Monday, September 2, 2013

A Verdict in Accordance With the Facts

It was a recap in the Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel that helped me wrap up what became of young Timothy Kelly, son of John and Johanna Kelly of Fort Wayne. Republishing the original story—which I never could find, incidentally—that had appeared sometime the previous week, and using a bit of hasty editing to slap the follow-up onto the article’s conclusion, the Sentinel then co-opted the occasion to use their own platform to sermonize. Regardless, the fact remained—and I’ll get to the point—Timothy Kelly was fatally wounded by gunshot in broad daylight.

There was the run-down in a later Weekly Sentinel column called “The Mortuary Record” on February 2, 1876, that re-emphasized that outcome:
There were twenty-four deaths in Fort Wayne during the month of January, as follows: ...Timothy Kelly, 19 years, accidental shooting....
Admittedly, the age given in that report—nineteen instead of sixteen, as my records indicated—didn’t help me feel confident that the information I was finding was, indeed, a story about our Kelly family’s son. It certainly didn’t boost my speed in locating the rest of the information right away. But there were other entries that eventually helped me confirm that this scenario belonged in our family’s history.

A week after the tragic incident, as I mentioned, the Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel had reposted their original report, along with an update. Being that the incident had resulted in the loss of young Timothy Kelly’s life, due process required an investigation by the Allen County Coroner. The Sentinel included a report on the coroner’s jury’s verdict in its January 26, 1876, edition.
            Coroner Webb, Thursday afternoon, held an inquest upon the body of Timothy Kelly, the lad accidentally shot by young Gorstline on Wednesday evening. The jury consisted of William Garrney, Luke Levanway, August Kennedy, James Woulfe, Edward Driscoll, and George Murphy.
            It appears from the testimony that when Gorstline went into the Sixth Ward Fruit House with his bundle of Sentinels, he had a friendly scuffle with some of his young companions, one of whom snatched a paper from him. Gorstline produced a pistol, but one of the witnesses swears that it was not loaded, as he examined the barrel; there was another pistol in the crowd with which the killing was probably done. The evidence indicates that the shooting was purely accidental. The coroner's jury rendered a verdict in accordance with the facts.
While this may come as no surprise to those of you who already know my proclivity to doubt all newspaper reports, the variations between this excerpt and other reports gave me more cause for proceeding cautiously in assuming the report was correct in its entirety. We’ll talk about this further tomorrow.


  1. The account of the shooting is so garbled, I'm not sure I follow what (might) have happened. Fine line between "accident" and "someone's negligence."

    Who goes somewhere crowded and pulls out a pistol - just to examine it?????

    1. I have problems with how this account compares to the other one I've read. The two don't seem to match up. Granted, you are right, Iggy--who would do something so foolish? But keep in mind these were kids. At least Timothy was. He was only sixteen. I imagine his friends were roughly the same age. Talk about a dose of reality that "grew them up" fast.


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