Edward was originally from Tennessee, but made his way to Missouri by the time he grew up. Later, he migrated to Colorado where he worked as a lawman, despite a terrible temper. In Bachelor City, he was employed as the town marshal, and, later, as a deputy sheriff of Hinsdale County. Ford wasn’t the only man that the ill-humored O’Kelley killed. In 1891, he shot a black man named Ed Riley in Pueblo, Colorado, because the other man had accidentally stepped on his toes.
Though acquainted with the James family in Missouri, his association with them is unclear, though some believe that he may have been a short-term member of the James Gang. Many have theorized O’Kelley killed Robert Ford in revenge for Jesse James‘ death. However, others think that he simply did it for the recognition of being the man that shot the man that shot Jesse. He was immediately arrested after the killing and after being tried and convicted, was sentenced to life in prison in the Canon City Penitentiary on July 12, 1892. However, a decade later, Missouri friends won him a pardon and he was released in October, 1902.
It didn’t take him long to get back in trouble again, as on January 30, 1903, he was arrested for drunkenness and vagrancy in Pueblo, Colorado. After his release, he made his way to Oklahoma City where he got into an altercation with a police officer named Joe Burnett on January 13, 1904. When the conflict escalated to gunplay, O’Kelley was shot down by the officer.
There is much confusion as to the spelling of Edward’s name, with many resources listing it as “Edward O. Kelly.” However, his descendants indicate that the correct spelling is “O’Kelley.”
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, August, 2017.