Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dalton Gang

Day After Thanksgiving, 2007

One of my favorite childhood activities was begging my Grandpa Lindsey to take me to The Dalton Museum in Coffeyville, Kansas. A few Thanksgivings ago, I told my sons -- who had never been there -- that they had to see this place before they grew up and went away to college, because it had been such an important and well-loved part of my childhood. So, here we are in the picture!

Remember at the beginning of a A Child's Christmas in Wales when Dylan Thomas, recalling a big snowfall from years before, says that he "can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when [he] was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when [he] was six"? Well, for a long time I had a similar situation with my family's personal Dalton legend.

I could never quite remember if one of my grandfather's brothers gave one of the Dalton brothers a haircut or if one of the Dalton brothers gave one of my grandfather's brothers a haircut. I knew it was something along those lines. My mother clarified for me: it was her father's brother Wayne who gave Emmett a few shaves after Emmett got out of prison. My mom tells me that Wayne had barber shops in Elgin, Peru, Chautauqua, and Havana (all in Kansas). She's not sure in which location Emmett and Wayne met, but it's still a good story. Maybe not as exciting as my grand-dad and his brothers being part of an actual gang, but I can still say that my great-uncle was Emmett Dalton's barber!

To refresh your memory of the notorious, ill-fated Dalton Gang, try reading Desperadoes by Ron Hansen (American novelist, essayist, and professor; b 1947). Hansen's approach is so straightforward, almost not fiction, but he does seem to get Emmett's voice right, and it's gratifying to know that no stone has been left unturned. My favorite passage has to be the comment that Hansen gives to Emmett when he gets out of prison and rides the train across the country in 1906: "Seems like everywhere you look it's the twentieth century."

You might also enjoy my blog post from last summer, "End of Summer Sounds." Though you may not envision an immediate connection between the Dalton brothers and the cicada, it's there! It just takes someone like me to show the way!

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