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Setting the Stage

In 1892--the year the infamous Dalton Gang attempted to rob two Coffeyville, Kansas banks--Kansas already had a long history of violence. The area had been acquired from France in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The American Indian tribes living there were soon forced out by cattle herders and other settlers from Texas and Missouri. The approach of the Civil War brought further conflict. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act established the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and provided that the people living there should determine for themselves whether slavery would be permitted or not. While people in Nebraska Territory quickly chose to prohibit slavery, the settlers of Kansas Territory were bitterly divided. In 1856, the territory became known as "Bleeding Kansas" because of the violent clashes between pro- and anti-slavery factions.

Kansas entered the Union as a free state on the eve of the Civil War. Like the other middle border states of Missouri and Arkansas and the Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma), it held people with strong southern sympathies as well as people who just as strongly supported the Union. Violent men used the war as an excuse to loot and murder. Their legacy created a new culture of lawlessness in the post-Civil War era when outlaws such as Frank and Jesse James and Cole and Jim Younger terrorized citizens.

As the end of the 19th century approached, the citizens of Kansas looked forward to the progress and prosperity that the new 20th century seemed to promise. Most of the notorious outlaws of the 1870s and 80s were dead or in prison by this time. The Dalton Gang, however, was alive and well. At Coffeyville, in 1892, the outlaws and the citizens of the town clashed in the course of a daring bank robbery.



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