Robert Kelly

From "A History of Carlsbad," by John Harmon:

…Robert Kelly, who was born on Christmas Day, 1825, on the British Isle Man in the Irish Sea, was literally working his way cross-country in search of his fortune in this Great Land of Opportunity.

A farm Boy, Robert had learned carpentry at age 14. This talent he brought with him at age 16 when his parents brought him to America. He carpentered in Louisiana, graduated to cabinet-mating in St. Louis and attended night school to achieve rudimentary education. His wanderings took him to Galena, III; to Wisconsin’s pineries and to carpentering in Hancock County., before striking out in the summer of 1850 for California.

At Yuma, on the Colorado River, Robert went to work for the government. He whipsawed cottonwood to build a Ferry boat. A few months later he made his move to San Diego. It is believed that he made the trek with the same Mexican Boundary Survey party that brought trader Hinton to San Diego. In San Diego, Robert Kelly assisted in Building the First Wharf for San Diego harbor near the Santa Fe wharf of more recent years. From this point, the man who became more affectionately known to Carlsbadians as "Uncle Robert" began to carve out an illustrious career.

In late 1851 he became a government mule driver, puling freight overland to Fort Yuma with a six mule team. Several trips as driver and he was promoted by appointment as wagon master.

Later, Robert Kelly went into partnership with Colonel Eddy on the Jamacha Rancho, south of the El Cajon valley, in September, 1852. During the five years there, he raised cattle and farmed on the 8.876 acres, 12 miles east of the city of San Diego. On this acreage, it is said, the cattle grazed from the mountains east of El Cajon Valley to the edge of San Diego Bay where National City now stands.

“Uncle Robert" also became one of the "Judges of the Plains,” appointed by county supervisors to settle disputed ownership of cattle that roamed the Southern California lands freely. These judges naturally drew the ire of the lawless, and one dark evening July 16, 1856 for Robert Kelly it drew gunfire.

He was just finishing a hard day’s ride looking for cattle when he was attacked on The Cajon ranch by a gang of Mexican desperados, intent upon his death. He suffered severe wounds. The marks of three bullets that took effect were borne by him to the grave: the one that grazed the top of his head, the one that entered the back at his neck sideways coming out two inches above its entrance and the one that tore through the muscles of his left arm. His assailants are said to have died shortly afterwards in a revolution in Lower California, Mexico.

Robert Kelly sold his Jamacha interest in 1857 and tool; a “sabbatical" from ranching for a year in an Old Town, San Diego, mercantile business with Frank Amos.

About 1860, Robert Kelly became half-owner and major domo Francis Hinton's Agua Hedionda ranch of 13.314 acres, located on the coast approximately 35 miles north of Old Town. He also managed the Hinton ranch at Jamul.

The double-arrow brand, registered by Robert Kelly in 1853, came with him to Hedionda. It appeared on the Hedionda horses and the Hinton brand was home by the cattle.

When partner Hinton died in 1870. Robert Kelly inherited Hinton's of half the property, receiving “all rights, title and interest" of the Hinton estate.

Because the post-war period, following the War Between the States (1861-1865), attracted many "squatters" to San Diego County, Kelly put 25 miles of fence around the Hedionda property to avoid being drawn into clashes with the "squatter farmers." At one time, prior the fencing it was said the cattle roamed unhampered over the land from Los Angeles to Lower California. Even today, it is possible to discover remains of some of the old split redwood posts and original barbed wire fence at Aqua Hedionda.

Robert Kelly remained a bachelor throughout his life, his land barony, however, was no barrier to consideration of others. During his lifetime, he was known as one of the public-spirited men of the county and is credited with having contributed liberally to every movement that advanced public interest. To help bring the railroad through, Kelly gave 40 acres to the city and "a money consideration" in addition to the right-of-way through his ranch.

The bachelorhood of Robert Kelly is laid to the fact that his romance with a white girl, Olive Oatman, was broken by her capture by Apaches. The Indians had waylaid her parent’s wagon and two other wagons which had separated from the main train along the Gila River. All were slain except the two Oatman girls, Olive, then about eighteen, and a younger sister. This was in 1851. Robert Kelly and another soldier are said to have gone to the scene of the massacre and buried the dead. The Outman girls were not rescued until six years later, in 1857, when the Indians let them go. By this time Olive Earl three children and was pretty much a mental and physical wreck after the terrible life of hardship and abuse.

At 60 years of age. “Uncle Robert" was reported active and alert, a state ascribed to most men 20 years younger. His fine health was considered based on his many days in the saddle and the nights under the open sky. He, himself, advanced the opinion that “there is no place like San Diego, and as a climate for prolonging life" it has no equal.

During his residence in the Jamacha-Hacienda area, Robert Kelly was visited lay two brothers, John and Matthew. Not too much is said about John in late news accounts, but the implication is that he came to San Diego about 1851 with Robert, associated with the Army, and several years later returned to San Francisco. John died there in the "Golden Gate" city in 1865, and no mention was made that he was survived by either widow or family.

From "Windows on the Past, An Illustrated History of Carlsbad, California," by Susan Schnebelen Gutierrez:

The Kelly’s and other early settlers

Francis Hinton hired Robert Kelly, an émigré from the Isle of Mann, to oversee operations on Rancho Agua Hedionda. Kelly, who moved into an Adobe home built originally by the Marron family near the Agua Hedionda Creek, was well suited for the job. He had previously co-owned and run a ranch in Jamacha, owned and operated a mercantile in San Diego, and served in the United States Army post war Survey Commission. By 1868 Robert's older brother Matthew arrived in the area with his wife and family to establish a 10,000-acre homestead, named "Los Kiotes", southeast of the Rancho Agua Hedionda's southern most border. Francis Hinton's death in 1870 left Robert Kelly as sole inheritor and owner of Rancho Agua Hedionda. A succession of lawsuits from long lost Hinton relatives and Marron family members raised objections to Kelly's inheritance. When all legal issues were resolved, Kelly retained title to Rancho Agua Hedionda, Hinton relatives inherited property in other locations, and the Sylvester Marron family accepted ownership of the 362 acres known as Rinconada de Buena Vista, located on the northern fringe of the Rancho land grant. In 1880, Robert Kelly granted a coastal right of way to the Southern California railway, providing the connection between San Diego and points north. The connection of rail lines spurred development of previously never owned or developed coastal land. One rail stop was just North West of Rancho Agua Hedionda and would shortly become known as Frazier's Station. The other stop, southwest of the land grant, was known as Stewart's Station. The Hayes and Hicks Inland Mail and Stage Company, a flourishing stagecoach business, ran daily stages between the inland towns of Escondido, San Marcos (or Barnham) and Fallbrook and the coastal rail lines.

John Frazier and family were among the first to arrive by train in 1883 and they settled on 160 acres close to the ocean west of the rail lines, just south of Buena Vista Lagoon. Frazier's various occupations, such as mining, farming and life on board a ship prepared him for the difficulties in this new settlement. Lack of potable water was a major hindrance to any farming efforts. The land was rather worthless if it did not have a water source. Most farmers in the area tried digging wells since the nearby lagoons usually dried up during the summers. To guarantee clean fresh water, families collected rain that ran off roofs into cisterns or brought water by horse and wagon from the closest fresh water source, the El Salto Falls at Marron Gorge, about 4 miles away. Considering that horse and wagon undertook this trek, water was a very precious commodity, and not used lightly. Frazier decided that there had to be a better and easier way to provide water for his family and his farm. Frazier contracted the Mull Brothers, expert well borers, to dig a well. The Oceanside newspaper "The Wavelets," reported that John Frazier agreed to pay $3.00 per drilled foot, not to exceed 600 feet, to find water. One can imagine his relief in 1885, when water was discovered at 245 feet. Eventually both mineral and artesian water were discovered and excitedly reported in the local newspapers. Overnight the discovery of water so near the coastline increased the value of land by 50 percent. Frazier built a platform near the rail line and began offering train passengers water. His fame grew and the area near his home and wells was known as Frazier's Station. By the 1880s the American populace had recovered from the devastation of the Civil War and was looking for new opportunities. Completion of the transcontinental railroad, rail lines running throughout California, and cheap train fares from the Midwest to the Pacific all contributed to a population in motion. A land boom was underway and many had just one destination in mind, the West.


Robert Kelly died in 1890 willing his property, the Rancho Agua Hedionda land grant directly east of the fledgling town of Carlsbad, to his brother Matthew’s nine children. Between the years 1892 and 1896 the entire land grant was held in common, except for a section in the northwest section sold in 1893 to a Mr. Thorpe. The sale was necessary, bringing needed cash into the family and ensuring their survival during the drought years. Shortly after the property was sold, Mr. Thorpe resold the land to the Thum Brothers, who held the patent on the Tanglefoot Fly Paper. The land became known as Thum Lands.

After the Rancho property was surveyed and divided into equitable parcels based on availability of grazing and water, each section was assigned an alphabetical letter. The letter was then placed on a slip of paper and as each heir drew his or her slip, the ownership of that parcel was transferred. Minnie Kelly Borden gave up her rights to draw from the slips of paper, in order to choose a preferred section of land, and two parcels were held in common. While the drought continued, a few of the Kelly heirs began homesteading land that adjoined their parcels to support their grazing livestock.

During the decade of drought that followed Robert Kelly's death, ranching and dry farming of beans, corn and hay became the only agricultural options. A few other enterprises undertaken were prospecting for oil and copper mining. While ranching was difficult during the dry years, the ranch families were in a better position regarding water than those that lived in town, since many of them lived near creeks or had already dug wells. For those who remained in town, digging a well meant the well level would be precariously close to the water level of their outhouses.


1850 - Robert Kelly in Yuma, Arizona

1870 - Hinton dies, wills Rancho Agua Hedionda to Robert Kelly

1880 - Robert Kelly gives right of way to railroad through Rancho Hedionda coastal land

1887 - Santa Fe Depot built

1890 - Robert Kelly dies, wills Rancho Agua Hedionda to nieces and nephews

1896 - Kelly family divides Rancho Agua Hedionda into separate parcels