The Merchant Prince of South Dodge

I have only the vaguest memories of being told an actual South Dodge townsite existed on my great-grandfather’s property. I happened upon an ad for the South Dodge Town Company and before I knew it, I found myself caught up in a tale of fraud, arson, and bigamy. Definitely not what I expected!

It was no surprise to see Crawford’s name attached to the plans for South Dodge. If you look at the plat maps, his name is all over the place…but those maps weren’t created until later.

The Dodge City Times, April 16, 1885

Towns were suddenly popping up and then drying up all over the prairie.

The Dodge City Democrat, April 18, 1885

3/4 of a mile south of the bridge would be approximately South Second Avenue and Beeson Road.

The Dodge City Times, April 23, 1885

Perry Wilden. Remember that name.

Yes, THIS Perry Wilden:

The Vox Populi, November 1, 1884

The Vox Populi was a local scandal rag started by Bat Masterson. It was ugly, but in this case, probably true.

The legal description on the map above is the NE corner of the NW 1/4 of Section 2, Township 27S, Range 25W. That makes South Dodge slightly to the southwest of the city limits at that time. If you all remember the Beeson House at Beeson Road and Sunnyside Avenue, Supply Avenue would have basically been located where Merritt’s driveway was back in the day.

Perry Wilden bought (on credit, of course) about 1,400 acres and carved out 80 of them for South Dodge.

Kansas Cowboy, May 2, 1885

There was a big push for development right away.

Kansas Cowboy, May 2, 1885

I have no idea if his claims about the water table were true. Probably not.

Kansas Cowboy, May 9, 1885

I’m nodding along reading this while the wind howls outside. Minor setback.

The Dodge City Democrat, May 16, 1885

All of this stock was also purchased on credit.

Kansas Cowboy, June 20, 1885

It all sounded swell…just swell.

A new restaurant opened in July and business was brisk.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, July 21, 1885

By August, South Dodge had added a blacksmith and a saloon. Clearly, not everyone was convinced.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, August 4, 1885

Oh dear! That didn’t take long. Merchant Prince, indeed.

Let the lawsuits begin!

The Dodge City Times, September 17, 1885

Perry’s uncle (and creditor) showed up in late September, accompanied by his attorney, looking to salvage something…anything. He said Perry’s wife and children were staying with him in Ohio but he had no idea about Perry’s whereabouts. The contents of the general store had been sold at auction the previous week.

The mood was hardly somber in South Dodge, however. A “grand ball” was well attended at Wilden’s old store in November of 1885. By February of 1886, the City Council in Dodge was discussing including South Dodge in the City’s corporate limits.

The town site and then some went up for sale later in the month.

The Dodge City Democrat, February 20, 1886

Wait a minute…the Merchant Prince returned about a month later.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, March 23, 1886

Meanwhile, South Dodge was growing and more businesses were opening, including a barber shop and a plow manufacturer. Dozens of families had moved to the area. The first South Dodge Town Company was formed on April 14, 1886.

The Daily Commonwealth (Topeka), April 15, 1886

This ad ran much longer than 30 days.

The Dodge City Democrat, July 31, 1886

South Dodge even had a hotel!

The Sun, April 29, 1886

By May of 1886, South Dodge was trying to open a post office and…a… what now? Streetcars? Can you even imagine.

The Dodge City Times, May 13, 1886

Even Chalk apparently thought it was a good idea.

The Dodge City Democrat, May 15, 1886

Perry divorced his first wife, Mary, under shady circumstances. You’ll see more about this below.

The Dodge City Times, June 10, 1886

D. F. Owens is another important player. He paid $500 for the land and expected to spend $3,000 on the new house to be built by John Slaven.

The Dodge City Democrat, June 12, 1886

The directors of the South Dodge Town Company declared a 1.5% dividend on their capital stock at the June 1886 meeting.

Also in June, Perry Wilden, ESQUIRE, married the Widow Robbins in Colorado. Too soon, buddy.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, June 15, 1886

There were actually two entities formed under the name “South Dodge Town Company.” The second was formed on August 17, 1886 once Owens bought the 160-acre tract. I was wondering how the townsite ended up in Beeson hands and this explains it. More on that later.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, August 17, 1886

In other revelations, did you ever wonder how Sunnyside got its name?

The Globe Live Stock Journal, August 17, 1886

I always enjoy including snippets from the Wilburn Argus, a short-lived newspaper from a short-lived Ford County town.

Wilburn Argus, September 3, 1886

Nothing ever changes. In this election, The Dodge City Democrat declared, “South Dodge precinct is the bane of the average politician’s life.”

Wilburn Argus, November 5, 1886

The Ford County Commissioners determined there was insufficient evidence to invalidate the South Dodge ballots so their votes were counted. That didn’t keep the local papers from stating as a fact that South Dodge was crooked.

Speaking of crooked, Mary Wilden returned and wanted her property back.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, November 9, 1886

Dodge was having all kinds of problems with devastating fires and South Dodge was also not immune. But the Globe called this one in South Dodge arson.

Perry and Anna Wilden were arrested for bigamy in February of 1887. When I said it was too soon, I meant it literally AND figuratively.

The Dodge City Times, February 10, 1887

February also saw some interesting property transfers in South Dodge between the Owens and Wilden wives.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, February 22, 1887

Oh Perry…big dreams!

The Dodge City Times, October 6, 1887

But then Perry and Anna left for California later that month. She was in poor health and died in February of 1888.

Perry’s story just keeps getting weirder and weirder. Whenever a newspaper reported on his fraudulent business practices, he sued them for libel.

San Luis Obispo Tribune, November 3, 1889

This narrative from ex-wife Mary Wilden is absolutely bonkers. I’m shocked to see a discussion about a man sending his mistress away for an abortion in 1883. She also accused him of burning down their former store in Dodge.

I believe it was in 1884 that a woman who worked in the Wilden home attempted suicide due to rumors circulating about her moral character. It’s surprising Mary didn’t mention that episode as well.

Wilden moved to Little Rock in early 1890 and formed a company called Elite Furniture and Lumber Company with his brother, George B Wilden, and a woman named Annie Downey. That business was also a colossal fraud.

The Topeka Daily Capitol, November 19, 1891

Wilden and Culver were charged with bribery and found not guilty the following month. In addition to the furniture factory fiasco, he also scammed another widow out of a piece of property.

Whenever things went sideways, he just shuffled locations. But he never quit!

The Globe-Republican, March 15, 1895

Wilden just had the worst luck! Imagine being on the scene of so many purely coincidental calamities!

The Los Angeles Record, July 16, 1896

Lawsuits continued against Perry and Anna Wilden (deceased) into at least 1897, at which time their remaining land holdings were sold at the west door of the Ford County Courthouse.

Perry married another widow in June of 1898, this time Candace Elenoria (Ludlow) Huntington. Each time I thought I must have run across a different P. J. Wilden, I found some common thread to confirm it was the same rapscallion.

The Billings Daily Gazette, October 14, 1908

I’m not saying Ella’s peaches were stolen because of her husband’s shady dealings but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out.

The La Crosse (Wisc.) Tribune, October 16, 1912

Remember that movie with Rosamund Pike in which she played an evil woman preying on elderly people?

The (San Francisco) Recorder, May 31, 1916


The National City News, December 24, 1926

Amazingly, Perry ran the home in National City, California until at least the early 1930s. Ella died in 1932 so that probably put an end to his generous care and concern. Perry died in San Diego in December of 1941.

In a future post, I’ll explain what happened with the streetcar railway and how the South Dodge townsite disappeared from the map.

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