Nevada Women in History
Sept. 6, 1826 – Oct. 27, 1903
Many Nevadans have childhood memories of picnicking and swimming at Bowers Mansion in Washoe Valley. We grew up hearing tales about the eccentric millionaire who built the mansion and then lost her money, her family and her home. We remember stories of her fortune telling days, and we were convinced that if you visited the mansion at night, you could find her floating through the halls searching for her lost daughter Persia. Unfortunately, time has altered the facts, and most of us never learned Eilley Bowers’ true story.
Born in Scotland on Sept. 6, 1826, Eilley married Stephen Hunter at 15 and immigrated to America in 1849. The Gold Rush may have been her destiny, but it was her husband’s religious beliefs that brought her to Utah. They separated soon after arriving. Within three years, Eilley married the man who brought her farther west. In 1856, Alexander Cowan purchased the ranch we know today as Bowers Park. After only a short stay, Alexander returned to Utah, and Eilley moved to a mining camp in Gold Canyon. Here she met Lemuel “Sandy” Bowers, and it was not long before a silver strike made her a millionaire. Sandy and Eilley joined their claims and their lives when they married Aug. 9, 1859.
The Bowers’ new fortune took Eilley back to Washoe Valley where she built her mansion. During construction, Eilley and Sandy spent 10 months exploring Europe. When they returned, they had with them an adopted baby girl named Persia. The Bowers family spent the next few years living a dream. But in 1868, the mine quit producing ore, and Sandy came to an untimely death. Eilley converted her mansion into a boardinghouse and made extra money telling fortunes. During the Big Bonanza, Bowers Mansion became the ultimate destination for picnics and parties.
Eilley lost Persia to appendicitis in 1874 and soon after, she lost her mansion due to financial difficulties. Several unfortunate events followed these tragedies and created the fictitious tales we heard as children.
Unfortunately, these myths do not reflect the woman who was Eilley Bowers. The next time you visit Bowers Mansion, remember the glory, the grandeur, and the true story of the young Scottish lass who became the Queen of the Comstock.
– Biographical sketch by Tammy Buzick
Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of March, the Nevada Appeal will feature biographies of Nevada women in celebration of Women’s History Month. The biographies are written by Nevada Women’s History Project members and are based on the project’s collection. For more information on the women featured here visit the NWHP Web site at: http://www.unr.edu/wrc/nwhp/.