Most families keep their black sheep a deep, dark secret. Following this unwritten code in the late 1880s and early 90s, Eva Whipple, sister of the notorious Daltons, didn’t announce to fellow residents of Meade, Kansas, that her brothers robbed banks for a living. However, a hidden tunnel between her house and nearby barn supports the theory her outlaw relations secretly visited her. Apparently, citizens of this little Southwest Kansas town on Highway 54 didn’t know about the connection with these infamous characters until the Whipples moved and the home’s new occupant discovered a hand dug, three-foot diameter secret passage, just big enough for grown men to crawl through. It conveniently linked house and barn.
During the Works Progress Administration, an administrative entrepreneur-at-heart arranged to stabilize and expand this shaft so paying tourists could walk where the Dalton Gang once crawled. It worked. My cousins, brother, I, and every other kid visiting Meade finagled a dime, quarter, or dollar (depending on the decade) in order to tour the small Victorian era home with gingerbread trim, heavy drapes, and ornate furniture. The best part came when visitors trailed their fingers over damp, dimly lighted stone walls through the improved tunnel to the old barn. Renovators had turned the floor above the ancient horse stalls into a museum showcasing pioneer era Meade. Sounds of awe and delight announced that kids had discovered the stuffed, two-headed, newborn calf display.
Even today, my relatives and I fondly recall good times on the south side of town. It was close enough to Grandma’s we could walk. She directed us to behave ourselves or she’d hear about it. I’d visited often enough to know this rural community kept no secrets after revealing the Dalton’s hidden passage. Keeping my hands to myself, I walked on the sidewalk where possible and didn’t smart mouth anyone along the way. I paid my fee and responded politely to a local retired woman wearing a long pioneer dress to set the mood.
Recently, I reviewed Meade, Kansas on Trip Advisor. Not surprisingly, Highway 54 travelers still visit The Dalton Gang Hideout. Most report excellent or very good ratings. It’s wonderful to know adults and children still find their way to that little house with a big yard. Its fussy furnishings counterbalance that trip into the tunnel where every sense goes on alert.
Nostrils still quiver at earthy scents as shoulders brush rough, stone walls. Tall people duck to complete their journey. Naturally, imaginations picture outlaws with bandanna covered faces and whinnying horses waiting to speed their escape at the end of the passage.
If the Dalton brothers actually used this tunnel when it was merely three feet high and carved dirt, I suspect they worried more about a cave in than getting caught visiting their sis. Nowadays, a ticket to see that two headed calf lightens wallets considerably more than it did when I was a youngster. Today’s visitors shell out a whopping 5 bucks to navigate the tunnel and examine that oddly formed calf. I bet the Dalton boys wish they’d raked in that kind of loot.