When the Daltons Rode
By Rodger Jacobs
Things do look a damn sight different around these parts today. Back in the Ď20s and Ď30s this was a boomtown the likes youíve never seen with more boosters than you could shake a dirty stick at. Out north where the Valley is now and further out east near Pasadena there was orange groves as far as the crow flies.
Where the Chateau Marmont is on Sunset Boulevard, all of that land west to the sea was called No Manís Land, a tract of unincorporated county territory that didnít have to pay no heed whatsoever to any city or county codes and ordinances, which naturally, is why they spoke of it as No Manís Land.
In í22 I helped Francis S. Montgomery break ground Ė just on the verge of No Manís Land Ė on what he called these ďChamps-Elysee styleĒ store fronts that he gave the name of Sunset Plaza. I was in the real estate and moving picture racket in those days. Thereís a good buck in both those enterprises and I recommend each vocation highly. I don't chase a dollar much these days. No need to. A lot of my time is spent contemplating things that I canít even begin to share with you, nor can I explain what I meant by that except to say that someday youíll know.
My name is Emmett Dalton. I was born in 1866 to Lewis and Adeline Dalton and I died right here in Hollywood in 1937, a reformed man, or so they say. In 1891, me and my brothers Bob, Bill, and Grat robbed a train just north of these parts, over those mountains there and out a few. Our friend George Radcliffe was killed during the raid and my brother Grat was caught and put on trial and given 20 years hard labor. He escaped, though, and headed back to Oklahoma Territory. Over the next 18 months history does record that the Dalton Gang robbed banks and trains all thorough that God-forsaken territory. History does record it but that donít make it true because half of the crimes they accused me and my brothers of committing werenít anywhere near true.
Did you know that until 1931 there wasnít even a tombstone to mark my brothers Bob and Gratís graves in Elmwood Cemetery back in Oklahoma? Of course, by Ď31 Iíd already written two books about my rip-snorting outlaw exploits Ė I served 14 years in prison, you know, for my role in what they now call The Coffeyville Raid Ė and I even made a moving picture so I was rolling in currency and able to right that wrong. When I died, Julia buried me there too, right next to my brothers, though if truth be told Iíd been dead long before I actually ceased to live at 66 years because when you post a ďDead or AliveĒ reward for a man youíre performing some dark alchemy in his spirit. He becomes fair game for every bounty hunter and shit bird farmer with a scatter gun. In quite a real sense he belongs thereafter to the living dead.
The last words I ever heard my brother Bob speak to me was: ďDonít mine me, Emmett, Iím done for. Donít surrender. Die game.Ē I saw Bob go down from a shotgun blast just before I mounted my horse with the First National Bankís money. No moreín a few seconds after brother Bob spoke those words to me a young man by the name of Carey Seaman Ė whom I donít hold no grudge against even now Ė emptied his double-barreled shotgun, loaded with buckshot, into my back. The papers said how miraculous it was that the youngest Dalton boy recovered from his wounds, what with taking 23 lead slugs in the massacre that followed our vain glorious attempt to rob two banks at once out there in Coffeyville, Kansas, on the fifteenth day of October in 1892, and I can tell you those days are as distant to me now as the soft sweet kiss of my beloved Julia but come back they do in fits and starts and with fuzz like that on the layer of a ripe peach because a man will die but his deeds and what they call his energy just kind of lingers in the air like a constantly buzzing telephone line. Thatís what we all are. Buzzing telephone lines. But now Iím getting all strange on you and thereís no way you can comprehend what Iím saying, and who the hell cares about the after-death thoughts of an outlaw and real estate bandit?
Hereís the balm for the horse, though, the little twig that got stuck between the hoof that feels like a nail scraping at the soft underbelly: thereís a lot of people these days calling themselves outlaws and gangsters. Those fellows gunning around here now arenít outlaws. We outlaws in the old days had some principle. We held up trains and banks, thatís true, but we never shot anyone unless he qualified and unless it was absolutely necessary. But these gangsters today they run in huge packs. They even have bodyguards. Can you beat that? One little punk backed up by about a couple of dozen others? Imagine Jesse James or the Dalton boys with a bunch of bodyguards.
© 2004-05, Rodger Jacobs
All Rights Reserved