When Emmett was around nine the Dalton family moved to Coffeyville, Kansas – which was later the site of a famed failed-robbery by the infamous Dalton Gang. In 1883, the Dalton’s moved near Vinita – then in Indian Territory, now part of the state of Oklahoma.
By 1887 the sixteen-year-old Emmett was working as a cowboy on at the Bar-X-Bar ranch, located near Vinita and the elder Dalton’s homestead. Several of his brothers – Frank, Grat, and Bob Dalton – became deputy U.S. Marshals, charged with upholding the law of the land. By and large they were reputed to be good officers of the law – brave, friendly, and polite. Emmett was able to join the posse’s occasionally formed to hunt down the outlaws and renegades that ran rampant in the Indian Territory during the late 19th Century. Frank Dalton would be killed by whiskey runners in 1887 while he was serving as a Deputy U.S. Marshal.
Emmett had formed a close attachment to his older brother, Bob – joining him both as a member of posses as well as serving with him as a guard. But, Bob was on the wild side, and in 1890 Emmett and his brother were arrested for “introducing intoxicating liquor into the Osage Nation on Dec. 25, 1889.” The 19-year-old Emmett was acquitted after a court hearing – he had accompanied Bob, but had stayed on the road and was not involved with the actual sale of liquor to the Indians. Bob was bound over for trial, but was released on bail and then did not show up for the trial in late 1890. During the time Bob was out on bail, Bob, Emmett and Grat Dalton sold some stolen horses – and after Grat was arrested, the other two Dalton’s left for California.
Staying with older brother Bill Dalton while in California, Emmett continued to follow Bob in illegal acts. Suspicion fell on the brothers after an attempted train robbery on February 6, 1891. While Bob and Emmett could not be positively identified by witnesses, they were hidden by their brother Bill, and when he was questioned they realized that the sheriff considered them as his chief suspects, and they headed to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Emmett would later state that they were wrongly accused, and this false accusation – and reputation - had led them to really become train robbers.
As word spread on the Dalton’s, they decided that it was time to leave the country – but needed ready cash to do so. They came up with a daring plan – and would be the first to attempt to rob two banks simultaneously. The robbery was to take place in Coffeyville – their old hometown.
Five riders – Bob, Grat, and Emmett Dalton, along with Dick Broadwell and Bill Power – would ride into Coffeyville, Kansas, on the morning of October 5, 1892. They split into two groups – one for each of the town’s two banks, the C.M. Condon Bank and the First National Bank.
The raid was a failure, and with armed townsmen firing at them the bank robbers tried to flee. Four townsmen and four of the bank robbers were killed by a hail of bullets during a fifteen minute battle. 21-year-old Emmett, carrying a grain sack filled with $21,000 of money from the First National Bank in one hand and a Winchester rifle in the other, was wounded and captured. He had been hit in the right arm (crushing the bone), the left hip, and had almost 20 pieces of buckshot in his back.
Emmett stood trial in Independence, Kansas, in March, 1893. He pled guilty, and was convicted of robbery and murder of a townsman during the gun battle in Coffeyville. He was sentenced to life in prison, and would serve fourteen and a half years at the Kansas State Penitentiary, Lansing, Kansas. In 1907 he was pardoned by E. W. Hoch, the governor of Kansas.
The pardon was granted, in part, because a number of affidavits had been sworn to by the townsmen who had shot down the gang of robbers that Emmett could not have killed anyone – he was carrying the bag of money in one hand, and a rifle in the other, while trying to mount a horse for a get-away. Governor Hoch commented in his pardon:
“Believing that Emmett Dalton's youthfulness is an extenuation of his great offense, and believing that he has thoroughly repented of it and given evidence of this repentance in every possible way, and believing that a government without mercy is not strong but weak, and believing that Emmett Dalton will make a good citizen and live a good, clean, useful life, I have concluded to give him the opportunity.”As he gave the pardon to Emmett, the governor reputedly told him,
“I do not believe that good government will suffer because of the fact that you are a free man.”Emmett went back to Oklahoma and on September 1, 1908, married Julia Johnson Gilstrap in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The newlyweds would settle in Tulsa where Emmett found work as a police officer. A few years later Emmett and Julia would move to California where he worked as a building contractor.
Emmett wrote two books – Beyond the Law in 1918 and, with the assistance of a Los Angeles newspaperman named Jack Jungmeyer, When the Daltons Rode in 1931. He would appear as himself in a silent movie produced in 1918 that was based on – and titled after – his first book.
Dalton passed away at the age of sixty-six at his home in Long Beach, California, on July 13, 1937. His body was cremated, and his ashes were buried at Kingfisher Cemetary, Kingfisher, Oklahoma. He was survived by his wife, Julia.
Beyond the Law book
Find A Grave
Kansas State Historical Society
Legends of America