Southern Hotel

Old Cowtown Museum Tour

Southern Hotel

Wichita, Kansas 67203, United States

Created By: Old Cowtown Museum


The Southern Hotel, located in the Business District of Old Cowtown Museum, represents the importance that hotels had in the promotion and growth of Wichita during the 1870s. The Southern Hotel, built on the first block of North Main Street, was the fourth hotel built in Wichita and the second of wood frame construction. During its short existence it was an important fixture in the growing town. With the constant influx of immigrants, a growing business community, and the cattle trade, hotels provided an important service in the rapidly growing town, serving eighteen to thirty guests a day in it orginal 15 rooms. Hotels catered to a variety of guests as many had dormitory style rooms and private rooms available for short term guests, as well as rooms for long term guests or boarders.

Hotels were typically the testing grounds for new inventions and domestic conveniences. The rooms of the Occidental hotel featured fine ingrain carpet, spring beds, bedsteads of fashionable design, wash stands, a mirror, a lounge and full chamber sets. Attractive chandeliers lighted carpeted halls.

The hotels also provided the best food and atmosphere available. The menu at the opening of the Occidental Hotel featured oysters, stuffed pig, tame duck with olives, boiled ham, pickled tongue, lobster salad and over twenty deserts. The elaborate decoration of hotels and the abundant food they offered helped to dispel a common belief that Wichita was a barren frontier outpost void of social amenities.

By 1874, Wichita had ten hotels which did over $368,000 in business. Balls, banquets, and community event of "social significance" were often hosted by a hotel.

As Wichita grew, hotels served an ever increasing role as the headquarters for business and social events. During 1872 the three Wichita hotels registered 19,410 people. During the cattle trade era of 1872 to 1876, the hotels became the headquarters for the buying and selling of cattle. The hotel also functioned as the seat of city and county government, in lieu of public buildings.

By the time a suspected arson fire razed it and six other buildings on Main Street in 1875, it had lost its elegant reputation in favor of the stone and brick “high rise” (three floors) hotels like the Occidental, which still stands at Second and Main Street.


Hotels catered to a variety of guests as many had dormitory style rooms and private rooms available for short term guests, as well as rooms for long term guests or boarders. In the absence of appartment buildings some rented rooms for lenghty periods of time.

Hotels were also used some on the marginal side of society.

Soiled Dove’s Room

Prostitution was often seen as a necessary evil during the early development of many cattle towns, including Wichita. It served an economic purpose in many of these communities, while also providing a way for many cowboys to spend their time.

Prostitutes in the 1870s went by many names in Wichita including demi mondes, girl of the period, nymph du pave, and sporting woman. The most popular name was soiled doves. While illegal in the state of Kansas, fines for prostitution were imposed more as a licensing fee than as a deterrent. Wichita depended on fines from prostitution and other vice (gambling and saloons) since the city had no taxes.

Perhaps one of the most well-known soiled doves (prostitutes) in Wichita was the infamous Inez Oppenheimer, aka Dixie Lee. Dixie Lee operated three brothels in the area of 1st and Wichita. She put the same amount of attention into her brothels as her personal appearance, and her brothels were considered quite elegant during the time.

Another famous name littered Wichita with unwelcomed publicity when in 1874 two Earp women were charged with soliciting. Court records showed that James Earp’s wife Bessie was charged with soliciting while a similar charge was made against Sallie Earp, “wife” of Wyatt Earp. Both women were fined $8 plus an additional $2 in court costs.

The Professional Gambler

Gambling was an integral part of Old West and Wichita as well. Nearly everyone gambled at one time or another. The appeal mimicked the frontier spirit that relied on risk taking, high expectations, and opportunism.

Most western citizens considered gambling to be a respectable profession. Professional gamblers ran their own games and banked it with their own money. Many settled in one place and relied on a reputation for fairness and running a straight game.

"Gambling was not only the principal and best paying industry of the town . . . it was also reckoned ... most respectable," reflected Bat Masterson.

However, Sharps, Fly by night gamblers and confidence men were rarely tolerated.

Popular gambling games included Blackjack, Chuck-A-Luck, Keno, Roulette, and Wheel of Fortune, with Faro the most popular of all. Ironically poker was not initially popular because of its slow pace. Gamblers made little quick money playing it.

One of the most popular gambling houses in early Wichita was Keno Corner on the NW corner of Douglas and Main. The upstairs room housed many of the popular gambling . Keno Corner and other gambling houses even attracted famous gamblers such as Wyatt Earp and his brothers.

Like the saloons gambling establishments were fined $25 per month. Gambling houses in Wichita declined in 1881 with the beginning of prohibition in Kansas.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Old Cowtown Museum Tour


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