Ben Hodges was one of a number of Black’s who settled the West. Born 1856 in Texas to Black father and a Mexican mother, he was originally a cattle driver out of San Antonio. A cunning, charismatic character, he would make his fortune in Dodge City through a variety of underhanded tactics.
Ben Hodges Makes His Bones
Dodge City was established in 1872 and looked ripe for opportunity. These kinds of new towns were like bait for opportunistic swindlers and Ben Hodges was no different. He would stay in Kansas since he was wanted in Texas for murder.
His chance came when news of the Spanish Land Grant reach him. Large swaths of land were available in Gray County for settling and Hodges would forge a number of documents. These documents listed Hodges as the only heir to several acres of land in the county.
Surprisingly, the gambit paid off and he was given significant loans. This made him a man about Dodge City for sometime before he was found out. Apparently, a fire broke out at a local store and the legal documents to the claimed land was found. By this time, Hodges was already seeking his next hustle.
Another incident saw Ben Hodges take advantage of a storm that freed cattle. The owner put out a reward for bringing them back and gave out receipts that could be cashed in. Hodges, a master forger made his own copies of the receipts and managed to cash them in once in Kansas City.
In a trial where he was fingered for stealing cattle, Ben Hodges turned on his charm and for two hours, talked his way to a not guilty verdict. The ranchers weren’t out of luck as the cattle eventually returned home. This was another thing the scoundrel did well. He was usually captured for whatever scheme he went through with but he was always able to talk his way out of jail time or worse.
In his golden years, Ben Hodges had slowed his dirty ways and was seen more or less as a loveable scoundrel. Many of the people who knew him during his youth had tales of some scam or trick he pulled and he was always up to talk. After many ailing year, Hodges died in 1929 and his funeral was attended by 200 Dodge City citizens. At the time of his death, he had fallen on hard times and lived with a friend. Custom was for those would couldn’t afford to pay for their funeral to be buried in a pine box.
Hodges had left such an impression on Dodge City that locals pitched in to send him off in a respectful casket.