Lady Bountiful of Dodge City

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.

Posted in History permalink

About LindaBroday

I'm a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of western historical romance. I love stories of the old West and the people who once lived there. I haunt libraries and museums and can hang out in them for hours. To tell all the stories that are in my head would take a lifetime.


Lady Bountiful of Dodge City — 15 Comments

  1. I have a dear friend, Carla, who gives of all she can and of herself for others. She is kind generous to a fault. Thinking of others before herself. Married since 19 to a man just as generous. Now 70, still actively giving in church to family and community. I am honored to be her friend.

    • Hi Jerri Lynn……What a joy to know people like your friend and her husband. I think people who give are blessed tenfold. We’re rewarded for having generous hearts. I believe that. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. I’ve read of a lot of soiled doves who opened up their hearts to the poor and needy. Maybe they just needed something to make them feel whole.

      Much love and hugs!

  2. Down here in the Houston area, we have a gentleman called Mattress Max, who owns Gallery Furniture. During hurricane Harvey, he opened up his stores and let people sleep on the mattresses that he had in his warehouses. Each if his stores have play areas for kids and cafes, he fed, and entertained anyone and everyone that needed help. He gave the national guard a place to sleep. After the hurricaine, he gave away cleaning supplies, water, and food. He set up fairs, that gave free haircuts, shoes to displayed people. Then on Thanksgiving he once again opened his doors and fed anyone that wanted to come eat Thanksgiving dinner, a free dinner. He regularly gives put tickets to sports events, concerts, to military, and first responders. For a month, once a week he gave a house full of furniture to someone in need.
    From the sounds if it he gives all of the time, and never expects anything back for his giving.

    • I just love Mattress Max and all he’s done! What an awesome giving man he is!

    • Hi Veda……Our news up here did a segment on Mattress Max but I didn’t know of all he did recently. What a nice man. He must have a heart a big as Texas. I love people like him. They lift us up and make us feel special just for knowing him. I’m sure Dora did the same to those who knew her.

      Much love and hugs!

  3. Lottie Moon comes to my mind she was a Southern Baptist missionary to China in the mid to late 1800s. She worked so long and hard even giving of her own money to help fellow missionaries and to even help feed the people she was trying to evangelize. She became so sick trying to help others and died enroute bk home to USA. You can read more here:

    • Hi Glenda…….Thanks for coming. I’ve never read about Lottie Moon but she was an amazing woman. I love people like her. I think God richly blesses them. I’m glad you told me about her.

      Much love and hugs!

  4. One of the most giving men I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and being related to was my brother. He was a twice cancer survivor and through all of it he became very godly. He was the type of guy that he would stop for the homeless, feed them a meal, say a prayer for them and give them a long hug even though he had a weakened immune system. (Much to his wifes displeasure) He was very active in his church, raising funds to improve the pre-k school at his church and was on the board of United Way in our hometown. He raised funds for cancer as well as funds for MS since I have MS. He never lived by the what if’s or dwelled on the past and he lived life to the fullest. Hence he died doing one of his favorite things, He was on a ride with his bike club. and wrecked out on a curve after trying to regain balance after hitting gravel from side road. He had a slight grin/smirk on his face and I’m sure he was thinking this is going to hurt. I’m sure he never thought he was fixing to die though, it just so happened he went head first into a cedar tree. I never would have thought a cedar tree could kill but it was just his time to go. I’m sure he was at a very high rate of speed though. He died happy and is greatly missed by family, friends, his company and his community he was so active in.

    Great blog! I love learning from you! I got stuck on her dress in the picture. I never recall having seen a woman in a plaid dress like that from the time period. I was in retail for years and was in awe of that picture!

    • Hi Stephanie…….Hugs for sharing that about your brother. He had a huge heart and a love for life. I’m so sorry you lost him. That’s hard. I’m sure he’s wearing a gold crown with lots of stars and grinning from ear to ear. Yes, Dora’s plaid dress was a little unusual for the times. But then Dora was an usual woman. I have a feeling she always swam against the stream. I would like to have known her.

      Much love and hugs!

  5. My Papa was a very giving man, But he did not want anyone to know it was him give Dean he would buy groceries and drop it off at peoples homes that he knew you needed help and drive away. After being in Japanese prison camp for 3 1/2 years with nothing to eat but, flies. grasshoppers, & rice to eat he never wanted anyone to starve. He would not drink tea either, because they gave them water down tea that set in huge vats covered in flies, so he only drink water and an occasional beer. He was a wonderful man I lost him in 1994 right before I moved to Kansas I still miss him to this day. That was a wonderful blog next time I am roaming around Dodge city I’m going to have to look up some of the history and see if I can find some information on this lady.
    You have a wonderful day sorry I’m late blogging it’s been a typical Monday after a holiday. Love you my sweet sister friend.

    • Hi Tonya……I’m sorry I was so late in replying to your comment. Your papa had quite a caring heart. I’m sorry he was taken prisoner. Spending time there probably changed him in so many ways. You’ll never stop missing him. Love you, sister friend.

  6. Wow! What a story. Back in Coleman there was a lady, an elderly lady, who never turned anyone away from her door. Her name said it all, Louise Strength. She was truly an angel of mercy in that small community. I don’t know if she’s still alive, but if so, she would be in her late eighties by now. How sad that Dora lost her life at such a young age.

    • Wow! Yes, Louise’s name did say it all. What a lady. Yes, Dora died very young and that’s sad. She was quite a woman.

  7. A lot of the churches give to the people in need here. There is even a restaurant in town that says pay what your can. Good post this lady is something else.

    • Hi Quilt Lady…..I’m glad you enjoyed my post. How nice about the churches and the restaurant in town. That’s the sign of a caring community.