Coffeyville, Kansas, October, 5, 1892, 9:45 a.m. Five men, dressed as businessmen, rode into town. Two men wore wigs and false beards. With measured steps, they walked their mounts toward the hitching rail behind the Condon Bank on the main square. Here they paused, uncertain for a moment, because the hitching post had been removed for the construction of sidewalks.
The men looked to 23-year-old Bob Dalton, who motioned everyone to keep riding. Nearby was a hundred-yard-long alley.The group rode to the end and tethered their horses. With their shotguns in hand they dismounted and walked toward the town square. It was hunting season and long guns were not an unusual sight in Coffeyville.
After a year and a half of success robbing trains, Bob Dalton decided it was time to go into the history books by robbing two banks simultaneously, then leaving the country forever. They chose Coffeyville, a territorial financial center, for this honor.
At the town square, the gang split up. Three, Bill Powers, Dick Broadwell, and Grat Dalton, strode toward the Condon Bank. Bob and Emmett Dalton strolled toward the First National Bank.
But someone had recognized them and watched the men enter the bank, and through the plate glass window saw them brandish their weapons at the tellers. “The bank is being robbed,” he shouted to the men in the square, who ran into the Isham’s hardware store—also on the square—and armed themselves.
The gun battle commenced when two robbers left the First National Bank. Across the square the second gun battle began soon after as townspeople fired through the bank windows.
The movements of the outlaws and town defenders over the next fifteen minutes are as well documented as any screenplay: townsmen shot in the back, mortally wounded bandits fighting on, unsteadily firing their guns.
Emmett Dalton had not been wounded in the initial gunfight and still clung to a sack of cash as he made his way into the alley. He managed to get into the saddle before he took a bullet to his arm and another to his hip and groin. He began to ride out the alley but stopped and attempted to lift his brother, Bob, onto his horse. Bob whispered, “It’s no use.” At the same time, Carey Seamen, the town barber, unloaded both barrels of his shotgun into Emmett’s back. Emmett fell from his horse and dropped the sack containing twenty-thousand dollars.
Eight men–four bandits and four citizens–died in that fifteen minutes. There were many acts of heroism that day—all are equal. But it is worth noting that liveryman John Kloehr fired the fatal shots into both Bob and Grat Dalton.
The townspeople wanted to hang Emmett Dalton on the spot, but the town doctor interceded. Emmett was taken to the doctor’s office where three bullets and twenty pieces of buckshot were removed from his body.
Emmett was tried and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned after fifteen years, principally, it seems, the result of lobbying by his mother. Subsequently, he went to California, where he prospered in the real-estate business and failed as an author of two books and as a film director. He died in 1937.
Every year on the first full weekend in October, Coffeyville celebrates Dalton Days. The raid is reenacted with superb realism. There is a street fair, citizens in costume, children’s games all day long, and a city block of classic cars get a day in the sun. Dalton Days is a community event worth going out of your way for.