Tuesday, January 27, 2015


In 1867 my great-grandmother, Nancy Corel Dobbins, wrote a letter to her nephew, a 25 year old man named William McGlothlin, and sent it to him in the gold fields near Virginia City, Montana.  In December of this year, that very letter was sent to me by a distant cousin, who didn't know who William was and thought maybe I did.

I'm going to let the documents I have tell the story.  I'm posting the original envelope that it came in because it is interesting and readable.  The rest of the story will be from transcribed documents.  Old letters and old newspaper articles are difficult to read.  And you'll want to read this:

This envelope was addressed to James S. Dobbins, Nancy's husband.  Here's what the letter inside said:

P. O  Virginia City
Montana Territory
Feb. 27th, 1867

Dr. Madam:

I take the liberty of addressing you and returning your letter to your nephew, the late William McGlothlin  To find the address, I was obliged to open the letter.  This I am sure you will excuse under the circumstances. 

Mr. McGlothlin was murdered on Sat. the 16th of Feb'y near this city.  His body was found on Sunday following, and been decently buried.  Every effort is being made to discover the murderers with a present prospect of success, when they will, in a very few hours, pay the forfeit of their own lives.

I can only add that his friends have the hearty sympathy of this entire community in their bereavement.

You can probably best break the sad intelligence to his mother from whom he had, only a short time before his death, received a letter which was found on him.

I am                 Very Respectfully yours,
                                      A. M. S. Carpenter

                                        Depty Post Master

                                                        * * * * * 

Searching the internet via Ancestry.com and professional genealogist I know who is also a Corel turned up these two newspaper articles.



The city was startled yesterday, about 1 p.m. by the information that a man was lying about three-fourths of a mile north of the now, shot through the head, and had been dead some time.  There was an immediate rush of people to the place, and, no doubt, many more would have gone, had it not been conjectured that the report was a "sell."  We joined the throng, and on reaching the place, found it to be true.  Dr. Yager, coroner, immediately empanelled the following named persons as jurors: N. J. Davis, foreman, and Messrrs Culver, Bartlett, Ousterhouser, Pfouts and Shannon.  After a preliminary examination of the deceased man, the body was conveyed to the city, and the jury adjourned to meet in the Probate court-room at half-past four in the afternoon, where the inquest was held in secret.  "The following are the particulars, as far as we are informed:  The deceased was named William McLothlin; was a laboring man, about twenty-five years of age, and unmarried.  He came here from Lawrence, Kansas, where his parents reside, during last autumn, and has since been employed as a common laborer.  In such occupation as he could find.  He, in company with another man, occupied a cabin on Jackson street near the upper end of town.  He was temperate in his habits and had no personal enmity with anyone.  On Thursday last his cabin was closed and no one knew anything of him until he was found today by Mr. McCloskey.  When found, he was lying on his face with a bullet hole in his head, the ball having entered through the back part and lodged in the brain.  The hat was still on his head, and, where the ball passed through, was powder-burned.  On examination of the body, a navy revolver with all the chambers loaded was found upon him.  In his pocket was $3.15 in currency which, it is supposed, is all the money he had.  His pockets had not been disturbed, nor was there any sign of a struggle in the snow.  He lay almost perfectly straight on the ground and had not moved from the position in which he fell.  The suggestion of a suicide is an impossibility.  There were two tracks in the snow to where he lay – but one away from it.  This also explodes the suggestion of him being murdered in the city, and conveyed there.  The entire affair is, as yet, shrouded in almost impenetrable mystery, and it is to be hoped that the coroner's jury will elicit information that may lead to the detection of whoever committed this brutal deed.  The jury is still in session at the present time.

                                                          * * * * *

MONTANA POST 2 March 1867

VERDICT – The Coroners Jury empanelled on the inquest of Wm. B. McLothlin, returned a verdict on Saturday that: "The deceased came to his death from the effects of a pistol shot, fired by some person or persons unknown to the jury."  After the rendering of the verdict, the jury were discharged by the Coroner.  We believe we are correct in saying, that after hearing all the evidence on the matter, the jury were fully justified in the decision they gave.  The numerous reports current about the implication of certain parties and no indubitable evidence of their guilt, could not be sustained when the witnesses were examined under oath.  The murderer of McLothlin is still alive but we hope not at liberty, as the villain, whoever he is, is an adept at murder.  His success in decoying the deceased to the out of the way place where he was killed, and in killing him before he had time to draw the loaded revolver in his suit?, shows that he is treacherous, crafty and had thoroughly planned the "deep damnation of his ____ off."  While a heartless villain remains in our midst, no man's life is safe, and it is nothing more than justice requires that some inducement should be offered to competent persons to ferret him out and bring him to justice.  This thing should not be forgotten until another and another is added to this list of victims, as it seems likely to be from the apathy that is shown in the matter.  Justice to the living and the dead alike requires action – and __ offering a premium to crime to abandon the attempt to discover the perpetrator.

                                                              * * * * *

I am not closely related to William; his mother and my great-grandmother were sisters so I am a distant cousin.  I knew what happened to his brother Henry, and I knew what happened to his brother Shadrick.  I did not know until yesterday what happened to poor William.  The oldest cemetery in Virginia city has many unmarked graves, and though the letter-writer said he was given a decent burial, I'd guess that did not include a headstone.  I've got a few good Corel researchers looking further with me to see if we can put a confident "finis" on his life.  

William did what so many young men of that day did - looked to make their fortune in the gold fields of the west.  James Dobbins himself, before he became Nancy's husband, went for Colorado gold in 1860 but came back home mostly empty handed.  Like William, Tim Madden, brother of my great-great grandmother Ellen Madden went to California from Boston in 1850 and never was seen again. No one knows what happened to Tim.  At least now, we know the story of the short life of William McGlothlin, son of David & Jemima Corel McGlothlin. 

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