DODGE CITY, Kan. — It was history made and history lovingly remembered in the heritage rich frontier town of Dodge City, Kan.
Earlier this month, the Old West, cattle and cowboys were on display and celebrated in a grandeur befit the American spirit. Organizers, wanting to bring even more visitors to town, took special pride in this year’s version of Dodge Days titled “Get the Heck Into Dodge.” Dodge City, a western Kansas town of approximately 27,000, spiced up its annual Dodge Days celebration with a cattle drive on their major street appropriately named Wyatt Earp Boulevard. Thousands lined the road to watch a parade of 59 longhorns. It was the first major cattle drive in Dodge City since the 1880s.
Both the drive and number of longhorns were significant as noted in a proclamation from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. The declaration mentioned the millions of head of cattle driven in the 19th century from Texas to Dodge City and its railroad in the post-Civil War era.
The life of the drover was a lot harder and dirtier than romanticized later in film. Still that bit of history enshrined the cowboy in the American psyche and spawned countless Westerns, showcased on television and movie screens for most of the 20th century. Under a bright sun it was remembered and revered again.
There was also a reason for the 59 longhorns. It symbolized the 59th anniversary of the start of one of the longest running television programs ever, “Gunsmoke.” The Old West drama was fiction but became real to its millions of fans.
One of the “Gunsmoke” actors found the Dodge Days opportunity impossible to resist.
Buck Taylor had the role of Newly O’Brien, from 1967-1975 portraying a deputy and gunsmith. During the cattle drive, and as an honorary drive marshal, he was widely recognized and respected. Afterwards Taylor sat down and talked about being in the real Dodge City as opposed to the fictional Dodge City on a set in California.
“It’s great to be here,” he said. “I realize that without the real Dodge City there would have never been a ‘Gunsmoke.’ And ‘Gunsmoke’ was so good to me.”
“Gunsmoke” started its run in 1955. Taylor graduated from high school in 1956 and a little more than 10 years later was a regular cast member.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I had watched the show for years and there I am in the Long Branch Saloon with Doc, Matt, Miss Kitty and all of them. It was great.”
Taylor, who later would meet his wife in Oklahoma City at State Fair Park, still watches the program although he finds it a bit bittersweet.
“Just about all of us are gone now,” he lamented. Surviving cast members with major recurring roles include Burt Reynolds (as Quint Asper) and Roger Ewing (as Thad Greenwood).
Taylor, whose late-actor father Dub Taylor graduated from Classen High School, has many fond memories. In one episode he was married, only to have his wife die shortly after the wedding. Finding a girlfriend for Newly seemed to be a common storyline of his time on the show. In a few episodes, there was a simple country girl named Merry Florene who made no secret of her huge crush on the man she called “Mr. Newly.” One fan of the program met Taylor and couldn’t understand why he didn’t respond romantically to Florene. That fan was the nation’s first lady, Lady Bird Johnson.
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