A pair of 19th century optimists came west with high hopes to seek fortunes as gold rush ’49ers, stayed to mine silver but died years later after a third foray into the Great Basin of what now is Nevada.
Brothers E. Allen and Hosea Grosh lost their lives but left a treasure trove. It wasn’t in precious metal, though they found a bit. Instead, it amounted to some 80 letters to family back in Pennsylvania.
“These boys were just persistent optimists,” Ronald James, retired Nevada state historic preservation officer, explained during a Sierra Place lecture about a book based on those letters.
“The Gold Rush Letters of E. Allen Grosh and Hosea B. Grosh” is the book put together by James and his co-editor, Robert Stewart.
“What they have to say about life in the Great Basin is really fascinating,” James told an audience of about 30 on Monday at the Sierra Place assisted- and senior-living center on Carson City’s north side.
James, now the executive director of the Comstock Foundation of History and Culture, said the 24- and 22-year-old brothers left Redding, Pa., in 1849 and joined the horde of people eager to strike it rich in the California gold rush that had begun that year. After reaching San Francisco, however, they were laid up about a year from infirmities stemming from the trip.
They then went to the eastern California areas around Nevada City, where placer mining in rivers and streams was under way by thousands of gold-crazed people, according to James. But in 1853, 1856 and 1857, they crossed the Sierra Nevada into the western part of what was then western Utah Territory and is known as the Great Basin. They mined in the Silver City area just south of what is now the Storey-Lyon County line.
James said they sought silver, but a pickax wound and infection eventually led to Hosea’s death in 1857. Afterward, Allen returned to California but was caught in winter weather in the mountain range and, though he made it there, subsequently succumbed to complications from frostbite. A companion had his feet cut off to survive the frostbite, James said. Grosh didn’t, and despite a letter voicing hope, he later died.
The family kept all the letters, and such a large group written by literate young men during the gold rush period were fascinating to James.
“That’s a rare thing,” said James, “so they really are a treasure.”