Relive the Old West Legend of Dodge City Through Exhibits, Education and Entertainment.

Chalkley Beeson, Dodge City’s “Man of the Hour”

Chalkley Beeson is perhaps one of the most important figures of Dodge City history and of Boot Hill Museum. Proprietor of Long Branch Saloon, the Saratoga Saloon, founder of the Dodge City Cowboy Band, Ford County Sheriff, State Legislator, prominent rancher, the list goes on and on. There is so much to tell about him, we have decided to tell his story in three parts!
Part 1: Buffalo Hunt with Russian Royalty, Custer, Sheridan and Buffalo Bill Cody
Chalkley “Chalk” Beeson was born in Salem, Ohio on April 24, 1848. He set out west around 1870, first travelling to Colorado. There he became a stage driver for the route back and forth between Denver and Colorado Springs. In 1872, he was chosen to guide the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on a buffalo hunt. He was overheard in Denver talking about the large herds around the area of Kit Carson, Colorado. His knowledge of the herd resulted in him taking not only the Grand Duke, but also joining the party was Buffalo Bill Cody, General George Custer and General Phil Sheridan. The Grand Duke was delighted to hunt the big brutes, and it was something he had wanted to do when he crossed the Atlantic to America. Not long into the hunt, General Custer stopped the hunting party and advised that this would be a great chance for the group to get a shot at some Indians, as he knew of a tribe camped not far from the herd. As they set out to find the Indians, they came up over a hill upon another hunting party shooting at the buffalo, which sent fire going from both directions! Chalkley described what happened next, “Finally when they stopped and when Sheridan got to his feet, I think he was the maddest man I ever saw. There was only one man in the army who could equal him when it came to a certain type of expletives and that was Custer himself. I don’t know what kind of language Pa Romanoff (the Czar of Russia, and the Grand Duke’s father) used on Alexis when he got mad, but that slip of royalty got a cussing from Phil Sheridan that day that I bet he will never forget.”
A Pillar of the Community and Family Man
Chalk first came to Dodge City in 1874 to visit. He returned in 1875 to collect on a gambling debt, and somehow ended up with a part ownership in the Long Branch Saloon. No one really knew for sure how it came to be that he ended up partnering with W.H. Harris and buying into the business of a gambling hall, a business he knew nothing about! He returned to Ohio briefly, where on July 17, 1876, him and Miss Ida M. Gauze were married. Chalk immediately set out to return to Dodge City with his new wife Ida. Within minutes of arriving in the young wild town of Dodge City, Ida was greeted with a front row seat to a shoot-out by two cowboys over a gambling dispute. The next night, Ida was presented to the town when Chalkley took her to a show. She was serenated by the Vaudville performer Eddie Foy and his troupe. The Beesons and Foys would form a friendship starting that night that would last the rest of their lives. The newlyweds would settle down and made their home in Dodge City at the corner of today 2nd and Spruce. Here, Chalk and Ida would start their family by having two sons, Otero and Merrit.
He soon became a pillar of the community serving as Ford County Sheriff from 1892-1896,where he had a big part in the demise of the Bill Doolan gang after they had held up the bank in Spearville. Chalk was always connected with the law and order element of the early days of the U.S. Marshal. He was noted for his sleuth methods to catch criminals, bank robbers and horse thieves who were quite numerous at the time. While his life was many times at stake his cold steel blue eyes almost invariably saw all that was necessary to quell the worst mob.
Chalkley was an established musician and a rare talent. The list of instruments he could play included the violin, baritone, French horn, trombone and clarinet. He established the Dodge City Cowboy Band, which performed at the inauguration of U.S. President Benjamin Harrison in Washington D.C. in 1889.
Aside from all his involved interests he was far from all work and no play. His outgoing and remarkable personality fostered many episodes of fun and humor. “He was the man of the hour,” recalled Bill Tilghman when he first rode into Dodge. “The Dodge City softball team had just won a championship game over Denver and Chalk was the captain of the team.” Tilghman met Beeson that day and became life-long friends. Chalk and Tilghman were out checking cattle one day when they came across a pie-melon, still green. The pie-melon is a member of the gourd family that grows wild on the Kansas plains. A forceful lick with an axe may only dent its protective shell if you’re lucky. It just so happened that night was a banquet honoring the government’s Inspector in town to check on Fort Dodge. Robert Wright had been given the duty to impress the Inspector. Knowing Wright’s civic pride, he was thrilled when he friends presented to him what appeared to be a sweet and savory melon for the celebration! Chalk and Bill Tilghman grinned the entire time that Wright raved about the dessert they were to enjoy. He even stated, “Why, not even in New York can you have melon in November!” After watching Wright struggle with the melon as it bounced to the floor twice, they could no longer keep a straight face! By the end of the evening, the Inspector thanked Wright for the best banquet he had ever attended, it was not until that moment Wright was able to laugh at the entire episode. He told his guest, “You can thank Chalk and Bill for the fun.”
As Chalkley grew older, the thrill of owning businesses in Dodge didn’t appeal to him as much. Him and Ida had built a home just south and west of Dodge City. The spot of their home place is the corner today of 14th and Beeson. The street that sits just south of this intersection today, McArtor Road was also a nod to Chalkley, whose middle name was McArtor. Chalkley developed a love for cattle and ranching soon after moving to Dodge City. He owned the C.O.D. ranch that waas Northwest of Englewood, his son Merrit remembers spending his summers as a young boy at the COD.
The United States was in the midst of the Progressive Period (1890-1920). This time in the nation’s history was a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the nation. People were tackling issues such as women’s suffrage, taking down political bosses, and eliminating problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and corruption in government.
In 1912, Chalkley was enlisted to provide protection for the much contested Bull Moose Progressive Party’s National Convention in Chicago. They were convening to elect their Presidential Candidate, and Theodore Roosevelt was the leading candidate going in, but there was a lot of opposition from those within the party who weren’t in favor of Roosevelt. The delegates were nervous for their safety. The need for convention protection brought a mild mannered, soft spoken Chalkley Beeson from Dodge City to Chicago. He was labeled the, “frontier sheriff, bad man hunter, handy with weapons and gentle as a child.” He organized and commanded a staff of 300 of the most experienced, best trained, surest shooting law officers from the mid-western plains. That capable crew calmly, quietly and diligently provided a secret police service for crowds that packed Chicago’s old coliseum. There wasn’t one cracked head that tense week despite the hourly riot threats over the argument of Roosevelt being elected or not. A thug element that had threatened disturbances, knew the records of some of those famous plainsmen and their outbursts never materialized.
Following the convention, Chalkley returned to Dodge City and to his country home that he loved. It was a matter of days after the Bull Moose Convention that Chalkley would pass away after being thrown from one of his young horses. He passed away on August 9, 1912. Upon his passing the Dodge Republican said of him, “For him life was serious, but always the sun shone, and the one thing his friends will never forget is his smile. It was all over his face, showing perhaps most in his kindly eyes. If he liked you, he liked all of you, and was always so overwhelmingly glad to see you, that his greeting filled the day with gladness.” The saying, “One man’s trash is another’s treasure,” applied to Beeson. Chalkley loved Dodge City and because of his love of the town, he collected many items and memorabilia from its early days. His collection was added to by his son Merrit, who opened the Beeson Museum and put the items on display. When the Beeson family closed the museum, most of their collection was purchased by Boot Hill Museum, and is on display there today. Many items from Chalk’s days running the Long Branch Saloon, such as it’s safe, the clock that hung on the wall and the Ben Thompson shotgun taken in as collateral, were all saved for us to appreciate today and years from now. It’s safe to say, without Chalkley Beeson, and the Beeson family, many of the stories of the ‘old days’ wouldn’t have survived to be passed along.

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