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In this lesson, students learn how a tradition of outlawry developed in Kansas and how people in Coffeyville fought back. The following activities will help them apply what they have learned.

Activity 1: The Myth of the Outlaw
Remind students that robbers of trains, express wagons, and banks became part of the mythological West. Their exploits appeared in such traveling exhibitions as "Buffalo Bill" Cody's Wild West Show, as well as in newspapers, dime novels, and movies. People flocked to Coffeyville to see the bodies of the Dalton gang and the bullet holes in the Condon Bank. The day after the failed robbery, the Topeka, Kansas, paper featured a long, inaccurate, romanticized story and newspapers all over the country reproduced the photo of the bank included here as Photo 2. At least two movies have been made based on the Dalton Gang, one with Emmett Dalton, having served his prison sentence, playing himself. Ask students to imagine that they are young people who came to Coffeyville after the robbery. Ask them to write a letter to a friend in the east describing why they went, what they saw, and how they felt about it.

Students may also want to do some research on famous villains, such as Billy the Kid, Jesse James, the Younger Gang, John Dillinger, Charles Manson, "Son of Sam," or someone more recently in the news. The students can then report back to the class on their careers and the coverage they received in the news media. Next, ask students how the media treated these people. Did they describe lawbreakers as glamorous or romantic? If not, what comments did they make about them? Compare the way the media covered recent crimes with the newspaper coverage of the Coffeyville robbery. In what ways were the crimes the same or different? How was the media treatment the same or different?

Activity 2: Taking the Law into Our Own Hands
Explain to students that in its early history, Kansans suffered from groups that decided to take the law into their own hands. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups killed innocent people before and during the Civil War. Quantrill's renegade militia used the war as an excuse to kill without mercy. Later, in Coffeyville, Kansas, and elsewhere, citizens armed themselves against outlaw gangs and stopped them. In some towns, criminals were tried and convicted in the street and hanged immediately--lynched--without a legal trial. Ask students under what circumstances people feel justified in taking the law into their own hands? What are the dangers in doing so? Are there alternatives? Divide the class into two teams. Have them debate the proposition: "It is never acceptable for citizens to take the law into their own hands." Have each team develop their argument and rebuttal strategy. If possible, invite other classes and community members to judge the debate.

Activity 3: Famous Events in the Community
Explain to students that for Coffeyville, Kansas, the unsuccessful robbery of the Condon Bank was one of the most important events in its history. The city went to considerable expense to restore the bank to its appearance in 1892, and it and the Dalton Defenders Museum continue to be important tourist attractions. Ask students to talk to older people in their community to determine whether any famous event (local, regional, or national) such as a natural disaster, a political contest, a strike or riot, a famous trial, or a sensational crime occurred there. Have them research local newspapers to see how the event was covered. They may be able to check newspapers from other cities to find out whether the story received national publicity. Hold a class discussion about whether the event should be commemorated in some way, either by preserving places associated with it or by erecting a memorial. What should the memorial look like? What should it say?

 

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