This isn’t going to be easy because it involves a friend of mine and regardless of how this story unfolds, a myth or two about his ancestors may get dented and bruised a little.
If you know anything about the history of the West you’ve heard of the Dalton Brothers or the Dalton Gang. There were a lot of Daltons and there seems to have been only one, Frank, who spent much on the respectable side of the law. Well, one of my coffee drinking buddies is named Dalton and takes great pride in claiming he is a direct descendant of this famous band of train and bank robbers.
He also claims that the same Dalton family descended from British royalty and I once did a little research for him and verified that Daltons did exist in British nobility. Whether he or the Kansas outlaws share DNA with the élite royal Daltons, however, is subject for debate.
Before proceeding I need to tell you a couple of things about my Dalton (let’s call him Bill). Bill is a proud conservative, strong Republican, card-carrying, platform adhering, Kool-Aid drinking, charter member of the Tea Party. He has little good to say about Obama, Pelosi (whose name he never learned to pronounce properly), Reed, Democrats, liberals, social equality, unions, taxes, socialists, or anyone who is part of the 99% occupy movement and wants to regulate or tax the job creating 1% or take away their God-given tax write-off for corporate jets.
Bill and I have discussed his family’s crime spree on several occasions and we both know that the gang was pretty much wiped out trying to rob two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas on an October day in 1892. There is a famous photo of four corpses laid out for public display after the shootout. Three Daltons were present that day and two of them were mortally wounded, Bob and Grat. Brother Emmett was shot 23 times but survived, spent 14 years in prison, and died in 1937 while working as a real estate agent in California. I’ve told Bill many times I regretted Emmett not being killed that day since it left one to survive, possibly carry on the line that eventually led to him.
Couple of weeks ago, Bill and I were having coffee and the subject again came up. Bill went through the usual narrative and towards the end I ask him what had put his distant cousins on their path to ruin? He said it was all because the bank foreclosed on the family farm and the reign of terror was simply to get even. He also claimed they were Robin Hood sorts who gained the respect of their neighbors because they shared their ill-gotten gains with those in need.
I rolled that over a little and decided if such were true these guys were the antithesis of today’s Tea Party. These guys, the Daltons, the progenitors of Mr. Tea Party of Highland County, Ohio, may have been early role models for today’s Occupy Wall Street movement. This family was victimized by the bankers, the 1%, and set out to occupy the coinage and wealth of banks and railroads throughout the American West.
At the start I told you this wasn’t going to go well. History has a way of turning the screw on assumed truth and that’s just what happened with this story. It is a classic example of historic irony in which a man finds out that his family is, in fact, the opposite of what he had always taken so much pride in. If Bob, Grat and Emmett Dalton were alive today they’d probably be hanging out in front of Goldman Sachs on Wall Street, wearing a mustachioed Guy Fawkes mask, pullin’ on a joint, and carrying a hand-made sign demanding their equal share of the American dream.