This next tidbit from history comes from an amazing woman with a heart of pure gold. There were a lot of them scattered throughout the old West, women of all walks of life who helped the sick and needy.
A lot about Dora Hand’s earlier life is a mystery. Some said she came from a prominent family in Boston. Others place her elsewhere. And no one knew the exact year she was born. But she was a very beautiful woman and could sing like an angel. In fact, she performed opera back East. Her stage name was Fannie Keenan.
Then she came down with tuberculosis and decided the dry air climate of the West would prove beneficial.
She arrived in Dodge City, Kansas somewhere around May 1877 and began entertaining cowboys at the Grey Lady Saloon. She was of medium height and build with a face of classic beauty. There was grace and charm in her movements that the rough cowboys had rarely seen. In addition to her job at the Grey Lady, she sang five nights a week for two hours at Mayor James Kelley’s Alhambra Saloon and her reputation grew far and wide. In the hours after singing, she plied her trade as a soiled dove.
Rumors of her benevolence became fact once they reached the editor of the newspaper. By night entertained cowboys. But by day she put on plain clothes and became an angel of mercy, visiting sick children and helping feed needy families. She earned the title Lady Bountiful of Dodge City.
On Sunday, she attended church and even sang for the congregation on occasion at which times the cowboys crowded in, raising the numbers considerably.
Dora became a very good friend of Mayor James Kelley. It’s not clear if they were more than friends because neither ever talked about it. However, it was not unusual for her to spend the night at his place.
On the evening of October 4, 1878, Kelley became ill and had to have surgery. So, Dora and another entertainer stayed at his cabin. After they blew out the lamp and went to bed, shots rang out and Dora was struck and killed.
Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Charlie Basset, and Bill Tilghman gave chase and caught the murderer. It was James Kenedy, a twenty-three year old Texas cowboy who held a grudge against Mayor Kelley. They’d gotten into a fight previously in the Alhambra Saloon over Dora. He hadn’t known she was sleeping in Kelley’s bed. When told of his mistake, he said he wished he’d killed himself. He loved Dora Hand, and some think the raging attack was fueled by jealousy.
Whatever the cause, Dora was dead somewhere around the age of 34. She was given the largest funeral the city had ever seen. Dance-hall girls, gamblers, gunslingers, saloon-keepers, businessmen, cattlemen and the like comprised the procession.
James Kenedy was tried, and astonishingly, found innocent. He hadn’t meant to kill her. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And his daddy spent a good deal of money to see that he went free. Given the town’s love for her though, I’m shocked the citizens didn’t string him up without benefit of a trial.
This is the season of giving. Red Kettles are everywhere. Do you know of other women, and men, who helped the poor and downtrodden? Mother Teresa was a tireless worker but there were, and are, lots of others. Maybe someone in your community.