In 1882, Robert Ford gunned down Thomas Howard as he dusted a picture in his house in St. Joseph, Missouri. Howard was the alias of Jesse James and Robert Ford was one of the latest, and last, members of the James gang. Ford had planned to collect the reward placed on James by Gov. Thomas T. Crittenden. The details of murder are long and sordid but in the end, Ford killed James and was pardoned by Crittenden.
Public opinion turned against Ford and he was forced to leave the Missouri area. He wandered the gold and silver fields of the west, earning money by posing for pictures as “The man who shot Jesse James,” as well as operating and owning various saloons across the frontier.
When Ford heard of the silver strike in Creede, Colorado, he moved to the bustling town and opened the Exchange, a gambling and dance hall along Main Street. Using his fame, he was able to bully the town for years. Eventually, Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, a notorious conman, arrived in town and Ford bowed to his power.
Ed O’Kelley, a Missouri born acquaintance of the James family, drifted into the Creede area. In April of 1892, he was elected town marshal of Bachelor. He learned that Ford was operating the Exchange in Creede and instantly recognized him. O’Kelley was determined to avenge the death of James.
At the end of June 1892, the town of Creede burned during a fire. Included in the buildings destroyed was Ford’s Exchange Dance Hall. Ford, as well as other business owners in Creede, quickly reestablished the Exchange in a tent on the site of the ruins. O’Kelley, known for carrying a sawed-off shotgun, enlisted the help of Joe “French Joe” Duvall. Duvall carried the shotgun to the entrance of the Exchange and handed it to O’Kelley as he passed the entrance to the tent.
Ford was at the bar gathering signatures for the burial of Nellie Russell, a dance hall girl at the Exchange who had died recently of an overdose. O’Kelley walked up to Ford, who had just started towards a back room. O’Kelley yelled “Oh, Bob!” and fired both barrels of the shotgun as he turned, killing him instantly.
O’Kelley was grabbed and was almost lynched. A deputy sheriff who was in the tent took O’Kelley into custody and spirited him away to a remote cabin. O’Kelley was eventually convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in 1902 after a campaign by many former Missouri residents.
Ford was buried in the Creede cemetery on June 8, 1892, following a large funeral thrown by his gambling buddies. Originally, his remains were to be shipped to Missouri, but word arrived in Creede that his mother was “deathly ill” and the shock of his death would likely kill her. In August 1892, Ford was exhumed and returned to Missouri by his widow, Mrs. Dot Ford. Ford was barely 30 years old at the time of his death.
Know Before You Go
The (temporary) gravesite is off Bee McClure Dr. about a mile from Creede. There is a sign on the side of the road to direct visitors to the site. There is a parking spot on the side of the road. The grave is at the north end of the Creede Cemetery about 1/4 mile past the Cemetery entrance.
The murder site is marked by a boulder and plaque near the Kentucky Belle Market on the northeast corner of 2nd Street and Main in Creede.