[An unknown prostitute of Dodge City]
My reason for being on the road for so long has a great deal to do with my growing dislike of the winters of the North Country. It also enables me to wander and explore my interests. I love history, I am attracted to stories of the pioneer days, the cattle drives, the lives of the Native Americans and white settlers on the prairie, the exploration, the hardships and the state of life, love and death in the Old West.
I’m also fascinated with the human stories of individuals that never made the popular history books…those who came into this country with hopes and dreams and expectations. The lives of people who live on the edges of society are compelling to me because they are so human, and therefore, so flawed and full of missteps and errors and simple bad luck. Clearly, the life of a woman in these cattle towns is the stuff of myths and stories, real and fictional, romanticized and ugly, and sad.
Those interests brought me to Dodge City, Kansas, a legendary city that sits on the famous Santa Fe Trail. The 1870’s were a time of cattle drives, lawlessness and violence. The law was not a strong presence in the dirt streets or along the boardwalks. This is the time of the development of the myths about Dodge as we know them today through films and TV shows.
That’s what took me to the Boot Hill Museum on Wyatt Earp Boulevard. I paid my $9.00 entrance fee and found the path to the “real” Boot Hill cemetery.
I had done my homework. I knew who I was looking for. I wanted to lay a single flower on the graves of the three “soiled doves” who were reputed to be buried among the gamblers, killers, buffalo hunters and gamblers.
I felt like a dusty cowboy striding into the Long Branch and asking for the affections of one of the “girls upstairs”. Instead, I was climbing a small rise, a block from the Boulevard, to find myself inside a sparse burying-ground, fenced in to hide the view from the traffic on the street.
It took a little searching. Few of the original markers remained.
I was looking for Dora Hand. She was the lover of the mayor of Dodge. She was also the woman who was fancied by one “Spike” Kenedy, a cowboy. To teach the mayor a lesson (and to ‘free’ Dora from the clutches of the old guy), this fellow rode by the house of the mayor and fired a bullet. The slug went through the mattress of a friend of Dora who was spending the night. The lead continued into the next room and killed poor Dora instantly. The mayor was visiting Fort Dodge…he wasn’t even home. She was the victim of a ride-by shooting…perhaps the first. She died on October 4, 1878.
I was looking for Alice Chambers. The cause of death? I never learned that. I don’t know what brought her to her death-bed where she uttered her last words: “Circumstances led me to this end” on May 5, 1878.
I was looking for Lizzie Palmer. To me, hers is the saddest tale. Apparently she loved Bat Masterson. So did another dance hall girl. There was a bar-room brawl. Lizzie died a few days later from an infection that set in after she was cut on the head. Her death date is unknown. What is known is that Reverend Ormond Wright spoke the blessed words at her burial. He was a second choice. The first preacher who was approached, refused to offer his prayers for her soul.
So much for the mercy of the good Christian man of the cloth.
I bent over and placed a small wildflower at each of the graves. At Lizzie’s marker, I ran my finger over my shoes and was amazed at the amount of dust that had collected on the tan leather.
But, it got me to reflecting on dust. These unfortunate women, in this profession by reasons unknown to me, were by now, dust.
Maybe the dry earth and the shallow grave still holds the thin and fragile bones of these three “tainted ladies”, these “soiled doves”, these lost and lonely souls.
[Another unknown Dodge City prostitute]
[Images are mine. I took the photos of posters on the wall in the Boot Hill Museum]