A grandiose plan for hefty heist put an end to this outlaw family’s thieving ways

During the late 1800s, the Dalton Gang was a group of thieves infamous for robbing banks, stagecoaches, and trains. Bob, Emmett and Gratton “Grat” were three of James Lewis and Adeleine Dalton’s 10 sons who founded the Dalton Gang. The band of brothers was assisted by a few other criminal cohorts. Brother Bill Dalton had his own gang but was killed by deputies in 1894 when they tracked him down after he held up the First National Bank of Longview, Texas.

These good boys took a bad turn

The Daltons weren’t always such a villainous clan. Older brother Frank Dalton had a respectable job as a deputy U.S. Marshal but was killed in 1887 by Oklahoma whiskey runners. Grat took Frank’s job and recruited Bob and Emmett. But when the trio was caught abusing their powers, they switched careers and moved on to cattle rustling and robbery.

In 1891, Bob and Grat left Emmett behind and teamed up with Bill to rob a Southern Pacific train near Alila, California. The scheme fell apart when a train guard fired on them. Believing that practice makes perfect, the outlaws reunited with Emmett, going on to rob any bank or train they considered an easy mark.

Photo Courtesy: [Cramers Art Rooms of Cherryvale, Kansas/Wikimedia Commons]

A perilous plan is hatched

Enjoying their celebrity and hoping to top the exploits of Jesse James’ gang, Bob Dalton proposed that the group go to the Dalton family’s hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas, split up, then simultaneously rob two banks. Bob argued that the brothers were familiar with the town’s layout and could make a quick getaway.

Emmett opposed the idea, saying that he’d attended a nearby school and would be recognized. He also worried that old friends might be injured or killed. Disregarding Emmett’s pleas, the group forged ahead. Emmett and Bob continued to argue about the plan even as the group rode into town on the morning of October 5, 1892.

The Dalton Gang soon discovered their grandest hold-up would prove to be as disastrous as their first. As they entered Coffeyville, they’d planned on tying their horses up just behind one of the banks. But when the men arrived, they discovered the hitching post had been removed, forcing them to tie up the horses in an alleyway.

Vigilante justice comes for the Dalton Gang

It didn’t take long for the Daltons to be recognized as townspeople began shouting “The Daltons are robbing the bank!” as Bob and Emmett ran over to the First National Bank. Grat and accomplices Bill Powers and Dick Broadwell entered Condon Bank, across the street.

Before either group could flee, townspeople were shooting at the robbers through the banks’ large glass windows using rifles, guns, and ammo supplied by the local hardware store. In less than 15 minutes, Coffeyville’s citizens had killed all of the men except Emmett, who was wounded. “Emmett succeeded in getting into the saddle, but not until he had received a shot through the right arm and one through the left hip and groin,” Coffeyville Journal Editor and eyewitness, David Elliot wrote. Emmett survived and served 14 years in prison for the crime. Four locals also died during the shootout.

“Emmett succeeded in getting into the saddle, but not until he had received a shot through the right arm and one through the left hip and groin”. – Coffeyville Journal Editor and eyewitness, David Elliott

The Dalton Gang were celebrities in death, too

People flooded Coffeyville looking to cut off pieces of the dead men’s clothing, saddles and hair from their horses’ manes and tails as souvenirs. After prison, Emmett Dalton moved to California where he sold real estate, played himself in a 1918 movie based on his book Beyond the Law, and wrote a second book When the Daltons Rode in 1931. He died in 1937 at the age of 66.

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