When the Daltons Rode (1940)




Director:     George Marshall

Starring:     Randolph Scott (Tod Jackson), Kay Francis (Julie King), Brian Donlevy (Grat Dalton), George Bancoft (Caleb Winters), Broderick Crawford (Bob Dalton), Stuart Erwin (Ben Dalton), Andy Devine (Ozark), Frank Albertson (Emmett Dalton), Mary Gordon (Ma Dalton),  Edgar Buchanan (blacksmith).

The unlikely approach taken here is that the Dalton brothers were railroaded into becoming outlaws.  


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"Towards the end of the 19th century in America, civilization surged ever west and, in its wake, came that inseparable pair, injustice and crime.  In the history of the reckless violence that seized Kansas and Oklahoma, no name carried more terror than Dalton.  There were more famous outlaws, but none more daring, none more desperate. This, then, is the story of the Dalton brothers, based to a large extent, on the tales that the old settlers still tell of them  -- woven together with strands of fiction.  But, so incredible were the Daltons, that no man can say where fact ends and fancy begins."

1891.  Tod Jackson is new in town and he asks the blacksmith where do the Daltons live?  He says he knew the Daltons twenty years ago in Missouri.  The blacksmith tells Jackson that Marshall Frank Dalton got killed in Indian territory.  Jackson says Ben is supposed to have a farm around here.  The blacksmith say it's the finest farm in the county.   The blacksmith drones on and on without answering the question where do the Daltons live. Jackson says he only has two hours to spare before the train leaves for Guthrie.  The blacksmith asks why does Jackson wants to go to Guthrie?  Finally, the blacksmith says the farm is two miles away from town. 

The Daltons are having their photograph taken in the photography studio.  The photographer tells the men to get closer, so in the shifting around the men get tangled in the background screen and end up falling on the family members sitting in chairs in front of them.  Jackson sees all this and laughs.  Grat Dalton goes outside to tell Jackson:  "You better dry up and blow away." 

A woman with a gun named Nancy comes after a man named Ozark.  His crime is running around with a blonde woman.  Ozark grabs Jackson to use him as a shield.  Jackson protests but Ozark is a much bigger man and Jackson can't get himself free of him.  To avoid the chance of getting hit, Jackson lays prone on the ground in the middle of the street, taking Ozark down with him.  This makes Ozark the easier one to shoot.  Finally, Marshall Bob Dalton grabs the gone from Nancy's hands. 

To get back at Jackson, Grat Dalton tells his brother Emmett to grab the newcomer and pretend Grat is trying to kill him.  So they more or less repeat what happened between Nancy and Ozark.  Emmett grabs Jackson and whirls him around and around until the man's suitcase comes open and all his clothes are spread over the street.  Everybody starts laughing at Jackson.  Jackson comes over and he says he knows a funnier prank and pushes Grat into the water trough.  Emmett now starts to fight with Jackson.  Mother Dalton stops this.  Then Grat comes up to challenge Jackson to a fight.  Bob Dalton intervenes.  With all the names of the brothers being said, Jackson realizes that these people are the Daltons.  He tells them they are the Daltons and gives Ma Dalton a kiss.  Ma says she ought to slap him for that and Jackson says it wouldn't be the first time he was slapped by her.  Does she remember the scrawny neighbor on the next farm down from them who gave all the Dalton children the mumps?  Now Ma realizes that this man is Tod Jackson.  The atmosphere suddenly changes and all the Daltons want to shake his hand and asks him how's he doing? 

Bob asks Tod what he's doing in these parts?  Jackson says he's going to practice law with his friend in nearby Guthrie.  The Daltons tell him there's a job right here in town that he can take.  Ma Dalton says Tod is not leaving town until he comes over to see the farm.  Furthermore, they are having a party for Ma Dalton tonight.  So Jackson gives in and will stay.  But first, he has to go telegraph a message to his partner. 

Caleb Winters has an investments office upstairs.  He shouts down to Bob wanting to know what size gloves his mother wears. Bob says he will ask Emmett because he will know the size and then Bob will come back to tell Caleb. Meanwhile, Tod is down by the cattle chutes because that's were the telegraph man is.  A woman sitting on a fence by the cattle chute is counting the number of cattle.  Jackson learns from her that she is the telegraph operator.  She asks Jackson to write out the telegram for her.  Jackson likes the looks of the woman and he starts flirting with her, but she keeps shooting him down. 

At the party for mother Dalton, Tod asks Bob what's the name of the woman he saw down by the cattle chutes?  Bob doesn't know which woman Jackson is talking about.  Mother Dalton is carried over to a pretty buggy to take a ride.  She really likes the present.  Ben tells Tod about the farm and really wants to show it to his old friend.  But Jackson is distracted because here comes his mystery woman (named Julie King) in a buggy.  Jackson leaves Ben to talk to Julie.  She says she is glad to see him  -- he forgot to pay her for the telegram. 

Bob comes over and helps Julie down from her buggy.  The two kiss.  Julie has a telegram for Bob.  He has to leave for Benton immediately to testify at a trial.  Bob tells Tod that Julie is going to marry him.  That's bad news for Tod. 

Martin and a woman with him come in with Martin screaming for Bob Dalton.  He says that Rigby and his surveyors put him off his farm. Rigby told him the land belongs to the Kansas Land and Development Company.  Grat wants to go get that Rigby fellow but Bob and Caleb say this matter has to be handled legally.  Bob asks Tod his opinion as a lawyer.  Tod suggests they form an association or a grange so they can pool their resources and fight this development company.  They want Tod to be their lawyer but Tod explains he is going to Guthrie, Oklahoma.  Ma Dalton says that Kansas needs him more than Oklahoma does.  Tod takes the job making the farmers very happy. 

Two women are fighting each other.  Bob asks Ozark what the two are fighting about?  Ozark answers:  "Me."  The crowd laughs. 

Tod takes Julie out for a picnic.  He tells her that he hasn't made much headway with the land grab cases.  Julie tells him he has got to go back to his office and start getting something accomplished. 

The next day Julie helps Tod unpack his things.  She arranges his diplomas on the wall for his clients to see.  All Tod can think of is going on another picnic even though together they already have had almost a dozen picnics.  She dusts his law books off to put them on the book shelves.  Tod gets stirred up and says to Julie that he should go back to Guthrie.  He tells her:  "If you think I'm gonna stick around and watch you and Bob Dalton raise a family, you're crazy.  I can't help it if I'm in love with you."  Julie suggests he go to Bob and tell him how he feels.  Tod asks how would Bob take that?  She says he wouldn't like it and Tod says that's why he is going to Guthrie.  This upsets Julie who says he's just like all the other lawyers:  he lacks the conviction of his beliefs.  She gets frustrated and says:  "Oh, go to Gurthrie!"  She starts to leave but turns and says:  "Oh, Tod."  She and Tod hug and Julies says:  "We're in an awful mess."  There's a knock at the door and they think it may be Bob.  So they go back to what they were doing before.  But the visitor is only Ozark who wants to hide out from a woman who is chasing him. 

Emmett comes riding up fast to tell Ben that Rigby and his surveyors are surveying their land.   Ben tells Emmett to go get Grat.  They ride down to see Rigby and his men.  Things get really heated  up and one of the surveyors draws his weapon and points it at Grat.  Ben races his horse over to the fellow and the horse knocks down the man, who hits his head on a rock.  The surveyors take their wounded colleague up to a house. 

Caleb and Tod talk about how to find out who's behind the development company by going up to the capital and going through the land records there.  Caleb will have to do it because Tod is still planning to leave for Guthrie.  Just as the two men are shaking hands goodbye, they hear a terrible commotion down on the street.  They shout down to Marshal Jim and he tells them that they have Ben Dalton under arrest for killing one of Rigby's surveyors.

An article in the paper says that the Ben Dalton trial begins today with Tod Jackson serving as the defense attorney. 

It's the day of the trial.  Ozark comes in with a woman hanging onto his right arm.  There are two bigger men with them.  Ozark doesn't want to get married, but the men are demanding that he marry the woman.  The ceremony, however, will have to wait until the Ben Dalton trial finishes for the day.    Julie talks with Tod about going to Guthrie.  She wants to say something to Bob about them, but Tod doesn't want her to.  She says according to Tod's ethics, she is to crawl away somewhere and die.  Bob Dalton comes in and gives Julie an engagement ring.  He then kisses her. 

Ben is brought in for the trial.  Judge Lucius Thorndyke will be presiding in the court.  The jury selection is favoring the prosecution, so Tod starts a big argument by calling one of the jurors, Mr. Osborne, an accused horse thief.  Osborne wants to know who said this and Tod says the juror in the box Mr. Norris.  So Osborne goes after Norris.  Norris says that he was told this by Mr. Pickett.  Pickett says that he bought the horse fair and square but the next morning the horse was gone along with two harnesses.  Now Osborne tries to pull out a pistol and shoot perhaps Norris or Pickett or both.  He is stopped from actually firing the weapon.  The three men in the dispute are thrown off the jury.

The surveyors are lying through their death about what happened and Grat attacks one of the surveyors for this.  So now they are going to throw Grat in jail.  Bob Dalton gets so fed up with the lies in the courtroom that he says he's taking his brother out of here, including Ben.  The surveyor who was attacked by Grat comes back with a shotgun in his hands and orders Grat to step out into the open.  Bob tells the man to drop the weapon, he doesn't, so Bob shoots the surveyor.  Now the brothers all leave the courthouse.  Ozark goes with them. 

The people come out on the street after the Daltons, but Bob starts shooting near them and they run back into the courthouse very quickly.  In the papers it says that the Daltons are still at large after their daring escape.  A posse is scouring the hills for the murderers of Sam Fleeson.  The Daltons start engaging in armed robbery.  The newspaper says that it is believed that the Daltons have killed two more men. 

The Daltons rob another bank.  They get away with $10,000 dollars.  Next they rob a stage coach, kill the guard and drivr and get away with $6,000 dollars in gold.  They also robbed the passengers. 

The gang is holed up in a barn without access to much food, but the papers keep carrying stories of the Daltons robbing one thing or another week after week.  Ben asks why do they print these lies about them when they haven't been even 20 yards away from the barn?   Grat has an idea.  He wants to rob the payroll of the development company off the Benton stage coach.  And so they do.  As the stage coach goes along the road, Grat and Ozark yell for Bob to get ready.  Bob goes over to the edge of the rocks very close to the road.  When the stage coach comes by Bob jumps on the rifleman and throws him off the stage.  He then starts struggling with the driver and Bob gets pushed off.  He lands between two horses of the six-horse team.  He lets go of the horses and latches onto the rear of the stage.  He then swings himself up and climbs on the roof.  With gun in hand he orders the driver to stop and the driver stops. 

Bob, Grat and Ozark return to the barn.  Ben comes riding fast up to the barn.  He tells Bob and the others that their mother's farmhouse has been burned to the ground and their mother is gone.  Furthermore, Emmett started going crazy, got on his horse and rode toward town.  Grat wants to go help Emmett but the others hold him back. 

Julie received a telegram saying that the Daltons robbed a bank in Northfield.  Emmett comes to Julie to ask her what have they done to mother Dalton?  She says she's all right, but Emmett must hide in the baggage area.  Emmett demands to know where she is exactly.  Julie tells Emmett her mom is with Tod.  A large posse invades the telegram office and Emmett is caught, despite the protests of Julie. 

Julie races over to Tod's office where he is with mother Dalton.  She says that the mob has Emmett and may hang him.  The three of them run out to save Emmett.  Tod jumps into the mob surrounding Emmett and trying to hang him from the nearby tree.  Tod gets thrown out of the mob circling around Emmett.  So Tod goes and gets a buggy pulled by two horses.  He runs the horses right through the mob and they scatter in order not to get hit.  Emmett jumps on the back of the buggy and off Tod goes.  The mob tries to catch up with them but Tod gets away.  Meanwhile, mother Dalton is run over by the crowd and hurt badly.  Tod drops Emmett off at the Sheriff's office and Emmett runs in fast.  The Daltons are hiding in the jail area and they tell the sheriff that they are taking over.  Tod calls over to the sheriff at Benton, but is grabbed by the mob and tied up with the telephone wire.

Meanwhile the mob is trying to knock down the door of the sheriff's office with a large branch of a tree.  When the mob busts through the door they are met by the Daltons and Ozark.  Bob and the boys start firing in the air and this stampedes the mob out of the sheriff's office.  One member of the mob yells:  "It's the Daltons!  All of them!"  The Daltons now get on their horses and ride out of town.  Emmett is wounded and falls afrom his horse,  Ben returns and gives Emmett his horse and off goes Emmet.  Then Ben surrenders to the mob with his hands raised.  As he tries to explain the situation to the people, Rigby shoots Ben down.   Now the Daltons are hopping mad and they come back for Ben.  Grat shoots Rigby trying to get into a store to get away from the Daltons. 

There is now a $1,000 dollar reward for the capture of the Dalton brothers, wanted for murder, jail break and robbery. 

As a train passes by the Daltons and Ozark ride up to the train and jump off their horses onto the train.  They rob the passengers and the money in the security room.  Now there is a "Shoot on Sight" poster for the Dalton brothers.  With more bank robberies the reward goes up to $2,000 dollars and then up to $3,500 dollars.  The Daltons are wanted in four states:  Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.  The state ups the reward to $15,000 dollars reward.  A little while later the reward goes up to $20,000 dollars.

Tod reads in the papers to Julie that the Daltons are believed to be cooperating with the Doolin gang.  The Daltons kill another train express messenger.  Someone throws a rock through the window.  It carries with it a message:  "Tell Julie I haven't forgotten."  Bob.  Tod had wanted to marry Julie the next day, but Julie says they can't. 

In an Oklahoma town a man comes rushing over to the sheriff saying that the Daltons are eating at Pete's Cafe.  Pete is telling the Dalton boys what he would do if the Daltons ever showed up in his cafe.  He grabs his gun and points it at Bob.  The four men at the counter aim their guns at Pete. Bob takes Pete's gun from him.  Now the gang introduces themselves:  Grat, Emmett, Bob and a new member Clem Wilson.  Pete is now a little scared so he gives each of the four a fresh baked pie.  Meanwhile the men of the town have gathered together and are are set up outside Pete's place.  The man who told the sheriff about the Daltons now runs into a saloon to tell everyone that they have the Daltons surrounded over at Pete's Cafe.  In the saloon is Ozark who hides behind two showgirls.  The girls ask him ain't he gonna help?  Ozark says yes and runs out of the saloon. 

The shooting starts.  Ozark runs over, knocks out the horse handler, and takes off with the stage coach.  He drives the stage coach in front of Pete's Cafe.  He starts yelling at the towns people not to shoot any of his horses.  Ozark also yells at Pete's Cafe for the men not to shoot his horses.  As everyone is distracted, the Dalton gang sneaks into the stage coach and then Ozark pulls out of there.  The sheriff tells the Daltons to come on out of the cafe.  Only Pete comes out.  He says the Daltons looked in pretty good health as they snuck onto the stage and high-tailed it out of here.  The sheriff can't believe it.  He forms a posse and goes after the men. 

The Daltons start shooting at the posse as they chase the stage.  The Daltons work their way onto the horses and get on them.  They free the horses from the coach.  Then Bob goes back to pick up Ozark with an extra horse.  Meanwhile, the one horse left just keeps running and pulling the stage coach along the road. 

The gang lets their horses go and decide to jump on a passing train.  They all jump onto the roofs of the railroad cars.  Now Bob decides to rob the train, but Emmett take a look and sees the cars are  full of deputies numbering a hundred or more.  Despite all that, the Daltons do rob the train.  They throw the safety out of the moving train.  They then get onto some horses the train in carrying.  One by one they jump off the train.  A lawman things he recognizes some of the men and is sure it's the Daltons.  The other lawmen just laugh at him.  But then Ozark Jones jumps off the train and the lawman can't mistake the huge figure of Ozark.  Now the other lawmen look and it's Ozark all right.  Now they try to stop the train. 

Julie gets off a stage coach where mother Dalton and her brother wait for her with a buggy.  Mother tells her that Bob got in last night and wants to see her.  That's why mother asked for Julie to come out to ma's place.  Julie is not enthusiastic, but says she will see Bob.  All the gang is there in the house and they welcome Julie very warmly.  Bob has big plans for Julie and him, but Julie tells him that she's not going with him.  He thinks she's just scared, but Julie tells him that she does not love him.  When she mentions Tod Jackson, Bob takes off like a shot.  Bob is about to walk out of the house to attend to some "business" of his when Grat tells him that the boys want to rob the bank in their home down.  There are two banks in town, directly across from each other.  Bob says no and leaves.  The boys decide to rob the banks anyway. 

Tod pays a visit to Caleb.  He knows now who is behind the development company.  It's none other than Caleb Winters himself.  Caleb is not worried.  He things he's too powerful to be sent to jail.  Tod leaves his office and Caleb looks out one of his windows.  He sees the Dalton gang tying up their horses in an ally.  Caleb telephones the sheriff's office.  The gang goes over to one of the banks.  Tod walks past Grat and Emmett without seeing them.  Ozark and Wilson go into one bank, while Grat and Emmet go into the bank across the street. 

The sheriff gets the telephone message and gets his men into action.   Tod goes into his office and sees Bob there.  He tells Bob that the whole town is swarming with marshals.  He shouldn't be here.  Bob slugs Tod three times and the lawyrr falls to the floor.  Bob is about to shoot Tod, when Julie comes in and stops Bob.  She tells Bob that he can't order their lives around.  Mother Dalton comes in and asks what has become of her son?  She asks Bob to let them alone.  Just then shooting is heard.  Bob looks out the window and sees the gang in trouble.  He tells Julie and mom to stay in this room.  He runs out to help his gang. 

Bob shoots into a building nearest him and then runs across the street to join the gang.  He tells the fellows that they have to get to their horses.  So now Bob runs back across the street and into an abandoned store.  Emmet goes next and makes. it.  Wilson tries to run across but is shot and falls onto the street surface.  Caleb Winters, firing from his office window, is the one who shot Wilson.  Grat runs out to help Wilson but gets shot in the shoulder and goes down.  Bob runs out onto the street and helps get Grat and Wilson to at least temporary safety.  Ozark comes out and crosses the street but he runs into that Nancy woman and she attacks him again.  Caleb is now able to shoot Ozark.   

Bob tells the remaining four guys that they're going to have to make a run for it.  Bob helps the wounded Clem and Grat and Emmett are able to run with them. But both Bob and Clem are wounded.  Emmett and Grat are now both hit and they both fall to the ground not moving.  Bob is the only one not laying prone.  He gets up off his knees.  With the silence Tod steps out onto the street.  Caleb now wants to shoot Tod and say he was one of the bank robbers.  Bob sees Caleb pointing his rifle at Tod.  Bob fires and Cleb goes down. 

Now in the window of the photography studio there are advertisements for photos of the Daltons:  a family group portrait for $2.00 dollars and for each individual outlaw it's $1.00 dollar for each photo. 

The talkative blacksmith says to Tod and Julie:  "Times sure change fast here in Kansas."  He goes on and on and doesn't answer the question of when will the stage coach be leaving for Guthrie?  He asks what do they want to go to Guthrie for?  Tod laughs as that's what the man told him when he first arrived in town.  He introduces his wife Julie to the blacksmith.  The blacksmith says he knew a couple that waited a week for the Guthrie stage coach and do they know what they did then?   Julie answers:  "Uh-huh. They took the train."  Both Julie and Tod laugh as they start walking to the train station.  The blacksmith asks himself:  "Now who do you suppose told 'em?"


An okay movie, but very little history.  Most of it is fiction.  The film only has a veneer of truth to it.  See the historical background below.  Much of the movie is the love story between Tod Jackson and Julie King who are fictional characters. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




Historical Background:


The Dalton were related to the Younger brothers, who rode with Jesse James.  They came from Jackson County, Missouri. 

by 1882  -- the Daltons live in north east Oklahoma, the called Indian Territory. 

by 1886  --  the family moves to Coffeyville, Kansas.  

1887  --  Frank Dalton, working as Deputy Marshal, was shot & killed in battle with the Smith-Dixon gang.  

1889 -- Grat Dalton was deputy marshal for the Muskogee court in Indian Territory.

The railroad took their land and this started the alienation of the Daltons from the larger society.

1890 -- Bob, Grat, & Emmett Dalton accused of stealing horses near Claremore in Indian Territory. The brothers now have to give up their careers as lawmen.  They leave for California.

1891, Feb. -- Daltons rob the Southern Pacific Railroad Train at Alila, California.

1891, May --  Daltons team up with Charlie Bryant and Bitter Creek Newcomb & rob the train at Wharton, Oklahoma Territory.

1891, Sept. --  Dalton gang teams up with Bill Doolin and rob a train at Leliaetta, near Wagoner, Indian Territory.

1892, May -- Dalton gang plus Doolin gang rob a train.

1892, July -- another train robbery, passing up the first train, taking the second one, but only netting $50 dollars.

1892, July 14 --  last train robbery is at Adair, Indian Territory; then the gang splits up.  

1892, Oct. 5 --  Bob, Grat & Emmett Dalton plus Bill Power and Dick Broadwell try to rob two banks at once at Coffeyville, Kansas.  In the shootout that followed, all except Emmett Dalton, died. Emmett was wounded 23 times, tried and sentenced to life in prison.  He was later pardoned by the governor.  


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