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two brothers lyin’ dead in Coffeyville

October 5, 2012

I understand your excitement today on the 50th anniversary of the release of the film

Dr. No, which introduced us to Sean Connery as “Bond . . . James Bond”.  But criminal

masterminds like the bad doctor don’t spring whole cloth from nowhere.  They have

evil antecedents to inspire and teach them the basics of villainy.

 

Today marks another anniversary in noteworthy malefaction.  Exactly 120 years ago

the Doolin-Dalton gang tried to rob two banks simultaneously in Coffeyville, Kansas.

Let’s review: in the 1850’s, Lewis Dalton, a barkeep in the Kansas City area, married

Adeline Younger, an aunt of Cole and Jim Younger, two lads who would find fame

riding with Jesse James.  The lovebirds would produce 15 children.

 

Their oldest son Frank was a Deputy U.S. Marshal who was killed tracking a horse thief

in the Oklahoma territory.  Three of his brothers — Grat, Bob and Emmett — who had

ridden with him in posses, also went into law enforcement.

 

When they didn’t get paid for some work, they became outlaws.  They were joined

briefly by another brother, Bill, who had tired of being a member of the California

legislature.

 

The gang showed promise.  Grat was convicted of train robbery, but on the way to

prison he escaped from two deputies.  As one deputy talked to other passengers on

the train, Grat took a key from the sleeping deputy he was handcuffed to, freed him-

self and dived out a window into a river.

 

Although the gang specialized in train robberies, Bob wanted them to be remembered

for something more challenging, surpassing the dirty deeds of the James-Younger gang.

He decided that the best way to accomplish this was by robbing two banks in daylight at

the same time.

 

Since the Daltons were raised in the Coffeyville area, they wore fake beards.  The good

citizens recognized them, anyway, and armed themselves.  The gang was fired upon as

they left the banks.  Town Marshal Charles Connelly and three civilians died, as did

Bob, Grat and two other non-Dalton gang members.

 

Emmett was shot 23 times but survived.  He serve 14 years of a life sentence, then

moved to California, where he became a real estate agent.

 

Many movies about the gang have been made, including When the Daltons Rode,

co-written by Emmett.  The brothers’ infamy surpasses their success.  Likely no

other group in history has connections to Huckleberry Hound and U2.

 

Huck used to contend with the western bandit Dinky Dalton on his cartoon show.

U2 played a parody country band called “The Dalton Brothers” during its U.S. Joshua

Tree tour.

 

My favourite tribute to the boys is the Eagles’ second album Desperado.  Released in

1973, it compares a rock star’s life to an Old West outlaw’s. It gave us standards like

the title track and “Tequila Sunrise”.

 

I flipped for this album and wanted to write a screenplay based on it and the actual

events.  In one of my mental drafts, I had the Daltons crossing paths with Willie Nelson’s

red-headed stranger.

 

In September 0f ’75, I was returning home from the Walnut Valley bluegrass festival in

Winfield, Kansas.  I stopped in Coffeyville at a convenience store.  The magazine rack

had Rolling Stone, and the current issue had the Eagles on the cover.

 

When I read that the rockers were considering making a movie based on Desperado, I

flipped again.  I immediately wrote Don Henley to apply as screenwriter.  I thought he

was my best chance, because we had come of age within 50 miles of each other.

 

He hasn’t answered yet, but I know he’s a busy man.

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2 Comments
  1. October 5, 2012 12:16 pm

    I really love your stories, and your writing style, Allen – thanks for always sharing.

    • October 6, 2012 10:00 am

      And thank you for reading them and sharing your own stories, young lady.

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