The Dalton Chair

Please bear with all of the background needed to get to the point of this story. My father's parents both died when he was young, 10 for his mother, and 12 for his father. He had two older brothers and his grandmother who all had a hand in raising him in the Jamestown, NY, area, with occasional visits and help from his father's sister, his Aunt Florence, who was a nurse in Topeka, Kansas.

Dalton Chair

Born in 1886, Aunt Florence Genevieve Peterson (actually my great-aunt), was 60 when I was born, and therefore was always old to me. In 1962, after having retired from nursing in Kansas City, she moved to Florida to live in a small house we had built for her behind ours. Among her belongings was a simple oak office chair that she referred to as The Dalton Chair.

Florence Peterson, RN—c. 1910

It seems that Aunt Florence had worked for Dr. John Outland in Kansas for many years. In addition to the family connection which follows, Dr. Outland was famous in Kansas in the early 20th Century for treating patients in a large circuit which he covered by airplane. He was a co-founder of the Kansas Relays, a track & field event of national prominence, and was the founder of the Outland Trophy given annually to the outstanding lineman in college football—the equivalent, for the position, of the Heisman Trophy. A short biography of Dr. Outland is here.

Many people have heard of the Dalton Gang. They were notorious as Old West bank robbers, and all but one met their end in the infamous Coffeyville, KS, Raid of 5 October, 1892 (follow the link to a page about the Daltons and from there the one to the Coffeyville Raid for details). Emmett, the lone survivor, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. However, after 14 years in prison, and still suffering from some of the wounds he incurred in the raid, Emmett was paroled to have treatment, and Dr. Outland performed surgery on him in Topeka in 1907.

Aunt Florence came into possession of that chair years later when Dr. Outland closed his practice in the '40s. She often told us that Emmett Dalton had sat in it when he had visited Dr. Outland, and always called it The Dalton Chair. We nodded our heads and mumbled, "uh, huh," figuring it was just a tall tale from an old woman, even if it was our great-aunt. All we could think about was how many other, er, butts had been in it besides his.

As she was settling in to her new home, Aunt Florence started culling things from her belongings and asked my father if he wanted the Dalton Chair. He declined. Then she asked me. I remember thinking it was kind of ugly and my room was small, so I declined. Finally, my younger brother was seen hauling the thing across the back yard into his room. I didn't think much about it until several years later.

I don't really recall seeing the Dalton Chair much after that, as my brother and I didn't get much chance to visit one another until the year he died. On one of my visits, he happened to point it out to me. I hadn't really remembered what it looked like, and frankly, I was surprised he still had it. I was also surprised to find that not only was it not as ugly as I had recalled, but it was also quite comfortable. When we cleaned out his apartment after he died, we took it with us and put it into storage.

Frankly, I didn't know what to do with it, as we ourselves were in the process of downsizing. However, one weekend we were in Atlanta assisting Nicole and Jon in preparing for their wedding, and having agreed to drive them back to New Orleans, we took a short detour and showed them our storage units. I gave Nicole a brief version of the Dalton Chair story, including that we didn't know what we were going to do with it, and she asked if she could have it. So we said yes. In the fall of 2000 Nicole and Jon moved into their new house in Daytona Beach, and the Dalton Chair took a proud place in the kitchen at a telephone desk. It's since followed them in their moves to Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Atlanta.

Grandson on the Dalton Chair

A family oddity was that Aunt Florence was the last Peterson female, from her birth in 1886, until Nicole was born in 1974. Aunt Florence never married, and neither of my father's brothers had children. We have a nice picture (somewhere) of Aunt Florence, my father, me, and Nicole; four generations spanning 88 years from one Peterson girl to the next Peterson girl. Aunt Florence died a year later (1975), so never saw her great-great-nephew, Nicole's brother, Lee. Of course, there wasn't anything extraordinary about another Peterson boy! Although not a “Peterson” by name, Nicole's son is seen trying out the Dalton chair that once belonged to his third-great Aunt Florence in this shot.

Cover Inside Flyleaf

Recently, my mother, while doing some of her own clearing out of stuff, came across some ugly, 3rd generation photocopies of an article in Bulletin #57 of the Shawnee County (KS) Historical Society (November, 1980) which told the story of Dr. Outland's surgery on Emmett Dalton. It even mentioned Aunt Florence. It confirmed everything she had said about the Dalton Chair. It truly is a legendary family story. Interestingly, the bulletin is still in print, and I bought a copy in order to obtain pristine scans of the article.

My friend, Kith Presland, has put together a very informative website which cites a considerable array of contemporary accounts to support a view different from some common notions of  Emmett Dalton.

Last updated: 30 October 2011

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