The Life of David Corker
The story as it is known begins when, in the wee hours between November 1st and 2nd of 1886, David Corker was murdered in his bed by Richard E. “Gus” Marple. But David Corker’s life amounted to more than just his murder. So who, then, was David Corker?
According to the petition for his estate filed by his family in the King’s County New York Probate court, David I. Corker was born in Sligo, Ireland (Ireland101.com, n.d.), August 23, 1829. However, in 1831, at the age of two, he made the trip across the Atlantic with his family to begin a new life in Canada. David gave different accounts of his geographic birth. He told most people he was from Port Hope, Canada, and this city is engraved on his tombstone, however, sometime around 1849 he began to claim Albany, New York as his place of birth. Our best guess on this aspect of David was that he had no memories of Ireland and may have felt that he would have been persecuted (Warning: Rabbit Hole),(Google.com) had he claimed Ireland as his birthplace (Irish, n.d.) Being an American from New York or Canadian would have served him much better.
His family immigrated to Quebec, Canada in 1831 and later moved to Kingston, Canada in 1840 and then settled in Port Hope, Canada in 1843. In 1868 they emigrated to the United states, settling in New York City. David had left his family in Port Hope in 1847. That year, at 18 years old, David left Canada for Wisconsin, however, he did not remain in Wisconsin for very long. In 1848-1849, there was a mass exodus west from Wisconsin heading towards newly discovered gold in California (Republic, n.d.). The people who traveled west to California were what we today call the 49ers. Most took wagon trains in the Spring of 1848, but some hoped to get there sooner. They chose, instead, to take ships from either New York or New Orleans that traveled primarily to Panama. David was among those leaving Wisconsin to seek his fortune in California gold.
David interviewed in 1885 for the History of the Willamette Valley, edited by H.O. Long. In this very brief ,and rather vague, biography he claims to have visited “various points of interest.” He also tells us that he “landed” in San Francisco in November of 1849 (Long, 1885). He most likely took the Steamship “Georgia” out of new York (Steamship n.d.) to reach the Chagres River at the Panamanian coast in order to cross the Isthmus to the Pacific (Chagres, n.d.). According to his family, he was in Sacramento, CA in 1849, however, around 1850 he stopped corresponding with them until the Fall of 1853 when he returned home to Port Hope, Canada. He remained there until the Spring of 1854, when he purportedly returned to California. In 1856, David stopped communicating with his family altogether. We believe this may have been the beginning of his travels into South America. After 1856, his family never heard from him again (Probate, 1886 p.3).
In late November of 1886, Attorney and Executor of his estate J.L. Ferguson published a national notice to seek out his next of kin. This notice was seen by his brother-in-law, John Cooper, who was married to David’s sister Lucinda. It was not until 2022, when the descendants of his brothers and sisters were contacted by Crossroads and Tombstones, that the modern day family learned of his existence. For some reason, David Corker decided to cut ties with his family in 1856. There is no way to know why he made this decision (See Probate Documents p.3), David, we believe, was vague even with his family about his travels. We believe that he never told them of his adventures into into Central and South America. He was obviously quite secretive about his life (Probate 1886 p.2). (Reporter, November 6, 1886).
He was a highly intelligent man and according to long time friend, John W. Baker (Find a grave, n.d.) in the November 6, 1886 McMinnville Reporter, he had lived and worked his trade (most likely carpentry) in South America (Chile), and in Central America (Panama) where he worked surveying for (Reporter, Nov. 6, 1886) the railroad that would cross the Panamanian Isthmus to allow more settlers and Gold miners to reach the Pacific coast (Reporter, Nov. 6, 1886). We believe David may have left California in late 1849 or early 1850 to join the survey crews prior to the construction of the Panamanian railroad. The company who had been contracted (Panarial.com, n.d.) to survey for the railway did not use local labor, instead they imported workers, and in some cases trained them as engineers to survey for the railway (panarail.com). This would explain his lack of correspondence with his family between 1850 and 1853. As a surveyor, his job would have ended well before the rail was completed in 1855.
He may have been in California around 1860. There is a census record of a miner named David Corker. However, we cannot with any certainty show that this was the same David Corker. We also know according to his biography that he mined in Idaho, although no records of his being there haver been found. According to his biography, he first came to Oregon in 1863, and Census records place him in Lewis, Washington State in 1870 (US Census, 1870).
Davis was an inventor and by 1878 he was back in Oregon, living in Amity at a hotel or large boarding house. In December of that year, he filed a patent for a new kind of “Harrow.” A Harrow is the plow attachment with teeth that turns earth (See Patent Document). In the 1880 Amity, Oregon Census, he is listed as a carpenter from New York. Sometime between early 1881 and 1883 he moved to Lafayette and opened his hardware store. We begin seeing his ads for his store run in the local news in 1883. He was a carpenter and, ironically, fitted coffins and advertised his axes for sale (Reporter, Aug. 30, 1883) in the newspapers
We can surmise that based on his mining and surveying years, he had gained a significant understanding of geology and geography. He eventually wrote articles on the subject that were published in Scientific American, which is still in publication today. One of these articles was reprinted in the McMinnville Telephone Register on July 23, 1886. He also wrote articles for the Astoria Transcript (Reporter, Nov 12 1886), which unfortunately there are no archives prior to November 1886, and he was a member of the Amity Lodge , (Reporter, Nov. 12, 1886), a chapter of the Masonic Brotherhood, which also no longer exists (Telephone Nov. 12, 1886).
Mr. Corker was quite deaf according to news accounts and at least one witness who stated that it was difficult talking with him due to his deafness. He also seems to have been of a rather sour disposition that may have been regarded with some humor by the people who knew him. In a small gossip style article recorded in the Yamhill Reporter from December 13, 1883, he had gone into the newspaper office looking as though something was wrong. The article, with some sarcasm, claims that he was cheerful. When asked what was the matter, he claimed that he *”made a mash” and was getting married as soon as he could afford a suit and a license. We suspect that Mr. Corker may have been being facetiously sarcastic in tune with the newspaper’s humor. But because this seems to be sort of an inside joke, it is difficult to get the jest behind it. In subsequent years and news gossip accounts, there is no other mentions of Mr. Corker getting married or having any romantic involvements. This is why we believe this was an inside joke rather than a serious telling. The last sentence in the blurb may tell the tale: “Nothing like it D.I.”.
*Note: in 19th century slang, to “Make a Mash” means to flirt with or make a favorable romantic impression. It can also mean a letter or note of infatuation written to a sweetheart, or an anonymous correspondence sent to a stranger (Wordreference.com Forums).
After Mr. Corker’s death, his friend Mr. Baker purchased the Carpenter’s chest (Reporter Dec. 22, 1886) that had been in Mr. Corker’s room the night of the murder It was purported that the murderer stepped down onto the chest once he climbed over the partition to reach Mr. Corker’s bedroom. J.L. Ferguson, the executor of Mr. Corker’s estate, also purchased much of the goods left behind by Mr. Corker. Oddly, in late April 1888, someone broke into Mr. Corker’s former store, using the same window as the murderer, Gus Marple. Some of his personal items were still being kept in the backroom of the building. The thieves made away with Mr. Corker’s revolver and a dictionary (Register, April 27, 1888).
His business was successful in Lafayette. Beginning in 1883, he advertised his wares (Yamhill, Nov. 8, 1883) continually in the McMinnville newspapers. However, by 1886, only a months before his murder, he had decided to sell his store (Reporter, Sept. 17,1886). It was advertised in the news (Reporter Nov. 3, 1886) that he was liquidating his stock for cash (Register Sept 28 1886). Around this same time, he sold a lot he owned in Amity, (Register, Sept. 18, 1886) Oregon for $200.00. There is no known record of Mr. Corker’s intentions after selling his store. During this period in history, it was not uncommon to publish details of property or items sold or being sold. In the case of Mr. Corker, these advertisements may have been an accidental invitation for robbery and murder.
David Corker’s life was in so many ways, amazing. At 18 years of age he set out to find his place in the world. Like many early pioneers, David went where he could start a new life and perhaps even seek out a fortune. There are no records of his childhood or his education. We do not believe he attended any college or university, rather, he learned his trade and developed skills as he travelled throughout North, South, and Central America. He most likely spoke Spanish as well as English. One of the most amazing aspects of David’s life is that he was a part of several historic events. He was a 49er, one of the first wave of gold seekers to travel through the Isthmus of Panama. At that time travelling the Isthmus was an awful trek. Disease, deadly humidity, bandits, and dense jungle were just a few of the obstacles that were encountered on the Isthmus trail during that period. He worked to survey the trail for the Panamanian railway, which is still in existence today. He had a scholarly knowledge of geography and geology which he most likely learned while mining gold in California and the Pacific Northwest, and used that knowledge to write articles that were published in nationally well-known magazines. Some time between 1855 and 1856 he became a member of the Masonic Brotherhood, only 10 years after the first Masonic Lodge was founded in Oregon city (History of Freemasonry, ND). By the time he settled in Oregon in 1878, he had been a Mason for over 30 years of his life.
Below are the Probate petition documents filed by David Corker’s Family in the Kings County, New York, Attorney’s office seeking to claim the estate of David Irwin Corker.
2. P. One (Background and History)
3. P. Two (background and History cont. Names of Siblings)
6. P. Five (Claim to be sole Heirs)
7. P. Six (Statements of John Cooper and Lucinda Corker Cooper)
McMinnville Telephone Register
D.I. Corker. (July 23, 1886). Reprint of Scientific American Article. McMinnville Telephone Register. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu
McMinnville Daily Reporter
Corker to sell store. (September 17, 1886). McMinnville Daily Reporter. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu
Corker Sold Property in Amity (September 18, 1886) McMinnville Telephone Register. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu
McMinnville Daily Reporter September 28, 1886
Murder of David Corker. Was selling stock. (November 3, 1886) McMinnville Daily Reporter. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu
McMinnville Daily Reporter, November 6, 1886
John W. Baker Tribute (November 6, 1886). McMinnville Daily Reporter. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu
Snyder News Tribute to Corker. (November 12, 1886). McMinnville Daily Reporter. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu
McMinnville Daily Reporter, December 22, 1886
Yamhill County Reporter
Corker ad for axes. (August 20, 1883). Yamhill County Reporter. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu
Yamhill Reporter, November 8, 1883
Corker to wed. (December 13, 1883). Yamhill County Reporter. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu
Ancestry.com.(n.d.) Oregon, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1849-1963 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Chagres River (n.d.) Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chagres_River
Familysearch.org. (n.d.). D.I. Corker. Name Search 1847-1886. [database online]. Provo, UT, USA.
Fity-Roy, Robert. (1850). “Considerations on the Great Isthmus of Central America.” The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, vol. 20, pp. 161–89. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1798029.
Grafstrom, K. (2015, March,17). A History of Freemasonry on the West Coast 1846-2015. http://verity59.org.
History of the Willamette Valley (1885). Edited by Lang, H. O. [database on-line]. Hathitrust.org. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t9960qk2d
Ireland101.com (n.d.) Sligo, Ireland. Retrieved from: http://ireland101.com
Library of Congress. gov (n.d.). Religious Conflict and Discrimination. [data base on-line] https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/immigration/irish/religious-conflict-and-discrimination/
Panarail.com (n.d.). History of the Panamanian Railway. http://panarail.com
The Shiplist.com (n.d.) Steamship Georgia, Ship List. Retrieved from: https://www.theshipslist.com/ships/descriptions/panamafleet.shtml
University of Oregon, K. L. (n.d.). University of Oregon Libraries. Historic Oregon Newspapers. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/.
Wordreference OLD. (n.d.). Mash. In Wordreference Dictionary. Definition of Mash: Middle English, Uncertain Etymology. https://www.wordreference.com/definition/mash.
Young American Republic (n.d.), Life as a 49er. Michigan State University Exhibits. Retrieved from: http://projects.leadr.msu.edu/youngamerica/exhibits/show/the-california-gold-rush-/mining-for-gold
Source Citation for Probate Documents:
Author: Oregon. County Court (Yamhill County); Probate Place: Yamhill, Oregon
Ancestry.com. Oregon, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1849-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Oregon County, District and Probate Courts.
Source Citation for Patent:
Ancestry.com. U.S., Patent and Trademark Office Patents, 1790-1909 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
Original data: United States Patent and Trademark Office. USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database. < http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-bool.html > accessed January 2021.
Library of Congress
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Isthmus of Panama”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 Mar. 2019
Kemble, John Haskell. “The Gold Rush by Panama, 1848-1851.” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 18, no. 1, University of California Press, 1949, pp. 45–56,