Dodge City, Kansas, is a town rich with history. Known as the Cowboy Capital, its mainstays were lawlessness, buffalo, cattle, bars, fights, and the fictional character of Marshall Matt Dillon. Gunsmoke, one of the most influential shows my parents and I watched, provided an interesting look at how Dodge City was portrayed on television.
One of my favorite scenes from Gunsmoke is when Matt Dillon faces a group of men who want a prisoner released and says: “get out of Dodge.” Some of us did leave Dodge, but we chose to; no one forced us out of town. Nevertheless, after moving away, I could always count on someone saying one of three things: “Guess you got out of Dodge,” “Did you know Dorothy?” or “Are you a cowgirl?” Yes, these were typically pick-up lines, and, no, they didn’t work.
Gunsmoke aired in 1955, and Dodge City became even more popular. As I grew up, I noticed an increasing number of little girls wearing cowgirl outfits. I was reminded of this recently when several Dodge City cowgirl photos were posted on Facebook. Micki Holladay, Judy Neves David, and I were examples of cowgirls in our town, parading around in our cute cowgirl outfits, holding toy guns in our hands, and seemingly aiming at someone or something. In the photos of the three of us, I have to say Micki at least looks as if she knows what she is doing, or perhaps she is aiming the gun at whoever is taking the picture as if to say: Stop it or I will shoot. Eventually we tossed our toy guns aside, grew out of our cowgirl outfits, survived our teenage years, and moved on.
Micki “wanted to be a veterinarian” when she grew up. Her mother said she “could be anything she wanted.” Micki attended Dodge City Community College in 1973-1974 before getting out of Dodge in 1977, and moved to Las Animas, Colorado. She eventually moved to Greeley in 1978 and worked for Sears, a store she had also worked for in Dodge City. She returned to college in 1990 and began working towards a nursing degree, receiving her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1994 from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. Micki’s mother always stressed the importance of “life-long learning,” and Micki continues to do so to this day. In 2010, she began working on her Master’s (MSN) degree at Regis University in Denver.
Judy wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. Judy and her sister would play school, and in sixth grade Judy met a “deaf education teacher that [she] admired,” and never “considered doing anything else after that.” Judy’s mother provided “exposure to the arts” and “encouraged her to write.” After graduating from Dodge City Senior High, she spent one year at Wichita State University before continuing her education at Louisiana State University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Education (Speech and Hearing Therapy). In graduate school, she earned her master’s in Speech-Language Pathology. Although Judy did not grow up on a farm, she considers herself “an old farm girl.” Despite the outfit she had when she was young, the only cowboy boots she owned “were those ugly white ones with taps on the bottom that [she] wore for DCHS drill team.”
And what did I want to be when I grew up? I have no idea. I’m still working on it. My parents ran a restaurant, but we lived on a farm, raising cattle, pigs, and chickens. I had a horse until 1965, but Willie was just about as mean as a horse could be, and my father never brought Willie back to our house after the big flood that year.
I hated school. Despite the good grades I earned until I graduated in 8th grade from Wilroads Gardens, I took a sharp turn after riding the bus into town for 9th grade and junior high. By the time I hit Dodge City Senior High, I was more interested in skipping than actually attending class. My parents never seemed to be too upset about my report cards, and I finally found out why when I delved into my adoption information last year.
According to the State Department of Social Welfare of Kansas, circa 1955, my parents were “interested in family life” and “environment.” According to the document, “Scholastic achievement doesn’t seem to appeal to this couple as much as personality and ambition.” Unlike Micki’s mother who encouraged her love of life-long learning, and Judy’s mother who provided exposure to the arts and encouraged her to write, my mother was more interested in me having a good personality, and I did not let her down.
After high school, I wandered and made stupid decisions just about every day, and when I turned 21, I became a bartender at the Dodge City Country Club. My personality fit in well, but under no circumstances would my mother let me tell my grandmother I was a bartender. Cocktail waitress? Yes, I could admit to that job, but for some reason she did not want me to tell her I was a bartender. I made much better tips as a bartender, but that didn’t seem to matter.
One day, “get out of Dodge” seemed to burn a hole in my personality-driven brain. In August of 1976, I quit my job, boarded the westbound train to California, moved in with a friend, and got a job as a secretary at Laguna Sportswear. The personality child had found her space in the universe. College still didn’t interest me, but California boys and the beach certainly did. Life was good, and on August 26, 1977, I met a guy from Michigan who just happened to be visiting. Naturally, against my parents’ wishes, my friends’, and those of my boss at Laguna, and I packed up my car, convinced my friend Cari (originally from Michigan) to accompany me, and we drove from California to Michigan with a pit stop in Dodge City to visit my parents. I tried to convince them I wasn’t insane.
Instead, life got even better. I became a mother and settled into life in Midland, Michigan. Just as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz thinks life would be better if he “only had a brain,” I decided it was time to see if mine actually functioned. At the encouragement of my husband and then seven-year old son, I went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree at Saginaw Valley State University in English/Creative Writing. I was actually in the Honors Program! I then went to Michigan State University for a degree in creative writing, and graduated with nearly a 4.0. At the age of 41, I had finally made my parents proud of me, found the ambition that seemed to go along with my personality, and realized I might turn out okay when I grow up.
I am a cowgirl. I am a farm girl. I am a mother, wife, daughter, and friend. Although Micki, Judy, and I wore our cowgirl outfits to please our mothers, or perhaps ourselves, none of us grew up to be cowgirls. But something always draws us back to the beginning, when the world was waiting for us, and we were waiting to pull the trigger.