This Dodge City pioneer had the nickname "Dog," but it wasn't because of his appearance.
After serving for the Confederacy during the Civil War, James “Dog” Kelley served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army for General George A. Custer. In appreciation for his service, Custer gave him a fine horse and about a dozen of his hunting dogs – giving Kelley this nickname.
James H. Kelley was born around 1833 in parts unknown. Not much is known about his early years.
Kelley came from Hays, Kansas to Fort Dodge in 1872. He settled in Dodge City that same year after being discharged from the U.S. Army.
Soon after, he partnered with P.L. Beatty in Beatty & Kelley’s Restaurant. Behind this eating establishment Kelley confined a bear “Paddy,” which was more well-known then his dogs. Paddy was sort of a “town pet.” This animal was involved in many practical jokes in early Dodge City and often broke loose from his bonds. Eventually, Paddy grew too large and had to be killed only to become bear steaks.
Beatty and Kelley later opened the Alhambra Saloon, which became the Junction Saloon before it burned down in 1885. Some accounts have their partnership dissolving in 1881. Others say it ended with the fire in 1885.
Surprisingly, Kelley’s life is better documented than that of his business partner, Beatty. Dog Kelley made quite a name for himself in Dodge City.
As a leader of the "Gang," a group of lawmen and businesses leaders who were accommodating of the Texas cowboy and their rowdy behavior, Kelley served as Mayor of Dodge City from 1877 to 1881. When he was mayor he was supervisor of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson as well as a friend of theirs.
Kelley’s relationship with an employee, singer Dora Hand (stage name Fannie Keenan) and her untimely death at 34 was legendary. In October of 1878, James Kenedy, in an attempt to murder Mayor Kelley, mistakenly killed Hand in a “ride-by” shooting at Kelley’s house. There was bad blood between the two James. And in what might the ironic twist of the century, some believe Kenedy's dispute with Kelley was over Dora Hand herself.
In 1886, Kelley opened an opera house at the location of his burned down saloon. But he lost this property during the “panic” of the late 1880’s.
James H. Kelley spent his later years at Fort Dodge where he died in September of 1912 of tuberculosis at the age of 79.
Kathie Bell works at the Boot Hill Museum and is a history buff. Her column appears weekly in the Dodge City Daily Globe. She can be reached at 227-8188.