Archive for Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dodge City seeks to regain artifact

November 24, 2007

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— A police docket book from 1878 to 1882 offers a peek into a window of Dodge City's storied past.

One of the first entries of the book is reportedly an arrest by Wyatt Earp and James Masterson, who detained James Kennedy, the troublemaking cowboy son of a rich Texas rancher.

There is just one problem with the book: It isn't in Dodge City.

Local historian George Laughead Jr. was surprised as he was perusing the blog of a Western magazine editor who had gotten a peek at the docket book after it showed up at an Arizona auction house.

"There's no legal mechanism for it to be sold," Laughead said.

It wasn't immediately clear when this item may have walked away from city record vaults. The original story attached to the book was that it had been in an attic in Ohio for 125 years.

Laughead said the explanation doesn't hold water - cities aren't allowed to sell official documents such as docket books.

When he began to dig into the matter, he received another explanation: The book was passed from a grandfather to the father to the son, but it wasn't clear how the grandfather acquired the item.

Laughead suspects the book disappeared during the 1950s or the 1980s - two periods that saw the theft of many Dodge City historical items and documents.

Brian Lebel, auctioneer at the Old West Show and Auction in Carefree, Ariz., declined to comment on the origin of the book and would not identify the owner. However, the auction house returned the book to its owner as soon as questions were raised.

"In the auction business, we deal with clear title. If there is any problem at all, the item is returned," Lebel said.

Laughead has been keeping Dodge City Manager Ken Strobel apprised of his efforts. Strobel said official documents are an invaluable asset to a city whose identity is so closely associated with American history.

"Monetarily, frankly they're not worth a lot of money to the city because we would never dispose of them," Strobel said. "The importance to the city, of course, is just the fact that they're a vital part of the history of the city and the development of the community."

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