Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Roady Kenehan (1856-1927)

From "The Pinnacled Glory of the West: Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepcion." 1912.

   With an unusual first name that conjures up images of a rodeo bronco buster or cowboy, Roady Kenehan rose from humble origins in Dublin, Ireland to become a blacksmith, later immigrating to the United States in the 1870s to seek his fortune. After decades of service as a blacksmith, labor leader and publisher, Kenehan became a prominent figure on the Colorado political stage during the early 20th century, serving terms as State Auditor and State Treasurer. 
   Roady Kenehan's intriguing life story begins in Rathdowney, Ireland, where he was born on May 1, 1856, a son of Thomas and Bridget Bacon Kenehan. His early education took place near the town of his birth and whilst still a child began to learn the art of blacksmithing and horseshoeing from his father, continuing in this line of work until his removal to the United States in 1873. Settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kenehan recommenced with horseshoeing and is also recorded as "receiving military training as a member of the Fencibles of Pennsylvania", a military regiment primarily made up of men of Irish extraction. 
    Kenehan removed from Pennsylvania to North Dakota in 1879, settling here for a short time. In the following year, he relocated to Denver, Colorado where he would reside for the remainder of his life, continuing to ply his trade as a blacksmith. Within a few years of his resettlement, Kenehan began a lengthy connection with the Journeyman's International Horseshoer's Union of the United States and Canada, eventually serving as its secretary-treasurer for a number of years. He also held the position of editor and manager of the International Horseshoer's Monthly Magazine. Kenehan married in Denver in 1883 to Ms. Julia Casey (1865-1949), with whom he would have six children, who are listed as follows in order of their birth: Thomas Bernard (1884-1933), Ella E. (1886-1919), Katherine (1888-1973), Grace M. (1894-1990), Roady Jr. (1899-1935) and Martin J. (1902-1933). 
   Throughout the next two decades the hardworking Irish immigrant continued shoeing horses in Denver, at the shop of one John Murphy, and during this time period was acknowledged by his fellow citizens as a prominent voice in labor circles in the city. An avowed Democrat, Kenehan had been active in the affairs of his party throughout the late 19th century, and his connections with Denver trade unions and labor groups later led him to be appointed as a member of the Colorado State Labor Board of Arbitration in 1897. Kenehan was later to serve as the President of the Denver County Board of Supervisors, this post being mentioned by the Silver Cliff Rustler as "being the most important office outside that of Mayor." 
  Kenehan was reappointed to the board of arbitration in 1899 and 1901, and in 1904 began his term on the Denver Board of Supervisors, subsequently serving until 1908. In that year he became the Democratic candidate for Colorado State Auditor, and newspapers throughout Colorado picked up on the nomination, many of which made note of Kenehan's unwavering honesty, work ethic and character. Among these articles was a write-up in the October 23, 1908 Ouray Plain Dealer, which highlighted not only Kenehan's prior involvement in the Horseshoer's Union but also his political activities. The Plain Dealer noted that:
"Personally, Mr Kenehan is a man who's yea, yea, and nay, nay on a subject on which he is interested makes him well liked by all who know him. There is no hypocrisy, no double-dealing in his make up. He would not flatter himself on political lore, nor would he depend upon flattery for his daily sustenance. He leads in all matters and all subjects that are under discussion. What more could the voters of Colorado want? It would be hard to understand. Roady Kenehan is honest; no graft can get his O.K." 
Hard at work, Roady Kenehan pictured in the Montreal Tribune, Sept. 1, 1910.

    Kenehan's election as state auditor proved to be a story that could have been written by Horatio Alger, a story of a young boy from a lower class background who, through hard work, fortitude and personal honesty made good in his endeavors. The Montreal Tribune edition of September 1, 1910 relates further facts on Kenehan's ascension to the post of state auditor, noting that he had been hard at work shoeing horses an hour before his inauguration, and "took off his leather apron, washed his hands and went up to the state house." 
   Described as a "heavy set man close to sixty, with a genial merry eye" Kenehan proved to be a bulldog when it came to curbing the misuse of state funds, and within a few days of becoming auditor had took steps to curb graft in the capital, finding that a "voucher for $165 from the state penitentiary for automobile tires" hadn't been properly used, and later found that no tires had been purchased at all. Upon further inspection, Kenehan later discovered that many state officials had undertaken "pleasant jaunts at the expense of the state" to various political conventions outside of Colorado, and, after locating an existing statute that would curtail these financial abuses, prevailed in his goal to end these "joy rides". The Montreal Tribune reported on Kenehan's watchful eye, and noted that many of these officials (including the state treasurer, game warden, and insurance commissioner) later "refunded the price to the state out of their own pocket." 
   Kenehan's term as auditor concluded early in 1911 and in November of that year was elected as Colorado State Treasurer, serving from 1911-12. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection as treasurer but was not out of the political spotlight for long, as he was later re-elected as state auditor in November 1912, defeating Republican candidate Charles Lackenby. 

                   From the Internation Horseshoer's Monthly Magazine, Vol. 3, February 1902.

    During his second stint as state auditor Kenehan continued as the "watchdog" of Colorado's treasury department. In June of 1913 a report was published in the Telluride Daily Journal that Kenehan had exposed a "$40,000 illegal expenditure" by public officials in Huerfano County. These rebates discovered by Kenehan and his assistant (James Jirvan) had been given to various mining companies, as well as the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co., and the Denver and Rio Grande and the Colorado and Southern Railroads. While still the incumbent auditor, Kenehan made another attempt at winning the post of state treasurer, but was unsuccessful, being defeated by Republican candidate Harry Mulnix in November 1914. 
   Roady Kenehan's second term as auditor concluded in early 1915 and two years later was sought out by then Secretary of War Newton Diehl Baker, who appointed him as a member of Colorado's district Draft Board #2, and also served as the board's president. In 1918 further honors were accorded to Kenehan when he was tapped to be the federal director of labor/employment for the state of Colorado, being named to this post by U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Wilson. Kenehan continued to be influential in Colorado politics until shortly before his death, and was recorded in the Prescott Evening Courier as having been in a state of impaired health since June of 1926. 
   Roady Kenehan died in Denver on January 5, 1927 at age 70 and was widely mourned throughout the state. Two weeks following his death, the Steamboat Springs Pilot offered up a picturesque obituary of the humble Irishman who had served Colorado so well as both auditor and treasurer, writing:
"Of all the men who have passed before the public gaze of political life the last 30 years in Colorado, Roady Kenehan, who died Wednesday, was the most unique. Illiterate, honest, big-hearted, stubborn, democratic, keen and bulldoggish, he combined them all and out of the combination God gave Colorado a MAN. No one who ever knew Roady ever forgot him. He was such an outstanding character that his image stayed put in the brains of those who had met him."
Roady Kenehan, from the International Horseshoer's Monthly, 1914.


  1. Roady Kenehan distinguished himself during the great 1913-1914 Colorado coal strike by refusing to approve expenses for the state militia, which was sent into the strike zone in support of the coal companies and the Rockefeller interests. The companies loaned the state the needed funds (at 4 percent interest),

  2. Thanks so much for posting this. I always wanted to know more about him and had no idea of all he'd accomplished. I only knew about his work with the horseshoers' union.

  3. He was my great, great grandfather. An interesting character, I say!
    Richard Ruth