There are many who have long resided in Wyoming and may well claim to be early settlers, but there are few remaining of the real pioneers of the northwest and fewer still who claim to be among the gold hunters of California of 1849. To this class, however, Hiram B. Kelly, of Edgewater, Colorado, belongs, and since making his way to the Pacific coast he has been an active factor in the work of pioneer development in various western states. Now at the age of eighty-four years he is hale and hearty, of erect figure and but slightly gray. He makes his home at Edgewater, a suburb of Denver, and is living practically retired, yet is still interested in mining. He was born in Sheridan county, Missouri, October 14, 1834, a son of Hiram S. and Mahala Kelly. The family had come to the west from Kentucky, and to Mr. and Mrs. Kelly were born ten children. The father died in the year 1854, while the mother passed away several years later at Fort Collins, Colorado.
Hiram B. Kelly, better known as Hi Kelly, was a lad of but fifteen years when he accompanied his father to California in search of gold. They were at Weavertown, Hangtown and Calona, names well known in connection with the early development of the gold fields of the Pacific coast. They spent the winter of 1849-50 at Weavertown and in December, 1852, returned to Missouri. But the lure of the west was upon Hiram B. Kelly of this review and in the spring of 1853 he drove a bull team to Sante Fe, New Mexico, for Poll Stone. He engaged in freighting with a six-yoke bull team and big freight wagon, and in the spring of 1854 he.drove a ten-mule team to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Van Eps as wagon boss. In 1855 he went with the United States mail from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe. There were no houses en route, and during the winter and summer alike he camped out. Stations were far apart. At the end of the first one hundred and fifty miles out he changed mules, but for the next five hundred and fifty miles there were no houses. It was not an unusual thing to see bands of Indians, while at times the plains were black with buffaloes as far as one could see. Mr. Kelly remained in the mail service until December, 1857, when he froze his feet so badly that he returned to Independence. In the fall of 1858 he and his brother-in-law, Tom Maxwell, took a train of thirty-six eight-mule teams to Salt Lake for the firm of Ford & Smith, making the trip from Atchison, Kansas. It was late summer when they started, and winter caught them, they becoming snowbound at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, where they spent the winter with the train. The goods which they were freighting belonged to Kincade of Salt Lake. They wintered the mules at Goshen Hole and in the spring of 1859 continued the journey to Salt Lake City, where they left part of the goods, the remainder being taken to Camp Floyd, forty miles south of Salt Lake. They then returned to Independence, Missouri, that summer with the teamsters, but left the mules to sell to the government. Later, however, the miles were returned to Independence.
In the fall of 1859 Mr. Kelly took the same mules to the market in St. Louis, where he sold them. In March, 186o, _he drove four mules to Denver, where he arrived on the 10th of March, for Hi Harrison and Sid Barnes, who had accompanied him, driving teams. They brought with them loads of nails, which sold at twenty-five cents per pound. The next May Mr. Kelly drove a team of mules to California Gulch, now Leadville, and worked in the mines at six dollars per day for one month. He next went with a party through the hills, prospecting for the balance of the summer, and in the fall of the same year returned to Denver, spending the winter at what is now Blake and Sixteenth streets, the present site of the Inter-Ocean Hotel. In 1861 he went to Fort Laramie with a four-mule team. He took a hay contract for supplying one hundred tons of hay to the government at twenty-nine dollars per ton. All of this was cut with a scythe on Fox creek, forty miles distant from the fort, to which it was hauled. That fall Mr. Kelly began work at Horseshoe, Wyoming, for the Ben Holliday Stage Company, and for a few months he was messenger between Julesburg and South Pass, during which period he was never held up, for the country was safe then from thieves. At that time Mr. Slade was division superintendent of stages and put Mr. Kelly in charge of the bull teams, delivering supplies to Julesburg and South Pass, and also engaged in putting in hay and provisions along the route, leaving several teams at each station and one man in charge. Mr. Kelly made trips to and from the different stations to superintend the work. In 1862 the stage line moved from North Platte to Denver, changing the route to pass Fort Bridger, with headquarters at Virginia Dale, Colorado. Mr. Kelly then got out logs and built stage stations, barns, etc., along the new route. In 1863 he returned to Fort Laramie, severing his connection with the stage line. He then bought bull teams and took contracts with the government for furnishing hay and wood at different points. In 1865 he went from Fort Laramie to Fort Halleck, but in the fall of that year returned to Fort Collins, where he spent the winter. In 1866 he bought beef at Fort Collins to take to Fort Laramie for an Indian contractor. This was at the time of the big treaty which was made at Fort Laramie. He purchased a horse from a lieutenant in order to make the trip. The Indians at that time were manifesting an exceedingly unfriendly spirit. Mr. Kelly started from Fort Laramie one night at dusk, rode all night and at daylight stopped where Fort Walback, an old fort, had been. There were then a few shanties there. He went out to the foothills to wait for dark, and then on to Cache la Poudre, where Fort Collins now stands. After purchasing one hundred head of cattle at fifty dollars per head, from Joe Mason and E. W. Whitcomb, he started the task of driving these cattle back to Fort Laramie with men who were to deliver them. He remained and got word to buy two hundred head more, after which he sent them over to the designated place under the care of Ab Loomis and John Colome. Mr. Kelly waited a few days longer until the stock were well over to Cherry Creek, when he bought another horse that had been raised on Crow creek by "Little Gary." He then followed the stock on to Fort Laramie, riding the one hundred miles from the start one afternoon to the next morning. He met up with the cattle at Cherry Creek, got the money and completed the deal by turning the cattle over to the control of one Everhardt, who was representing Mat Ryan, an old government stock buyer of Leavenworth, Kansas.
In 1866 Mr. Kelly went to Nebraska City, where he bought five bull teams and loaded his wagons with groceries and other commodities. He then returned to Horse Creek, forty miles below Fort Laramie, on the Platte. He bought a storehouse, put the goods in it and established a store. It was about this time that he took a contract for cutting telegraph poles on Bear Mountain for Ed Creighton of Omaha, two men hauling the poles with four-mule teams to his store, where they were piled. On one trip they encountered an Indian war party and the men hauling the poles were killed and scalped, after which the Indians took the team's and escaped. A party following found the dead bodies by their wagons, frozen stiff, and the report was carried to the Kelly store. Mr. Kelly then sent men to Bear Mountain, got his wagons and returned with the bodies of the murdered men, which were then buried. As time went on the hostility of the Indians increased and Mr. Kelly removed his store to Burdoes, near Fort Laramie, where he spent the balance of the winter. In the spring of 1867 he took a contract to get out wood for the government at Fort Laramie and in the fall of that year went to Horse Creek, twenty-five miles north of Cheyenne, which was then the terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad. In the spring of 1868 he took his train of freight wagons and went to Fort McKinney, where he secured a sub-contract to move out the settlements before the Indians would sign a treaty. The removal was made to Fort Smith and to Fort Reno. Mr. Kelly hauled stuff to where Fort Steele was later established, constituting the nucleus of the present city of Rawlins. In 1869 he took his train to Fort Fetterman to secure a wood and hay contract. His partner, John Richard, was to put up the hay, but he shot a soldier in the fort, got away and joined the Indians, after which Mr. Kelly had to complete the contract himself, securing the hay near where Casper now stands. Indian hostilities drove his men away and Mr. Kelly removed his outfit to near Cheyenne, where he found that he was one hundred tons of hay short. He then went to Omaha to try to get relief from the contract, but failed and had to go to Cache la Poudre, where he bought hay which he hauled to Fort Fetterman in the dead of winter, thus meeting the terms of his contract, but at a loss of several thousand dollars. In 1870 he bought two hundred head of Texas heifers and put them on a ranch at Chugwater and engaged in raising cattle until 1884. These he sold under contract at different forts over the country, but in 1884 disposed of his ranch to a Scotch company of Edinburgh, Mr. Kelly personally making the trip to Scotland and selling to the Swan Land & Cattle Company for a quarter of a million dollars, John Clay of Chicago being then head of the company. While in Europe Mr. Kelly visited various parts of the continent, after which he returned to the United States.
The story of his life record, if written in detail, would be as thrilling as any that is found on the pages of fiction. He not only encountered many hardships but also had many narrow escapes from death at the hands of hostile Indians. One day in 1853, when on the Arkansas river, he and his party had stopped for lunch and one of his men was frying bacon, when some Indians approached and asked for food. One of them, becoming angry, kicked over the frying pan, whereupon the white man hit him and he fell under a pony that kicked him in the head, badly injuring him. The Indians then held a powwow and the whites prepared for trouble. They placed chains around their cattle, so they could not be run off, and prepared for a fight. All night the Indians threatened and demanded the man who had struck the member of their tribe, but he was hidden under cover in a wagon. After much parley, a compromise was made by giving the Indians a quantity of groceries and provisions, after which the white men escaped. In 1856, while Mr. Kelly was hauling the mail, he also found the Indians very hostile. On the Little Arkansas, while passing through the sand hills about dusk, he discovered, about one hundred yards away, at least a hundred painted Cheyennes. They pulled Mr. Kelly off his load and put him with three other men in the center of a circle of fire. They said that eleven of their men had been killed and they wanted revenge. Mr. Kelly argued, telling them what the "Great Father" would do to them if they hurt him, and finally, fearing the troops, they let their white captives go. but took all their food, and they had to journey thirty miles to meet a team and get food. The Indians, repenting of their tolerance, had later decided to kill the white men and followed, but by fast driving the latter managed to effect their escape. Six years later Mr. Kelly met one of these same Indians. who recognized him and told him that they had tried to overtake him in order to kill him.
After selling his ranch, Mr. Kelly built a home in Cheyenne, west of the capitol building. and there resided for eighteen years. He afterward spent two years in Seattle, two in Portland, Oregon, and four years in Denver and about six years ago located in Edgewater. a suburb of Denver, where he now makes his home. For some years he has been interested in gold and silver mining.
In 1864, at Fort Laramie, Mr. Kelly was married to Elizabeth Richard, a daughter of Pete Richard, an old mountaineer of the American Fur Company. She was born near Fort Laramie. They became the parents of eight children: Frank B., of Chicago; Benjamin L.. of California; John A., a postal clerk in the United States mail service ; \V. H.. of Cheyenne ; Charles, deceased; Katherine. the wife of R. J. Andrews, of Fort Collins ; Cora, at home ; and Clara, now Mrs. McCabe, of Cheyenne.
Years ago Mr. Kelly joined the Masons in Cheyenne and became a member of the Shrine at Rawlins. He is a man five feet eleven and three-quarters inches in height and at the age of eighty-four he stands erect, his abundant hair but slightly gray, his, eye clear and keen, a remarkable specimen of physical preservatien, as thin and wiry as a young man. His exceedingly active life in the open through summer and winter laid the foundation for his wonderful strength, and there can be found perhaps no more interesting character in all the west or one who has been more closely or prominently identified with events which have shaped the pioneer history of this section of the country.