Third Generation


35. Nimrod O'Kelly was born in 1780 in TN according to his court records during his murder trial.  He served in the military in 1812 at the age of 22 in TN.66 He murdered a man and was sentenced to hang on 21 May 1852. He eventually had his sentence commuted to 24 months in the Oregon penitentiary and he served 22 months of his sentence.  He reportedly walked most of the way to Washington DC in 1859 to claim a 160 acre land bounty for his service in the War of 1812.  While in Washington City he met with Senator Andrew Johnson who prepared his bounty request for him.  After receiving his bounty Nimrod then started his return trip when his bounty was stolen so he returned to Washington City and once again turned to Senator Andrew Johnson who prepared an affidavit for him relating to his stolen bounty and Nimrod at his advanced age made the return trip to Oregon where he spent the remaining years of his life.   In 2005 Ronald Lansing published a book about Nimrod's life. 

Nimrod appeared in the census in 1853 at State Census in Benton Co OR. He was Catholic in 1853 in Benton Co OR. He died in 1865.

Nimrod O'Kelly and Sarah "Sally" Bell were married in 1813.  Sarah died in 1875 and is buried in St Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Benton Co Or.  Nimrod O'Kelly and Sarah "Sally" Bell had the following children:

+162

i.

Charles O'Kelly.

163

ii.

Benjamin Garrett C O'Kelley was born in 1816 in Rhea Co TN.

+164

iii.

Francis Dedorick O'Kelly.

165

iv.

Louisa Salina O'Kelly was born on 10 May 1824 in TN.

+166

v.

Joseph Bell O'Kelly.

+167

vi.

Mary Ann O'Kelly.

+168

vii.

Nimrod O'Kelly.

169

viii.

Richard O'Kelly was born in 1835 in Rhea Co TN and he died Jul 1 1909 and is buried in the Mountain Home National Cemetery, Johnson City TN Section C Row 4 Site 6.

170

ix.

Sarah O'Kelly was born on 11 May 1838 in TN. She died Apr 18 1918 Portland, Multnomah, Oregon, United States

171

x.

John O'Kelly was born in 1841.


THE HISTORY OF NIMROD O'KELLY, as told to S. A. CLARKE by T. B. Odeneal, reprinted from the Oregonian, August 1, 1886

 “Only a few days previous to the death of the late T. B. Odeneal I spent an hour with him taking notes of a singular and striking incident of pioneer life that had fallen under his notice a third of a century ago. On a recent visit to his old home, at Corvallis, he had refreshed his memory from the county records, and had corrected the dates particularly, with a view to giving me this statement. Concerning the matters that follow there can be no question; they are literally true in the minutest detail, and as through every stage of the narrative official and judicial records will be quoted, and different officials of territorial days named, it will be seen the story cannot be untrue. Those who knew Mr. Odeneal, moreover, will remember that in matters of the kind he preserved an accuracy of detail that few men equal. He was careful in preparing any fact with exactness, whatever might be its use or its value.

HIS OWN LAST DAYS AT SALEM

 When I met Odeneal last, the poor frame he was carrying about seemed failing and feeble to the last degree.  Paralysis affected his lower limbs. He was physically weak and rapidly failing, but the mind was clear, the eye was bright and the voice firm; there was no weakness of intellect and he well knew the end was not far off. To a friend, he said, not long before the final attack, that he understood his situation, and as all was in readiness, as far as he was able to arrange matters, he was more than willing to be gone. I cannot bid him adieu-this prisoner who had just gone on before-without a word of parting. “Every heart knoweth its own bitterness,” some drink the cup of life’s bitterness to the dregs, Odeneal had many kindly and honorable traits, was a man of mind and culture, and with a little more energy and force of character would have made a greater mark in life.

TERRITORY OF OREGON vs. NIMROD O’KELLY

This was the title of an important case that was tried before the U. S. district court for Oregon at a special term held at Corvallis, Benton County, Oregon, on the 9th day of June, 1852. O. C. Pratt was judge, R. P. Boise was district attorney, and A. J. Babb was defendant's counsel, appointed by the court. O’Kelly pleaded not guilty of murder in the first degree as was found in the indictment. The facts were as follows: O’Kelly had taken up a land claim of 640 acres under the donation act, holding a half section in the name of his wife, who had not yet arrived here. This was according to law, but Jeremiah Mahoney must have considered otherwise, or disbelieved the existence of O’Kelly's wife, for one day he moved on to the side farthest from O’Kelly's cabin and camped there with his family, which fact was reported to this last of the O'Kellys. At this time, when land was so abundant, it is not easy to excuse a man for setting up any doubtful claim over which he might waste years and lose the chance to secure a good donation.

DEEDS INSTEAD OF WORDS

As soon as Nimrod O’Kelly learned that a squatter had “jumped” half his land claim, he prepared for action, and was in no wise timid or hesitating; he had no qualms of conscience, no doubt as to his duty in the premises, so loading his gun he started across the section he claimed and in a dry slough that is overflowed in winter time by the rising waters of the Long Tom, he met Jeremiah Mahoney and filled him with buck shot. There were no words wasted, no quarrel and no disgraceful fuss. He intended to kill him and he did it so effectually that there was no question about it. That was the way Nimrod O’Kelly had of doing things. Having disposed of the unresisting claimant, he then went directly Corvallis, told his story without equivocation o hesitation, and delivered himself up to “justice,” represented by the officers of the law. At the trial there was no direct evidence, save his own self accusation, sustained by circumstances that corroborated and confirmed it. He was convicted as indicted and sentenced to be hung the ensuing 2nd day of August, a motion for a new trial being denied.

AFTER THE LAW’s DELAYS

 The case was appealed and in 1853 the appeal was acted on and the sentence of the lower court affirmed; the case was then sent back for a resentence. Geo. H. Williams was then chief justice and district judge, instead of 0. C. Pratt, and he gave Nimrod O'Kelly his second sentence in the regular term, October, 1853, sentencing him to be hung June 9, 1854, exactly two years from the date of his first trial. Dr. T. J. Wright was then sheriff of Benton county and did not know what to do with his prisoner. In 1853 there was no jail at Corvallis or in Benton county, so he told the old man to go home and be sure to be on hand when wanted. All the time up to his final sentence, or re-sentence, he seems to have been about "on his own recognizance," if anybody's. When the last legal means was exhausted the case assumed a more serious aspect; there was no further appeal, the only hope being that the governor might send a reprieve or a pardon. Not knowing what else to do Dr. Wright said to his prisoner, “Go home and stay there. I won't have any use for you until 11 A. M., June 9, 1854. But be here punctually then.”

ON HAND TO BE HUNG

 Time sped on and from October 1853 to June 1854 passed with Nimrod O'Kelly attending to his affairs as usual. He was an old man when our story began and put in those eight months fixing his land for his family to make use of when he was gone. The evening previous to the day appointed for his execution he appeared in town, went to the sheriff and tried to deliver himself up. But no, the sheriff said he had no use for him until 11 o'clock the next morning and sent him to the hotel. Before he went the old man asked to see the arrangements made for his "taking off." He didn't want them to make a poor job of it, so he looked at and passed a favorable opinion on the gallows, after which he went to the hotel and slept soundly.  As O’Kelly was a poor man the state undoubtedly paid his hotel bill, and all through this narrative it is notable that he was very careful as to his expenditures.  He didn't want to die in debt and did not. The next morning he ate breakfast and then strolled carelessly down to the spot the sheriff had made ready for him.

A REPRIEVE

 The sheriff shook hands with O’Kelly the next morning and many of his friends dropped in on him to see him off in good style. The court had given the sheriff the discretion to do the hanging somewhere between 11 A. M. and I o’clock P.M., of the 9th day of June, 1854.  O’Kelly found it tiresome business hanging to the ragged edge of despair, as it were.  He had received the congratulations of his friends and the last offices of the church and was thoroughly resigned to his fate, so did not care how soon he met it.  He assured Odeneal afterwards, that the prospect of death was not alarming; he believed he was changing to a better world and had no regret at leaving this.  The end justified the sheriff in giving his patient all the time he could command, because, at the last hour a reprieve came, Gov. Davis sending an order commuting his sentence from the death penalty to one year in the penitentiary.  The old man was not the least surprised and made ready to start for Sloan's hotel in Portland, instead of to the home he supposed awaited him in paradise.

SOMETHING ABOUT O’KELLY

 It seems that this Nimrod O’Kelly, was a man of considerably more than ordinary education. He came from Ireland, where he was educated for the priesthood. He was an ardent Catholic; devoted to his church; so much of a bigot as to be almost a fanatic. Something occurred to change his destiny from the altar of the Roman Catholic church to ordinary life. He was 62 years old in 1852; a type of a past generation of mankind. He was tall in form, commanding in appearance, venerable in aspect, with flowing gray hairs and patriarchal beard. He was educated at some college belonging to the church, spoke several languages, was well informed in a common way, and was zealous and even bigoted in his devotion to religion. He had no fear of dying and seems never to have felt any regret or hesitation at the fate he inflicted on Mahoney. His conscience was clear on that score. He was a pleasant talker and not a bad hearted man, though infatuated in the last degree to his religious belief

BOUND FOR THE PENITENTIARY

 Dr. Wright-the sheriff-procured an express wagon and employed Bill Gird as a guard, to help him escort the prisoner to the penitentiary, which was then kept by Mr. Sloan, at Portland. As soon as it was conveniently possible they started Kelly toward his fate. As was customary in those days they laid in a comfortable stock of necessary commissary supplies and "wet groceries" to make the wagon and team work off right. They got along well enough until they reached the tall timber below Oregon City. Here the "benzine" probably got too active and something gave way that had to be repaired. They ran against a tree and broke the wagon, in short, and as O'Kelly was a temperance man and the only one of that ilk in the party, he was sent on in advance, or sent himself on. Said he: "It will take some time to make repairs, so I will go on ahead and report at headquarters. You can overtake me easily." They were not afraid to lose him as, really, there was no way he could escape from them if he desired ever so badly to do so.

NOT EASY TO GET INTO STATE”S PRISON

 O'Kelly walked on leisurely through the October Willamette woods, loitering by the way to allow them to overtake him; but they never caught up. He got to the river and crossed and spent some hours at the old hotel on the levee, that afterwards became the American Exchange, but they did not make an appearance. He was anxious to have his time begin and end so that he could be at home and at work; so he asked the way to the state's prison and went on up there to report to the superintendent. He found it difficult. to obtain admission on the story he told. They thought he was a crank' and would have none of him, until towards evening Sheriff Wright and guardsman Gird came along to set up a title to their prisoner, so that they could draw their per them and mileage. O'Kelly thus obtained admission and began his time, and so well did he conduct himself that be was pardoned out in ten months. He returned home in August, 1855, fully enfranchised and possessed (by means of his pardon) of all his rights and privileges as a citizen of Oregon.

OUT OF JAIL BUT NOT OUT OF TROUBLE

 When O'Kelly got back to Benton county he found his family awaiting him, but the ghost of Mahoney occupied the other side of his claim, in the persons of his widow and children, to whom the Oregon land office had awarded possession. It was late in summer, and O'Kelly was not a man so much of word as of action. He bade his newly-found family a temporary farewell and started on foot for the city of Washington to claim his land of the head of the department. He had no spare means, and could not even afford a horse to ride. He traveled east alone and on foot, meeting and camping with emigrants all the way, who were coming to Oregon and California. He may have caught some chances to ride, and so have made better time, but certain it is that this gaunt, gray-haired man pushed his way on foot to the frontier, and then managed some way to reach Washington, where he presented himself and his case before the general land office and won his land claim back. 
 Here was an act of sturdy heroism that cannot easily be surpassed, if it can be equaled in the history of Oregon, that is replete with heroic deeds. He footed it for over two thousand miles to the Missouri river, in the autumn, worked his way to the national capital, won his case by patient pleading, and came back home to enjoy, at last, the land claim that had cost him so dearly.

A BIGOT TO THE LAST

There must have been a strong trace of fanaticism in any man who could do all that O'Kelly did, and accomplish all that he did in the way that he did it. His very conscience was cast in a mold of iron bigotry, so that he could shoot down a fellow man to right a wrong the law could certainly cure. This murder was an uncommon crime because he thought himself no criminal. He went through phases of life that could well have driven some men insane and would have unhinged many, while he met them as a matter of course and would have met death the same way. That journey across the plains, on foot, moneyless, old and perhaps infirm, as he was, was something I would like to tell of minutely, but the man is long ago deceased and Odeneal could gather only the plain statement that he actually went afoot to the East and thus secured his claim. 
 His fanaticism was shown by his will, for he deeded all his property to his church, leaving his children just enough to make the will hold good, so they could riot invalidate it. The mother had probably the improved half, as that was Surveyor General Preston's way in nearly all cases. His own land went to the church, of whom Bill Gird purchased it, and lives on it today. Nimrod O'Kelly was a singular man, and, as Mr. Odeneal observed of him, was a relic of a bygone generation. The pioneers of Oregon were generally men of firmness of purpose, and O'Kelly was one of them. 
 What I have termed bigotry and fanaticism, based on the fact that he neglected his family to give his property to the church, may have been an effort of conscience. It is more than probable that the church educated him, and expected him to take holy orders and become a priest. lf he had then married and given up this intention the result may have been that his life long repentance was emphasized by this act of giving to the church property to repay the cost his education had been to it. Still it is fanaticism, and the world abounds in religious bigots of all sects, whose acts of' conscience are an infringement on common sense. 
 T. B. was married twice, first to Elizabeth F. Coyle, April 29, 1857 in Benton Co., OR, there is no record of children to this marriage.  It is not known what happened to Elizabeth, but on Sept. 1, 1859 he married a second time to America Mulkey in Benton Co., OR.  She also was born in MO about 1839.  They had $2,050 in real estate and $500 in personal property.  Thomas was the last Superintendant of Indian Affairs in he Oregon Territory and was one of the people that met with Chief Joseph. 
 In 1880 America is living in Idaho with a cousin Wesley Mulkey (born NC) and his wife Mary (born VA). In the census America states she is married. 
 Between July 1880 and October 1884 Thomas is the Reporter or Clerk for the Supreme Court of Oergon in Salem, OR.  The volumnes are 9, 10 and 11.  This seems to be a job that is given or offered to top lawyers since they must be able to write the rulings handed down by the Supreme Court. 
 From the above articles it appears Thomas died sometime around Aug. 1886, it is not known when America died or where either are buried. 
 By 1870 they had at least four children; 

 

Webmaster's comment:  I don't think it possible for Nimrod to have been educated in the priesthood, even at that time protestants were bigoted against Catholics and Catholics against protestants and there were only a few places that one could receive such a Catholic education so for that to be true, he would have either been educated at Georgetown University in America or St Patrick's College in Ireland or some where in Europe which I find very unlikely.  I find no ship records for Nimrod so it isn't likely he every left our shores.  If he could speak more than one language maybe he could speak English and some Gaelic and or Latin most likely taught to him by a relative or his grandmother because if she was one of the Galway Deanes she may have been well educated including in both Catholic and Protestant ways.  I believe much of this could have just been guesswork because  even in the 20th Century I often had people ask me if I was Catholic because people with very Irish surnames such as O'Kelleys are often believed to be Catholic.  I have no doubt that Nimrod could have became catholic, I just require some evidence, his name on a Catholic school roster to cause me to believe he had been trained to be a priest.  It should be noted that Virginia expelled Catholics as early as 1736 most going to Montserrat or Barbados and we know from our national archives that Benjamin, the father of Nimrod filed a pension application stating he was born in King and Queen Parish Va in 1761.  It is unclear how much of this actually came from T B Odeneal who reportedly met Nimrod and how much of it might have been added by Clark.  I find nothing in this story that indicate Nimrod was a bigot.  He was a Catholic and given the Irish experience with protestants he certainly had reasons to not trust protestants.  I also have seen no evidence that his shooting was anything other than a frontier man defending his claim from a claim jumper.  It might be noted that today in Texas if you catch someone in the act of stealing your car and it is at night time the law permits the use of deadly force in preventing that theft so while we may not agree with Nimrod's actions, the right to defend ones property has long been an American birthright.  In his book, Ronald Lansing has a different telling of the story about Nimrod's early religious experiences and they do seem to better fit with what I would expect.