Judge Milton Kelly, now deceased, who attained considerable prominence as one of Idaho’s most loyal citizens and public-spirited men, was born in Onondaga County, New York, September 9, 1818, and descended from Irish ancestors who were early settlers in New England. He was reared on his father’s farm, obtaining his early education in Bloomfield, New York, and when still young taught school. He went to Ohio, subsequently removing to Wisconsin, where for some time he was engaged in the mercantile business, and then studied law and was admitted to the bar about 1845. He then took up the practice of his profession, for which he was peculiarly fitted by his natural abilities, and during his thirteen years of active professional life in Wisconsin he became intimately acquainted with the leading men and was prominently identified with shaping the destiny of the then new state.
In 1861 Judge Kelly went to California and the following year removed to the new mining town of Auburn, Oregon, where he engaged in the express and transportation business, between that town and Placerville, Boise County, Idaho, later making his home in Placerville. In the autumn of 1863, following the act of organization of the territory of Idaho, he was, at an election held in Boise County, elected a member of the first session of the Idaho territorial legislature, which was held in Lewiston, Nez Perces County, then the capital. In framing the laws of government for the new territory Judge Kelly’s knowledge and wide experience made his services of the greatest value, the result being the adoption of general laws and the passage of such special acts as were needed, which proved entirely satisfactory to the people and served as a basis for future legislation, with but few material changes, for a number of years. Judge Kelly continued the practice of law and was also engaged in mining until April, 1865, when he was appointed one of the associate judges of the supreme court of the territory and was assigned to the first judicial district, embracing the counties of Nez Perces, Shoshone and Idaho, which then covered the entire area now known as northern Idaho. This office Judge Kelly received from President Lincoln just before the latter’s death, it being the last appointment that the martyred president made.
While in office the Judge resided at Lewiston, but at the close of his term he came to Boise to live, and on January 2, 1871, he purchased the Idaho Statesman of James Reynolds and became its owner, editor and publisher. During his management the paper grew in the esteem of the people and was a very potent factor in advancing the best interests of Idaho, its circulation growing until it found a place in the homes of nearly all the families of the territory. He brought to his work as an editor keen judgment, discrimination and the impulses of a genuine patriot, while as a writer he was clear, direct and terse. He seldom made a mistake in estimating the character of his fellow men. His opinions were his own and were given with such candor and courage that they commanded the respect of the people. During the seventeen years that he was at the helm of the Statesman, Idaho passed through its most interesting and eventful days, and Judge Kelly’s influence was always used on the side of right, and to him in a great measure is due much of the development and good government of the Gem State of the Mountains. In the spring of 1889 the veteran pioneer journalist and patriot found himself advanced in years and enfeebled in health, and, an opportunity offering, he sold his paper to the Statesman Publishing Company, which has since conducted it in an able and efficient manner.
Retiring from active life to his home on the warm-springs tract of land lying five miles from the city, Judge Kelly devoted his time to making improvements at the springs. He had not been in retirement long before he suffered from a severe attack of paralysis, from the effects of which he passed away on April 9, 1892. He was a man of the kindest impulses, a loving husband and father, and a warm-hearted and sympathetic friend. His record as a judge and journalist during his prominent career in Idaho was a pure and spotless one and gained for him the highest esteem of his fellow men in the territory, where he had been such a worthy and useful citizen.
In 1843 Judge Kelly was married to Miss Lois Eliza Humphrey, a native of Connecticut and a descendant of one of the old New England families, and of this union four children were born, namely: Ellen, who became the wife of Hon. James H. Bush, whose biography also appears in this work; Kate Amanda, who married Hon. Joseph Perrault, United States surveyor general of Idaho; Homer H., who resides at Payette; and Anna D., the wife of Edgar J. Sencerbox.
Judge Kelly was in his political affiliations a Republican and one of the organizers of that party. He was a great lover of liberty and an ardent opponent of oppression in any form, and he made good use of his great ability and natural talents in assisting in the removal of the stain of human slavery from the honor of his country.