The first part of April brings to mind the many practical jokes people play on each other this time of year.
Early Dodge City residents were into physical humor as well, and it didn’t take a special occasion like April Fool’s Day to bring this playfulness out.
The people of Dodge had a fictitious person they could blame all sorts of mayhem on. His name was Luke McGlue, and he was credited with a number of devious deeds individuals preferred to pass off on somebody else.
Information gleaned from Frederic Young’s book, "Dodge City up through a Century in Stories and Pictures," reveals a few of these exploits which range from merely annoying to downright dangerous.
For example, when a traveling cigar salesman from St. Joseph, Missouri, came to Dodge City, his sales samples were stolen and his cigars ended up in the mouths of almost every man on Front Street. Who would steal his cigars and pass them around? Everyone answered the question by merely stating "Luke McGlue."
In June 1877 when the Rev. O.W. Wright’s favorite pony disappeared, he could not be consoled. A deputy sheriff, who was in on the joke, told the reverend that the culprit who stole his pony had been found and asked Wright whether the criminal should be shot or hanged. Momentarily, Wright struggled between the urge for revenge and his sense of Christian forgiveness. But the reverend figured out quickly the crook was none other than Luke McGlue, and his good-natured response earned him a place with McGlue’s gang of men.
Sometimes these jokes would take on a more ominous nature. Occasionally this gang would dress up and play the role of "wild Indians" to scare the willies out of unsuspecting tenderfoots. There was often a danger that the "victims" would defend themselves by shooting at these fake "savages" with real bullets.
One of former Sheriff Bat Masterson’s final flings before leaving Ford County in 1880 was to join his pals in a practical joke imposed upon a "Dr. Meredith" who specialized in the treatment of "private diseases."
Meredith had written Dodge City to find out if there was any interest in hearing a lecture on this subject. They told him a Luke McGlue would be interested in learning more about this topic.
The Lady Gay dance hall was reserved for this special occasion. The good doctor expected to give a short talk followed by "medical examinations" for those who required them.
Before Dr. Meredith could finish his opening remarks, a shouting match involving Masterson and other "McGlues" in the audience ensued. The doctor was dragged from the podium. Soon after there was a crash, all the lamps went out at once, and a noisy and raucous "shoot-out" commenced. When it was over all the participants had all vanished from the hall except Dr. Meredith who was cowering under the speaker’s stand with a bullet hole in the crown of his hat.
So, next time somebody plays a joke on you, remember how much worse it could be, and thank your lucky stars Luke McGlue no longer walks the streets of Dodge City.
Kathie Bell is the curator of collections and education at Boot Hill Museum.