salted rice water. Throughout my weeks-long illness, I could hear the sounds of horse-drawn carts echoing in the cobblestone streets just beneath my window. Clippity clop, clip-pity clop, clippity clop … Sometimes, when a cart was parked directly in front of the...

    • Wild Horses
      (pp. 164-176)

      We were on a picnic in a far-flung part of the ranch, a thousand-acre pasture called Name Rock because of the many names and dates, some of them from pioneer days, that had been carved into the limestone bluffs at the property’s west end. My wife’s mother, Andra, was with us that day and had offered to watch our two children, ages eight and four, if Alyssa and I wanted to go for a ride together, something we had not been able to do since before our son was born. Living in Indiana, we visited the ranch only a couple...

    • Feedlot Cowboy
      (pp. 177-200)

      I set the alarm on my cell phone for 3:45 a.m., but anticipation had me up and throwing hay to the horses half an hour before that. Bill Hommertzheim, manager of the southwestern Kansas feedlot where I planned to spend the day as a pen rider, had told me to report for work at 6:30 sharp, and since the ranch was every bit of a hundred miles away, I knew I’d have to get an early start if I was going to make it on time. While the horses ate, I checked over the saddles and other tack I had...

    • How to Ride a Bronc
      (pp. 201-215)

      Growing up around horses and ranch people does not guarantee that one will develop an interest in rodeo, any more than growing up around snow guarantees an interest in skiing. However, having this background does at least admit the possibility of such an interest taking root; and should the interest happen to grow, metastasizing to the point at which others begin to doubt one’s mental equilibrium, well, then, at least one knows where to go to find people capable of aiding and abetting one in the craziness.

      “Am I nuts or what?” I asked Kent Crouch, the Dodge City Community...

  8. Epilogue THE CASINO
    (pp. 216-226)

    I had been hearing about the Boot Hill Casino and Resort for months before I finally worked up the enthusiasm to visit the place. Friends and relatives in Kansas would call or e-mail me with equal parts alarm and excitement, saying things like, “Oh my God, you’ve got to see this monstrosity!” or “If you’re looking for something to write about, this is it.”

    But I would demur, telling them and myself that I had no interest in gambling, was “constitutionally incapable” of placing even a modest bet.

    “You’re interested in Dodge, aren’t you?” one particularly adamant friend shot back...