Dodge City has some fantastic stories, especially regarding pranks that some of the gamblers would play on unsuspecting citizens. The Dodge City Gang as they were referred to included well-known names such as Luke Short, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. One of my favorite stories is about a prank that was played on a lawyer that had recently arrived in Dodge City. After getting drunk and passing out, he awoke to find himself laid out in a casket with a funeral service underway. I couldn’t resist this story and chose to include it as part of my Doc Holliday book, A Gentleman in Hell.
Excerpt from A Gentleman in Hell
“Wyatt nudged Doc sharply in the ribs and pointed at the corpse. Doc leaned over the wooden casket to take a closer look. He viewed the body briefly and crossed himself before bowing his head. Bat Masterson watched Doc’s sudden burst of piousness with surprise, looked at Wyatt and smiled. Wyatt sighed and nudged Doc again, this time jabbing the dentist so hard that he was almost knocked forwards. He pointed to the casket. Doc glared at Wyatt but did as he was asked and took another peek. He studied the body carefully this time. He was surprised and relieved when he recognized the corpse as a lawyer who had been visiting Dodge over the past couple of days. He remembered him from one of the Faro games that he had been banking a couple of nights before. He wondered how the man had died and examined the body for any obvious wounds and scars.
Around the dead man’s head lay a wreath of sunflowers. His face was pale and his cheeks were crudely coloured with rouge and lipstick. He was dressed immaculately in a tailored suit, except for his boots which had an inch of mud and horse manure on the soles. Doc was curious about the boots but stood silent. Surely it was the undertaker’s job to take care of such matters. Maybe things were done differently in Dodge City. Dirty boots or no boots at all, if you were dead it didn’t matter.
The lawyer’s chest rose and fell, the corpse was breathing. Doc squirmed uncomfortably and choked. He muffled a cough with his handkerchief, but the cough got stronger, until he choked and wheezed like a braying donkey. The body in the casket sat bolt upright at the noise and stared at Doc with a dazed expression. The dentist screamed and pulled his derringer from his burgundy vest and aimed it at the corpse, his hand shook and was still damp with saliva.
The dead man came alive, saw the gun pointed at his face and saw Doc’s gray eyes penetrating his pale body. He screamed and panicked, squirmed and pulled free of the casket. The dentist kept his eyes on the man. He stood stalk still, his skinny wrist held the derringer perpendicular to his body. Wyatt grabbed Doc from behind and hit the gun from his hand.
“He’s dead, he’s dead,” screamed Doc.
“No he isn’t. Drop the gun. I’ll explain it to you,”
Wyatt tightened his grip on Doc until the dentist could hardly breathe. Doc dropped the gun, his chest heaved up and down with wheezing gasps for breath. The lawyer broke free and rushed through to the main saloon. A young barmaid squealed and dropped the tray of drinks that she was carrying. The glass tumblers crashed onto the floor, one breaking into hundreds of pieces, another rolling across the wooden floor and in behind a spittoon, causing the brass to resonate on the way past. A drunken old-timer who sat on a bar stool above the spittoon, woke up from his evening nap and opened his eyes wide enough to catch sight of the panicked corpse dashing past him.
“I’m not dead! I’m not dead! I just came in for a drink. Dear Lord, someone help me.”
Each man watched the lawyer study his form in one of the long mirrors that hung along the side of the room. The lawyer trembled and tears rolled down his face and into his moustache. He turned to the mirror and stared at his reflection in horror. He was unaware that his pallor was rubbing off underneath the tear drops. The lawyer saw the reflections of the laughing men behind him.
“Sweet Jesus! Get out while you can!” He gave a high-pitched scream and ran out of the saloon leaving the wing doors flapping behind him.
The barroom filled with laughter. In the back-room, the men stood around the empty casket with tears of joy running down their faces. Doc stood in the middle of the group with a perplexed expression.
“Oh Doc, if only you could have seen your face,” said Bat.
“I swear I thought he was going to shoot him,” said Luke.
Doc got the joke and smiled.”