Founded 24 January 1895
Meeting Number 1734
October 19, 2006
" Elias J. Baldwin “By gad I’m not licked yet "
Edgar F. Losee
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
ELIAS JACKSON “LUCKY” BALDWIN
Elias Jackson Baldwin was born in Hamilton County, Ohio, in 1828, the fourth child of fourteen. The family moved to a farm in Indiana in 1834. Elias grew up on the farm helping his father. At an early age he acquired a love and knowledge of the land that would serve him well in later years.
With little formal education, the strong-willed Elias, at age 18, and a neighbor girl named Sarah Ann Unruh eloped and returned home to farming and the training of horses. As time passed, they looked for more prosperous opportunities in making a living. With this goal in mind, they moved to Valparaiso, Indiana, and opened a saloon and grocery store. They soon expanded their business to include grain trading and a venture with canal boats. It was in Valparaiso that their first daughter, Clara, was born.
Always looking for greener pastures, Elias with his wife and young daughter began a wagon train journey to the West in 1853. Unlike the majority rushing across the continent to make their fortunes in the gold fields, Elias envisioned a future in selling food, supplies, horses and accommodations. He used the money from the sale of the Valparaiso business to purchase items of interest to miners, such as brandy, tea, coffee and tobacco.
After joining a large wagon train in Council Bluffs, the Baldwins set out on a five month journey to California. At one point as he scouted on his own, Elias became lost and almost starved to death before friendly Indians returned him safely to the wagon train. The party had another close call just outside of Salt Lake City, when a band of Indians attacked them. They all barely escaped with their lives.
Upon reaching Salt Lake, Elias claimed a substantial profit on the tea, tobacco, and brandy he had loaded for trading. He reinvested part of those earnings in buying horses that he later sold at a big profit upon reaching Sacramento, California.
Elias and Sarah had more than doubled their capital while crossing the country. When they arrived in San Francisco, they used most of their earnings to buy a small hotel. In the next few years E.J. dabbled profitably in a variety of businesses and real estate deals. One successful venture was the brick business. He entered into a partnership knowing little about bricks, but being a quick learner he soon had his own business with a government contract to supply bricks to Alcatraz.
Another of his investments was in the silver market. In 1860 silver had been discovered in Nevada. He was very cautious about investing in the treacherous silver market of the Comstock Lode in Nevada. Elias Baldwin was becoming an example of an entrepreneur – and a successful one at that!
Unfortunately, his success in business did not carry over into his family life. Elias and Sarah had lost two infants, and in 1862, the Baldwins got a divorce. Shortly after the divorce, Baldwin left San Francisco for Virginia City, lured by the seductive wealth of the Comstock.
At this point in his life, Elias’ entrepreneurship gained him entry into the historical scene as a mover and shaper in the development of the early West and later Southern California in particular. In his life he would rub shoulders as a peer with a number of characters who played the starring roles in western development, characters whose names are familiar to those of us today who have lived in this area of our country.
It was during his association with those who were part of the famed Comstock Lode that he gained the name of “Lucky”. By a quirk of fate, this business association provided him with a sound financial future. Like a large jigsaw puzzle, the historical events involving silver, horseracing, railroads, agriculture, land investments and people that made them happen began to fall into place, forming and influencing Baldwin’s thinking, his actions and his life.
The big break that helped Elias build his fortune, and gave him the name ”Lucky” came in 1867, four years after the first fire that swept Virginia City. With some of the profits from the sale of silver stocks, Elias decided to take a world tour. Before departing he left instructions with his broker to sell his Norcross stocks in the Comstock Lode, if they fell below $800 a foot. (Veins of gold and silver were often sold by the foot.) The stocks did fall in his absence. However the broker was unable to sell, because the stock certificates were locked in a safe. Elias had forgotten to leave the key! While he was gone, the stock rebounded spectacularly making Baldwin a millionaire and with the nickname “Lucky.” Throughout his life, Lucky disliked the “lucky” reputation and insisted his money-making ability was the result of his persistence and his shrewd investments based on research. No doubt much of what he claimed was true.
With his new-found wealth, estimated to be in excess of five million dollars, Elias branched out with his investments. In 1873 he began planning to build a magnificent hotel that would rival the finest hotels in the world. The hotel was to be built in San Francisco, on the corner of Powell and Market Streets. The name of the hotel –what else? – The Baldwin. Construction was started in 1873, but due to the temporary failure of the Bank of California, the hotel did not open until 1877. Built at a cost of $3,000,000, the hotel was famous until destroyed by fire in 1898.
Baldwin enjoyed the hotel business so much that in 1880 he purchased a forty-one room hotel and some eighteen acres of timberland fronting on Lake Tahoe. A year later he leased the land to Melville Lawrence and George Comstock. (1) The three men formed a solid working relationship and methodically developed the potential of the property. The hotel was named Baldwin’s Hotel Tallac. Changing times demanded renovation by 1898. Elias borrowed $30,000 to enlarge the hotel and build a casino. The palatial hotel became known simply as The Tallac.
Before leaving the subject of hotels, Baldwin built another hotel, the Oakwood Hotel, in the village of Arcadia. It was located on or near Santa Anita Ave., then known as Double Drive; a long, eucalyptus-lined street with a bridal path acting as the divider. He built the Oakwood to assist his promotion of real estate, making it a mecca for coaching parties coming out from Los Angeles.
Also in 1873, taking the advice of an old prospector who told him about finding gold in Bear Valley, located in the San Bernardino Mountains, E.J. traveled south to see some promising gold property there. In 1874 the Gold Mountain Mining Company was formed with Baldwin as the chief owner.
Elias started the Gold Mountain venture with his customary enthusiasm. He purchased six thousand acres of property and had a large stamp mill built for crushing ore. This mining venture was not successful due to the low grade of the gold ore and the Gold Mountain mill closed down in 1875.
(1) Scott, Edward B., pg. 152
E.J.’s lost hopes for a profitable investment in Bear Valley were raised when he turned to the eastern end of Los Angeles County; specifically the San Gabriel Valley. On a visit to this area, he was taken by the beauty of the countryside and the rich soil. He became convinced the land would be a gold mine for agriculture. With the sale of his Ophir mine in the Comstock district, coupled with his interest in acquiring property, Elias decided he was especially interested in the Rancho Anita in the San Gabriel Valley.
In March of 1875, Lucky Baldwin bought the eight thousand acre rancho from Harris Newmark’s company, an early investor in Los Angeles County, for two hundred thousand dollars. In Newmark’s book, Sixty Years in Southern California, he recalls the sale. “The sale of the Santa Anita is not without an incident or two, perhaps of exceptional interest. On Lucky Baldwin’s first visit, he offered us one hundred fifty thousand dollars for the property; but learning that we wanted two hundred thousand dollars, he went off in a huff. Then Rubin Lloyd, the famous San Francisco attorney who accompanied him, said on reaching the sidewalk, ‘Lucky, go back and buy that ranch or they will raise the price on you!’
Baldwin returned to our office and said ‘I’ll take the ranch for two hundred thousand.” With that he opened a tin box and counted out two hundred thousand in currency and asked for a receipt.’ ” (2)
Following the purchase of the Santa Anita Rancho, Lucky set forth to make the ranch one of the showpieces of Southern California. For the next sixteen years, a good percent of his time and money was expended on the ranch . Being the sharp operator he was, Baldwin realized the importance of water rights. With the purchase agreement of the Rancho came the rights to all of the water from Santa Anita canyon. He also purchased the rights of the water from Monrovia canyon and immediately began construction of an irrigation system to support his real estate buy. The water system included ditches, pipelines, wells, and reservoirs.
Whenever questioned about what was raised on the ranch, Baldwin’s stock answer was, “Everything in the world but the mortgage.” (3)
(2) Newmark, pg. 238
(3) Glasscock, C.B., pg. 241
In addition to five hundred acres of orange trees, he planted many other types of fruit trees. There were orchards of lemons, peaches, pears, apricots, figs, and olive trees. There were wheat, hay, and grain fields. What was not used on the ranch was sold at Baldwin’s ranch store. The store enjoyed a steady business with the surrounding neighbors and, of course, the ranch employees which numbered approximately two hundred.
Elias kept large herds of cattle, sheep and hogs on the outlying ranches. His poultry farm served both the ranch and the store with eggs and chickens. And we must not forget his winery. On the seven hundred acre vineyard, the ranch annually produced over one hundred thousand gallons of wine, several sherries and brandy. In the Baldwin winery they did all of the coopering and bottling. The trademark for the Santa Anita Vineyard was a Maltese Cross with the initials EJB.
In the same year Elias acquired the Santa Anita Rancho, he bought the adjoining San Francisquito Rancho of 5,929 acres for $60,000. With property values so low, Baldwin had invested over three million dollars in real estate.
Due to the fallout from the Bank of California panic in 1875, the recessional frenzy extended throughout the state causing every bank to close its doors. This included the Temple and Workman Bank where Baldwin’s deposits were held. In a frantic search for funds, Mr. Temple approached Elias Baldwin for a loan. At this time Baldwin had money deposited in other banks as well and was reputed to be one of the wealthiest men on the Pacific Coast. Elias agreed to tender a loan with the security of a blanket mortgage conveyed to Baldwin for the following lands:
- eight acres located southeast of the city of Los Angeles
- Rancho Potrero Grande (4431 acres)
- a portion of Rancho La Puente
- Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo (2042 acres)
- Rancho La Merced (2363 acres)
- the unsold portion of the Temple and Workman land parcel known as Block One in Los Angeles
- 240 feet on Spring Street in Los Angeles
- the Temple Block in Los Angeles (4)
(4) Snyder, pp. 8-11
Today the communities of Arcadia, most of Baldwin Park and El Monte, City of Industry, Monrovia, Sierra Madre, West Covina, La Puente, and much of San Gabriel occupy the former Baldwin properties.
Mr. Temple’s borrowed money was soon gone, so Baldwin loaned the bank an additional $30,000. His efforts to save the bank were to no avail. In January 1876, the Temple and Workman Bank crashed.
A year later Baldwin made a claim for the promissory notes, and the court ordered the mortgaged land to be sold at public auction. As the holder of the mortgage, Elias was entitled to the first payment of the property proceeds. At auction in 1879, Baldwin entered sufficient cash to pay the Temple-Workman indebtedness. Within five years of making his first southland purchase, Lucky Baldwin now owned seven ranches with a combined, estimated 56,000 acres. He had spent most of his Comstock fortune on the real estate and in building the Baldwin Hotel in San Francisco.
Lucky had divorced his second wife (Mary Cochrane) in 1876 and three years later had married twenty-one year-old Virginia (Jennie) Dexter. That same year a daughter, Anita, was born to the couple. Elias adored Jennie, but unfortunately they only had a brief time together. Jennie was a fragile woman and passed away in 1881. Her death was not the only blow E.J. suffered that year. A poor investment in stock cost him almost a million dollars necessitating a loan negotiation for which The Baldwin Hotel in San Francisco and the Santa Anita Rancho were mortgaged. It was reported that Lucky’s comment was “By gad I’m not licked yet,” an oft repeated phrase he used in his life during dire circumstances - even just before his death!
It was about this time that Hiram Unruh entered into Baldwin’s life. He was the nephew of Sarah Ann Unruh, Lucky’s first wife. Hiram was hired to stabilize E.J’s financial affairs. As it turned out, Unruh served as Lucky’s business agent for the remainder of his life and is credited for much of Baldwin’s later financial success. Much later, Mr. Unruh also oversaw the settlement of the Baldwin estate after Lucky’s death.
While Lucky was extremely proud of the beauty of the ranch and its productivity, his main interest, other than in women, was in horse breeding. In 1879 he purchased several brood mares and pioneered breeding, raising and racing thoroughbred horses. He managed his stables as a business and was very successful.
Two Pullman horse-cars transported Baldwin’s horses to the eastern racing circuits. By 1885 the Baldwin stables were represented at all of the major race tracks. Over the next nine years, his horses set owner’s records that were never surpassed, including four American Derby winners. During this time the American Derby was more prestigious than the Kentucky Derby.
At this same time that Baldwin was having such success with his horses, he married for a fourth time. In 1883 he married sixteen-year-old Lillie Bennett.
For the first year of the marriage all appeared to be well with the couple. But there was trouble brewing. Elias was a philandering husband causing Lillie to make a decision. Rather than divorce him, she chose to have a magnificent home in San Francisco. Her husband continued to support her for the remainder of his lifetime. In turn, Lillie always welcomed him when he came to visit.
In addition to the four wives, Elias had a notorious love-life. Baldwin apparently could not resist the charms of a beautiful woman with a trim figure and alluring eyes. It was known by all that he openly defied social conventions. He went to court three times for his seductions. Two lawsuits were settled out of court. He won the other, but it cost him several thousand dollars in legal fees. In this third and last trial in 1890, Lillian Ashley accused Baldwin of seducing her and fathering her child. During the courtroom proceedings, Lillian’s sister crept up behind Elias, pulled out a heavy revolver and fired the gun just a few inches from Baldwin’s head. Fortunately for Lucky, the sister’s hand jerked just as she fired, and the bullet buried itself in the courtroom wall.
Though Baldwin owned millions of dollars worth of property, he was cash- poor most of his life. In the 1880’s, as people from the east began arriving by the trainload, lured by stories of what the west could offer to make their dreams come true, Baldwin started to sell some of his prize real estate. His first big sale was to Nathan Carter, a pioneer land developer. In 1881 Carter purchased 845 acres in what was known as the Sierra Madre tract. Nathan quickly divided his purchase into small tracts, and in a short time families began to settle in Sierra Madre.
A second Baldwin property east of Sierra Madre was opened for sale the following year. Carter acted as Baldwin’s agent and advertised not only the natural beauty of the property but its fertility as well. But it was reported that Baldwin would say that it wasn’t the land they were selling but the climate. In this second tract, the first sale was to a railroad builder named William Monroe. A year later in 1885, Monroe was so pleased by his purchase that he added another ninety acres and convinced his brother to buy ninety acres as well.
A small boomtown named Monrovia came into being and was very successful. Three other men purchased 363 acres adjoining the small town and joined William Monroe in laying out a sixty acre tract in 1886. Monrovia grew rapidly and was incorporated as a city in 1887; a year before Redlands was incorporated. With the sale of several pieces of prized property to the Monroe brothers, Baldwin had made it possible for the Monrovia, California, of today to come into existence.
In 1886, Baldwin executed a contract with the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Railroad Company to extend their lines across his ranch and the Santa Anita tract lands. The contract conveyed a right-of-way and deeds to property for two depots, one on the ranch and one near a small boomtown called “ Baldwin.” However, the small town of Baldwin was overshadowed by the larger town of Monrovia and was withdrawn from the market as a real estate listing. Baldwin was so disappointed at the failure of his namesake town site that he directed Hiram Unruh to take over the real estate activity. Hiram swung into action and immediately withdrew the advertisement for the Baldwin town site . Instead he began a new campaign for a tract located west of Monrovia. This early tract had no name on the advertising of the planned development, but it would eventually become the site of Arcadia in 1887.
As the 1880’s came to a close, Elias and Unruh had sections of the Felipe Lugo ranch subdivided. These lands were part of the future Arcadia and to the west. The improved acreage was put on the market for $200 per acre or offered, unimproved, at just $150 per acre.
The land boom came to an end with the depression of the 1890’s. Some of the property Baldwin had sold began coming back into his hands; the buyers were unable to meet their payments. Portions of his land, buybacks, which had been offered for sale to him were rented. Elias found himself farming parts of his outlying acreage, and more land was provided for grazing his cattle and sheep. The management of Rancho La Cieniga, another sheep pasture, was taken over by E.J.’s cousin, Charles Baldwin. Charles developed the site into one of the top dairy ranches in the state.
The national depression exacerbated Baldwin’s land-rich/cash-poor difficulty, yet he continued to start new projects. With the exception of his Santa Anita acreage, all of Baldwin’s properties were tendered as security on a blanket mortgage. He would take out a big mortgage, so he would have money for improvement. With this philosophy, he was always in debt.
He bought six thousand acres near the Gold Mountain Mine he had once owned, with the thought of building a large summer hotel. Remembering his early years in crossing the United States through Salt Lake City, he thought again of his admiration for the way the Mormons had successfully developed the science of irrigation making the area richly productive. He replaced his hotel idea with a scheme to take the waters from Van Dusen Canyon and Baldwin Lake, located northeast of Big Bear Lake, by means of a tunnel to the other side of the mountain for the purpose of irrigating the Mojave Desert below.
To initiate this water project, Elias planned to incorporate his own Bear Lake and Water Company in order to contest the rights of the Bear Valley Company to the mutually claimed Van Dusen waters. Bear Valley’s claim took precedence over Baldwin’s claim ending his irrigation scheme. Before the turn of the century, Elias disposed of the mine and stamp mill, and most of the Bear Valley Acreage.
The final blow of the eighties, for Lucky Baldwin, was the loss of the Baldwin Hotel. The fabulous San Francisco showplace, his three million dollar showplace, caught fire and burned to the ground. His fortunes really did dwindle during the 1890’s, but his spirit never faltered, nor did it dampen his enthusiasm.
In the summer of 1900 at the age of seventy-two, Elias set out for Alaska hoping to amass another fortune. As with his move to the west coast decades earlier, in going to Alaska E.J. had no illusions about mining. This was a business venture. He took with him gambling equipment, two ready-cut frame houses, supplies, and equipment for a saloon. Upon his arrival in Nome, Baldwin had trouble buying a good site for his building close to the business center. Nor was he able to buy any worthwhile mine prospects. The fact was he was just too late. Though the gold rush wasn’t waning, it was the combination of circumstances that prevented him from establishing a successful bar and gambling house in Nome: the unavailability of a good site for a saloon, poor mine prospects, and failing health.
Elias became so sick that he decided it best that he return to his home in California. He did not return alone. He was accompanied by a young woman, rumored to be an adventuress. But in fact, she was his nurse. By the time he reached Seattle, he was so ill that he had to be removed from the boat. From there he was taken by train back to his Southern California ranch to recuperate.
In the meantime, all of his property, liquor and gambling equipment in Alaska were confiscated by crooked officials on a phony charge of tax evasion. Fortunately, David Unruh, son of his long time advisor, H.A. Unruh, had accompanied Lucky to Alaska and acted in his behalf. Since the marshal had no legal power to help him, he turned to the part owner of a liquor and gambling establishment known as the “Second Class Saloon.” That man happened to be the western legend, Wyatt Earp. With Earp’s help David was able to get the property released and sell it making a profit.
When Lucky returned to the ranch, he recovered rapidly and set out with his usual enthusiasm to revolutionize ranch activities. His goal was to make his vast farm a paying property. Though his resources and reputation were in a sad state due to his unfortunate financial ventures, his energy and courage were unlimited. By 1901 at age seventy-three, Lucky Baldwin made the Santa Anita ranch his permanent home and continued living as actively as ever.
In the new century the economy was improving, and land began to regain its potential as a salable commodity. Since cash was a constant problem in the Baldwin empire, and land values were improving, E.J. started new subdivisions in expectation of the price increases.
In the next year of 1903, Henry Huntington began the expansion of the Pacific Electric rail line through Arcadia to Monrovia. Lucky realized the value of this expansion to his town site. To enhance his Arcadia property, he filed a petition for the incorporation of his town site into a municipality. Though there was considerable objection to his petition, the Board of Supervisors approved Baldwin’s petition and authorized an incorporation election. All votes cast were in favor of city-hood, and Elias J. Baldwin was elected the first mayor of Arcadia.
In this same year elsewhere in Southern California, the first race meeting devoted entirely to horse racing was held. Racing proved so popular that in 1903 backers opened Ascot Park in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles. After three years of racing, the park was closed, because the area was annexed by the city of Los Angeles in which racing was prohibited.
After Ascot Park was closed, wealthy backers set out to find a location for a new race track. Lucky made the job easy for them. The newly organized Los Angeles Racing Association purchased one hundred fifty-one acres in Arcadia from Baldwin at $1000 an acre. The Association immediately began construction of a first class race course. The sale price was paid to Elias in one thousand shares of stock, thus making him the largest stockholder. Santa Anita opened for racing in December of 1907.
Baldwin continued to carve huge sections of his property into different subdivisions between 1903 and 1907. With the construction of the Pacific Electric right-of-way just south of an old settlement known as Vineland (southeast of Arcadia), the Vineland local merchants approached Lucky Baldwin requesting the use of his name for their community. E.J. agreed and the town site of Vineland was renamed Baldwin Park.
In the next few years, Lucky Baldwin aggressively pursued new opportunities right up until his death. In fact, just a little over a month before his death, he executed a Trust Deed to a bank in San Francisco for most of his land, to secure a loan for just over one million dollars. The cash infusion allowed Baldwin and Unruh to satisfy some creditors and meet mortgage payments
Time was running out in the life of Elias J. Baldwin. In February 1909, he contracted the flu which rapidly developed into pneumonia. In March of that year, with his family at his side, eighty-one year old Elias J. Baldwin died at his beloved Santa Anita Ranch. His body was entombed at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in San Francisco.
Prior to his death, Elias had worked with his personal counsel, Bradner W. Lee, to draw up a will that would be impervious to attack. Regardless of his precaution, it would be four years of litigation before the final settlement of his will.
Hiram Unruh, Baldwin’s executor, was not only able to sell selected properties to satisfy creditors and make mortgage payments during the settlement, he oversaw a transformation of the farm land into profitable subdivisions. Thanks to Hiram Unruh, when the final settlement decree was issued in 1913, the appraised valuation was twice the valuation of 1909, when Baldwin had died! All cash, property, and rents valued at twenty million dollars were turned over to his heirs. The majority of the real estate was divided equally between two daughters, Clara and Anita. His widow, Mrs. Lily Baldwin, who resided in San Francisco, received approximately five hundred thousand dollars. Minor bequests went to Unruh, Bradner Lee, and other friends.
Ironically, Baldwin’s luck survived his death. A few years later, oil was discovered on sheep pastures that Elias had owned for more than thirty years. Once considered worthless land, the Montebello Oil Fields were one of the richest oil discoveries in California.
There is no question that Lucky Baldwin’s life is an amazing account of one of California ’s outstanding pioneers and land developers. He was indeed an entrepreneur. His beloved Santa Anita rancho was a showplace and a tourist attraction during the 1890’s.
The luxurious Baldwin Hotel in San Francisco, Lake Tahoe’s Tallac Resort- Hotel, and the Oakwood Hotel in Arcadia were all popular and profitable.
His racing stable set records that have not been equaled. He managed his horses as a business enterprise and his lifelong love of horses rewarded hi generously.
Lucky Baldwin had a passion for the land with visions for development that were creative. He showed the way in early agricultural development and in shrewd real-estate development.
He was a rugged individualist, too busy to be concerned with social aspirations. Indifferent to public opinion, he was defiant of social conventions. What a man he was! Not one I think I would have enjoyed being with, but one with a fascinating life. His life had a far bigger part in the development of Southern California than I could ever have imagined.
Glasscock, C.B. Lucky Baldwin: The Story of an Unconventional Success. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1933.
Newmark, Maurice and Marco eds. Sixty Years in Southern California, 1853-1913. Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin, 1930.
Scott, Edward. The Saga of Lake Tahoe. Sierra-Tahoe Publishing Co. 1957.
Silverberg, Robert. Ghost Towns of the American West. New York:
Ballantine Books, 1968.
Snider, Sandra Lee. Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin. Los Angeles: The
Stairwell Group, 1987.
Carew, Seth. History of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley: Clark
Grenier, Judson. A Guide to Historic Places in L.A. County: Kendall/Hunt
McWilliams, Cary. Southern California: An Island on the Land: Pergune Smith, 1946.
Robinson, W.W. Ranchos Become Cities, Pasadena: San Pasqual Press, 1939.
Over the years of 1862-1874, placer gold from the Mother Lode on the southwest slopes of the Sierra Nevada Range was becoming harder to find. Hopeful prospectors began to explore other territory. Among them were two brothers, Allen and Hosea Grosch. In 1856 The Grosch boys found “silver dirt,” blue ore, in Washoe County, Nevada. They knew the value of their find but decided to keep its where-about a secret. A year later Hosea cut his foot and died of blood poisoning. Shortly after his death, his brother was caught in a blizzard and perished. The secret of their mine’s location would have died with them had it not been for Henry P. Comstock.
Henry had been watching the secretive activities of the brothers. Although he did not know the exact location of the mine, he knew it was in the vicinity of Six Mile Canyon. Since he failed to find the mine, he posted claims all over the area. Meanwhile, two Irish prospectors named O’Reilly and McLaughlin actually found the Grosch brothers’ rich deposit of silver ore. When Comstock realized the Irishmen had uncovered the lost mine, he informed them he owned the land and water they were using at the site. Without argument they agreed to cut Comstock in on the claim.
Following the assayer’s report, the assayer himself, Melville Atwood, and two California friends named James Walsh and George Hearst decided to get in on the bonanza. Greatly excited about the report, the trio bought out the Irish boys. Hearst paid them $3500 for their claim – not a bad price for a mine that would eventually yield millions! The mines made Hearst a millionaire and one of the most powerful men in the West. As for Comstock, O’Reilly and McLaughlin, they all died poor.
By 1859 hundreds of miners were coming into the Washoe area. The largest
camp was formed near Six Mile Canyon, a part of the Comstock Lode. Henry Comstock named the camp Silver City, but that name didn’t last long. An old miner from Virginia christened the area Virginia. “That name caught on and Virginia City came into being.”(5)
(5) Silverberg, Robert, pg. 72
The little town went berserk in the spring of 1860. Few individuals had money, but everybody was a millionaire in silver claims. As the mine shafts went deeper into the mountain, the promise of the Comstock was fulfilled. Share claims rose higher and higher on Virginia City’s stock exchange. The population of Virginia City in 1863 was over 15,000. Bullion shipments were reaching as much as $500,000 a month.
In 1863 a fire spread through the town and a more serious threat hit the area; the ore began to play out. One by one the mines began to close.
A few shrewd men guessed that though the veins were played out the ore was still there. Quietly these clever investors began to buy up the “worthless claims.” “By 1870, the Big Four: MacKay, Fair, Flood, and O’Brien controlled the entire Comstock.” (6) The mines they owned were listed under the name Consolidated Virginia Mine. In 1873 they struck the biggest bonanza from the Comstock Lode, and the good times rolled again in Virginia City. At the peak of the second boom in 1875, the city was again razed by fire; the conflagration destroyed the town. The fire was an omen of a declining mine output. As the mines failed, the miners drifted away, and the town soon folded.