March 8

This Day in History

Old West

Mar 8, 1893:

Emmet Dalton goes to prison

Emmet Dalton, the only survivor of the Dalton Gang's disastrous attempt to rob two Kansas banks, begins serving a life sentence in the Kansas State Penitentiary.

Born in 1871, Emmet was the youngest of the three Dalton brothers, who banded together to pursue a life of crime. Initially, his brothers Bob and Grat were reluctant to include Emmet in their crimes because of his youth--when the two elder brothers traveled to California to rob trains in 1889, they refused to take along the 18-year-old Emmet. After returning to Oklahoma several years later, though, Bob and Grat judged Emmet sufficiently mature to assist them in a string of train robberies that made the three brothers and their gang famous throughout Oklahoma and Kansas. By then, Emmet had a sweetheart named Julia Johnson, but he gave up his dreams of a normal family life to remain with his brothers. "What had I to offer Julia?" Emmet later mused. "I rode away. An outlaw has no business having a girl, no business thinking of marriage."

Emmet's wild days riding with his two older brothers were short-lived. On October 5, 1892, the brothers attempted a daring dual robbery of two Coffeyville, Kansas, banks in broad daylight. The plan might have worked had the citizens of Coffeyville not been alerted to the arrival of the bandits. While Emmet and Bob were stuffing $21,000 in grain sacks in one bank, the townspeople quietly surrounded the building. When the boys tried to leave, a barrage of gunfire forced them back inside. They fled through a rear door and managed to reunite with Grat and the other team of robbers, who were also under attack. In a back street-later named "Death Alley" by the proud citizens of Coffeyville-the gang was blasted by heavily armed townspeople. Bob and Grat were hit first. Emmet tried to pick up Bob, but as he reached down from his horse a bullet slammed through his hip and a load of buckshot hit him in the back.

Bob, Grat, and two other gang members died, and the people of Coffeyville propped them up for a famous series of grisly photographs. Townspeople carried the wounded Emmet to a nearby hotel and he lived to stand trial. Sentenced to life in prison, he began serving his time in the Kansas State Penitentiary on this day in 1893.

After 14 years in prison, Emmet won parole and returned to society a reformed man. He finally married Julia Johnson and began a successful career as a real estate agent. When the couple later moved to the booming Los Angeles area, Emmet even found work in Hollywood as an authenticity consultant for western movies. He died in 1937.

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