Under a clear, sunny sky Saturday, about 2,500 people gathered to celebrate Longview’s western heritage and the bravery of its residents amid an infamous day in 1894 that put the city in the history books for one of the biggest shootouts in the Old West.
“We are super excited to have Dalton Days back, especially downtown and on a good weather day,” Gregg County Historical Museum Executive Director Lindsay Loy said Saturday. “The last two times we’ve had it, it’s rained. The turnout today has been fantastic. We’ve had a lot more craft vendors than we normally have. It’s been absolutely wonderful.”
Each year, the Gregg County Historical Museum offers Dalton Days as a free, family-friendly festival for the community. Last year, Dalton Days was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two years prior to that, rainy weather resulted in lower attendance.
In addition to an Old West re-enactment on Fredonia Street of the Dalton Gang’s 1894 bank robbery, the event featured 12 craft vendors, five food trucks, a petting zoo, a children’s area with games, a blacksmithing demonstration by Thomas Dean, a covered wagon and a performance by Kilgore band The Purple Hulls.
Re-enactors came from Dallas and East Texas. The East Texas-based group typically portrays “the good guys,” while a group from Dallas typically portrays Dalton and his gang.
“Bringing back the Old West and keeping it alive is all what we’re about,” said Bobby Connelly of Dallas, who portrayed Bill Dalton in Saturday’s re-enactment. “If we can educate the kids and the grownups about the heritage of the Old West and what effect it had on Longview, then that really gives us a lot of joy.”
Connelly has been doing historical re-enactments for almost 40 years. He’s brought a group to Dalton Days for 17 years.
“It really does our hearts good to keep the Old West alive,” he said.
Claire Henry, who brought her daughters Eloise and Sarah to Dalton Days, said the festival is one that her family makes certain to attend each year. Her daughters enjoy watching the re-enactment and visiting the petting zoo, and Henry said she believes the re-enactment helps children better remember the history of the day.
“It’s fun for them to see history actually happening instead of just reading about it. It makes it really fun, and they remember it a lot more than if I just tell them about it,” she said.
Helping children reconnect with the historical significance of the Old West is one of the reasons the Gregg County Historical Museum has offered the free festival since 1994, Loy said.
“It teaches the kids about gun safety, and it really shows good and bad. They learn that crime doesn’t pay,” Loy said.
It’s also a way to help introduce families to the historical museum, as Loy estimated that a majority of Dalton Days attendees have never visited the museum before.
The historical museum, which is typically open during Dalton Days, was closed this year in an effort to help encourage social distancing. However, attendees received a “Dalton Dollar” that can be redeemed for free admission to the museum through the end of August, Loy said.
The Gregg County Historical Museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at 214 N. Fredonia St. The museum features a variety of historical exhibits, including an exhibit about the Dalton Gang bank robbery.
For information about the museum, visit gregghistorical.org.