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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

KELLY, Thomas

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KELLY, Thomas. (King's County, Ireland, 1808--Dubuque, IA, May 15, 1867). Kelly may have hidden a fortune of GOLD in the bluffs behind ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL. Kelly, hearing of the fortunes made in LEAD MINING, came to East Dubuque in 1832. Secretive even in those days, he would buy and load a barge with his ore and float with it to St. Louis where everything would be sold. Kelly returned to Dubuque by steamboat. (1)

In 1847 on one of these occasions, the barge sank. To collect insurance on the barge, Kelly traveled to New York City in 1850 where he believed he was being followed by a man Kelly assumed was after his money. When the man boarded a wagon in which Kelly was riding, Kelly shot and killed him. In 1854 he escaped from an insane asylum in Utica, New York to return to Dubuque. (2) He operated a mine on the bluff behind the cathedral and made enough money to bring his relatives from Canada to Dubuque. In 1837 he built his own smelting furnace. (3)

In 1865 Kelly was judged insane; his brother, William, was named administrator of the estate. This news came as a surprise. The Dubuque Herald reported that although he was considered "odd and peculiar, it was not generally supposed that he was insane. (4) Kelly died without a will but left a note saying that if people wanted his gold they could look for it. His estate was estimated to be worth between $50,000 and $200,000. (5)

Kelly's wealth may be buried in an iron chest he had made just before his death. Three caches of gold have been found. A boy found $1,200 in gold, a man discovered $1,800, and two boys in 1900 uncovered a small iron chest with $10,000 in eagle and double eagle gold coins. (6)

In 1890 during the time foundations for a seminary on KELLY'S BLUFF were being dug, one of Kelly's lead molds was found. In the early-1800s, lead ore was formed into 100-lb. "pigs." To avoid any confusion between the "pigs" belonging to him or to other miners, Kelly had molds made so that when the lead was poured into them his name appeared on one side. The mold was later displayed at the COLUMBIA MUSEUM OF HISTORY, ART, AND SCIENCE. (7)



1. Dubuque Folklore. American Trust and Savings Bank. 1976

2. "Kellys Gold Still Buried on His Bluff, Telegraph-Herald, September 15, 1946, p. 47

3. Dubuque Folklore

4. "The Owner of Kelly's Bluff," Dubuque Herald, December 31, 1865, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18651231&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5 Dubuque Folklore

6. Ibid.

7. "Tom Kelly's Story Told by Museum," Telegraph-Herald, February 14, 1940, p. 7

Goodspeed, Weston Arthur. The History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago : Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911, p. 540