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Eso No Es Toro... and That's No Bull - May 31, 2019

An album cover from 1955 with Latin music honoring matadors and bullfighting. (Photo by J. Schafer)

Q: The nation's first bullfight was held in 1884. The two-day event was held on July 4 and 5 in which Kansas town?
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A: Dodge City

According to the Kansas Historical Society, the nation’s first true bullfight was held in Dodge City on July 4 and 5, 1884. It was a genuine Spanish importation, via Mexico, featuring expert Mexican bull fighters -- matadors -- and actual swording of the bulls. The event was held in defiance of national protests (and about 4,000 people attended). 

The bullfight, which many Americans considered nothing more than animal cruelty, was organized by A. B. Webster, a saloon keeper and former mayor of Dodge City. As one writer put it, the bullfight was staged despite the fact that Kansas and most other states had passed laws "making cruelty to every living creature, however humble, a crime." 

According to an article from ancestry.com, Webster raised $10,000 — about $255,000 in today’s dollars — to build an arena, procure bulls, and hire “genuine Spanish bullfighters.” Many Dodge City residents didn’t want bullfighting in their town and called the idea cruel and barbaric. The U.S. attorney’s office is rumored to have sent a telegram saying bullfighting was against the law, to which the former mayor supposedly replied, “Hell! Dodge City ain’t in the United States!”

Indeed, Kansas did have a law on the books that carried a fine for such events (Laws of Kansas, 1879, chapter 81, section 264). It stated that "every person who shall maliciously or cruelly maim, beat or torture any horse, ox, or other cattle, whether belonging to himself or another, shall on conviction be adjudged guilty of a misdemeanor, and fined not exceeding fifty dollars." The bullfight was held anyway. But Dodge City would never hold another and the event never caught on as a spectator sport in the United States of America. And that's no bull.

Fun Factoid: The traditional Spanish and Mexican style of bullfighting exhibited in Dodge City in 1884 is illegal in the United States.  However, California does allow a form of bullfighting that does not involve piercing the bulls — but only for religious festivals.

Visit the Kansas Historical Society online to read more about Dodge City's bullfight.

And check out more of KPR's Kansas Trivia in our online archive!

 

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