Photo by Bulletin graphics
When Timothy Keliher, known around the United States as the “train-robbers nemesis,” died on Feb 15, 1954, newspapers around the country printed his story.
Keliher, born in August 1867, came to North Platte as a small boy with his parents in 1870 from Williamsport, Pa.
According to Mark Ellis, author of “Law and Order in Buffalo Bill’s Country,” after Keliher graduated from high school, he “read law” in a North Platte law office for a year before deciding on a career in law enforcement.
Keliher served four years as Lincoln County deputy sheriff before he was elected as sheriff in Nov 1899. Keliher served four years as sheriff and was credited for “ridding the county of horse thieves and cattle rustlers”, according to a North Platte Telegraph-Bulletin editorial on Feb. 19, 1954, “Keliher would probably outshine Cody” by Harry Contos.
Contos also called Keliher the “toughest law-abiding citizen ever to ride herd on train robbers.”
Contos interviewed William McDonald, a North Platte pioneer and a good friend of Keliher after his death was announced.
McDonald said “Keliher was a big man, standing 6-foot, 2-inches tall and over 200 pounds of pure muscle.”
During the four years Keliher was sheriff, his biggest arrest came after James Bailey drove off 64 head of cattle from the Plummer ranch near Maxwell. Bailey drove the cattle to Custer County and sold them. Keliher tracked the thief across Nebraska and finally found him working in a meat-packing plant in Chicago, where Keliher arrested him.
Bailey was sentenced to a five-year term in the state prison, Ellis said.
In 1902, the Union Pacific company, after hearing of Keliher’s reputation, hired him to “clean out the worst festering sore” the Union Pacific ever had, Contos wrote.
The Charlerio Mail newspaper in Charlerio, Pa. interviewed Keliher when he retired in 1938 and wrote that Keliher formed the Union Pacific Mounted Rangers while working for the railroad.
Keliher established his headquarters in Cheyenne and immediately went to work. He hired a group of 10 rangers. He enlisted the best trailers in the region, the surest shots with rifle or revolver, and equipped each man with a fast, tough horse.
Then he went to work outfitting a rail car for their special use. The car had stalls on one end for the horses and bunks on the other end for the rangers, with a kitchen filling up the rest of the car.
When word was received of a train robbery, the tracks would be cleared and the rangers’ car “highballed” to the scene of the robbery, the Charlerio paper said.
In four years working for Union Pacific, Keliher became famous for his breakup of the Butch Cassidy gang. He helped get Cassidy sent to the Wyoming State Penitentiary.
When people asked him about Cassidy, Keliher told them that “Cassidy wasn’t a cruel, heartless killer. He would shoot a man only when it was a case of defending himself.”
According to the Lincoln Evening Journal’s story of Keliher’s retirement on Sept 5, 1938, the Illinois Central Railroad hired him as a Chief Special Agent. In his first case, he captured a trio of bandits who robbed a merchant of $436,000 in jewelry while riding between Chicago and New Orleans.
Keliher retired at age 70 after serving 28 years with the Illinois Central Railroad.
Keliher and his good friend, North Platte native and former president of Union Pacific William Jeffers, married the Schatz sisters. Keliher’s wife Julia died giving birth to their third child, a daughter, Eileen.
In turn, Keliher give Eileen to Jeffers and his wife to raise as their own.
Keliher remained close to Eileen, even after she was adopted. She always went by the name Keliher-Jeffers, even up to her death, according to Jeffers family records.
Other newspapers reported news of the “train-robber’s nemesis,” including the New York Times, Abeline Reporter News and the Billings Gazette.
The Billings Gazette said “He not only exemplified the best traditions of the lawmen of the early west -- he helped make them.”
Keliher had a rule of thumb: You can’t get away from a positive fact.
“And when he found one, he wasn’t easily distracted,” Contos wrote.