Tuesday, September 6, 2011

D.R. Gorden: A Man about Town

David Ross Gorden was an early resident of Abilene who had a remarkable career in several positions.  During his time in the town, Gorden served as Abilene’s first Kansas Pacific Railroad station agent, first telegraph operator, and served as the town’s postmaster.  He was also involved in the organization of Abilene’s first grain elevator, and in the formation of the Citizen’s Bank of Abilene in 1885.  Needless to say, he was an incredibly active man in Abilene.

Before making his way to Abilene in 1869, Gorden was present for one of the most famous presidential speeches in American history, the Gettysburg Address.  Gorden was eighteen at the time, and managed to situate himself close to President Lincoln so that he could clearly hear the President’s words.  Prior to President Lincoln’s famous speech, a man named Edward Everett gave a long address to the crowd.  After this, the President delivered his Gettysburg Address, which is admittedly a rather short speech.  After President Lincoln had finished speaking, Gorden distinctly heard the President say to Everett, “I have made a failure of my speech.”  Everett’s reply was, “Oh, no, your speech will live long after mine has been forgotten.”

After the end of the Civil War, Gorden learned the skill of telegraphy and moved to Abilene, Kansas.  He would live in Abilene for the rest of his life.  During his duties as Abilene’s railroad station agent and telegraph operator, Gordon encountered many colorful characters including the town’s city marshal in 1871, James Butler “Wild Bill”Hickok.

According to one of Gorden’s memories, he witnessed a conversation between Hickok and a gambler that almost turned into a shootout.  One day when Hickok was visiting Gorden in the telegraph office, a gambler walked into the building with a revolver strapped to his leg.  Hickok ordered the man to give him the gun since it was illegal to carry firearms in Abilene.  The man replied to Hickok, “Bill, I am not going to take off this revolver and you know darn well you cannot make me take it off.”  Both men glared at one another and rested their hands on their six-shooters.  Now, Hickok is of course known for his famous shootouts, but he was a practical man when it came to fights.  He always tried to avoid a fight that he was not positive he could win.  According to Gorden, Hickok replied to the man, “Well, just keep it hidden so that I cannot see it.”  The unsettling moment passed.

As a resident of Abilene, Gorden saw many changes in the town.  After the end of the cattle drives to Abilene, Gorden saw his town change from a wild and dangerous place, to a peaceful small community.  Throughout his entire life, Gorden remained an active man, always willing to tell a story about Abilene’s past, and offer his support for new enterprises that would improve the community.  He lived until the ripe age of ninety, and died April 7, 1935.

Note: Quotations were taken from the "Reminiscences  of D.R. Gorden," found in the files of the Dickinson County Historical Society.

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