Main Street Kansas: Caldwell preserves rowdy past with wild tours

Main Street Kansas

When it comes to the Wild West, Kansas had plenty of outlaws back in the 1800s.

Now, one town is preserving its rowdy past, with an exciting tour complete with gunfighters and ghosts. 

From the main street of Caldwell, to the outskirts of town where cattle drives followed the Chisholm Trail, the lawlessness of the Old West is not forgotten. 

“This was the first city or town out of Indian territory so it was pretty wild,” said Phil Sprague. “We had 20, 30-some bars here in Caldwell.”

Not to mention a lot of shoot-outs, with more than just the bad guys kicking the bucket. 

“Twelve, 13 marshals, sheriffs were killed here within two and a half years or so” said Sprague.  

Reenacting that turbulent time, including the bordellos and so-called “ladies of the night,” is part of a tour that starts at the opera house.   

A tram ride stops at several historical sites in Caldwell and the “Last Chance Saloon”, a supper club fashioned after a real bar on the frontier. The bar offered cowboys their last chance at civilization. 

Visitors also see where many ended up — at the cemetery.

The tour takes you past several headstones where you hear firsthand the stories of the outlaws and crazy characters of Caldwell back in the 1880s.

Local residents dress in period costumes and become “talking tombstones.”

It’s ironic perhaps that playing the part of dead people is keeping their legacy alive. 

“Seeing where people are buried and hearing their tale, whether it’s sorrowful or exciting and wild,” said Nicole Eaton. “I think it gets people excited about history.”

Residents also want newcomers to get excited about what Caldwell has to offer. 

“We have an excellent school system, a wonderful hospital,” added Caldwell resident Jill Kuehny. 

The foundation for what townspeople believe is a promising future in a place that embraces its checkered past.      

If you are interested in scheduling a tour, call the tourism director. The full tour lasts about four hours and includes dinner for $25 per person. Or, you can visit the talking tombstones for $5 per person. 

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