Doomed Daltons

By Nate Hendley

Dalton_Gang_memento_mori_1892

(Photo: The Dalton Gang, after the raid)

The Dalton Gang were a group of Old West bandits doomed by their own daring.

The Gang consisted of brothers Bob, Grat and Emmett Dalton, augmented by additional outlaws, Bill Doolin, Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers.

By the early 1890s, the Dalton Gang had established quite a reputation for successfully robbing trains and raising mayhem. The bandits were tough and violent, and often compared with the James-Younger Gang, headed by Jesse James and his brother, who terrorized the West in the 1870s.

In 1892, Bob Dalton came up with an audacious plan: the Dalton Gang would rob two banks at the same time, in broad daylight. The banks Bob had in mind were the First National Bank and the C.M. Condon Bank in the boys’ old hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas.

In later interviews, Emmett stated that Bob was motivated by a burning desire to outdo the James-Younger Gang. Jesse James and his crew had pulled off many daring feats, but never did they try to rob two places in the same town at the same time. And for good reason, as it turned out.

On October 2, 1892, the six members of the Dalton Gang set out on horseback. The men wore long coats and were heavily armed, with revolvers and Winchester rifles. They reached the vicinity of Coffeyville after two days of riding. On the morning of October 5, 1892, they set out for Coffeyville. Doolin discovered his horse had gone lame and left the group to find a replacement. This turned out to be an incredibly lucky break for the outlaw.

Around 9 am, Grat Dalton, Powers and Broadwell entered the Cordon Bank while Bob and Emmett Dalton entered the First National Bank.

Things began to go wrong almost right away. For a start, the townspeople of Coffeyville were not easily intimidated. Shortly after the Dalton Gang took over the two banks, Coffeyville residents armed themselves and began shooting at the bank windows. Gang members stole what they could then raced outside, exchanging gunfire with the locals.

Here’s an excerpt from my book American Gangsters: Then and Now, describing what happened next:

Bob and Emmett raced north, then went west on Eighth Street, past a grocery store. Looking south, they saw Coffeyville residents peppering the Condon Bank with gunfire. Figuring the townspeople might not notice them in all the confusion, Bob and Emmett hit the open street, racing with the money-sack to their horses. A resident named George Cubine, armed with a pistol, spotted the two brothers. Cubine was standing on the street with Charles Brown, an older man who did not have a gun on him. Cubine fired at the two Dalton brothers and missed. Bob and Emmett both fired back and killed the man. Brown tried to retrieve Cubine’s revolver but was shot dead by Bob.
The gunplay with Cubine and Brown drew the attention of the townspeople who had been concentrating on the Condon Bank. Cashier Ayers and his son and a third man ran into the hardware store and grabbed weapons. Ayers secured a rifle, which he positioned through the door jamb, aiming at Bob and Emmett down the street. Bob spotted the cashier and reacted first. He fired a shot that hit Ayers in the head, seriously wounding him.

Bob and Emmett kept running. A clerk named Mat Reynolds jumped out from the front door of the hardware store. Looking south, he missed Bob and Emmett (who were heading north). Reynolds aimed his rifle at the three men rushing from the Condon Bank. He levelled his weapon and fired, hitting Bill Powers. Critically wounded, but still on his feet, Powers cursed and shot back at Reynolds, wounding him in the foot.
Grat, Broadwell and the badly wounded Powers raced down the alley where they had left their horses. There was a livery stable connected to the alley owned by Coffeyville resident John Kloehr. Hearing the commotion, Kloehr grabbed a rifle and began rushing towards the spot where the Dalton gang had tied their horses.

Skipping ahead a bit, things continue to go poorly for the Gang:

By this point, Emmett was the last man standing. He had managed to mount his horse, but didn’t realize his brother, Bob was dying. The horses next to Emmett, belonging to Bob and Powers were both shot and killed, but Emmett stayed mounted. Emmett took a round in the arm then another bullet pierced his hips. It was only as he started to ride out of town that he noticed Bob wasn’t with him. Emmett turned his horse and raced to where Bob lay by the shed. He leaned over his critically injured brother just as Seaman let loose with both barrels of his shotgun. Emmett was hit in the back and fell off his horse, landing next to his dying brother.

In the end, everyone in the Dalton raiding party except Emmett were killed. Emmett somehow managed to survive to bear witness to the spectacular failure of the Dalton Gang’s double-bank robbery.

American Gangsters is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Books and publisher ABC-CLIO.

(Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based author and writer. Click on this link for information on his books. Click here for his website)

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