Tom Kelly

1926 – 2019

We buried Tom Kelly today, 100 yards from the house he was born in and lived jn for 93 years, It is a good spot overlooking the well-watered canyon bottom, with a view of the peregrine nest which has been there since time before mind (Vadim Gorbatov painted it once.)

Frank Hibben, the famous anthropologist and hunter, wrote his about him in 1948: “Young Tom Kelly, the son, had just returned from the wars. He still looked a little military even in his battered sombrero hat and his cowboy boots. Tom had spent many months in the Philippines and there was a big set of caribao horns mounted on the wall to prove it.

We all sat around that evening with our feet on a bearskin rug to talk over the situation. It had been Rancher Kelly that had sent word to Cass that there were lions in these lava cliffs. Rancher Kell’s black hair was plastered to both sides of his head by the sweat of his sombrero. He reached up occasionally to smooth it back and always spoke in that same quiet manner, whether the subject was exciting or matter of fact.

“Sure been seeing lots of lion kills,” he would say. “Right up there on the mesa came across one this afternoon.” He pointed vaguely with his gnarled thumb in the dark where the edges of the overhanging cliffs only dimly showed their outlines in the night. “Been fellows here to catch them too, in years past but they never seemed to be smart enough to do it.”

The talk droned on, far into the night. The conversation turned from lions to the bear whose skin lay at our feet, He had been a stock killer and a hard beast to catch. There were stories too, of the mining camps in these same mountains and of gun fights in the streets of Magdalena in the early days. An evening with some of these old timers at a western ranch is as exciting as a hunt itself, but then there was the morning and we would be up before the stars were dimmed.

We were out of bed and had saddled our horses before there was a suggestion of light. Mrs. Kelly had prepared for us one of those memorable ranch breakfasts that belies he old adage that man eats to live. Those eggs and bacon and that aromatic coffee made from te pure spring water from the cliff were experiences in themselves.

The saddles were cold to the touch as we swung up in the stirrups. Even on a May morning it was still chilly in the Magdalenas. Rancher Kelly and his son Tom rode with us. Indeed I had never seen a rancher yet who couldn’t leave his cattle and his chores for a day or two to join in on a lion chase. “

From Hunting American Lions by Frank C. Hibben 1948

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