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Kelly, Charles Edgar (1863–1932)

Clinton P. Hartmann Biography

Charles Edgar (Henry) Kelly, El Paso political leader, son of William H. and Mary (Woods) Kelly, was born in Fayette, Jefferson County, Mississippi, on June 11, 1863. He studied pharmacy at the Sisters of Charity Hospital in New Orleans and became a registered pharmacist. In 1883 he moved for his health to El Paso, where he later established the Kelly-Pollard Retail and Wholesale Drug Company. He was elected county treasurer four times between 1902 and 1910 and formed a political alliance with Joseph U. Sweeney, mayor of El Paso, who headed a strong Democratic party machine known as "the Ring." Rivalry within the Ring resulted in two factions, a reform group opposing open gambling and prostitution, and another group disposed to maintain the status quo. After the death on August 14, 1910, of Mayor W. F. Robinson, the city council appointed Kelly mayor; he was elected in 1911 and 1913 and served until 1915. Although he was accused of "bossism," Kelly's administration in practice was fiscally responsible. It assumed municipal acquisition of the privately owned waterworks, extended street lighting and paving, reduced the cost of fire insurance, voted funds for the construction of schools, and supported the building of Scenic Drive, which became a tourist attraction.

Early in his administration the Mexican Revolution often threatened the welfare and safety of Americans living in El Paso. Mayor Kelly made national headlines when, in an El Paso hotel, he disarmed Francisco (Pancho) Villa, who had vowed to kill Gen. Giuseppe Garibaldi. With the revolution continuing to spill over into El Paso, Kelly demanded help, including military help, from the federal government. In a letter dated March 11, 1912, to President William H. Taft, he asserted that federal officials in El Paso were "doing everything to avoid irritating" our Mexican neighbors "rather than protecting American lives and property." As a result of his complaint, the United States government provided a show of force that brought about the desired effect. In the mayoral election of 1915 Kelly and his aldermanic team were defeated by a strong coalition of reformists, headed by Tom (Thomas Calloway) Lea, Jr.

Though Kelly never ran for public office again, he was appointed by Governor James E. Ferguson to the board of regents of the University of Texas in March 1917 and served in that capacity until June 1923. In his honor a building at the University of Texas at El Paso has borne his name since 1921. Kelly brought the Texas Democratic convention to El Paso in 1914. He was a Catholic and a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Knights of Columbus, the Loyal Order of the Moose, and several civic and social clubs. He married Miss Willie Word, a teacher, on May 27, 1897, and they had four daughters. Kelly died on July 26, 1932, and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, El Paso.

El Paso Times, July 27, 1932. Nancy Hamilton, UTEP: A Pictorial History of the University of Texas at El Paso (Norfolk, Virginia: Donning Company and Texas Western Press, 1988). Clinton P. Hartmann, "Scenic Drive: A Road with a View," Password 32 (Fall 1987). W. H. Timmons, El Paso: A Borderlands History (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1990). Jack C. Vowell, Jr., Politics at El Paso, 1850–1920 (M.A. thesis, Texas Western College, 1952).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Clinton P. Hartmann, “Kelly, Charles Edgar,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 29, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.