The Bank Robbery of Dexter - 1892
By Ivan Pfalser, Caney Valley Historical Society
In May 2001, there was a notice in the Wichita Eagle newspaper that the bank at Dexter, Ks. was going to close in June. The bank was in the range of 125 years in existence and its claim to fame was that it was the victim of the last successful bank robbery by the "Dalton Gang" before their demise in Coffeyville on Oct. 5, 1892.
This naturally caught my attention so the next time I was through Dexter I stopped to find out about the story. Oddly enough no one in the bank really knew anything about the robbery but they directed me to one of the local historians, As the story developed, on Monday afternoon on Sept. 19, 1892 two men rode into town from the south and tied their horses to the pipe hitching rail on the west side of the building. They came in and proceeded to rob them of about $3,000. Leaving the bank the two mounted their horses and rode out of town heading southeast across the hills. A posse of local citizens was quickly formed and started in hot pursuit but were not able to overtake them. The word was that they were part of the Dalton gang and that someone recognized Grat as one of the two, but the other was unidentified. Further investigation revealed that the two had stayed with a farm family a few miles south of Dexter on Sunday. The crime remains unsolved today and if it was Grat he had only a couple of more weeks to live to tell anyone about it.
In researching the story I found it was reported in the Arkansas City, Winfield, Cedar Vale and Coffeyville papers. Oddly enough just 1 month before the event the Dexter newspaper went out of business and it was a month or so later before a new editor took up the publication. Another odd thing to come out of this research was an article in the previous week's Arkansas City newspaper reported that a marshal way down in southern Texas had apprehended the whole Dalton family in covered wagons on their way to Mexico to get away from the law. He had arrested all the men and was holding them in jail while he contacted the federal officials in Ft. Smith, Arkansas as to what to do with the prisoners. I suspect it was a case of mistaken identity because even if it was the "Dalton family" they would have had to do some fast traveling to get back to Coffeyville by Oct. 5, not to mention why they wouldn't have proceeded on to their intended destination. The question remains: Was it Grat who held up the Dexter bank? Maybe yes, maybe no, but there is a second part to this story.
In 1999 I had to travel to Hugoton, Kansas on some church business. Almost every town on the route had a museum and I hit every one that was open. I had always heard about the Dalton Hide Out Museum in Meade, so naturally this was an absolute, no questions about it, stop.
I won't write about the Hide Out Museum at this time other than to say that it's pretty much a waste of time. However, a visit to the Meade County Museum was more productive. Here I met Don Goodnight and naturally the conversation drifted toward the Daltons. He said his grandfather, F. L. Goodnight, had a missing finger on his left hand, which he said was shot off by one of the Daltons. As the story goes, the Goodnight family originated as ranchers in eastern Cowley County near Dexter. F. L. and his two brothers, Joe and George, owned a corn sheller and did custom work for their neighbors. One Saturday F. L. went to town to collect money owed them by various farmers. As he moved about town he noticed that Grat Dalton seemed to be always close by, watching him. As evening approached he began to feel uneasy about Grat's seemingly constant presence, so he took his money, some $800, and deposited it in the bank. He started home rather late and as he drove his horse and buggy along they came to a place where there was considerable brush and trees on both sides of the road. Suddenly someone shouted for him to "halt". Instead, he applied the buggy whip and took off as fast as possible. The answer to this was a number of gunshots, one of which hit his hand. The finger was so badly damaged that it had to be removed. Was it Grat that shot at him? F. L. always felt sure it was. One of the horses was also shot and fell dead about a mile down the road.
The next question that will probably never be answered: Was this "Saturday" the Sept. 17, 1892 two days before the bank was robbed? There is a 50-50 chance that it may have been. If it was, Grat got F. L.'s $800 anyway, he just had to wait a couple of days. The Goodnight family migrated west keeping their ranching tradition, finally settling in Clark and Meade Counties. I have a copy of a letter and a photograph of F. L. that relates the story.
Cowley County area historians say that the Daltons frequented the area and were fairly well known by many residents.
The name "Goodnight" probably has some of you wondering. Yes, Charles Goodnight, of Texas panhandle fame, was a relative. I believe he was F. L.'s uncle.