The bungled double bank robbery attempt by the Dalton Gang in the brothers’ old hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas, on October 5, 1892, left eight men dead and four wounded. The saga of that holdup attempt would have been Keystone Kops laughable if it hadn’t turned out so deadly. A controversial legend persists about the Daltons having “duded” themselves up with new clothes, horses, saddles and fancy pistols so that they would look respectable when they robbed two banks at the same time.
I first stumbled on this story-within-a-story in 1991 when I bought Emmett Dalton’s estate, which had gone first to his writing partner Chuck Martin, then to Oceanside, Calif., chief of police Captain Harold Davis, and then to me from Davis’ daughter. Included in Dalton’s personal effects and photos was his U.S. deputy marshal’s badge. Davis had framed the badge and a 1935 photo of Emmett Dalton presenting Martin with the badge and his engraved .44-40-caliber Colt single-action revolver, Serial No. 83073. Also framed was a March 17, 1942, letter from Martin to Davis stating that Emmett’s old colt had been “used in all robberies by the Dalton gang until the day before the Coffeyville Robbery, when the give [five] outlaws used ten brand new .45 Colts.” And Captain Davis had added to Martin’s letter: “In 1888, BOB DALTON was made a deputy by a federal district court to protect the OSAGE INDIANS from outlaws. BOB swore into office as a deputy Marshall [sic] his brother EMMETT. Later they all turned outlaws and EMMETT was the last member of the outlaw gang. CHUCK got the story and the gun, but I got his [Emmett’s] last known deputy marshall’s [sic] Badge.” I was especially intrigued by the claim that the legend of the Dalton Gang’s having bought 10 brand-new .45 Colts for the Coffeyville double bank robbery was true.
A February 1956 True West article by Chuck Martin revealed that in 1950 he had donated Emmett Dalton’s Colt No. 830763 to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, along with a February 6, 1935, statement from Emmett that ended, “This gun was carried by me until the day before the Coffeyville Robbery on Oct. 5th, 1892.” I also learned that the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles had an engraved Colt single-action .45-caliber revolver with pearl grips and blued finish, Serial No. 147305, that had belonged to Emmett Dalton. Furthermore, this six-shooter had been one of a pair of Colts that had been taken from the critically wounded Emmett at Coffeyville.
Since I had Emmett Dalton’s badge, another blued .45-caliber engraved Colt revolver that had recently gone through a gun auction was then brought to me for research because it was Serial No. 147306. Further research revealed that the Dalton Defender’s Museum in Coffeyville had the blued, pearl-gripped, engraved Colt Serial No. 147307—one of a pair of guns that had been taken from the body of Bob Dalton after the Coffeyville fight.
According to Colt factory shipping records, all three of these consecutively numbered fancy Colts had been part of a shipment of 15 single-action revolvers—10 of which were identically engraved, with pearl grips and 5 1/2-inch barrels—to an A.E. Williams, in care of Simmons Hardware in St. Louis on August 18, 1892, just a month and a half before the Dalton Gang struck Coffeyville. And there were five gang members—Grat, Bob and Emmett Dalton, Dick Broadwell and Bill Power—participating in that October double bank robbery attempt.
Was the legend true, then? Had gang leader Bob Dalton outfitted the five holdup men with brand-new horses, fancy Mexican saddles, new clothes, new Winchesters and a pair each of fancy engraved Colt .45s with pearl grips? Pairs of fancy, pearl-handled Colts were not exactly standard equipment for bank robbers in those days, if for no other reason than such weapons would have stood out like filet mignons at a fish fry. But, as bizarre as the story sounds, the existence of the three engraved Colts seemed to be pretty strong evidence that the story was true. In his 1963 book The Dalton Gang, Harold Preece’s description of Bob Dalton making a pre-holdup midnight visit to Coffeyville to get some illegal whiskey while “packing a pair of pearl-handled pistols” adds credence to the legend.
Decked out with their new gun rigs, at about 9:45 a.m., Grat, Power and Broadwell robbed the Condon Bank while Bob and Emmett robbed the First National Bank. Some of Coffeyville’s citizens recognized the Daltons before they had even entered the banks. And, like a bad Hollywood movie, some of those townsfolk grabbed weapons and started blasting away into the banks without warning. The ensuing gunfight outside the banks lasted about 12 minutes. Emmett was shot out of the saddle, after ignoring a chance to escape and riding back to get his mortally wounded brother Bob. Dick Broadwell made it out of town, only to drop dead from his wounds about a mile away. City Marshal Charles T. Connelly and citizens Lucius M. Baldwin, Charles Brown and George B. Cubine died in the streets, as did Bob and Grat Dalton and Bill Power. Citizens Thomas G. Ayres, T. Arthur Reynolds and Charles T. Gump were wounded.
A number of Coffeyville citizens immediately began grabbing souvenirs off the dead bodies, so some of the robbers’ guns disappeared. It was later discovered that none of the fancy new Colts that were recovered had been fired, the gang members having used their Winchester rifles instead while trying to escape.
Emmett Dalton beat the odds and survived his wounds. He was sentenced to life in prison but was pardoned on November 4, 1907, so that doctors could save his bullet-damaged right arm. He then moved to Los Angeles and teamed up with Chuck Martin to write his memoirs. Emmett died in L.A. at age 65 on July 13, 1937.
The Emmett Dalton and Bob Dalton Coffeyville Colts were both involved in subsequent legal transactions that left a paper trail of their history. Number 147305 and its mate were taken from the gravely wounded Emmett Dalton by Coffeyville Journal newspaper editor David Stewart Elliott. The editor gave them to older brother Bill Dalton (1866-1894), who had elected not to participate in the Coffeyville raid. Emmett subsequently gave those Colts to his court-appointed attorney, J.R. Fritch. In 1912 Fritch gave or sold No. 147305 to client Michael Sweetman. In 1978 Sweetman’s family sold the guns to gunfighter historian John Bianchi, and the gun went from Bianchi into the Autry Museum collection. There is no record of what happened to Emmett’s other Colt.
Number 147307 was auctioned off in Coffeyville with other Dalton possessions on January 14, 1893, and it sold to a W.H. Clark for $31. Clark sold or gave it to H.W. Read, owner of Read’s Clothing Store and president of the First National Bank. In 1960 the Read family left the Colt on display at the Dalton Defender’s Museum in Coffeyville until 1992, when a Read family member removed it after I apprised him of its historical value. The record of what happened to Bob Dalton’s other Colt (No. 147299) appears in “Sold” on P. 74 of the April 2007 issue of Wild West Magazine.
When Colt collector Bill Gerber bought Colt No. 147306, I turned my research over to him. Gerber discovered that a “property renouncement” signed by Dalton family members on October 15, 1892, for release of the possessions of both Bob and Grat Dalton listed “1 Pr. Six Shooters (Colts)” for each man, with an identical value of $26 for each pair. Thus, these records prove that both Bob and Grat Dalton were wearing a pair of Colts on October 5, 1892. And since Grat’s Colts were appraised at the same value as Bob’s pearl-gripped engraved Colts, it can be assumed that Grat’s Colts were as fancy as Bob’s. There is no record of what happened to either of Grat’s Colts.
Gerber also turned up a 1930 Coffeyville Journal newspaper article that quoted the memoirs of a girl named Ida Gibbs Jones, who said that when Dick Broadwell’s body was brought back to town after the 1892 bank robberies, she was shown “one of the large revolvers taken off Broadwell, all blue steel and engraved with a pearl of ivory handle.” Gerber also found that Broadwell’s death certificate verified that “2 Coals” (Colts) were part of the property found on his body. So Broadwell, too, was carrying a pair of Bob Dalton’s fancy Colts!
We can put eight of the 10 engraved pearl-gripped Colts in the hands of Grat, Bob and Emmett Dalton and Dick Broadwell on the day of the Coffeyville bank robberies. The death certificate of the fifth robber, Bill Power, didn’t list any guns in his personal possessions, so his Colts were probably looted immediately after the shootout.
Who the A.E. Williams mentioned in Colt factory shipping records was is still a mystery. But there is now no doubt that Bob Dalton and his four associates showed up in Coffeyville “dressed to kill.”
California author and collector Lee A. Silva is the author of Wyatt Earp: A Biography of the Legend, Volume 1: The Cowtown Years. This article originally appeared in the October 2001 issue of Wild West magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Wild West magazine today!