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Dalton, Boblocked

(13 May 1869–05 October 1892)
  • Robert K. DeArment

Dalton, Bob (13 May 1869–05 October 1892), outlaw, was born Robert Rennick Dalton in Missouri (probably Cass County), the son of James Lewis Dalton, a farmer, horse breeder, and trader, and Adeline Lee Younger. His mother was a half-sister of Henry Younger, the father of the Younger brothers of James–Younger gang notoriety, and thus the Younger brothers and the Dalton boys shared the same grandfather, Charles Lee Younger. Four of the fifteen children born to Lewis and Adeline Dalton died violent deaths. The family lived in Cass, Bates, and Clay counties in western Missouri, an area plagued before, during, and after the Civil War by border conflicts and rampant outlawry. About 1882 the family moved to Coffeyville, Kansas, and shortly thereafter into Indian Territory near present-day Vinita, Oklahoma. While still an adolescent, Dalton followed his older brothers Frank and Gratton into law enforcement; all three brothers served as deputy U.S. marshals in Indian Territory. On 27 November 1887 Frank was killed while making an arrest. In August 1888, in Indian Territory near Coffeyville, Dalton, acting as a posseman under his brother Grat, shot and killed a suspected horsethief named Charles Montgomery. He was only nineteen years old when he was sworn in as a deputy U.S. marshal in January 1889. He was also employed as a detective for the Osage Indian Agency during this period. The first recorded incident of lawbreaking by any of the Dalton boys occurred on Christmas Day 1889, when Dalton and another brother, Emmett, allegedly “introduced whiskey into Indian Territory.” Charges against Emmett were later dropped but Dalton was bound over for trial. He did not appear, his bonds were forfeited, and he never stood trial. In August 1890 Dalton, Emmett, and Grat were charged with horse stealing. Grat was jailed for a time, but eventually the charges were dropped. In a dispute over fees unpaid by the government, Dalton and Grat left the marshal’s service about this time. Late in 1890 Dalton, Grat, and Emmett went to California to visit their brother Bill. When a Southern Pacific train was held up and robbed at Alila, California, on 6 February 1891, detectives focused their investigation on the Dalton brothers. Recognized as the leader of what officers were now calling the “Dalton gang,” Dalton was described on a Southern Pacific Railroad reward poster as “about twenty-three … ; height, 6 ft. 1½ inches; well built and straight; light complexion, but florid and healthy looking; boyish beard and mustache; light hair and eyes; weight 180 to 190 lbs.; large, bony, long-fingered hands, showing no acquaintance with work; large nose and ears; white teeth; long sunburned neck, square features… . Is a good poker and card player; drinks whisky in moderation, but does not chew tobacco; smokes brown paper cigarettes occasionally.” Dalton and his brothers Emmett, Grat, and Bill were indicted on 17 March 1891 and charged with train robbery and assault with intent to murder the express car messenger. Dalton and Emmett eluded the officers and escaped back to Indian Territory, but Grat and Bill were arrested. In separate trials at Visalia, Tulare County, Bill was acquitted but Grat was convicted of train robbery. At Grat’s trial, eyewitnesses to the holdup were shown photographs of Dalton and identified him as one of the robbers.

Back in their familiar haunts, which had become Oklahoma Territory, Dalton and Emmett enlisted other desperadoes and began a campaign of outlawry that would make the Dalton gang as well known as the earlier James–Younger gang. Although various outlaws drifted in and out of the gang, Dalton remained the acknowledged leader. Emmett was at his side, as was Grat, who later broke jail in California and joined his brothers in Oklahoma. In May 1891 the gang held up a Santa Fe train at Wharton Station, Indian Territory; in September they struck a Missouri, Kansas, & Texas (MK&T) train at Lillietta Station, Indian Territory. In June 1892 they held up a Santa Fe train at Red Rock in the Cherokee Strip and the following month an MK&T express at Adair in Indian Territory.

Emboldened by these successful train holdups and the national publicity they had engendered, Dalton planned a double bank robbery that would top the exploits of the storied James–Younger gang. His targets were the C. M. Condon & Co. Bank and the First National Bank of Coffeyville, Kansas, a town in which the Daltons had lived and with which they were familiar. On the morning of 5 October 1892, the three Dalton brothers and two other outlaws rode into Coffeyville and simultaneously held up the employees of both banks. When an alarm was sounded by a passerby, a furious gun battle erupted. All five outlaws were struck by multiple bullets. Dalton, Grat, Bill Power, and Dick Broadwell were killed outright, and Emmett was seriously wounded. Four Coffeyville citizens, including the town marshal, were killed and three others wounded. Emmett survived and at a March 1893 trial was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was later paroled and wrote two books recounting the experiences of the Daltons. Dalton and Grat were buried together in a Coffeyville cemetery not far from the gravesite of Frank, their slain lawman brother, as was their companion, Bill Power.

A well-built, handsome young man, Dalton undoubtedly possessed admirable qualities. He was temperate in his habits, staunchly loyal to his family, and fearless and bold to the point of recklessness. He started adult life as a peace officer and might have become one of the best had he been more fairly treated by the government that employed him. Although his great double bank robbery attempt at Coffeyville ended in disaster and resulted in the deaths of himself and seven others, it did ensure his place in the national memory as one of the most daring outlaws of the West.

Bibliography

Ben Dalton, a law-abiding brother, recounted the history of his outlaw siblings in an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle, 27 Oct. 1892. The Dalton Brothers and Their Astounding Career of Crime, by an Eyewitness, published anonymously in 1892, contains many errors of fact. Emmett Dalton, with professional help, wrote two books on the outlaws, Beyond the Law (1918) and When the Daltons Rode (1931). Frank F. Latta, Dalton Gang Days (1976), deals primarily with the brothers’ troubles in California. Nancy B. Samuelson, The Dalton Gang Story (1992), sets straight many previously published inaccuracies in the Dalton story and is the best source on the Dalton family.