Relive the Old West Legend of Dodge City Through Exhibits, Education and Entertainment.

The Tragic Death of Dora Hand

Legend has it James “Spike” Kenedy was just as much as a victim as the woman he killed in old blood.

Dora Hand was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was not Spike’s intended target. Mayor James “Dog” Kelley was the intended victim. Some speculate Spike wanted Dog dead because he was his rival in love for Dora. That would have been more than ironic – killing the object of his adoration rather than winning her.

There had always been bad blood between Kenedy and Kelley. Things escalated in the summer of 1878 when Dog threw Spike out of his saloon. Spike, vowing revenge, left for Kansas City to obtain the fastest horse money could buy.

This was the summer Mrs. Hand arrived from St. Louis to perform in Dodge’s variety theaters. Separated from her husband, Theodore, she sang under the name Fannie Keenan. Her and a friend, Fannie Garrettson, stayed together and performed at the Comique along with headliners Eddie Foy and Jimmie Thompson.

When the Comique closed at summer’s end, Dora left for St. Louis. But she returned to Dodge City by the end of September to file divorce proceedings against her husband. This return was an unfortunate move on Dora’s part. Her friend, Garrettson, was still in town, working in Dog Kelley’s Saloon and was staying at Dog’s house. On the night of Oct. 3 Fannie and Dora retired to Kelley’s home. Dog was at Fort Dodge seeking medical treatment.

This night Spike made his move against Dog. He had no idea Kelley gone and Dora was at the house. Early in the morning, Spike rode up to Kelley’s house and fired four shots into the building.

Three bullets passed harmlessly through the structure, but one passed through Garrettson’s nightclothes, through the wall and into a sleeping Dora Hand killing her instantly.

Immediately, Spike left town on his fast horse, but was implicated by a witness. Dodge City lawmen formed a posse including Bat Masterson, Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, William Duffey and Bill Tilghman.

They found Spike the next day, seriously wounding him and killing his horse. Until this point Spike believed he killed the mayor and was shocked, maybe even saddened, to learn Dora was his victim.

As a testament to her popularity, they held one of the biggest funerals in Dodge City’s history for the 34 year old Dora Hand.

Spike recovered from his wounds and the case was dismissed at a hearing held in Sheriff Masterson’s office. Nobody is sure why he was acquitted. Some say it was lack of witnesses, while others say he was let go because the killing was an “accident” as Dora was not his intended target.

Probably Spike’s father’s influence freed him. Miflin Kenedy was an influential cattle baron who brought a lot of business to Dodge. The leaders of Dodge City didn’t want to offend the powerful Kenedys who herded thousands of cattle into this area.

Some say Dora was a prostitute. Most women entertainers in early Dodge provided more than song and dance. Also, Dora was divorcing her husband – something unheard of in those days. Others saw her as kind and generous with a beautiful voice. She sang in church and gave gifts of food, toys and candy to those less fortunate.

Dora Hand, was probably somewhere between a soiled dove and a saint. She was liked, if not loved, and left this earth much earlier than she should have through the most bizarre set of circumstances.