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Dubuque Daily Herald
Dubuque, Iowa
16 May 1867

Page 4

Death of Thomas Kelly.
His Eccentricities and History.
Incidents of His Life.
Honor to an Early Settler of Dubuque.

Our announcement yesterday morning of the serious illness of Thomas Kelly made a number of old acquaintances call on him immediately, but most of the kindly services they proffered were not needed, for his relatives and neighbors had already been attending to him in those kindly offices required in the room of the sick and dying. He died yesterday at 3 o'clock p.m. A notice of the time and place of the funeral services will be found in another column.

There are some circumstances and events that require from a public journal more than a passing notice in reference to Mr. Kelly. He has been known here for more than a quarter of a century; a great variety of opinions have been entertained respecting his life and character; his wealth, that he would not use himself nor permit others to enjoy, was a matter of envy ot some and of curious animadversion by others. His secluded life made others consider him a genuine hermit, while his genial social nature towards a few made him no less an anomaly in human nature to them; his indifference to all the money uses of property were surprising to all, and his eccentricity of living a lonely life long since became a theme of remark among strangers visiting our city, and often a topic of conversation among our own people. Few persons knew the whole history of Tom Kelly. Some knew parts of it, others knew facts unknown to any but them and himself; a hundred vague stories and different versions of the same story have been told for years, and some facts explanatory of the cause of his hermit kind of life could have been told years ago but were not made public. Now that he is gone it can be said in all truth there was not, there is not and there will not be anything ill said of this very singular man. He was in fact a harmless man and a rich citizen of Dubuque over thirty years ago -- he lived poor -- he died in apparent poverty, yet so far as this world's goods are concerned he was richer than at any time of his life. The world knew but little about him, except that he owned the beautiful bluff and grove that bear his name, overlooking the city, and that he lived alone.

Hundreds of visitors have been over his unfenced grounds and seen a miner pass by and disappear without knowing that he was the owner, and would not cut down the trees lest he might destroy the home and attractions of the welcome birds, or enclose the ground because it would prevent citizens and strangers from enjoying a good view of the city, the river and of the neighboring portions of Illinois and Wisconsin from the height of his conspicuous bluff. As if he would not obtrude his humble cabin upon the public gaze he built a new one from time to time in more secluded places, and at last finding that visitors took too much interest in the outside of his humble and lonely home he inclosed in a shady ravine, adjoining the house of Platt Smitt, Esq., of an acre or more, with a fence eight feet high, and thus shut the world out from a view of his little garden, his last-worked mining shaft and from his little house. Here he lived for the last five years, and through that narrow and seldom opened gate passed the many friends who saw him in the last days of his peculiar life. His only companions at home, for years, have been a faithful watch dog and a cat. He occasionally employed men to aid him in working his lead mines, the entrance to which was within a few feet of his door, yet no man could be his guest. He was a world unto himself so far as his home and his business affairs were concerned. He led a most exemplary, temperate and abstemious life as to his private morals and habits, a very hermit, and yet in the street, to his acquaintances he was as social generally as street acquaintances usually are. Meeting in the shade of his trees he would sit for an hour with one or half a dozen friends and talk intelligently on any topic of present or past interest. He might rise and disappear as suddenly as he had come in view, and the same parties might not meet him again for days or weeks. Sometimes he appeared in the street dressed scrupulously clean in black, and in three hours might appear again transformed as a miner, in his usual ocher-stained apparel.

There may not in a century live or die in Dubuque such an anomalous man as Tom Kelly. He was well known by name to thousands who never saw him and yet lived within a mile. Though often in public he sought no acquaintances. The new generation of modern Dubuque he cared not to know. If one or a dozen of such citizens spoke to him on the bluff he would respond kindly, answer all questions civily, make his part of the conversation interesting to them, and if possible would get away from strangers without their finding out who he was. More studied etiquette was never observed by any man than by Mr. Kelly in his peculiar way. He never sat upon the grass or rocks of the bluff to talk unless others did so, and not then unless he had met the same party before. If he recognized acquaintances among a party of ladies on his grounds he would permit them to approach near enough to be spoken to, but if strangers he would leave the path at a right angle to avoid them. He was peculiarly fond of having children come in the summer time to see his grove, and aided them occasionally in their preparations for picnics in that most beautiful spot, and though silent most of the time he appeared glad to see others happy. On such occasions he would suddenly leave for his house, be absent about half an hour, and then come again and again to see the juvenile amusements.

He took no part in the prosperity of Dubuque -- never joined any public enterprise, never gave a dollar to any subscription for a public benefit, and we presume was never asked to do so. He lived a bachelor miner, the same as he lived on the same ground in 1833. He expressed no complaint or ill will toward any one in Dubuque; he held the world of society aloof -- he talked with ladies or gentlemen only on general topics; nothing personal, except, very seldom, to a few acquaintances, and then only of things that were merely entertaining concerning himself or those whom he commended as good men or women. By many he was considered merely a morose miser who hated life and all mankind. By some of the early settlers who knew him better, and to some new friends he was known as a quiet, genial, companionable, good-hearted, well-wishing, happy tempered man, who all the time minded his own business and appeared to enjoy his possessions in his way with more pleasure than he could take in the strive and turmoil of money making.

Some have called him insane or a fool because he did not live in spendthrift luxury like many men he had seen rise and fall in Dubuque. But there is no doubt that the self consciousness of living a blameless life, of having never defrauded a creditor, of having his property at the expense of no one else, that he was really worth more money and enjoyed more real peace of mind than hundreds he met daily, and who he knew misjudged his real character, if they knew him by sight or had heard his name -- that some or all these considerations gave him a kind of pleasure that showed itself in his countenance in a sort of benevolent smile as if he envied no man and wanted nothing that any one could give. As the circumstances of his life have been a frequent subject of remark and to satisfy the curiosity of our readers we give a brief sketch of some facts in our possession.

His History

Thomas Kelly was born in King's county, Ireland, June 1808, and thus die in his 58th year. He was born the son of Thomas Kelly, who died in Ireland nearly forty years ago. The deceased had five brothers and one sister. One brother, named George, died in Dubuque about the year 1855; another named Richard, died elsewhere many years ago. Two brothers and the sister survive him. One of them, Wm. Kelly, is well known to our citizens as a farmer, four miles west of Dubuque; another, Patrick Kelly we believe, lives in the city, and the maiden sister Elizabeth, has visited her brother Thomas almost daily for a year past. She lives with her brother, Patrick, we understand, on Diagonal street.

Thomas was the first of the family to migrate from Ireland. He came to Canada in 1826, and in the course of the next year found his way to Oswego, N. Y., where for a season or two he worked on the construction of the Oswego canal. About the year 1829 he, with some of his countrymen and acquaintances went to the Ohio river and thence to New Orleans. He was made treasurer for the party, all designing to earn all the money they could and return to Canada. Wishing to return sooner than some of the rest he refunded their money and left them. While working his way up the Ohio he was robbed of his gold, $210, he had concealed in his clothing. He drew from the boat his wages, $20, and returned down the river, writing to his relatives he had lost his money and would never come back until he had more. Again reaching the Mississippi he came to St. Louis and embarked for the new mining region of Galena, Ill., where he arrived in the spring of 1830. After mining by the day until he learned the "lay of the land" and the "indications of mineral" he commenced on his own account with success. He spent the summer of 1831 in the adjoining mining lands in what was then the territory of Michigan, now Wisconsin, and only a few miles from Dubuque. The following winter he lived in a cabin alone, it is said, near Sinsinawa Mound, after helping others to build a fort for the better protection of the settlers against strolling Indians. With a stray Indian pony he had captured he explored the whole mining region east of the river and by steadily watching avoided the Indians along the river where others dared not venture.

Early in the spring of 1802 (sic) (Note: '1832' penciled in on the original.) soon as the snow was off the ground, and before the Blackhawk war of that year commenced, Mr. Kelly came stealthily, as did all miners in those days, to the neighborhood of Dubuque. It was expected that the government would soon take measures to extinguish the Indians title to the mining lands west of the Mississippi and the miners wished to make, in advance, claims to certain tracts of lands. He built a "cabin" near the present site of Mr. Graham's brickyard and explored the old mines and sought for new discoveries. At this time the officers and soldiers quartered here did not permit the miners to trespass on the Indian lands. During the war of that summer, he, like all other adventurers, was obliged to retired to the east side of the river and, as before, he lived alone wherever he went. He went as far as Scales Mound, Ill., to spend the winter, visiting Dubuque after the Indian treaty of September, in that year. Early in the spring of 1833 he resumed his claims at Dubuque. He mined in that year south of the ravine now known as Dodge street -- being discouraged there he came one day upon "Kelly's bluff." It was then a beautiful spot with a back ground of heavy oak forest of which the present beautiful grove is but a "second growth." It was the place of an old Indian encampment, and the blue grass and white clover that had thus followed the semi-civilization of the settlement of Julien Dubuque's colony, planted here nearly fifty years before, and he lay down to rest and wondered whether there might not be "Indian diggings" near the spot. He searched and found on the southern slope of the hill, traces of old mining, and began work. He was at home anywhere with a week's provisions and a blanket. At the end of the second day, with better tools than Indians ever had, he had sun, alone, a shaft fourteen feet deep, being obliged to dig a wide space and carry out the earth and broken rock; he had raised four hundred pounds of ore. The next day he took out a thousand pounds, and then staked off that hill as his "claim." Soon afterwards he reached the main lode and so far as its undeveloped value can be estimated he was rich then and ever since. He bought adjoining claims, till that tract, as at present, was some thirty acres or more, and now is nearly central within the corporate limits of the city.

Mr. Kelly continued to work his lead mines for several years very prosperously, and saved his profits. He did not for several years write to his relatives. About the time he did so they accidentally heard of his residence here. In 1836 he went to Canada and brought his brother and sister to Dubuque. In 1837 he built a smelting furnace on his own hill and mostly for his own use. It was still in operation in 1844 as any one may know who has seen the lithograph picture of Dubuque as it appeared in that year, as drawn by the artist Wild. About that time he worked out a large lode in which is now Third street, half way up the bluff.

After accumulating more money than he would ever use he seldom mined for sake of ore, but merely worked for exercise and from habit and mostly alone, and it is believed that deep under ground he has stored away a vast quantity of ore ready to be "raised" to the surface.

Some five years ago he sunk a rock shaft on the piece of his land on the top of the hill north of Fifth street and spent most of the winter in a cabin dug into the bank of clay at the side of the street, covering it with earth. Its whole cost could not exceed ten dollars. A door frame and door was all the lumber required -- poles supported the roof and an old stove was nearly all his furniture. A pile of straw with a blanket completed his household establishment. But on his own favorite bluff he had a comfortable stone tenement but with no window, yet in all his many cabins there were always, purposely left, holes for good ventilation.

His last cabin had two rooms, built by himself, of stone, in good masonry, but still he did not indulge in the luxury of a window or a bed-stand though he had a good cellar. He always cultivated a garden and probably never starved himself as a matter of economy. He seemed to feel no wants, and, no doubt, in his way, took as much comfort alone over his meat and potatoes and bread of his own making as half the people do over Christmas dinners and champagne suppers. There was little variety in his life. Summer or winter was all the same to him. He worked more or less every day and unquestionably found that "the sleep of the laboring man is sweet."

Within three years he has been extending his mining to the west line of his land, in his enclosure, and there now lies a pile of ore, at the shaft near his house, of one hundred thousand pounds. It looks like an evenly spread pile of forty thousand, but in the center is a cavity, the filling of an old shaft, where the heap is probably ten feet thick. What object he had in view at the age of fifty-eight in employing two men during the past winter in helping him to raise such a quantity to the surface and to pile away a larger amount under ground, no one knows. The value of his property is variously estimated at from $50,000 to $200,0000.

Incidents In His Life.

As an illustration of incidents that might happen to any miner in the early days of Dubuque, and especially showing traits of the nature and character of Thomas Kelly, we mention several referring to himself.

When mining here, only at night, about the year 1832, spending the day on the east side of the river, avoiding the sight of the soldiers on guard, he had worked his way underground and downward directly over a cave. Very early, before daybreak, one morning he broke through and fell into a cave from which it was impossible for him to get out alone. It was soon morning, and he knew the soldiers would be on the hills to arrest any straggling miners. All that long day he dared not call for help least the soldiers might be the first to find him. He hoped that others might pass near him the next night and that he might be rescued. He waiting his time, and when the long looked for night came, as he knew by the stars he could see by looking up the shaft, he called till the night miners passed by, and by letting down a rope relieved him from his unlucky imprisonment of a day and night in the earth.

About the same time he inhabited occasionally a deserted cabin on the site of the present Dunleith, and buried beneath its floor a bag of gold. While absent a few weeks a family took possession of the old cabin as a temporary home. Tom came one day and found it thus occupied. He was perplexed. He studied long on the plan of getting the gold, give a surprise and have a good laugh. He called at the house when only the woman was there, and talked as a miner looking for chance to work. After a while he asked for a drink of water. Of course there was none in the house cool enough to hand such an agreeable young man. The woman started for the spring, at some distance from the house, and Tom improved the time by raising a board in the floor and digging up his bag of gold. When she returned there sat Tom ready to take a drink of water and show her the gold that she had been so near for many weeks. Of course he enjoyed her surprise and returned to the Kelly diggings at Dubuque.

Some years afterwards he allowed a family to live in one of his abandoned mining cabins on the bluff. After they had resided there for some time he made his first social visit to them, and after several hours of very interesting conversation he remarked that he had called to get some money he had left there, and pointed to the spot where it was. To the great surprise of the inmates he raised a board in the floor that no one had discovered to be loose, and lifted a bag containing a large amount of gold. After complimenting them for taking good care of his money, he disappeared, never to be seen again in that house.

All his affairs were conducted with the kind of secrecy that might be inferred from such anecdotes. He has not paid any taxes for many years, and his property has accordingly been sold for taxes and will probably be redeemed by the proceeds of the estate. His relatives here are, we believe, his only heirs. Probably if taxes could have been paid without the formula of assessment schedules and of receipts given at a county treasurer's office he would have paid them. But Dubuque had outgrown his off-hand view of things, and though he never said a word on the subject he no doubt thought that street extensions, levee improvements, warehouses, elevators, railroads, many churches, a few theatre buildings and increased taxes, gave him no such pleasures as those of the early days when Dubuque had 200 instead of 20,000 inhabitants.

There was another incident in Mr. Kelly's life as much a mystery as his whole life together. It involved the death of a fellow man and cost Tom several years incarceration under very singular circumstances. It was the killing of a man in Albany, N. Y., about the year 1850. There are several versions of the story, or of a part of the affair, one of which we shall not refer to now, as it involves the alleged disposition of a large sum of money he had with him at the time. One account of it is that Mr. Kelly shipped some $20,000 worth of lead to St. Louis, and going there received drafts for it on New York -- that he then went to New York, obtained gold for the amount, and was returning by way of Albany -- that, according to one of his habits, he was sauntering along the street looking here and there, when a drunken policeman or who assumed to be an officer tried to arrest him as drunkard or vagrant. He retreated to a wall and warned the officer not to approach him. Naturally suspicious of the approach of strangers he warned him again, but the man rushing up to him received a pistol ball through his heart. He made no resistance to officers who then arrested him, but refused to tell who he was or where he lived. On being searched it was found that in belts around his body was as much gold as a man could conveniently carry. Here was a dilemma. He, a sober man in very plain clothing, had killed a man in self-defense, but the gold was something to get if possible. He was accordingly considered insane, and so pronounced, and consigned to the state asylum at Utica. With no chance for escape he remained there for a year or two. By accident a newspaper reached Dubuque, as a wrapping paper, containing an Albany police item referring to the supposed name of Kelly. His acquaintances made inquiry, and found the long missing man at Utica, but were prohibited from seeing him. Whatever was or was not done, Tom escaped one night and traveled nights and hid himself days, and finally reached Dubuque and took possession of his old mines saying nothing about the value of the ore that had been taken out in his absence by others. He seemed to suppose that efforts would be made to re-arrest him and take him back to the asylum. If that were so no sane man would have dared to molest him from that day till he became hopelessly sick two weeks ago.
Another version is, and perhaps the true one, that when Mr. Kelly started for St. Louis a very suspicious character from Galena, whom he knew by sight, followed him and was soon observed by the watchful eye of Kelly. He saw him every where, at all stopping places, all the way to New York and back to Albany. Kelly found the man still following him, and after a while met him as he turned a corner. Kelly then told him to stop following him, as it could be for no good purpose, and that he must not approach him again. The man then rushed towards Kelly, as if to rob him, when Kelly shot him dead. The rest has been narrated in reference to the first version. Another statement in referring to Kelly's reason for going to New York, is that the cargo of lead was alleged to be lost by shipwreck in transit to New York, and that he only got the insurance effected upon it at St. Louis -- considerable less than the real value, and that he was on his way to New York, with about $13,000, to see if he could not find the lead with his brand, surreptuously sold, when the event occurred. At least the gold taken from him at Albany was never recovered by him or his representatives so far as known.

Whatever may have been the facts as to this event, there never appeared to be any qualms of conscience in Mr. Kelly. He spoke of the affair to a very few friends as a matter of persecution against him by the officers, and said he cared nothing for the money as he had more left than he should ever have occasion to use.

As he grew older he became more social if any change could be perceived, and more industrious in his mining operations. His last days were solaced by the presence of his brothers, Patrick and William, by his nephew, William Kelly, and his sister Elizabeth who, with Doctors Finley and Sprague, Mr. Burton Wootton, Mr. John Fortune, and some other acquaintances and neighbors, did all they could to minister to the last wants of the singular and eccentric Tom Kelly.

The early settlers of Dubuque county, fifty of them yet remaining among us, yesterday discussed the history of the deceased, and while few could say he had done the world any particular good, all agreed that he was a bright example of a continually honest man, and that he had no vices. We say peace to the memory of a man of whom so much can be said to his honor -- of a man who if he hoarded money or wealth did not waste it to make the world or his neighborhood more corrupt.

In early life Mr. Kelly was unquestionably educated a Catholic, but for many years, we believe, he did not attend the services of the church. He will not be missed as would some active business man, but we have endeavored to record him as he was and claim for him the honor due a pioneer settler of Dubuque who risked his life at times in the dangers of a border settlement to open the way for his own prosperity and that of the thousands who long after followed him to Dubuque and the neighboring portions of this county.

~~~ *** ~~~

Dubuque Daily Herald
Dubuque, Iowa
17 May 1867
Page 4

Funeral Obsequies -- The funeral of the late Thomas Kelly took place yesterday as announced, and was attended by a small cortege, consisting of old settlers and friends of deceased. The remains were interred in Linwood cemetery on Eagle Point. in our opinion the most suitable place would have been the bluff where he lived and died.

Transcribed and contributed by Joe Conroy

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