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Black History Month: Ben Hodges, cowboy of dusty Dodge City

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The Wichita Eagle
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Contrary to the impression you might get from some of the old Hollywood Westerns you may have seen, cowboys of the Old West were not all white men.Roughly a quarter of the cowboys who drove cattle from Texas to Kansas in the post-Civil War era were of mixed non-white ethic backgrounds, according to the Wichita Eagle.

Ben Hodges, a cowboy of mixed parentage, arrived in Dodge City in 1872, a drover bringing cattle from San Antonio. From there, he developed a reputation as a swindler, master forger, and cattle thief-- but a highly likeable one.

Learning of the Spanish Land Grant, his first scheme involved procuring documentation indicating himself as the sole hair of a considerable amount of land in Gray County, Kansas. He used these documents to secure large loans, propelling him into Dodge City's social elite. He was found out after a fire at a company store led to the discovery of the rightful documents.

When a storm scattered a herd of cattle and horses and the owner issued receipts as rewards to the general public for helping to round-up the cattle, Hodges produced these documents and took them to Kansas City to redeem them for cash.

During a trial for the offense of rustling a herd of dairy cattle, Hodges entertained the courtroom with theatrics and antics that caused explosive bouts of hysterical laughter, according to a HubPages article. He was found not-guilty, primarily because the cattle returned home to their owners on their own freewill.

The legacy of Ben Hodges may be described by his tombstone, which reads: "Ben Hodges, Self-styled Desperado, a Colorful Pioneer."