The Dalton Gang: A Daring Bid to Become Famous

Last week we saw how a dashcam video led police to capture the murderers of Constable Darrell Lunsford. This week, we again take a trip back in time to the Old West. We’ll see how the Dalton Gang tried to become famous by robbing two banks at once. Spoiler alert: the attempt led to disaster.

The Dalton Brothers

Brothers Robert (Bob), Gratton (Grat), Emmett, and William (Bill) Dalton formed the nucleus of the Dalton Gang. They were four of twelve children born to saloon keeper James Lewis Dalton and his wife, Adeline Younger. Adeline was an aunt of Cole and Jim Younger of James-Younger Gang fame.

Robert "Bob" Dalton ca. 1889 (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Robert “Bob” Dalton ca. 1889 (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The boys grew up near Kansas City in Western Missouri, close to the border with Kansas. Their father, Lewis, was often away for months at a time, running racehorses in California. Eventually, all his sons made the trips with him. But Lewis wasn’t all that successful racing horses. He ended up gambling away the family home in Belton, Missouri, after which Adeline bought a piece of land near Kingfisher in Oklahoma Territory.

William "Bill" Dalton (U.S. Marshal's Museum)
William “Bill” Dalton (U.S. Marshal’s Museum)

In 1880, brother Frank Dalton became a deputy U.S. Marshal for Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), based in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Toward the end of 1887, a bootlegger he tried to arrest shot and killed Frank. Afterwards, brothers Bob and Grat took over Frank’s position, hiring Emmett to look over prisoners.

Gratton "Grat" Dalton (Public Domain)
Gratton “Grat” Dalton (Public Domain)

The Brothers Become the Dalton Gang

At first, Bob and Grat earned good reputations as marshals. But after he killed a man in the line of duty, Bob began to drink heavily. Then the brothers started stealing horses, their first foray into illegal activity.

During the night of February 6, 1891, two masked men held up a Southern Pacific passenger train near Alila, California. The robbers didn’t get any money, but the expressman accidentally killed the fireman. Though unidentified at the time, Bob and Emmett later told brother Littleton that they had held up the train. Thus, was the Dalton Gang born.

Grat Dalton didn’t participate in the Alila robbery (his horse had gone lame). But through undue influence from the railroad and a corrupt defense attorney, he was convicted anyway. Just before sentencing, he and two other prisoners escaped from jail.

Meanwhile, back in Indian Territory, Bob and Emmett were recruiting members for a larger gang. They began planning their robberies, which meant their future crimes were more successful than the Alila holdup.

The Dalton Gang Raids Coffeyville, Kansas

Bill Dalton was ambitious. He claimed he would “beat anything Jesse James ever did—rob two banks at once, in broad daylight.” They planned to hold up the C.M. Condon & Company Bank and the First National Bank in Coffeyville, Kansas. Bob and Emmett were to take the First National Bank. Grat and gang members Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers would knock over the Condon Bank.

The Condon Bank, Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Historical Society)
The Condon Bank, Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Historical Society)

On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang rode into Coffeyville. Despite improvised disguises, townspeople quickly recognized them. A storekeeper saw them and yelled, “The Daltons are robbing the bank!” Forewarned, the two hardware stores in town began passing out rifles to the alerted citizenry.

Four members of the Dalton Gang lie dead after the ill-fated Coffeyville robbery. Left to Right: Bill Power, Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Cramers Art Rooms of Cherryvale, Kansas)
Four members of the Dalton Gang lie dead after the ill-fated Coffeyville robbery. Left to Right: Bill Power, Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Cramers Art Rooms of Cherryvale, Kansas)

Before they even left the bank, armed townspeople began shooting into the banks. When the gang tried to exit the banks and make their getaway, they walked into a hail of bullets. The gunfire killed Grat and Bob Dalton, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers. Emmett Dalton suffered 23 gunshot wounds. Four townspeople also died in the melee.

Law officers hold up the bodies of dead outlaws Bob (23) and Grat (31) after their attempted robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Memory)
Law officers hold up the bodies of Bob (23) and Grat (31) Dalton after their attempted robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Memory)

Epilogue

Emmett Dalton survived his wounds only to find himself sentenced to life in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing. He served 14 years before receiving a pardon in 1907. Then he moved to Hollywood, California where he became a real estate agent. Also, he wrote two books and occasionally did some acting. In 1918, he played himself in an early film version of his first book, Beyond the Law. He died in 1937 at the age of 66.

Emmett Dalton prison photo, 1892 or 1893. Note prison number 6472.
Emmett Dalton prison photo, 1892 or 1893. Note prison number 6472.

Bill Dalton waited in vain for the gang to return from Coffeyville to help them escape. He continued his outlaw career, forming the Doolin-Dalton gang with Bill Doolin. Deputy U.S. Marshals killed him when he tried to escape capture on September 1, 1893.

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