Relive the Old West Legend of Dodge City Through Exhibits, Education and Entertainment.

Boot Hill Museum History

Boot Hill Museum History
Original Museum Building on Boot Hill. Now home to the ‘People of the Plains’ exhibits

Boot Hill Museum, Inc. is a private, non-profit organization that was founded by the Dodge City Jaycees as a community service project in 1947 and staffed primarily with volunteers for the first ten years.  First housed in the 3,000 square foot Boot Hill Building adjacent to Boot Hill Cemetery, the Museum contained a wide variety of cultural and natural history objects.  During the 1950’s, 1865 Fort Dodge jail was acquired and a train engine was moved to the site.

 

Boot Hill Museum History
In 1958 the first six buildings of the Front Street Replica were built.

In 1958, the construction of historic Front Street began, with additional buildings being added in 1964 and 1970.

Buildings moved to the site during the 1970’s included a Santa Fe Railway depot, a 1915 one-room schoolhouse, an 1880 carriage/blacksmith shop, and an 1879 cattleman’s home.

In the 1980’s, the staff decided on an overall interpretive theme for the complex.  Initially the complex was divided into two major eras. In the Boot Hill Building was the buffalo hunting period, 1872 to 1876. The cattle drive and wheat farming period, 1876 to 1890, was placed inside the Front Street replica.

In 1995 the Museum made the complex ADA compliant and enhanced its Santa Fe Trail Rut Site west of Dodge City. In 2001 a new Gun Exhibit, “Guns That Won The West,” was designed and built. Improvements were made to the Beeson Gallery with the remodeling of the Jail Exhibit and the Front Street Times Print Shop. During 2003 and 2004 the original 1947 Museum Building was completely renovated. It now features the “People of the Plains” which contains the Plains Indians, Forts and Railroads, Buffalo Hunters, Cattle Industry, Santa Fe Trail, Victorian Clothing, Last Dodge City Marshal and Hollywood exhibits.

In 2006 Museum staff constructed a Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame exhibit. The Hall of Fame is adjacent to the Occident catering facility which was converted from the Boot Hill Repertory Theater space in 1996.

In 2004 an old Catholic Church was donated and moved to the Museum from Bucklin. In 2009 renovations to the Church were completed making it Boot Hill Museum’s newest exhibit.

Long Branch Variety Show History

Longest Running Variety Show-History

The arts community in Dodge City has been blessed with many outstanding performers throughout the years dating all the way back to its beginnings with Chalkley Beeson and the Dodge City Cowboy Band.  Mr. Beeson was an early owner of the Long Branch Saloon and his saloon boasted musical entertainment in addition to the normal saloon fare.  When the Boot Hill Jaycees embarked on a reconstruction of Front Street in 1958 based on photographs of the day, the Long Branch Saloon was reborn.  And while the reconstructed saloon was not designed to be a performance space, local optometrist Lewis Mock and his talented wife Rosemary saw an opportunity.  They approached the board of the Museum about putting together a saloon show in the Long Branch.  It would be a period piece, over the 4th of July weekend, and would include Dr. Mock playing his signature ragtime piano, the first troupe of Long Branch Can-Can dancers and Mrs. Mock would host the show portraying Dora Hand.

Ready to kick up your heels at the Long Branch Variety Show? Order tickets here!

Boot Hill Museum Miss KittyMiss Kitty and The Long Branch Saloon

Dora Hand (whose stage name was Fannie Keenan) was a saloon singer in early Dodge City who met with a tragic demise in October of 1878 at the hands of James “Spike” Kenedy.  Mrs. Hand was friends with the mayor – James “Dog” Kelley – and was staying at his home along with her fellow performer Fannie Garretson.  The mayor was at Ft. Dodge in the infirmary nursing a stomach condition.  Spike Kenedy intended to kill the mayor in what was Dodge City’s first drive-by shooting (he actually was on horseback and fired into the house while riding past).  He did not know that Dora & Miss Garretson were there.  The fatal bullet passed through the bedding where Miss Garretson slept, broke through the thin wall and struck Dora Hand, killing her instantly.  Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were part of the posse that went after Spike Kenedy.  Kenedy was later acquitted due to lack of evidence.

It seemed only fitting that “Dora Hand” would host the show in the Long Branch Saloon.  So the Mocks gathered music and a group of local high school girls to be the first Can-Can dancers and the Long Branch Variety Show was born.  The show was such a huge success that it was decided to make it a nightly production for the rest of the summer.  By the summer of 1959, it was clear that Gunsmoke was a television hit and visitors expected to see Miss Kitty in the Long Branch Saloon.  So Rosemary Mock created the character of the Dodge City Kitty – belting out songs and entertaining visitors to the Long Branch Saloon.

Boot Hill Museum Long Branch Variety ShowStill running strong for over 55 years!

The Long Branch Variety Show is the longest running seasonal theatrical show in the nation.  The show opens its nightly run on Memorial weekend and offers a special sneak preview for Boot Hill Museum Association members on the previous Thursday.

Over the years, it has taken hundreds of local singers, dancers, actors, piano players & comics to bring the Long Branch Variety Show to life.  For the first 25 years – only three women held the full-time position of Miss Kitty.  Beginning in 1958, first as Dora Hand then as Dodge City Kitty, it was Rosemary Mock. She was followed by Nellis Reinert who filled the role until 1976 when Connie Hudnett took over and stayed until 1984.

It was a tremendous responsibility to perform 6 or 7 nights a week and so nine years was about the normal run for Miss Kitty.  Following Mrs. Hudnett’s departure, several other women filled the role but for much shorter runs and fewer nights per week.  Today’s cast includes two ladies filling the Kitty role.  Alicia Ocker-Thompson and Christina Haselhorst will don the feathers and fabulous costumes and host this year’s version of the show.

Boot Hill Museum Can Can Karen and BrentCan-Can dancers and More

The basic format of the show has remained the same throughout the years: Miss Kitty and her piano player host musical, dramatic, and comedy routines in the most famous saloon on Front Street.  The one other constant remaining from the original version of the show is the Can-Can dancers who perform their signature piece as the grand finale of the show.  And as in the early days, the dancers also do a second number earlier in the show.

Fans of the show will remember Clancy the bartender (portrayed by Gordon Day) who could croon an Irish tune better than anyone else, Johnny Little Wolf – the half-breed Indian who was just itching to pick a fight, Sam McGill – the mangy buffalo hunter who replaced Johnny Little Wolf (because of political correctness), Harry the town drunk originally portrayed by Harry Rice and later Walter Hudnett (whose signature slide down the bar is legendary!),   the Mechanical Man routine originated by Greg Smith & Hannes Zacharias (as well as their Flying Gambonos circus act routine), Lizzie Overly portrayed by Sara McFarland, Gertie Mae Festerbein portrayed by Amy Brax, and the Cremation of Sam McGee dramatic reading.

In 1984, following the retirement of Gordon Day, the character of Chalkley Beeson was added as the owner of the saloon who hired Katherine “Kitty” Russell to put on a show in his saloon.  Originally performed by Greg Smith, the Mr. Beeson character still assists Miss Kitty with hosting duties and tries to keep his bartenders and wife, Ida, in line. Brent Harris, who is seen on billboards as the Face of Dodge City, is one of the current Mr. Beeson.

Boot Hill Museum Them Song PianoTheme Songs & Music

Two of the shows earlier theme songs “Down at the Long Branch Saloon” written by Rosemary Mock  and “The Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City” written by Bruce Dillman, Joann Bock, and George Henrichs are used in the current version of the show.  “The Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City” is the show opener and “Down at the Long Branch Saloon” is the finale.  This year, Mr. Beeson will introduce a song written for the Dodge City Centennial in 1972 (and reworked for this year’s 140th anniversary of the City) entitle “The Legend of Dodge City”.   Last summer, Miss Kitty introduced a song originally written for Amanda Blake to use during promotional tours as Gunsmoke’s Kitty, entitled “Long Branch Blues”.

The piano player has been integral to the show since the very beginning when Dr. Mock played as the Professor.  He later became known as “Doc” and that name has stuck until this day for any of the men who have played in the Variety Show.  Currently, Denise Ann Bamberger plays the piano as Miss Pretty and the other two “Docs” include Kent Ross and Doug Austen.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 3.11.09 PMCountry Style Dinner and Gunfighters

In addition to the nightly Long Branch Variety Show, the Museum also offers its Country Style dinner served in the Occident Saloon, down the boardwalk from the Long Branch.  Immediately preceding the Long Branch Variety Show, the Boot Hill Museum Gunfighters present a reenactment of a shoot-out on old Front Street.  The gunfight has been an integral part of the summer fare since the very earliest days of the show.   The gunfight troupe works very hard to make sure their costuming is accurate and that their stunts are convincing (while still being safe for the performers & audience).

Be Sure To Book Your Reservation

Reservations for the Country Style Dinner and Long Branch Variety Show are a must.  You can contact the Boot Hill Museum office at (620) 227-8188 to book reservations.  They can also share with you information on the Boot Hill Museum Association and the benefits that come with membership.

So as Miss Kitty says at the end of the show:  “The next time you come through these parts – you come and see us Down at the Long Branch Saloon!”

Honorary Marshals

The Honorary Marshal program was started in 1952 by the Dodge City Jaycees. The first person to receive this honor was Rex Allen, western star and singer, when he visited Dodge City. Many famous people have been bestowed this honor including: as Duke Ellington, President John F. Kennedy, President Gerald Ford, Roy Rogers, Paul Harvey, Lawrence Welk, Senator Robert Dole, Richard Petty, and Burt Reynolds. The certificate and badge are presented to distinguished persons only after the following requirements have been met: The Boot Hill Board of Directors must approve the presentation with a majority vote. Presentations must be made in the Boot Hill Cemetery, unless otherwise designated by a majority vote of the Board of Directors.

The presentation must be made by a previous Honorary Marshal.

Rex Allen 1952    Western star and singer
Roy Barcroft   1952    Western movie actor
Tim Holt     1954    Western movie actor
Roy Rogers   1955    Western movie actor and singer
Bill Hill     1955    Executive of Chrysler Corp.
Tex Ritter     1956    Western movie actor
Eddie Dean   1957    Western movie actor
Duke Ellington   1955       Musician
Tim Hovey   1955    Child Actor
Milburn Stone   1958    Star of Gunsmoke
James Arness   1958                Star of Gunsmoke
Jess Taylor   1958    Speaker, Kansas House
Michael Ansara   1958    Actor, Cochise
Hugh O’Brian   1958    Actor, star Wyatt Earp
Guy Madison   1959    Movie Actor
Joel McCrea   1959    Movie Actor
David Jansen   Hollywood, Ca.   1959    Movie Actor
Chill Wills     Movie Actor
Robert Culp   1959    Movie Actor
Steve McQueen   1959    Actor
Johnny Western   1959    Movie Actor and singer
John F. Kennedy   1959    Senator
Johnny Cash       Country Singer
Reverend Jean Jadot       Catholic Archbishop
Wayne King   1961    Band Leader
Orville Freeman   1961    of Agriculture
E. Kelly, Jr.   1961    Pres. of Rotary International
Judge H. Burton Noble 1961    of Rotary International
(Whitey) I.R. Witthuhm 1961    of Kiwanis International
William E. North CLU 1961    Natn. Underwriters Ass.
Smiley Burnett   1961    Movie and T.V. star
Blackie Auger,   1961                 Restaurant Owner, friend of Posse
Ray Sherer     1962    NBC newscaster
Chet Huntley       NBC newscaster
Paul Harvey   1963    Newscaster
Ken Curtis     1964    Festus on Gunsmoke
Hubert H. Humphrey     1965    Vice-President
Gerald Ford   1966    Minority leader House of Representatives
Frank Carlson   1968    Kansas Senator
Robert B. Docking 1968    Governor of Kansas
Walter Hickel   1969    of the Interior
Winthrop Rockerfeller     1969   Governor of Arkansas
Pat Paulsen   1969    V. Star
Jimmy King   1970    Opera Star (from Dodge)
Victor Borge   1971    International pianist and Comedian
Robert Dole       Kansas Senator
Keith Sebelius       Kansas Representative
James Pearson       Kansas Senator
Richard Wiley   1974    Head of Federal Communications Comm
Charles Kuralt   1974    CBS News
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen 1974    Catholic Church
John Mantley   1975    Producer Gunsmoke
George R. Henrichs   1977    Past-Director Boot Hill Museum
Robert Bennett Topeka,   1977    Governor of Kansas
Lawrence Welk   1978    Band Leader & T.V. Celebrity
Roy Clark     1978    Singer
Pat Boone     1979    Movie Star and Singer
Larry Cena   1979    of Santa Fe Railroad
Nancy Landon Kassebaum 1981    State Legislator
Juliet Denious      1982    Owner of Dodge City Daily Globe
Gen. David Grange 1982
William G. Fielding   1983    of Excel Corporation
John Carlin   1983    Governor of Kansas
Dean Edward Smith   1983    North Carolina Basketball Coach
Reggie Jackson   1987    Baseball Player
Richard Petty   1989    King of Stock Car Racing
Jim Sherer     1991    Past-director of Boot Hill Museum
Dennis Weaver   1994    Chester of Gunsmoke
Buck Taylor   2004    Actor/Newly of Gunsmoke/Western Artist
John Deardoff       City Manager 94-2005
Morgan Woodward   2005    Actor-Most Guest Appearances/Gunsmoke
Jim Byrnes   2005    Writer for Gunsmoke
Phil Vassar   2006  `  Singer and Song Writer
Kathleen Sebelius         2007    Governor of Kansas
Katherine Jefferts Schori 2007                  26th presiding Bishop of Episcopal Church
Pat Roberts   2008    Kansas Senator
Bill Curtis     2008    Journalist, TV Personality, Author
Jeff Thorpe   2009    Banker, President of Boot Hill Gaming
Howard Kazanjian   2009    Movie Producer and Author
Mark Parkinson 2010    Governor of Kansas
Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss 2010    Chief Justice, Kansas Supreme Court
Sam Brownback 2011    Governor of Kansas
Bill Cosby     2012    Comedian and Actor
Brent Harris   2013    Brand Ambassador
Johnny Crawford   2014                       Actor/ Rifleman/Singer/ Band leader
John Lehr             2014                       Actor
Kyle Petty     2015                      Race Car driver
Bruce Boxleitner   2015    Actor/Toby Hogue of Gunsmoke
Jess Walton   2015    Actor/Patricia of Gunsmoke
Lane Bradbury   2015    Actor/Merry Florene of Gunsmoke
Burt Reynolds   2015     Actor/Quint Asper of Gunsmoke
Roger Ewing   2015     Actor/Thad of Gunsmoke/Photographer
Fred Haise     2016                       Astronaut
Martina BcBride   2016    Singer