Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    Edward O'Kelly: A Rare Handwritten Letter by the Killer of Jesse James' Murderer Bob Ford. Written February 20, 1903 to Charley Polk, a friend of Jesse James, Jr. In the letter he asks Polk to "send me a few (Kansas City) papers containing articles about Cole Younger" and speculates about the possibility of going into business with Polk. The letter has cleanly separated along four old fold lines, but is complete and otherwise in fine condition-very readable. The provenance is outstanding, including a notarized 1959 affidavit from Harry Hoffman, boyhood friend of Jesse James, Jr. and longtime correspondent with James and Polk, from whom he had obtained the O'Kelly letter.

    O'Kelly's motivation remains unknown, but in 1892 he walked into Bob Ford's saloon in Creede, Colorado, allegedly called out, "Hello, Bob," and shot and killed Ford with a shotgun blast. Ford was widely disliked for having killed Jesse James-a folk hero to many-and O'Kelly may have thought to build a reputation by dispatching him. He was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting but served only eight years. He later settled in Oklahoma City, where on January 14, 1904 he engaged in a violent and apparently unprovoked struggle with a police officer, getting off several shots and biting off chunks of the man's ear. A citizen came to the officer's aid enabling him to free his gun hand, and he fired two shots bringing O'Kelly's strange life to a violent end.

    Whether O'Kelly felt a kinship with Polk, who was clearly in the "James camp," or merely sought to a favorable audience because he had killed Ford is a matter for speculation. But Polk saw fit to preserve this rare letter from an important player in the saga of Jesse James.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2015
    25th Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,282

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $100,000 (minimum $14), plus 20% of any amount between $100,000 and $1,000,000, plus 12% of any amount over $1,000,000 per lot.

    Sold on Oct 25, 2015 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Only 34 days left to consign to the 2021 July 18 Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature Auction - Dallas!

    Learn about consigning with us

    I don’t often do testimonials but in this case I felt truly obligated to thank Heritage Auctions for the extremely professional job your organization did for me.
    Charlie K.,
    Pittsburgh, PA
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search