In salute to Dalton Defender Days in Coffeyville this weekend, the Montgomery County Chronicle provides its annual feature story featuring some aspect of the Dalton raid of 1892. This year’s feature story focuses on Emmett Dalton, the lone survivor of the Dalton gang’s 1892 raid on Coffeyville, and his attempt to profit from a movie he made concerning the Coffeyville bank robberies. The State of Kansas didn’t like Emmett making a movie about his criminal notoriety. So, attempts were made in Topeka to put the brakes on Emmett’s movie business . . . and perhaps put Emmett behind bars once again.
BY ANDY TAYLOR
Emmett Dalton, the lone-surviving member of the Dalton gang that made its bloody appearance in Coffeyville 125 years ago, had only been a free man for a few month before he found himself in legal jeopardy again.
This time, Dalton’s crime was not robbing banks; his sin was creating a movie that retold his version of the infamous Coffeyville raid.
And, in Kansas, state officials did not look kindly upon an ex-convict capitalizing on criminal fame.
Dalton, who was given a life sentence for his involvement in the 1892 bank robberies, was released from the Kansas Penitentiary in 1907 — courtesy of a full pardon from Gov. Edward W. Hoch. The reason? Dalton had proven to be a model prisoner — doing all the right things to garner the attention and admiration of prison officials.
Additionally, Dalton suffered miserably from wounds in that 1892 Coffeyville raid. His right arm was horribly mangled from sustaining close-range shotgun blasts during the shootout with Coffeyville defenders. Over the 13 years he was in prison, doctors even considered amputating the arm in order to save his life.
Knowing that Emmett had finally gone from outlaw to saint and fearing the high costs associated with providing medical care to his wounded arm, Gov. Hoch granted Dalton four months of parole in June 1907. During his time as a partially-free man, Dalton was able to obtain medical care for his mangled and virtually crippled arm.
After enduring a surgery to save his wounded appendage, Dalton continued to travel the road of the straight and narrow, which impressed Gov. Hoch to the point that he issued a full and complete pardon for the one-time bank robber.
“I believe, Emmett, that you will make a good citizen and with this belief, I extend you this pardon,” Hoch told Dalton in a face-to-face discussion in the governor’s office in November 1907. That exchange was witnessed by two newspaper reporters, who carried dispatches about Dalton’s pardon orders.
Ironically, when Hoch was speaking to Dalton about the pardon, the lights in the governor’s office went out — perhaps foretelling of an omen of future confrontation between Dalton and the governor.
Dalton was in tears when he heard of the full pardon from the state’s chief executive.
“Governor, the trouble is that there is no way for me properly to express my gratitude. But I certainly thank you with all my heart and soul. I wish to say this, however, that you nor any one else will ever have reason to regret what you have done today. I shall do everything in my power to live a useful life and be a good citizen.”
So, with the assurance that he would be continue to make good with his life and that the State of Kansas had completed its job in reforming the one-time bank robber, Dalton became a free man for the first time in his life. No longer labeled an outlaw, Dalton was deemed a model citizen. His mere presence on the streets was intended to sway young kids from choosing the path of crime, newspapers reported.
Among Dalton’s first trips upon his release was in Coffeyville, where, in 1908, he visited with local citizens and stopped at the unmarked graves of his two brothers, Gratton Dalton and Bob Dalton, at Elmwood Cemetery. Not far from his siblings’ burial site was that of the grave of Frank Dalton, the oldest Dalton brother who was gunned down by an outlaw when the elder Dalton served as a U.S. marshal in Indian Territory.
Emmett Dalton married a Bartlesville woman, Julia Lewis, and was engaged in real estate business briefly in Bartlesville and Tulsa before he was confronted with another business offer: to make a “moving picture” of his recollection of the Coffeyville raid in 1892. Aided by an area photographer, John Tackett, Dalton envisioned using the movie as a way to tell his story about the raid, ultimately using that platform to speak against the ails of outlawry.
So, Emmett Dalton, supported with the help of a photographer, began shooting a movie using local talent from southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma. Dalton even procured permission from the City of Coffeyville to use the streets and alleys of the downtown Coffeyville business district in recreating the 1892 raid for film purposes. Initial plans were to debut the film at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in late 1909.
However, word trickled back to the governor’s office that Dalton was making a movie about his criminal past. And, knowing that Dalton would profit handsomely not only from his story of the raid but also from the movie itself (the movie industry was the newest rage in entertainment in the 1900s), Hoch vehemently protested Dalton’s movie.
He also vowed to prosecute any movie company that would attempt to recreate the scene of the pardon in the governor’s office.
Hoch wrote a letter to Dalton in January 1909 to persuade him to give up the movie business.
“ . . . I want to write you this frank letter and advise that you abandon this project entirely,” Hoch wrote in his letter. “The sooner the whole unfortunate Coffeyville affair in which you participate is forgotten by you and by others, the better for all concerned. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should be done to keep alive this unfortunate memory. Ninety-nine out of every hundred men will endorse this sentiment, I am sure, and if you should engage in this business the whole liberal pardon policy which I have developed would be discredited.
“You are a conspicuous character. Other men of less note might do things that would attract no attention at all, but which if done by you would attract great attention.”
Dalton even traveled to Topeka to personally dissuade the governor to cool his rhetoric. However, that closed-door and heated confrontation between Hoch and the reformed Dalton was enough, newspapers reported, to make “Dalton’s hair curl.”
Dalton was no fool. His movie was a smash hit at the box office, netting him $200 per day per cinema. His presence at the movie theaters also brought the curious and the skeptical — all of whom plunked down the nickel or dime for admission to the movie and to hear Dalton regail audiences about his former exploits.
While Dalton hauled in the loot (legally), state officials fumed.
* * * * *
Newspapers reported in Kansas that many cities passed ordinances to ban the Dalton-made movie from being shown in their communities.
In November 1909, Wichita city officials prohibited the depiction of crime — either by still or moving pictures. Other Kansas towns, including Chanute, Pittsburg and Coffeyville, would follow suit.
In 1909, Hoch was replaced in the governor’s office by Walter R. Stubbs. A staunch activist on moral issues, such as prohibition, Stubbs not only decried Dalton’s movie but threatened to jail the man if he continued to speak openly at theaters about his crimes. Stubbs directed the Kansas Attorney General’s Office to examine the pardon papers signed by Hubbs’ predecessor to see if there were any loopholes that would return Dalton to the jail cell.
An investigation began.
Meanwhile, Dalton continued to make money with his movie, despite attempts by Kansas municipalities to ban the film. Dalton was actually arrested in Pittsburg in January 1910 for violating the city’s ordinance prohibiting the placing of show bills or advertising on telephone poles. He was allowed to be released on his own recognizance, after he paid a meager fine in city court.
In Iola, Dalton arrived with the expectation of speaking to local citizens following an evening showing of his movie. Upon arrival at the city’s train depot, Dalton was confronted by the town’s police chief, who advised him that the showing of the movie would not be permitted.
Meanwhile, Kansas Attorney General Fred S. Jackson found nothing in the actual pardon papers that would aid in the state’s quest to put Dalton in jail.
However, Jackson indicated to newspaper reporters that he was satisfied using the verbal recollection of former governor Edward Hoch as evidence of any conditions in that pardon.
“The evidence of former Governor Hoch would be just as good as official records in the matter, and if there were any conditions, written or verbal, we may be able to lay our hands on Dalton,” Jackson said in a letter to Gov. Stubbs.
While Jackson and Stubbs created the legal argument for Dalton’s arrest, Dalton continued to show the movie to throngs of movie goers. And, the legal melee between Dalton and the State of Kansas only prompted standing room-only crowds in cinemas across the region.
“Emmett Dalton has no business to be going around the country giving a bank robbery picture show,” Stubbs said in a newspaper interview in March 1910. “He has broken his parole, and if he is not careful I’ll send him back to the penitentiary.”
Dalton only rolled his eyes while collecting the nickels, dimes and quarters from the public.
“I’m not here to be awed by any petty politician,” Dalton told newspaper reporters. “Gov. Stubbs is a showman like myself and likes to keep in the public eye. It’s all bosh and I defy any man to imprison me for breaking my parole.”
Dalton knew that Kansas was no longer nice to him or his family. So, rather than continue to fight the state’s top brass about his movie, Dalton moved on to other states, showing it in Alaska territory, Texas, Florida and California.
Dalton continued to lecture after each movie showing . . . persuading younger people to turn away from criminal endeavors.
Even in 1916, some seven years after the movie was made, Dalton continued to peddle the film across the country . . . and speak as if he were the early version Father Edward Flanagan at Boys Town.
The State of Kansas knew it could not put its hands on Dalton — knowing well that he had a constitutional right to express his views in the form of a movie . . . and later a book titled “Beyond the Law.”
However, the quest to bring Dalton to justice for a second time was the state’s bluff. If anything, it was done to slow the profits to Dalton’s wallet.
It didn’t work.
Even as late as 1920, Emmett Dalton continued to be a sought-after speaker across the nation . . . cashing in on his fame as a reformed criminal.
And, wherever he went, he had the movie reels in his luggage, able to show those flickering images from 1892 as a testament to his version of the facts of the Coffeyville raid.
Such fame and notoriety benefited Dalton in the long run. He and Julia moved to Los Angeles in the late 1920s where he became a successful real estate developer during the boom years of Los Angeles’ growth.
Funny thing . . . many of the properties that Emmett sold were in an area known as Hollywood — the place of movies and stars.
However, Emmett Dalton laid the groundwork before his arrival in Tinsel Town.
And, when he died in 1937, he was a very rich man.
Perhaps his reform in state prison taught him a thing or two about making money . . . the legal way.
If so, he did it while laughing all the way to the bank.