Robert S. Kelley (ref: 943-077)


Photograph courtesy of Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives




ROBERT S. KELLEY, Fifth U.S. Marshal of Montana


The New-Northwest, Deer Lodge, MT, Friday, September 26, 1890



                            a short resume of a varied career


Hon. Robert S. Kelley died last Friday morning about 2 o'clock. He was attacked Wednesday morning previous with inflammation of the pericardium, which in English signifies something like dropsy of the heart. Dr. J.H. Owings was called in at once, and it was thought from the start that Mr. Kelley was sick unto death. Subsequently Dr. S.W. Minshall, of Deer Lodge, and Dr. Hammond, of Butte, were called into consultation, and, although Dr. Owings remained continuously at his bedside and everything possible was done to save his life, he expired at the hour above stated.


Robert S. Kelley was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, January 11, 1831. At the age of ten years he was sent to Newport, N.H., to attend a prepatory school before entering Dartmouth College. Disliking the rigid discipline enforced at the establishment, he ran away. He had no money nor acquaintance in the State, but managed to reach Lowell, Mass., where he went to work on the Advertiser, an influential journal, at a salary of $15 a year and board. The second year his wages were increased to $100, and were steadily raised as he attained proficiency and knowledge of the craft. Knowing that if discovered by his parents he would be obilged to return to the dreaded school, he did not communicate with them for a period of five years, during which time he remained steadily at his post at the Advertiser, and thoroughly mastered all the details of the printing business. At the end of this time inquiry developed the fact that his family had removed to Missouri. He joined them there in 1848, and for four years afterwards was employed as salesman in a mercantile house.


In 1852 Mr. Kelley started a Democratic paper at Liberty, Mo., called the Democratic Platform, and continued its publication until the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, when he discontinued the Platform and established a pro slavery paper in Atchinson, Kansas, called the Squatter Sovereign, Dr. J. H. Stringfellow being partner and associate editor. This was in 1855, during the intense excitement attending the settlement of Kansas and Nebraska. The paper was the leading organ of the Democracy, and took ultra Southern grounds. Concerning his experience at the time, Mr. Kelley recently said: "There was no such thing as concession at the time. We were all extremists, whether advocating or opposing slavery. During my editorial life I was in constant strife with political opponents."


He was elected a member of the State Senate under the Lecompton Constitution for the counties of Atchison and Doniphan. On the defeat of that measure by Congress he sold out his interest in the Squatter Sovereign and removed to Doniphan county, Kansas, where he married to Miss Mary L. Foreman, and where his first child (Mrs. Kate Napton) was born. He next engaged in merchandising in Kansas City, and was thus employed when the war broke out. The first company of Federal soldiers that entered the city took possession of his store and carried off all his goods. Soon after he joined the Missouri State Guards as a private, and served under General Sterling Price. After the battle of Pea Ridge he was promoted to a captaincy. The colonel, lieutenant colonel and major of the regiment were killed in battle, and by right of seniority he commanded the regiment for a long time. On returning from a campaign in Mississippi, the regiment was reorganized, and Mr. Kelley was assigned to the recruiting service, after which his connection with the Confederate army terminated.


During the war his property was    dacated by the government, and he never made any effort to have it restored. After leaving the Confederate service he, with his family, emigrated to Montana and arrived in Alder Gulch in 1863. From Alder Gulch he went to Helena, and for some time mined in Grizzly Gulch. In 1866 he went to Bear Gulch, where he remained a short time, after which he came to Deer Lodge, where he and his family have since continually resided. For several years after he came to Deer Lodge he engaged in Mercantile pursuits in partnership with Mr. J. S. Pemberton, in which business he continued for about five years. He then became engaged extensively in mining operations. He took on placer mining grounds at Pioneer City and in Squaw Gulch, about 1872, and was engaged in working these placers until the last few years, when he was disposed of the principal part of his interests. He was one of the original incorporators of the Rock Creek Ditch Co., organized in an early day, and still at the time of his death had an interest in that company. He was at the time of his death largely interested in the Southern Cross and other mining claims in the neighborhood of Cable.


In 1885 Mr. Kelley was appointed by President Cleveland United States Marshal for Montana, and served in that office with official integrity until the day President Harrison was inaugurated, when he resigned, believing that the party in power should have control of all the Federal patronage and be held responsible for it.


Mr. Kelley leaves surviving him his wife and seven children. Four of his children are married, namely: Mrs. Kate Napton, wife of the District Court Clerk; Mrs. Nannie Joslyn, wife of Hon. C.D. Joslyn, manager of the E. L. Bonner store at Deer Lodge; Robert Lee Kelley and Mrs. Georgia Hoss, wife of Lon R. Hoss of Spokane Falls. The three other children are young - Florence, Howard and Lamar.


Mr. Kelley, as all know, was an active Democrat and ultra partisan, and at the time of his death was a member of the County Central Committee of that party for Deer Lodge county. He had just before his sickness returned from the Helena convention, which nominated W.W. Dixon for Congress, and was enthusiastic over the work of that body. But while a strong partisan in politics, in private life his name was synonym for honesty and kindness. His heart was as large as Mount Powell and his sympathy was easily moved. He was always ready to voluntarily help those in sickness or in trouble, and for these traits he will long be held in grateful rememberance(sic) by the people of Deer Lodge. His funeral took place last Sunday at 2 p.m., Rev. James Reid, of the College of Montana, conducting the services. The services were very impressive. The music was especially excellent and was furnished by Mrs. Peter Valiton, Mrs. H. B. Davis, Mrs. J.H. mills, Mr. Will. Beaumont, Mr. Sam'l. Beaumont, and Mr. Kaiser, with Miss Kate Calvin at the piano. As an evidence of the esteem in which Mr. Kelley was held by his fellow-citizens, his funeral was the most largely attended of any funeral that ever took place in Deer Lodge.


Mr. Kelley was a member of the Pioneer Association of Montana, and was Vice President for Deer Lodge county. During the past year he did more faithful work than any other officer of the Association in Montana in collecting biographies of the pioneers, and Mr. Hedges, the then President, so stated at the annual meeting of the Association in August.


At a meeting of the members of that society in attendance at the funeral, held in O'Neill's store, a committee was appointed by W. A. Clark, the President, to draft suitable resolutions. The members of the committee were Caleb E. Irvine, John Caplice and James B. McMaster. Upon motion, W. A. Clark was added to the committee, and the following resolutions were reported and unanimously adopted:

Whereas, It has pleased Almighty God to remove from our midst our brother pioneer and friend, Robert S. Kelley.

Whereas, In the death of said brother, our society has lost one of its most valued and honorable members and zealous officers, his family has lost a devoted husband and father, and his neighbors an obliging and genial friend; therefore, be it

Resolved, that the pioneers of Montana extend to the afflicted family our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy in this, their great bereavement, an sincerely trust that a kind providence may extend a watchful care over them thoroughout(sic) life.

Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be spread upon the minutes of this society, that a copy be furnished to the family, and also to the leading journals of the State for publication.