The trial of Emmett Dalton, who was charged with murder in the first degree, was held in the splendid Montgomery County Courthouse of Independence, Kansas, 20 miles north of Coffeyville. The March 1893 trial followed the gang’s failed attempt to rob Coffeyville’s two banks at the same time on a balmy Wednesday morning, October 5, 1892. The raid on the banks left eight men dead — four outlaws and four Coffeyville defenders. Three citizens were also wounded in the fierce morning fray that lasted less than 15 minutes.
When the gunsmoke lifted from the streets and alleyway, 21-year-old Emmett lay on the ground, shot full of holes. In the dirt next to him was his expiring brother Bob, the 23-year-old leader of the ill-fated Dalton Gang. Emmett had been severely wounded by more than 20 bullets and buckshot. Nobody that day could have expected him to even stand trial. How could he possibly live long enough to do that?
Much has been written about the daring escapades of the Dalton Gang. Train robberies, horse-thieving and murders in California and Indian Territory and its fringes were attributed to the gang. Many of the accusations, however, went far beyond the capabilities, resources and time constraints of the night-riding bunch.
Bob and Emmett had been close. Bob had looked out for younger brother ‘Em’ ever since the days when Emmett had been a posseman for then U.S. Deputy Marshal Bob Dalton. Their older brother Grat had also served as a deputy and was wounded in the line of duty in 1889. Another deputy, brother Frank, had died a hero’s death in a shootout with some whiskey runners in 1887.
The days of marshaling were three years past for the Daltons, and now the days of outlawry were also over for the five audacious Dalton Gang members who had attempted to pull off the first double bank robbery in outlaw history. Four of their lives also suddenly ended.
Only moments before, Emmett had been on his horse with a grain sack stuffed with about $21,000 dollars of the First National Bank’s money. His right arm hung useless, shattered by a rifle bullet. His lower extremities were numbed from a bullet that had torn through his back hip and had exited through his groin, yet he was mounted and still had the strength to go on. Heavy rifle fire from townsmen sheltered in a hardware store, Isham Brothers & Mansur, was ripping and ricocheting down the east-west-running Slosson’s Alley. The intense gunfire had already cut down gang member Bill Power short of the horses. Grat Dalton, the oldest of the three participating Daltons, had just been killed by John Kloehr, secreted behind his livery stable fence adjoining the deadly alley. Kloehr and town barber Carey Seaman had shot Dick Broadwell, but that hadn’t stopped the determined outlaw from dashing away on his horse, only to fall dead on the outskirts of west Coffeyville. Among the dead and dying men in Slosson’s Alley was City Marshal Charles Connelly, a veteran of the Civil War, who had courageously stepped directly into the alley gunfight from a south side passage near the livery stable and was struck down immediately by gunfire. Grat Dalton was said to have shot the marshal, as he was the one nearest to where the lawman fell. But Connelly very well could have been hit by indiscriminate fire from the hardware store. Amid the carnage and gunsmoke, Emmett saw Bob go down, another victim of Kloehr’s deadly marksmanship.
Prior to the bloody alley shootout, the trio of Grat Dalton, Power and Broadwell had little success at the Condon Bank, being taken in by the ruse of nervy bank teller Charles Ball about a time lock on the already unlocked vault. When they left the bank under a hail of gunfire, they had only about $3,000 with them. Things had gone far better for Bob and Emmett at the First National Bank. With approximately $21,000 in hand, they tried to exit the front of the bank, but drew immediate fire from the aroused and rallying townsmen. They then slipped out the back door of the First National, with Bob providing covering fire for Emmett, who carried the loot in his left hand and his rifle in his right. Emmett always claimed that he fired no shots during the fight, and that is very likely a true statement because of the large grain sack of money that he carried. Effectively firing a Winchester lever-action rifle one-handed while on the run would have been difficult, if not impossible.
Bob and Emmett successfully made a circuitous route to Slosson’s Alley, where their horses were hitched. Bob proved deadly in the footrace to the horses, using his Winchester to kill armed citizens Lucius Baldwin, George Cubine and Charles Brown. According to Emmett’s 1931 book When the Daltons Rode, while in the relatively secure passage behind the front buildings, Bob and Emmett encountered 14-year-old Bobby Wells, who had run out of a back door with a .22 revolver and challenged them. Bob spanked the boy lightly on his rump with his hot-barreled rifle and directed, ‘You run home, boy, or you’re liable to get hurt!’ The youngster wisely skedaddled and cleared Bob and Emmett’s north-to-south path to Slosson’s Alley, where they were to rendezvous with Grat, Power and Broadwell. From that day on, the alley would be known as Death Alley.
Only two of the outlaws got on their horses — Emmett and Broadwell. Although severely wounded, Emmett had the way clear to escape. He was mounted and had the First National Bank’s money when he saw Bob go down. Ignoring the passage to safety, he boldly wheeled his horse and rode back into the withering fire from Isham’s and past the barrel of Kloehr’s Winchester in an attempt at rescue. As he bent over to pick up Bob, Emmett claims that Bob uttered these last words: ‘Don’t mind me, Emmett, I’m done for. Don’t surrender, boy. Die game!’ At that moment, Carey Seaman emptied his double-barreled shotgun, loaded with heavy buckshot, into Emmett’s back. The fight was over.
A portion of the gathering crowd wanted to lynch Emmett, but Dr. Walter Wells assured the townsfolk that Emmett was as good as dead from his numerous wounds. Wells then treated the young outlaw, removing 23 lead slugs from him in the process. The doctor provided ongoing medical treatment until October 11, when Emmett was taken to the county jail in Independence by County Sheriff John Callahan. Emmett sat behind bars as he awaited trial under the charges of bank robbery and the murders of George Cubine and Lucius Baldwin.
According to the court records, Justice of the Peace George Gilmore heard the complaint brought forward by Independence City Attorney Felex Joseph Fritch that Emmett had murdered Lucius Baldwin. By the time of Emmett’s preliminary hearing on January 16, 1893, however, the very same Fritch was now standing at Emmett’s side in his defense and Emmett was to be tried for the first-degree murder of Cubine, not Baldwin. The state provided only enough evidence to make sure that Dalton was held for trial without bail.
Before the March trial, Emmett did not waver from his assertion that he never fired a shot during the entire fight — that he killed no one. Critical evidence supporting his claim could of course have been obtained from the examination of the firearms that he carried that day. That was not to be. After the shooting had stopped on October 5, Emmett’s revolvers and rifle disappeared under an onslaught of souvenir hunters.
When it was time for trial, Emmett’s defense was to be made by a court-appointed defense attorney, F.J. Fritch again. On Tuesday, March 7, Emmett, still on crutches, entered the courtroom of Judge J.D. McCue, a Union Civil War veteran and a member of Independence’s McPherson Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the same post to which the late Marshal Connelly had belonged. Emmett pleaded ‘not guilty’ to murder, but that afternoon, according to the Independence Star and Kansan,’strong influences were brought to bear on Emmett to induce him to plead guilty [to second-degree murder]….His eldest brother, Ben, a man who has always been an honorable upright citizen, was here and urged him to make that plea. He held out for some time but finally yielded.’ Emmett returned to a packed courtroom Wednesday morning, March 8, and was soon greatly disappointed.
‘My attorney, Joseph Fritch, felt assured that if I pleaded guilty to second-degree killing in the Cubine case the other charges would be dismissed,’ Emmett wrote in When the Daltons Rode. ‘He also felt reasonably certain that I would get close to the minimum sentence, perhaps ten to fifteen years.’ Whatever legal counsel Emmett and Ben had received from Fritch can’t be known, but there had to have been naivet or desperation at play for Emmett to put his faith in Fritch to procure a minimum sentence for second-degree murder. Emmett had been quite lucky not to have been hanged immediately after the holdup. The passing of five months had not mitigated the emotions generated from the raid. Coffeyville turned out a big crowd for the trial in Independence. The Star and Kansan noted, ‘When he [Emmett] pleaded `guilty of murder in the second degree,’ Judge McCue proceeded at once to pass sentence, making his remarks to the culprit very brief and imposing the greatest possible penalty, imprisonment in the penitentiary during his natural life at hard labor….’
A startled and teary-eyed Emmett protested that it was an unjust sentence, but the wheels of the Montgomery County legal locomotive were picking up steam. The Star and Kansan article continued: ‘…Taking the prisoner back to the jail Sheriff Callahan lost no time in making preparations for getting rid of his notorious guest. A bus was summoned and, with Emmett handcuffed to Wm. E. Smith, who has been acting as guard at the jail for several weeks past, and Marshal Griffey, the sheriff started on the journey to Leavenworth [destination: State Penitentiary, Lansing, Kan.], a journey which might have been a more dangerous one had it been longer premeditated. It was not more than thirty minutes from the time that Emmett was brought into the court room until he started over the road; and within an hour the party were moving away on the train. Justice certainly didn’t move with leaden feet in this case, and the annals of our county will be searched in vain for an example of more rapid work….’
Within the bureaucracies of the district court and county jail, there would not have been any time to process the release papers, clear Emmett’s personal property and arrange transportation to the state penitentiary unless the court and jail actions had been orchestrated before the trial. What justice may have lacked in fairness, it made up for in swiftness. Emmett’s trial, sentencing and transfer were ones for the record books. The sheriff’s party reached the penitentiary around 7 p.m., and Sheriff Callahan turned Emmett over to the warden. In the process, Callahan commended Emmett for his good behavior to the warden.
The story does not end here. Emmett continued his model behavior, and after serving 14 1/2 years he was unconditionally pardoned by Kansas Governor E.W. Hoch on November 2, 1907. Contrary to the 1893 newspaper reports of the outlaw’s fast recovery from his Coffeyville wounds, his shoulder never healed properly. Four months prior to the governor’s unconditional pardon, Emmett had approached the Kansas Penitentiary Parole Board for permission to go to a hospital in Kansas City for an operation to save his right arm from amputation. The board, in turn, beseeched the governor to issue a temporary pardon so that Emmett could get immediate surgery for necrosis of the periosteum (pathologic death of the bone’s fibrous membrane). During this period of surgery and recovery, the governor was impressed with Emmett’s exemplary behavior and the recommendation of the parole board to grant an unconditional pardon to the reformed outlaw.
The story of Emmett’s release was covered as a leading feature of the November 3, 1907, Sunday edition of The Topeka Daily Capital. Governor Hoch is quoted to have said: ‘Believing that Emmett Dalton’s youthfulness is an extenuation of his great offense, and believing that he has thoroughly repented of it and given evidence of this repentance in every possible way, and believing that a government without mercy is not strong but weak, and believing that Emmett Dalton will make a good citizen and live a good, clean, useful life, I have concluded to give him the opportunity.’ As he gave the pardon to Emmett, the governor told him, ‘I do not believe that good government will suffer because of the fact that you are a free man.’
The newspaper article also mentioned that affidavits had been produced showing Emmett had not fired any shots during the fight as he had originally claimed. With Governor Hoch’s pardon, Judge McCue’s sentence of Emmett to ‘life at hard labor’ ironically ended within the span of what Emmett had hoped for when he pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree — 10 to 15 years.
Emmett did live up to the governor’s expectations. He married and lived the life of a decent, law-abiding citizen while residing mostly in Hollywood, Calif. On September 1, 1908, Emmett married Julia Johnson Gilstrap Lewis in Bartlesville, Okla. He wrote two books, Beyond the Law and When the Daltons Rode, and became involved in the movie business. In May 1931, Emmett revisited Coffeyville, where he placed a tombstone over the common graves of Bob, Grat, and Bill Power in the town’s Elmwood Cemetery. Until that time, the graves had been marked only by a partially buried iron hitching rail that had been removed from Death Alley. In July 1937, 66-year-old Emmett died in Hollywood and rejoined his brothers and long-rider companions.
Editor’s note: Author Robert Dalton reports ‘no descendency’ from the outlaw Dalton brothers, adding that he has ‘just enough Dalton DNA in me to keep me highly interested in the Wild West, but not enough to rob banks.’
This article was written by Robert Dalton and originally appeared in the August 2001 issue of Wild West. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Wild West magazine today!