Dodge City is perhaps the most famous of all America's cowtowns. It has certainly been committed to celluloid more times than any other. However, this wildest of Wild West cities had a heyday of only a decade, from 1875 until 1886. Established in 1872 along with the Santa Fe Railroad, by 1875 the town of traders, trappers, and hunters had to find a new economic base – the buffalo had been exterminated. The era of the great cattle drives was already under way, and Dodge City became a den of iniquity where gambling, drinking, and general lawlessness were the norm.
Dodge City today is rather more staid, with its old downtown area enveloped by a hinterland of railroad tracks. The town is content to replay its movie image in the Boot Hill Museum, 400 Front Street (June– Aug daily 8am–8pm; Sept– May Mon– Sat 9am–5pm, Sun 1–5pm; $7, $8 in summer). The museum centers on the single-sided Historic Front Street, which was constructed in 1958 and has been acquiring old buildings from all over the West ever since. There's a bank and a grocer, stagecoach rides, a funeral parlor, a smithy, and even a full-sized railroad station, as well as the Long Branch Saloon, scene of a variety show with cancan dancers every night at 7.30pm ($7.95; summer only). The notorious Boot Hill cemetery is higher up the hill, still on museum grounds; there's just a sorry little patch of lawn on one corner of the original site, which was in any case abandoned in 1879 after just six years and thirty-four burials.