Stories of the paupers who tried to strike it rich
For the Appeal
When the emigrants came west seeking their fortunes in the 1850s, the stories of riches or busts were well recorded.
There are volumes written about the people who struck it big in the gold fields of California and Nevada. Everyone who was raised in Nevada knows the name Mackey. The money Mr. Mackey made is still in action at the University of Nevada.
William Sharon, James Fair and a few more made a lot of money. But it wasn’t always like that, more than likely there were hundreds of men who didn’t make any money in the search for gold.
Let’s start with the Grosh Brothers, those hard luck brothers who were credited for finding the silver ledges up in Gold Canyon died before they could realize any wealth. They were both very young men when they met untimely deaths.
However, Henry Comstock took advantage of the boys’ claims and sold them, only the claims became the greatest find in Nevada. Henry died a pauper.
Henry Comstock had a friend named James “Ole’ Virginny” Finney. He graces our cemetery in Dayton. He looked for gold and the next drink. The latter got the best of him when he had a bit more of Johnny Barley-corn than he should and was thrown from his horse and died.
Virginia City was named for “Old Virginny.”
Some of those claims Henry Comstock sold were owned by Eilley and Sandy Bowers. They made a bundle on the claims they held and built a beautiful mansion in Washoe Valley. Eilley wanted to be part of Virginia City society, but the posh people just wouldn’t let her into their circle.
All those pretty frocks didn’t turn the “sow’s ear into a silk purse” according to the elite folks. Sandy died and Eilley had a hard time holding on to the mansion.
She too died a pauper.
There were a lot of these kind of stories about the miners who never made it big and probably would have been successful had they put their effort into a business.
Even the men who started the gold rush west, Mr. Marshall and Mr. Sutter, died broke and bankrupt.
I just guess that all that glitters is a big bunch of fluff for some – a bonanza for others.
The Dayton Museum is located on Shady Lane and Logan in Old Town Dayton. The web site is daytonnvhistory.org. Group tours are available. Call 246-5543, 246-8382 or 246-0441.
• Ruby McFarland has lived in Dayton since October 1987, she serves as a board member of the Dayton historical society and a docent at the museum.