Hotel Register Captures Early Kansas History
by Lynne Hewes
Kathleen Holt, owner of the historic Cimarron Hotel on Main Street, Cimarron, Kansas, has spent 30 years sharing stories and making friendships with people from all over the world when they have come knocking at her door, looking for a hot meal and a room for the night. Holt will be the first person to admit, that although she's naturally a people person, it's the old hotel itself which draws such interesting individuals into her life, something it's done for others since it opened, as its guest register can attest.
Built in l886 and opened in l887, the New West Hotel (as it was first named), played host to a variety of guests in its very first year of business. It became the place where people of a variety of professions and from several states met friends, relatives, and associates for dining and a place to spend the night.
On its first evening open for business, May 12, 1887, the guest register shows over 40 people there for dining and at least four rooms rented for the night.
The hotel's builder and its owner for the first several years was Nicholas B. Klaine, a man of much ambition.
In the mid-l880s, during the Dodge City "saloon wars," Klaine had been the editor and proprietor of the Dodge City Times, a newspaper which sided strongly against Long Branch Saloon owners Luke Short and W. H. Harris. Klaine also served as Probate Judge of Ford County in 1879-80; he was City Treasurer of Dodge City in 1882; and at various times acted as Constable, City Treasurer and School Director.
When he branched out by building a hotel, Klaine also added another newspaper, the New West Echo, situated in the north half of the first floor of the New West Hotel.
If Klaine was thinking of increasing his fortunes in the hotel business, he chose wisely. Business improved from the first night, and dining attracted locals from several nearby counties. Rooms were rented by travelers from as far away as Chicago and New York.
Names in the room register include those of residents of nearby Ravanna (now a ghost town), merchants from Wichita, gamblers from Denver and Deadwood, and even traveling performers. Calligraphic signatures, a lost art, make reading the register an exercise in art appreciation. Normally, men signed full names with a flourish, sometimes adding "and lady" or "and wife" or even "and wife and kid."
Notations next to room numbers admonish desk clerks to make a "wake-up call at 5:30" or "call for stage" or "get team for."
Some names are marked "pd"; others mention "IOU." When a price for a meal is mentioned, it's usually $1.00.
Today, people who have lived in Cimarron long enough to know something about its history will recognize such local names on the register as Luther, Phelps, Evans, Kramer, Cessna, and Dunn.
Noted Dodge City residents also stopped in for dinner. A frequent diner was M. W. Sutton, one-time Ford County attorney, and also a figure during the "saloon wars" of Dodge City.
Frequently, entire groups might spend a night at the hotel. The register shows several people with the same family name staying for one night, in one or two rooms. It also lists a group of traveling players, "Neck and Neck," stopping for one night, as well as the Sentinal [sic] Band from Garden City, whose members added their instrument names beside their signatures in the register.
Interestingly enough, one several-time guest was the man Nicholas Klaine had worked passionately against in Dodge City Times editorials during those mid-1880s saloon wars.
Luke Short, fur trader, gambler, gunfighter, friend to Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, and co-owner of the Longbranch Saloon, visited the New West Hotel for dinner four separate times during the fall of l887. At one point he signed the register on three lines, using variations of his name: "Luke Short and wife, Longwood"; "Short Luke, Shortwood"; "Luke Shortwood, Short."
What was his point? Perhaps to make sure Klaine knew that Luke Short was still able to come and go in Western Kansas, in spite of everything Klaine had done to keep him out.
Certainly, there are lots of stories a one hundred-plus year-old hotel register can tell. The last one, near the end of this particular register, is dated Tuesday, March 13, 1888. Scrawled across the top of the page is written, "The fire began at 1 o'clock. Everybody more or less inebriated. Big juice. Tanglefoot."
Sort of makes you want to know more.
For a look at the New West Hotel Register, 1887, see www.Kansasmemories, sponsored by the Kansas Historical Foundation.
For more information about The Dodge City Saloon Wars of 1883-4, see Miller, Nyle H., and Joseph W. Snell. "Some Notes on Kansas Cowtown Police and Gun Fighters—Continued. Kansas Historical Society.
For more information about Luke Short, see "Luke Short, Professional Gambler," Luke L. Short. 2008-2013 Bob Wood. http://lukeshort.info/.