Dora Hand (c. 1844 – October 4, 1878) was an American dance hall singer and actress in Dodge City, Kansas, who was mistakenly shot to death from ambush by a young suitor, who was acquitted of criminal charges in the case. Hand was also linked romantically with James H. "Dog" Kelley, the mayor of Dodge City from 1877 to 1881.
Hand may have been born on the East Coast of the United States and some sources list her birth as early as 1840. According to legend, she was a descendant of a prominent unnamed Boston family, had studied music in Europe and had once performed opera in New York City. Like Doc Holliday, she had supposedly come to the American West to battle tuberculosis. When she arrived in Dodge City, possibly as early as May 1877 or as late as June 1878, she was divorced from her musician husband Theodore "Ted" Hand and used the stage name Fannie Keenan.
Arrival in Dodge City
When Hand came to Dodge City, Mayor Kelley had already entered the restaurant business with Peter L. Beatty. Their Beatty & Kelley Restaurant adjoined the Alhambra Saloon, which they also co-owned. Fannie Garretson, another saloon singer, had encouraged her friend Dora to come to Dodge City. The two were earning $40 a week, a large amount at the time, at the Lady Gay Dance Hall and Saloon, which was co-owned by Ben Springer and the peace officer James Masterson, a younger brother of Ed Masterson and Bat Masterson. An article in the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City describes Hand, accordingly: as "of medium height and build, with a face of classic beauty. There was a grace and charm in her walk. She dressed plainly, usually in black, and this color seemed to accentuate the ivory whiteness of her soft skin."
In Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, author Stuart N. Lake describes Hand as "the most graciously beautiful woman" to come to Dodge City "in the heyday of its iniquity." In The Trampling Herd, Paul Wellman writes, "By all accounts, she was a beautiful creature, with a face and voice which gave men strange nostalgic dreams of better days and finer surroundings."
In Notorious Ladies of the Frontier, author Harry Sinclair Drago describes the Lady Gay Saloon as a "free-wheeling resort, with its bar at the rear of the auditorium doing a land-office business between acts." Hand's pay increased from $40 to $75 a week at the Lady Gay. Kelley managed to arrange for her to sing five nights a week for two hours at his Alhambra Saloon. The added income led Hand to assist the poor and unfortunate. Drago described her as "an angel of mercy" in the eyes of Dodge City residents. She joined the Ladies Aid Society and sang at the pastor's invitation at the First Methodist Church in Dodge City. When Hand appeared, the church was crowded to the doors, a previously unknown occurrence. Within an hour of the church appearance, she had already returned to the stage of the Lady Gay. Stuart Lake saw her as by night "the Queen of the Fairy Belles" who entertained drunken cowhands but by day "Lady Bountiful," one determined to help the needy.
Enter James "Spike" Kenedy
Inside the Alhambra, Mayor Kelley, who had become Dora's unofficial sponsor and great admirer, had a dispute with James W. "Spike" Kenedy (1855-1884), a 23-year-old Texas cowboy who carried his own romantic interest in the much older Dora Hand. When Kenedy became aggressive toward Dora, Kelley physically evicted him from the Alhambra, and the two later clashed again.
Kenedy prepared for revenge against Kelley. He obtained the fastest horse possible to make an escape then, began to follow Kelley's daily routine. He learned that Kelley spent many nights in a crude two-room cabin near the saloon. He struck early on the morning of October 4, 1878, firing a gunshot into the cabin. What Kenedy did not know was that Kelley had changed his routine and was not inside the cabin when Kenedy fired. Kelly was instead seeking treatment for a stomach disorder at the infirmary at Fort Dodge, the United States Army outpost some five miles from Dodge City. He had gone to Fort Dodge because he was on unfriendly terms with the town physician in Dodge City. Inside Kelley's cabin were Dora and Fannie Garretson. Kenedy's shot passed an unlikely route through Garretson's bedding and then a wall before it struck and killed Dora Hand instantly. Kenedy fled south on horseback and did not learn that he had killed Dora until he was apprehended by a posse, which included Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.
Kenedy resembled his Mexican and Roman Catholic mother, Petra Vela de Vidal Kenedy, more so than his father, Mifflin Kenedy, the former captain of a ship and a Quaker from Chester County, Pennsylvania, who had come west to seek his fortune. For a while, Mifflin Kenedy, the namesake of barely-populated Kenedy County between Corpus Christi and Brownsville in South Texas, had partnered with Richard King in the King Ranch, one of the largest outfits in Texas. When the partnership with King ended in 1868, Kenedy purchased Laureles Ranch, a 172,000-acre tract near Corpus Christi. Cowboys from the King and Kenedy ranches in 1878 alone drove 15,000 longhorns to Dodge City and were a financial power in the community.
After rescuing his son from an earlier scrape with the law in Ellsworth, Kansas, Mifflin Kenedy moved Spike to a new ranch in the Texas Panhandle with a crew and two thousand head of cattle. He was based at Tascosa in Oldham County, now a ghost town but in its heyday the center of business for ten Panhandle counties. With an "athletic physique, dark hair and eyes, he was the handsomest bachelor in the Panhandle," but Kenedy presumbably could not "withstand the temptations of the underworld." Whenever he left his Panhandle ranch for Dodge City, Spike would abandon all caution.
Kenedy had already twice run afoul of authorities in Dodge City in 1878. On July 29, Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp arrested him for carrying and brandishing a pistol, which was not allowed in Dodge City at the time. On August 17, Marshal Charlie Bassett arrested him for disorderly conduct, but a lenient judge gave him a mere warning.
On April 9, 1878, some six months before the shooting death of Dora Hand, Ed Masterson was murdered by drunken cowboys after only eleven days as city marshal in Dodge City. Months later on December 15, Mayor Kelley appointed Charlie Bassett, while still serving as the sheriff of Ford County, to replace Masterson with the simultaneous title of sheriff and assistant marshal. After Bat Masterson became sheriff, he named Bassett his undersheriff.
Kenedy goes free
During the arrest, Bat Masterson shot Kenedy in the shoulder leading to a permanent injury. Kenedy was returned to Dodge City two days after the death of Dora Hand and jailed to protect him from irate citizens. Mifflin Kenedy rushed to Dodge City, apparently with a large amount of cash in hand. The Ford County Globe on October 29, 1878, reported that Kenedy, "the man who was arrested for the murder of Fannie Keenan, was examined last week before Judge [R. G.] Cook and acquitted. His trial took place in the sheriff's office, which was too small to admit spectators. We do not know what the evidence was or upon what grounds he was acquitted." On March 20, 1951, in a letter to historian Stanley Vestal, author of Dodge City: Queen of the Cowtowns, Stuart Lake claimed that Mifflin Kenedy had paid as much as a $25,000 "fee" to town founder Robert M. "Bob" Wright, a member at the time of the Kansas House of Representatives who made and lost a fortune in the cattle business. Other monies, said Lake, were likely paid to Bat Masterson and other Dodge City officials, to buy Spike Kenedy an acquittal due to "lack of evidence".
Hand's funeral was well-attended. A cowhand was quoted as having said, "Every store, saloon and gambling house in Dodge closed during the funeral, and four hundred men with their sombreros on their saddle horses rode behind the spring wagon that carried Dora Hand up Boot Hill."
In the October 5, 1878, issue of the Dodge City Times, a reporter wrote that Hand was "a prepossessing woman whose artful winning ways brought many admirers within her smiles and blandishments." Authors Susan Leiser Silva and her husband, Lee A. Silva, concluded:
Historians have labeled Dora Hand as anything from angelic nightingale to outright prostitute. Whatever her designation, her shooting death was a frontier tragedy, and Dodge City has never forgotten her.
Within the decade, Kelley lost his holdings in a series of financial reversals. He spent his last years at the Kansas Soldiers' Home at Fort Dodge, where he died in September 1912, at age seventy-nine of tuberculosis, the disease that may have plagued Dora at the time of her death. He had one known survivor, a daughter Irene, who did not attend his funeral, held in the Army chapel. Perhaps she no longer lived in the area. It is not known when or if Kelley married; he is listed as "unmarried" at the age of forty in 1873, five years before the shooting death of Dora Hand. Kelley is interred at Fort Dodge Cemetery.
Television and film depiction
The bearded actor Paul Brinegar played Jim Kelley in thirty-three episodes from 1956 to 1958 of the ABC/Desilu western television series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brian in the title role. In the second and third episodes of the second season, entitled "Dodge City Gets a New Marshal" (September 4, 1956) and "Fight or Run" (September 11, 1956), Kelley is the hold-out vote on the city council to Earp's plan to require gun owners to check in their weapons upon entering town, a measure which had angered Jim "Spike" Kenedy. Actually, Kelley was already the mayor when Earp arrived in Dodge City. In the series version, the Big T cattle company is angry with Earp for trying to clean-up Dodge City and enlists Kelley's help in a planned ambush of Earp. Kelley is depicted as a reluctant "good guy"/"bad guy" split personality in many of the episodes. Brinegar left The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp when the locale shifted to Tombstone, Arizona Territory, and appeared in the CBS western, Rawhide in the role of the cantankerous trail cook Wishbone.
In the episode "The Double Life of Dora Hand" (September 18, 1956), Kelley is depicted as a suitor of Dora Hand, played by Margaret Hayes. Dora calls on Earp for help when railroad workers and buffalo hunters clash in her saloon. Meanwhile, she raises money for the church and sings at least once in its choir. William Tannen played deputy Hal Norton in this episode.
There were two subsequent episodes featuring Dora Hand: "The Reformation of Jim Kelley" (October 30, 1956), about the romance of Kelley and Dora, and "So Long, Dora, So Long" (November 13, 1956), a dramatization of the shooting death of Dora, who is killed the day before her planned wedding to Jim Kelley. In the episode, James "Spike" Kenedy, is given the name "Bob Rellance" and played by Joe Turkel. Rellance has his own interest in the older Dora and sets out to kill rival suitor Jim Kelley but instead ambushes and shoots Dora to death in a cabin owned by Kelley. Rellance believes, however, that he is shooting Kelley, not Dora.
Earlier in 1943, the Dora Hand role is portrayed by the actress Claire Trevor in the film The Woman of the Town. In this fictional account, Hand is depicted as a girlfriend of Bat Masterson, played by Albert Dekker.
Dora Hand may have been the inspiration for Amanda Blake's role of Miss Kitty Russell in the 1955-1975 CBS western, Gunsmoke, also set in Dodge City.