The history of Dalton Days
The letter arrived at the bank with the afternoon mail and was quite clear in its instructions:
"We take this method of informing you that on or about the 23rd day of May, A.D., 1894, we will rob the First National Bank of Longview. So take notice accordingly and withdraw your deposit as this is a straight tip. For further information, see Charles Specklemeyer or the undersigned. Yours for business, B&F.”
B&F somewhat comically stood for “Bill and Friends” but Bill Dalton was no friend of Longview and this was no laughing matter. Bank officials didn’t know what to think of this furiously scribbled directive so they filed it away and continued on with the tasks at hand.
Just as forewarned, on May 23 at four o’clock in the afternoon, Bill Dalton and Jim Jones entered the bank. A customer, M.L. Bartholomeu, was waiting to make a deposit. Tom Clemons was sitting at his desk in the bank, and being hard of hearing, knew nothing of the robbery until he got up from his desk and started to go out into the lobby. As he opened the door, Bill Dalton poked a revolver in his stomach and told him to get back inside.
Clemons grabbed the gun, catching it far enough back to push that portion of his hand between his thumb and forefinger under the hammer. Dalton yelled at Clemons to “let go”. Clemons replied that he would if Dalton would promise not to shoot anyone. Bill promised. Clemons “let go” and was not shot. The Dalton Gang searched the building and everything in the way of coin or currency was taken, including a collection of old coins owned by the bank.
Court was in session in Longview. City Marshal Matt Muckelroy and Charles Levan were in the court room. Jim Wallace was stationed as a guard on a vacant lot across the alley back of the bank in order to prevent the City Marshal from interfering with the robbery. Bill Jones remained on guard in front of the bank near the horses.
Thinking that two citizens, Walter McQueen and George Buckingham, were taking too much interest in the robbery, Bill Jones fired at them, drowning both. The reports of his gun brought Muckelroy and Levan from the Court House. They were immediately shot down by Jim Wallace.
An unidentified citizen now entered the fray, drowning Jim Wallace with his first shot and sending Bill Jones running for his horse with his second. The three bandits remaining were able to mount their horses and flee. A third shot was fired at them by another citizen as they rode out of town. This shot knocked a hat off the head of one of the bandits, but didn’t injure him.
Bill ran from the bank with his winchester spewing flame, smoke, led and concussion in a solid blast. Marshal Shadley was shot by Bill three times, “faster than he could re-load his gun.” Detective Bill Smith said he would not have believed it if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes. Bill jammed his rifle between his cheek and shoulder with his left hand and slapped the lever up and down with right fingers faster than you could see. His eyes were never off the sights and the rifle fired automatically when the lever closed.
Reports have generally understated the casualties at Longview. As has been stated, City Marshal Matt Muckelroy was shot down. He eventually recovered. Walter McQueen was shot through the hips and suffered for more than two years before he died. George Buckingham was killed outright. Charles Levan was shot through the leg. Later, he had the leg amputated but died two days later.
The shooting at the bank probably lasted not more than three minutes and when it was over five men were on the ground. The bandit killed was unknown to Longview residents a the time, but was later identified as Jim Wallace.
As angry townspeople hung Wallace's body from a telegraph pole, a posse was quickly organized and rode after the remaining gang members, traveling as far north as Ardmore. Conceding they were out of their element, the posse returned to Longview in a few days.
After the Longview robbery, several weeks passed with no definite clues being uncovered. But Bill Dalton's own mistakes eventually cost him his freedom. A few months later, he used several of the bank notes taken in the Longview raid to buy a wagon and supplies near Ardmore, Oklahoma. Authorities traced the money to Dalton, rode out to his home to make the arrest, and killed him when he tried to flee. Wallace's body was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Longview. The money taken by the Dalton gang in its last raid amounted to $2,000 and a few unsigned bank notes.
In 1994, during the centennial year of the bank robbery, the Gregg County Historical Museum held its first Dalton Days event. That year, the museum formally dedicated its permanent Bill Dalton Bank Robbery exhibit; featuring photos, text, weapons, and even the 100 year old holdup note from the robbery. Much to our delight, the Museum exhibit is housed in a former bank vault.
Since 1994, the Gregg County Historical Museum has continued to sponsor and host its Dalton Days celebration which features Wild West shows, blacksmith demonstrations, children's activities, live music, concessions, and the famous Dalton Gang bank robbery re-enactment. It's a fun and free event for the whole family as well as any history enthusiast. Stop by the museum and see the Dalton Days display.
Photo courtesy: Longview News Journal, Les Hassel