Printed in the Fresno Bee Magazine, June 27, 1943
LAST OF THE DALTONS
The late Emmett Dalton was the last of the notorious Dalton Gang of 50 years ago. He was survived by his widow, Julia Johnson Dalton, who died in Fresno last month. She was the heroine of Emmett’s book, "When The Daltons Rode", and a good influence in his life.
By Thelma Miller
JULIA JOHNSON DALTON, who died in Fresno recently at the age of 73, once slipped into her brother’s riding togs, shinnied down an apple tree, growing conveniently close, to the
bedroom window of her parent’s ranch home in the Indian Territory, and rode all night to warn the outlaw Dalton brothers they were heading into an ambush.
She was Emmett Dalton's boyhood sweetheart and later his wife. She stood by him during his renegade days and waited 14 years for him while he expiated his crimes in prison. The little. tomboy, her friends called Blackie, 60 years ago, had the satisfaction of knowing her loyalty and faith helped Emmett Dalton go straight again. She was one of the last survivors of those close to the Daltons when they were border bandits of the 1890's. Her nephew Roy Johnson, lives at 2009 Clay Avenue, Fresno.
The story, of Julia Johnson and of the notorious Dalton Gang was told in full for the first time in the book, "When The Daltons Rode", written by Emmett Dalton in collaboration with Jack Jungmeyer, a Los Angeles Newspaperman, and published in 1931.
In 1940, shortly after Emmett’s death, the book was made into a Class A horse opera starring Randolph Scott, Broderick Crawford, Andy Devine and Kay Francis. Julia Dalton was associated in the filming as a sort of technical advisor. Later, she went to Coffeyville, Kansas, for the picture’s premier.
Coffeyville was chosen because it was the scene of the most sensational episode in the Dalton’s career – an attempt at the simultaneous cracking of two banks. The gang was wiped out after a 10 minute gun battle in which eight men were killed and four were wounded.
Most of the 15 Dalton children of whom Emmett was the eleventh, were born in Missouri before the family drifted into the Indian Territory in 1882, seven years before the later State of Oklahoma was opened to settlement.
The Dalton brothers inherited a tradition of violence on the dark and bloody ground of the Missouri-Kansas border and where Quantrill’s raiders and other guerilla bands operated during and after the Civil War.
They were conditioned by the lingering lawlessness which always is a byproduct of war and which was peculiarly a result of the War Between the States.
Frank, Bob, Grattan and Emmett Dalton all served with distinction as peace officers in the Indian Territory. Frank was killed in the line of duty. A narrow margin separated the lawless from the law enforcers in those rough times. There was little to choose between them in reckless courage. Men slipped rather easily from one side of the line to the other. Reformed outlaws sometimes made good officers — and sometimes good officers became outlaws.
That was what happened to the Daltons in 1890. And the results were made conclusive by events which occurred here in the San Joaquin Valley.
The trouble started when Bob and Emmett and three of their friends were riding though New Mexico en route back to the Indian Territory. They were in a bad mood. Bob had just resigned as a deputy marshal, with a considerable sum of back wages due him and a conviction he had been badly treated by his superiors.
The boys rode into a mining camp and to a deadfall where they sat in on a faro game. They lost heavily. Convinced the game was crooked, they pulled their guns, took back what they had lost and a bit more.
This put them definitely on the wrong side of the line. Bob and Grattan fled to California.
Their brother, Littleton, had a ranch near Clovis. William, another brother, was ranching near Paso Robles and a cousin Sam Oldham, had a wheat farm a mile east of Kingsburg. The brothers were not then beyond regeneration but an unfortunate turn of circumstances consigned them irrevocably to outlawry.
A Southern Pacific train was held up near Alila and the express car was robbed. These train robberies were of rather frequent occurrence. Men who would have considered it a stain upon their honor to rob an individual had an easier conscience with regard to corporate interests.
The small land owners were hostile toward the Southern Pacific Railroad as a result of the Mussel Slough tragedy and other troubles arising out of land titles. The express companies were runners-up in unpopularity, considered as offering legitimate booty to anyone who could stage a successful holdup.
The highly colored reputation of the Dalton boys had preceded them to the San Joaquin Valley. A railroad detective, one Bill Smith, was convinced the Daltons had committed the robbery at Alila. He made the matter almost a personal vendetta and swore he would see them behind bars.
He and Sheriff Ed O’Neill cornered Bob Dalton at his brother Bill’s ranch, but the noncommittal manner of the latter turned the officers from the hot trail. They accepted an invitation to remain for the night and never knew Bob was hiding in an adjoining room.
Smith arrested Grattan in Fresno. He was able to prove he had been playing poker in the Grand Central Hotel here at the time of the robbery and was released. But Smith twice had him rearrested, he was tried in Visalia and convicted. While awaiting sentence he made a sensational jail break and fled to the home of a friend near Cross Creek.
Later, hiding in the hills above Sanger, he was betrayed by a man he trusted and Smith, like a nemesis, reappeared on his trail. Grat escaped on a horse he took from a farmer who was plowing a Tulare County field.
He took refuge with a good friend in Merced Country and made a remarkable 107 day ride back to Oklahoma.
This is how the story is told in Emmett’s book:
"The California winter rains were drenching the Sierra as Grat skirted the lonely foothills between Merced and Bakersfield. His goal lay almost 2,000 miles south and east.. Well it was, that his legs were saddle hardened, and that his lean body was inured to grueling tests.
"Along dim trails he passed occasional Basque shepherds and solitary Chinamen still gleaning the gold gulches of ‘49. They stared a moment in dull curiosity at the hastening, furtive horseman. Deer coming down from the higher snowfalls whistled at his passing.
"Bakersfield, hectic cowboy capital, waved him on into the gaunt Tehachapis. The wild passes of this divide echoed his hoofbeats down across the Mojave Desert to the fringe of Los Angeles. There he pause just long enough to have his horse shod.
"Through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, riding always alone, the iron of his horse’s shoes often wore thin while the iron in his outraged and turbulent soul grew always harder.
"He lived precariously on small game and often hungered. Once he wrapped the animal’s feet, thick in burlap, to protect the tender feet for three days of flinty going. For the raw edges of his own spirit he wanted no protective blanket. That was the kind of galling sore a man keeps from healing with the savage joy of coming revenge. For three months he nursed it as he fled toward his far haven."
In the meantime Bob had become the leader of the gang which never numbered more than 10 men, although Emmett said several score at one time or another claimed to have been members. Nor, he insisted, were the depredations of the gang nearly so numerous nor so profitable as was rumored.
Emmett gives the full history of the Dalton forays, beginning with a train robbery at Whorton, which, he said, "in our disordered minds had some of the elements of retributive justice." – a blow at those corporate interest which had caused trouble for Bob and Grat in California.
The haul from the first train robbery, committed partly from sheer boredom, ‘partly in response to the tendency to do the things of which one has been accused," was about $14,000, not enough for the outlaws to realize their dream of retiring to a big ranch in Mexico or South America.
The first crime inevitably led to the next. Men on the dodge have a hard time making a living legitimately. Seven men, including Bob and Emmett Dalton, took $19,000 from a train they held up near Lelietta.
Bob and Emmett then left the gang, resolved to go straight. But the arrival of Grat and his corrosive bitterness as he recited his experiences in California hardened their hearts again. Grat joined the reorganized gang in a raid on an express car at Red Rock, where they narrowly escaped ambuscade but succeeded in taking nearly $11,000.
During plans for the nest foray at Pryor Creek an alert farmer observed them lurking in the vicinity and gave the warning. But the bandits, too, had their suspicions aroused and changed the locale of the holdup to Adair, a nearby town on the line.
United States marshals and a hastily deputized citizen posse were planted on th train. But with the surprise value of their change in plans the desperadoes were able to stand off the three marshals who opened fire on them while the citizen, deputies hid under the seats. They got $17,000 in this robbery.
The last lawless venture was the most daringly conceived of all – to hold up two banks at once of Coffeyville, Kansas. But the whole town rose up to repulse the attack. Bob and Gatt Dalton, Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers were killed as well as four Coffeyville citizens.
Emmett Dalton went down sieved with 20 bullets, but he lived to stand trial and to serve 14 years of a life sentence. The bandits always had friends on the right side of the law. Some thought Emmett was not beyond redemption and obtained his pardon.
Punishment does not always make men mean or break their spirits. A case in point is that of Emmett Dalton. He took his medicine like a man and came from prison regenerated. He married Julia, moved to California and ended his days here as a respectable and law abiding building contractor.
At 60, he still was as straight as an Indian and handsome enough to uphold his family’s reputation for well favored men. His face was unlined and his black hair showed no trace of gray.
That was in 1931, the year his book was published. But only a few years later came the onset of the ultimately fatal illness which was to make him an old man in a pitifully short time.
Relatives say Dalton refused several good offers to sell his book to the movies. He gave no reason but it was suspected he wished to hold back the sale until after his death. Thus he provided a nest egg for Julia, his concern to the last.