The Day Coffeyville Bled - The Dalton Johnson Gang


Chapter VIII - Legend

         Legend is considered to be a popular version of a story, usually taken as historical fact, yet it is not verifiable in any aspect. It also allows the storyteller to embellish known ideas and thoughts with a certain amount of color. By doing this, he creates a mystical aura surrounding the subject of his tales.
         If not held in check, legend inevitably becomes so strong that it too is believed as part of historical documentation. With no more further explanation, legend becomes more deeply and more deeply embedded so that it seems to be plausible. The improbability of a given situation is therefore readily justified in the minds of an audience as a true possibility, without question. The result is then a storyline that has been handed down from one person to another so many times that if a given constant did not transpire exactly the way of the retelling, it will still be accepted in any version presented. This acceptance is because of the use of a few known qualities and a few known absolutes that were at one time real. These have now been shaded, and the hues of the distortion leave behind a romantic or an exciting image that otherwise would not exist.
         Sometimes the human mind can detect notes of infractions in a tale and sort them out for what they may be. Yet, still it prefers to linger with thoughts generated by the teller of these tales and questions no further the events that have been carefully spelled out. This is only natural, and a good legend relies heavily on these facets of the mind as well as on the excitement a saga may paint. There is nothing wrong with seeing a legend for what it is, but not to recognize it as such and to perpetuate the misinformation as truth and historical fact simply makes for more confusion. The effects of legends have their purpose, and each purpose is designed exclusively for that particular account that it describes. The exact moment in which the Dalton legends sprang to the forefront of the American public’s view is not certain. Prior to the debacle at Coffeyville, Kansas, on October 5, 1892, stories had been circulating regarding the debonair actions and the suave demeanor of this band of freebooters. The actions of the Dalton Gang were never much in question; they were known for what they were, simply outlaws. A group of social misfits who were determined to plague the countryside with their misdirected deeds. It was the manner in which they performed their daring raids on civilians that was of great interest.
         Their swashbuckling style, their “devil-may-care” attitude, the romantic good-looking “boys” from Missouri who were harshly treated...(click here for more chapter previews)


Mark S. Pannill
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