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

The Wichita Eagle

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."