It was during the early 1870’s that the Bender family had murdered wayward travelers who made the mistake of staying at their inn. In less than two years the family was known to have murdered at least nine people and suspected of many more. The tide would change shortly after the disappearance of a prominent doctor and the Benders were forced to flee town before they were brought into custody, and undoubtedly sentenced to be hanged.
A number of years had passed, and rumors that the Bender family was still making their rounds along the trail, picking off travelers as they saw fit were still in full swing. Perhaps it had been the rumors that inspired the Kelly family to pick up where the Benders had left off.
Like the Benders, the Kelly family ran a little roadhouse in a town known Oak City. Also like the Benders, many weary travelers checked in, but many never checked out.
Often the tenants of the Kelly’s halfway house included cattlemen and other men who had a fair bit of money to their name. It was because of their well off financial situations that these men became targets for the family. A trap door leading the the cellar became the final resting place of many men, including a drummer from Chicago.
It was December of 1887 that a manhunt was underway for the missing Chicagoan. A search party tracked the man to the Kelly homestead, but the desolate halfway house appeared to have been abandoned.
A search of the property uncovered the body of the drummer and 4 other people in the cellar. An excavation of the stable produced an additional four, including a woman aged approximately 50 years. A nearby woodshed also produced a possible murder weapon; a blunt ax covered in bits of human flesh and hair.
The news of the grisly scene was taken to the nearby town of Beaver City, where locals relayed that the Kelly family had already passed through on their way to New Mexico. A team of 20 vigilantes were assembled and quickly tracked the family. A task that proved not too terribly difficult considering the four members of the Kelly family were traveling by way of a team of starving horses and a lame mare.
With the Bender family in recent memory, the search posse was determined to make an example out of the Kelly family.
The group followed the Kelly family’s trail along the Palo Duro Creek and determined that the family had changed directions, instead deciding to head towards Wheeler, Texas. By noon the following day the search party had spotted their camp. The family had no choice but to leave behind their wagon and attempt to get away on their horses.
The pursuit lasted two hours before Mrs. Kelly’s horse tripped and sent her flying to the ground with a thud. The rest of the family kept on going. A half an hour later the men caught up with Kit and Bill, the youngest of the Kelly clan. Ropes were promptly placed up in the trees and the murderers were lined up underneath with nooses tightened around their necks. According to The National Police Gazette the brother and sister were allowed to say their final peace and confess to their crimes. There was a brief exchange between Bill and Kit,
“’Let her go,’ said Bill Kelly, ‘I’ve had my share of fun.’
‘Shall I tell?’ half whispered the girl to her brother.
‘No, — — them, let them find out for themselves,’ was the reply.”
before the search party left their lifeless bodies dangling from the trees and set off to find Mr. Kelly.
Old man Kelly had vanished, but the vigilantes had little difficulty following the tracks of his lame horse. Three hours later the team caught up with Kelly and ordered him to stop. Kelly refused and the men began to shoot at him. After narrowly escaping two shots, Kelly agreed to stop.
The search team quickly surrounded Kelly and explained that he would soon be executed, and therefore if he had any final statements it was now the time to do so. Kelly told the men,
“I moved to Kansas from the mountains Pennsylvania in 1869, and lived at different points along the southern border until I decided to move to No Man’s Land settled 25 miles from Beaver City, and went into the cattle business. Soon after I opened a sort of tavern. Several persons disappeared while passing along this trail but as to their death I have nothing to say. A good deal of talk of foul play was made and I determined to move on to south Texas. This is all I have to say.”
A rope was swiftly hung from the nearest tree and the noose was tightened around Kelly’s neck. In an instant he was dangling in the air, before he was again lowered and asked to confess. Kelly agreed and told the men that everyone in the family had a hand in the murders. Together they had killed nine men and two women. They stole whatever money the travelers had. Kelly then handed over what money he had on him and told the men where the rest of the money had been hidden.
Kelly was strung back up in the tree and left behind as the vigilantes galloped off back to town to share the news. The murderous Kelly clan at last was dead.