At the Kansas Heritage Center, we oversee and make accessible historical documents, photographs, and other materials for public use and those interested in researching the history of Dodge City and Southwest Kansas. One of these collections is made up of materials concerning Ham Bell, an early settler and historic figure in Dodge City.
Hamilton “Ham” Bell was an early settler to Dodge City who was an entrepreneur, a lawman, and even the mayor for a time. After moving west from Maryland at the age of 14 and arriving in Dodge City in 1874, Ham Bell immediately made a name for himself with the opening of his Elephant Livery Stable, as well as the Varieties Dance Hall. This dance hall introduced the Can Can to Dodge City in 1878, a legacy which continues on today at the Boot Hill Museum. Although his dance hall was only in business for one year, his Elephant Livery Stable was highly successful and was one of the biggest buildings in Southwest Kansas at the time.
Ham Bell’s business ventures were quite varied. Throughout the years, Bell also owned a furniture store, a mortuary business, a pet shop, a gift store, and the first car dealership in southwest Kansas. Additionally, Bell introduced the first motorized ambulance and hearse services in Dodge City.
Ham Bell was more than just a businessman, however, as he also served as a lawman in Kansas for thirty-six years. In 1880, Bell was first appointed deputy US Marshall in Dodge City, and served in this role for several years. He was also elected Sheriff of Ford County for the first time in 1887, and continued to be reelected until 1911. Ham Bell served as chief of police for a year until 1912, when he was elected Mayor. It was also during his administration that Dodge City began paving its historic brick streets. In 1929, Ham Bell helped organize the Last Round Up, which led to the creation of the Annual Kansas Pioneer Picnic. This evolved into what became known as the Ham Bell Picnic, and it was a precursor to events like Dodge City Days.
Ham Bell was a unique figure in the history of Dodge City – and a significant one, at that. As an early settler, a businessman, a mayor, a U.S. Marshall, and a public figure, Ham Bell helped shape the history of Dodge City.