One of the most
important mining discoveries in
the Comstock Lode was the first major silver discovery in the United
States and virtually ended the
California Gold Rush.
what would become one of the most important gold camps in the west – Virginia City,
on the eastern slope of Mt. Davidson, the mines would yield more than 500
million dollars of silver and gold ore during the first decades.
Gold was first
discovered in the area in the spring of 1850 by Mormon emigrants on their
way to the
California Gold Rush. After arriving far too early to
cross the Sierra Nevada range, they camped on the Carson River in the
vicinity of present-day Dayton, to wait for the snow to melt.
were waiting, some of the men began to prospect the area a discovered
gold in gold Canyon. Even though they found some gold, they crossed
the mountains were passable, sure they would discover larger finds at
the end of their route. Mining continued in the area, but a camp was
not established until the winter and spring of 1852–53, at which time
there were about 200 prospectors in the area. Though miners continued
to work their way upstream, the amount of gold found at the time
wouldn’t result in a huge rush for several years.
More ore deposits were discovered in the fall of 1857
by brothers, Ethan Allen and Hosea Ballou Grosh, sons of a
Pennsylvania minister and veterans of the
goldfields. However, before they could work or file the claim, both
would die tragically. Hosea Grosh ran a pick through his foot, which
eventually resulted in lockjaw (septicaemia) and he died on September
2, 1957. His brother, Allen, while traveling to Last Chance,
California in November, 1857, got caught in a snowstorm and
suffered severely from exposure. Though he was found before his death
and taken to Last Chance, his legs were completely frost bitten, and
refusing to have them amputated, he died on December 19, 1857.
Also working in the area was a man named Henry Tompkins
Paige Comstock, known familiarly as "Old Pancake.” He had befriended
the Grosh brothers, and though they had not shared the location of
their find with him, when Comstock heard of Allen’s death, in the
spring of 1858, he took possession of their cabin went in search of
He and several others laid claim to several sections of
the Comstock Lode in 1859. A miner named James Finney, better known as
"Old Virginny," discovered the Gold Hill outcropping; "Big French
John” Bishop, Aleck Henderson and Jack Yount, discovered a vein that
would later become part of the Comstock Lode, but not the main one.
These four men are often re-credited with the "rediscovery” of the
original Grosh brothers’ find.
In the spring of 1859, two miners named Peter O'Riley
and Patrick McLaughlin, began to work the area around the head of
Canyon. By June, they had hit "pay-dirt,” but when Henry Comstock
learned of the find, he claimed the men were working on land he had
already claimed for "grazing purposes". Unhappy
with his current claim on Gold Hill, Comstock threatened that he would
take the claim, but the miners finally agreed to give him an interest
in the gold find.
Comstock’s and the others’ claims started the "Rush to
Washoe,” and for the next two decades, it would be the dominating
Having few resources to develop these claims and unsure
of the size of the strikes, all of the original discoverers would soon
sell out, without ever making the huge fortunes that would come later
for men such as
William Chapman Ralston, William Sharon, Alvinza Hayward, and several
Henry Comstock left the area broke in 1862 and went to
Oregon, where he continued to prospect. From there, he traveled to
Montana, where, on September 27, 1870, he killed himself by putting a gun
to his head. Though Comstock died poor and obviously unhappy, the rich
lode that he had an early part of was named for him.