Myth-busting the myth: The Grosh Brothers’ grasp on an unforgiving history
Brothers Ethan Allen and Hosea Grosh died more than 165 years ago, their lives in many ways lost to history. Their legacy, however, is more than what you might think.
by John Trent
Imagine overcoming immense personal challenge during a time long ago when those challenges were often unrelenting and unforgiving, and for a few precious moments triumphantly having the future in your grasp before tragically losing it.
It has been 165 years since brothers Ethan Allen and Hosea Ballou Grosh were on the cusp of a discovery that promised to change their lives – and the trajectory of history – forever. That both brothers died before the extent of what they had discovered was fully known, or fully realized, or fully attributed to them, only adds to the haunting memory of their lives.
Today we call what was discovered and came to pass as the “Comstock Lode” – at the time, the richest lode of silver ever unearthed. The nation was already fevered with California Gold Rush of the 1840s and 1850s. The “Comstock Lode” transferred the instant riches tale that spread like wildfire throughout the country to the come-hither reflection of a new mineral, in a new territory that because of its abundance of silver would become a “Battle Born” state – Nevada – created and coveted by the Civil War administration of President Abraham Lincoln.
It was the richness of the “Comstock Lode” that made much of this happen.
And yet, if not for tragedy, plain bad luck and the vicissitudes of two lives that have been lost to time that deserve to belong to more than just memory, we could just as easily today be referring to the “Grosh Lode” rather than the “Comstock Lode.” In fact, a compelling case can be made in favor of the Grosh Brothers. That what they found belonged to them. That without what they discovered, there might not have been any huge discovery at all. That their place in history is deserved and worthy of our admiration and what’s more, our recognition.
What the Grosh Brothers had within their grasp was more than the future. They were actually tapping into a vein that resides in all of us, something that runs deep within our hearts and our minds. It is what tugs at our imaginations, and intrigues us, and drives us to action and adventure. It was the stuff of life, and of meaning. Ethan Allen and Hosea certainly were in search of riches. The reward we see in the story of the Grosh Brothers isn’t so the tragedy of unrequited dreams and unrealized riches and fame, but rather a simple acknowledgment that we all desire – that our time on Earth matters.
The life and times of the Grosh Brothers clearly mattered. And in weighing the value of two lives that were cut far too short, we look to history’s embrace to see where their deserved place truly lies.
After years of investigation, a group of veteran ultra-distance runners and historical researchers are now telling the story of Grosh Brothers – how that historical attributions in telling the story of the discovery of one of the world’s largest concentrations of silver to Henry “Old Pancake” Comstock were not necessarily accurate. That it was, in fact, two brothers from Pennsylvania, Ethan Allen and Hosea Ballou Grosh, who found the lode in the craggy shadow of Mount Davidson near Virginia City, Nevada.
The two co-founders of History Expeditions, Bob Crowley and Tim Twietmeyer, along with endurance horse riding legend and three-time Tevis Cup champion Hal Hall and veteran ultra-distance runners Elke Reimer and Jennifer Hemmen, will embark on Feb. 27 on an ambitious five-day, 100-mile trek starting from the former mining town of Silver City, Nevada to Last Chance, California. The Grosh Brothers Expedition will trace the route of Ethan Allen Grosh and his young friend, Richard Maurice Bucke that the two followed during the winter of 1857 in the wake of Hosea’s death a few months earlier. Eventually, during the attempted high country crossing, Ethan would also pass away.
With his passing, seemingly, a chapter of history would never be fully told, for Ethan carried with him the knowledge of an amazing discovery he had and his brother had made months earlier.
“Our initial goal was to piece together the 100-mile journey that Ethan Allen Grosh and Richard Maurice Bucke took in the winter of 1857,” Crowley said. “But during our research we uncovered facts that substantiate that the two brothers were the first to discover several what they called ‘monster veins’ of silver in the region. Their claims were jumped by Henry Comstock after the brothers died tragically three months apart.
“The ensuing bonanza, which yielded over $3 billion in proceeds in today’s currency, and was used to reduce America’s post-Civil War debt, fund slave emancipation and establish Nevada as the 36th state, should have been named the ‘Grosh Lode’. However, elites destined to profit from the discovery, conspired to hide evidence, bribe witnesses, and bury the truth.”
The Grosh Brothers Expedition will be tackling a high country that has seen one of the highest snowfalls in recent memory. They will brave the elements with modern wilderness gear and be tracked live by GPS. They will be following the path they discovered after research, field work and analysis.
The author of the critically praised book, “Donner Party Chronicles” and one of the West’s most distinguished journalists, Frank Mullen, believes that the team has uncovered elements of a story that hasn’t been fully told.
“Although amateur historians, this team has proven their ability to dig deep, persevere, question history, and relentlessly seek facts that lead to the truth,” said Mullen, a member of the Nevada State Press Association Hall of Fame. “These stories of ordinary people, emerging from the shadows of obscurity and performing inspiring deeds, needs to be told.”
Charles Wegman, a direct descendant of Warren Grosh, the youngest brother of Ethan Allen and Hosea, added, “I’ve been impressed with the attention to detail throughout the research of the expedition team. They are the first to pursue a comprehensive search for facts surrounding the Grosh Brothers following their untimely deaths, through the ensuing decade, lawsuits, correspondence with their father, Aaron B. Grosh and the life of Richard Maurice Bucke. Their findings shine an entirely new light on the lives of and contributions made by the Grosh Brothers.”
In addition to bringing light to the story of the Grosh Brothers, Crowley said the expedition has a more personal purpose as well.
“We want the Grosh Brothers Expedition to honor the spirit of adventure and courage to endure,” he said. “By doing this, we are honoring the memory of the Grosh Brothers and the tale of their silver discovery.”
BROTHERS ETHAN ALLEN AND HOSEA GROSH were the sons of the Universalist minister A.B. Grosh. The brothers possessed inquisitive and discerning natures, and were known for being exceedingly intelligent.
Ethan, born in Marietta, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 7, 1824, overcame a sickly childhood that his father described as a “feeble constitution”: “Regular school education was impossible,” A.B. Grosh wrote in letters that included biographical sketches of his two sons to the Christian Ambassador in 1857-58. Despite suffering from “nervous headaches” and “severe depression” as a boy, Ethan could synthesize great amounts of information quickly. His father wrote that, Ethan was intellectually dexterous, and could “amass a large fund of general knowledge” through simple conversation and occasional reading. Ethan eventually chose printing as a profession, at one point doing the “fancy” work in Philadelphia, through eventually his health forced Ethan to work at the post office in Lewistown, Pennsylvania for his uncle, Moses Montgomery. Ethan gained a reputation there for consistent “mental and moral improvement” and was known to influence others in a positive way, experiencing “success in engaging others in the work.” He eventually became a machinist in Reading, Pennyslvania.
Hosea, born on Aug. 23, 1826 in Marietta, was just as notable, if not more so, than his brother for his intelligence. He was a lively and imaginative, if somewhat unruly, boy, A.B. Grosh wrote in the Christian Ambassador. Hosea often seemed charged with “ungovernable passions, which punishments seemed only to increase; and a disposition to exaggerate beyond all bounds, which seemed beyond the power of repression.” By the time was ten years old, Hosea was called, A.B. Grosh write, “’The Philosopher,’ and ‘The Professor,’ by the workmen in the Magazine and Advocate office [in Utica, NY], because of his patience and hopeful reasonings in all trials and troubles, and his love of acquiring and imparting information on all subjects that engaged his attention.” Hosea eventually was drawn to mathematics and any subject that was connected to the clean way that mathematics could be applied to any type of problem-solving. A.B. marveled that his once unruly son’s ability to apply aspects of one intellectual or philosophical discipline to another had helped make a memorable young man: “he never lost his interest in religious and political subjects, especially when great principles and their practical applications were concerned. He was remarkable for his calm prudence, cheerful fortitude, and strict conscientiousness—for his great industry, whether of head or hands, and his steady persistence in whatever he undertook to perform.” Like brother Ethan Allen, Hosea was a trained daguerreotypist, an early form of photography produced on a silver or copper plate covered with silver.
With the news of the discovery of gold in California, both brothers knew their destiny was to be realized in the West. In 1849, Ethan Allen, 24 years old and Hosea Ballou, left Pennsylvania bound eventually for California. The two young men’s motivation wasn’t necessarily fame and riches, although that was obviously part of the equation. There seemed to be a higher calling, one that spoke to Ethan and Hosea’s respect for their family. A.B. wrote in the Christian Ambassador that, “When the ‘gold fever’ reached here, the hope of uniting the several branches of his father’s and uncle’s families in some good location, and improving their pecuniary condition, induced exertions to organize a company for gold mining in California.” Richard Maurice Bucke would later recall in papers of his life that are part of a Western Libraries collection, that the two brothers were indeed always cheerful, hopeful amid all discouragements, and honorable in how they treated others. They were, Bucke wrote, “in truth religious, not apt to talk about it, not wedded to any special dogma, but filled with that genuine religion of the heart which is the salt of the earth, and which keeps whoever possesses it, as it kept them, fearless, earnest, and pure.” A.B. Grosh noted that Hosea was determined to join his older brother in going to California: “a company was organized in Reading, Pa., for gold mining in California, of which his oldest brother was an active member. About two days before their departure Hosea resolved to accompany his brother—was proposed, and specially admitted, though the company was full and refused to admit more members.”
The Grosh Brothers sailed from Philadelphia to San Francisco, California on a six-month journey that took them to Tampico and Mazatlan, Mexico. They carried with them their camera and dark room materials to take pictures as the trip progressed, producing daurerrotypes of the famed Mexican commander and future president of the country, Romulo Diaz de la Vega. Like many who took the route by sea to California, Hosea contracted malaria and dysentery. When the brothers arrived in San Francisco in August 1849, Hosea was still weakened with illness. He was nursed to health by his brother, who made ends meet by producing daguerrerotypes. As summer 1850 approached, Hosea’s health had returned. The he brothers were ready to travel to the Gold Country of Mud Springs in El Dorado County.
The time in the California Gold Country would prove equally enervating and frustrating. The Groshes possessed skills that many prospectors of the time did not. They were well-read and knowledgeable, and possessed understanding of chemistry and metallurgy that went far beyond the capabilities most of those they were joining in California’s gold fields. They found success early into their sojourn into the South Fork of the American River, making approximately $2,000 – a substantial sum for the time. And yet misfortune seemed to accompany their good fortune – they lost their profit in an ill-conceived and ill-designed effort to flume the American River to wash the rich minerals from the river’s bed. It was the beginning of a frustrating pattern that would plague their efforts for the next several years. A.B. Grosh wrote of his sons’ time in California that it was a recurring mix of good and bad, heartening progress followed by seemingly intractable regression, “”seven years of varied fortunes and misfortunes which followed with their toils, privations, and hardships—having thrice crossed and twice re-crossed the Sierra Nevada, once with loss of horses, mules, and baggage, amid severe cold, deep snows, at starvation point.” And yet, throughout it all, the proud father wrote, his sons remained optimistic, making “’the best of everything,’ ever trusting, (and by his cheerful faith, leading others to trust) in God’s constantly overruling wisdom and goodness.”
They were not without their down moments. Ethan Grosh wrote his father in 1855 that, “We have done very – very – bad this winter. Bad luck is at our fingers’ end … The gold seems to vanish – it’s not ‘thar.’” The boom and bust cycle of the time was an inextricable part of the brothers’ lives. Yet, even after experiencing misfortunes, there could be moments like what they shared in a letter to A.B. in 1856: “By February we will probably have either our certain fortune, or make a complete failure. Things look very bright & promising.”
By 1856-57, what the brothers were on the cusp of finding was beyond promising. It would prove historic.
AS THEY WORKED ALONG THE DRAINAGES of the American River, the Grosh Brothers often crossed the Sierra, into the Carson Valley, first visiting in 1851. The Carson Valley was then part of the Utah Territory (now Nevada). The visit did not produce anything substantial, and it wasn’t until 1853 that they again returned. This time they prospected parts of the Carson Valley, Gold Canyon, Lake Valley and Washoe Valley. Gold Canyon, in particular, had gained a reputation for being a productive spot for finding gold, though the gold was often mixed with rock, which intrigued the Grosh Brothers. They gathered several samples and put their metallurgical knowledge to work. Upon closer examination, the Groshes found what they thought was carbonate of silver in one of the specimens. They wrote, “It was a dark gray mass, tarnished, probably, by the sulfuric acid in the water. It resembles thin sheet lead, broken very fine – and led the miners supposed it to be (and threw it away in disgust). The ore we found at the forks of the canyon; a large quartz vein – at least, boulders from a vein close by here shows itself. Other ore of silver we think we have found in the canyon, and a rock called black rock – very abundant – we think contains silver.” To more fully flesh out their discovery, and to validate their belief that they were onto a major discovery of silver, the brothers turned to raising more capital for a return visit to Gold Canyon, “trying to get a couple of hundred dollars together,” Ethan Allen wrote his father.
By May 1857, additional capital in hand, the Grosh Brothers were ready to see what they could find in the hilly, rugged, sagebrush-lined area of Gold Canyon which had seemed to hold so much potential following their initial discoveries. To help with the endeavor, the formed the Frank Silver Mining Company. An acquaintance, Frank Antonio, a Brazilian miner who had who had mined in the Gold Canyon area starting in 1852-53, had told the Grosh brothers about his discovery of silver ore in that region. Francis J. Hoover, esquire, helped the brother them to organize the Frank Silver Mining Company, which was composed of nine members, mostly Californians. The organization was needed in many ways. The area the Groshes were searching had perhaps seen the last of its productive gold discovery days. Gold production in general in the areas was lagging, and it was only a handful of miners like the Groshes who thought the area was worth their attention.
There would be two other Grosh mining companies which would be formed posthumously:
Washoe Gold and Silver Mining Company, was formed in the spring of 1860, “organized under the general incorporation laws of this State (Nevada), and now claim and demand their legal and equitable rights, which they will at once proceed to enforce, under the name and style of the “Grosh Consolidated Gold and Silver Mining Company.” (Sacramento Daily Union, The Grosch [sic: Grosh] Brothers in WASHOE, Volume 25, Number 3870, August 17, 1863, Page 5, Column 5);
The Grosch Consolidated Gold and Silver Mining Company, formed on July 17, 1863 in California(Sacramento Daily Union – The Grosch Brothers in WASHOE, Volume 25, Number 3870, August 17, 1863, Page 5, Column 5).
The Grosh Brothers had acquired several partners and associates during the months and years that led up to their work in 1857. Among them were Captain William (W. B.) Galphin (Galvin) who, according to several sources was a partner of the brothers (sources where he is identified as such are The Gold Rush Letters of E. Allen Grosh and Hosea B. Grosh, as well as “Before the Comstock 1857-1858: Memoirs of William Hickman Dolman,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 22, Number 3, July 1947 and Sam Post Davis’ Early Mining Discoveries in Nevada 1913. George Brown was another partner, according the Grosh Brother Lettters, as well as Sam Davis’ Early Mining Discoveries in Nevada 1913, indicates that George Brown was a partner. Mrs. Laura M. Dettenreider (Ellis) according to James/Stewart Grosh Brother Letters was a partner or was about to become a partner, as indicated Early Mining Discoveries in Nevada 1913, indicates that Mrs. Ellis was about to become a partner. Another partner was Francis J. Hoover, whose published recollection of insights to silver prospecting in the area of the Comstock Lode makes a reference that in the spring of 1852 that “they became involved for a partner,” From Early Days: The Silver Discovery in Washoe Valley, San Francisco Call, Vol. 75, No. 157, May 6, 1894), as was William (Billy) Louget as referenced in James/Stewart’s Grosh Brother Letters.
There were two other individuals who would play key roles as the events of the summer of 1857 and their aftermath occurred. One was Henry Comstock. Ethan Allen Grosh had contracted with Comstock to stay in a cabin near Silver City, which included one-fourth ownership in one of the brother’s claims for keeping it from being jumped in Allen’s absence by living in it.
R.M. Bucke was a young Canadian who had wandered and adventured his way through the American West. Bucke was born on March 18, 1837 at Methwold, Norfolk, England. His parents emigrated to Canada in his first year and settled in London, Ontario. He was a typical farm boy of that era and was athletic who enjoyed a good ball game. When he left home at the age of 16, he traveled to Columbus, Ohio and worked in several locations as a laborer. In 1856 Bucke traveled to the Sierra Nevada. In 1857, he joined forces with the prospectors Allen and Hosea Grosh. He would later gain renown as a friend and biographer of Walt Whitman, and with the writing of his book, Cosmic Consciousness in 1901, was known the world over as a progressive physician who always viewed mental illness and its treatment in humane and empathetic terms. Throughout his life, Bucke was known as a dependable, trust-worthy person. Bucke was only 20 years old in 1857 when he was with the Grosh Brothers, and he, too, considered himself a partner of brothers, which he shared with Dr. J.Z. Tibbits in Last Chance, California a few months later (from Bucke’s collected letters in the Western Libraries).
By the middle of the summer of 1857 the Groshes were hard at work, having re-discovered “our Monster vein” near the forks of the canyon, writing, “Day after day and week after week we were at it from daylight to dark, hanging over glowing furnaces and the thermometer in the ‘nineties.’” They added that they had found, “suits of veins crossing the canyon at two other points,” and a mammoth vein of copper – copper pyrites – twenty-five or third miles north of the canyon, containing considerable silver and resembling copper.”
Their discerning eyes and prior experiences with metals would prove critical in overcoming the difficulties that came with making reliable assays. The work was not only taxing physically but required them to question what they were finding, and to examine every aspect of their discoveries very carefully. They wrote that as they attempted to make reliable assays, they found the nature of the ores to be, “not, as we had supposed, magnetic oxide or iron, but the magnetic sulfuret of iron.” Although the Groshes were highly industrious and inventive young men, they found many of the materials and apparatus they used to be at time imprecise and sometimes imperfect for the fine scientific conclusions they were attempting to make. There was one thing they were certain of, however – their assays were clearly of the blackish, purple and violet mineralogical coloring palette of silver. This was rock that was not accented with silver but rich in it: “Our first assay was one-half ounce of rock; the result was $3,500 of silver to the tone. We are very sanguine of ultimate success,” Ethan Allen wrote.
Among historians and authors, there is no debate that the Grosh Brothers were the first discoverers of silver in the region. There is some debate, however, of where the Grosh Brothers made their discovery. The editors of the Grosh Brother Letters, Ronald M. James and Robert E. Stewart, believe the Grosh brothers were based too far down the mountain to have discovered the actual Comstock Lode. Both authors believe, though, that if Ethan Allen and Hosea had lived a few years longer their expertise in chemistry and mining would surely have brought them the wealth and success they longed for.
Richard Bucke, who was with the brothers during their work, provided additional insight. He was interviewed years later, in December 1897, where a reporter for the London Advertiser, in an article entitled, “Discovery of the Comstock,” stated to him that, “The article in the (New York) Sun states that the Grosh brothers were the first discoverers of silver in the west,”
“That is a fact,” replied the doctor (Bucke). “They discovered silver in the west as early as 1853, if not earlier. I have read all their letters to their father on this matter, and I know absolutely about that. Comstock, I last saw in 1864. He was then alive and hearty. No, I never saw him drink; he was a very sober man.”
Like so many other miners of the time,the Grosh Brothers’ life in 1857 was hard and brutal. The physical toll of the work they did in the rocky forks of the canyon was immense. There was no down time to speak of – every waking moment was spent roasting and smelting, and every other moment was spent resting in order to gather the strength the next day to repeat the process again. There were also outside forces conspiring against Ethan Allen and Hosea as well. In August, one of their partners, George Brown, was murdered. Then, Hosea had an accident. He struck his pick into his foot on Aug. 19. Hosea did not seem to be critically injured at first, and even made light of the injury to his brother in an effort to calm Ethan Allen’s worries. Eventually, though, the wound worsened. His foot swelled, fever wracked his body, and soon Hosea was treated with opium and then another common frontier remedy of the time, a wrap of cow dung, was applied. Ethan Allen made the trek to Eagle Valley (today’s Carson City) to consult a doctor, who reassured him that the treatments being applied to his stricken brother were what was needed. Hosea’s condition never improved. He died in his sleep on Sept. 2, 1857.
They had traveled from Pennsylvania to Mexico to San Francisco to the gold fields of El Dorado County and across the Sierra to a new territory of sagebrush and silver whose brilliance was yet to fully shine. They had lived in tents, roughing out an existence where they suffered personal privation and countless economic frustrations, yet the Grosh Brothers had always retained a deep-rooted optimism that kept them always searching, always on the outlook for the realization of what their future would hold. They were sons of a minister, and their lives to this point had always reflected their righteous upbringing. Now that one of them was gone, the other was gripped with grief. Ethan Allen compared the death of his brother to a “terrible” blow – “Oh, the utter desolation of that hour!” he wrote. And yet, Ethan Allen also felt an overwhelming sense of pride, a deep and abiding love for his brother for the way Hosea had lived his life. Hosea had been Ethan’s ultimate friend, “so dear a companion,” he wrote tenderly of his brother. There was intense loss, but also immense “gratitude” for living so many years with a person whose “upright life had prepared him for the next.” The loss of Hosea was felt all the way across the country. A.B. Grosh wrote in an October 1857 letter to Ethan Allen that, “I have no words that will describe our feelings of grief and sorrow at the news contained in the (letter). I read only the first lines, and feeling utterly unable to control my feelings or voice, uttered the words, ‘Hosea is dead!’ and … retired to our room, whither Mother soon followed me, and we wept long and sadly together,” he wrote, referring to his second wife; the sons’ mother had died.
“Oh, how often have we mourned over your united failures, disappointments and misfortunes; and hoped, almost against hope, that the tide might yet turn, and bring you both back again, to our arms.”
With Hosea’s passing, Ethan Allen did two things, which again reflected the type of person he was. He began the work of ensuring Hosea had a proper funeral, and he began forming plans for a trip that at first glance looked like a retreat from the area. It was actually yet another advance against adversity that the Grosh Brothers were very familiar with. Ethan Allen was determined to honor his brother’s memory by finding a way to keep their work in Gold Canyon alive. He wrote to his father that it was, “most hard that (Hosea) be called away just as we had fair hopes of realizing what we had labored so hard for so many years.” Hosea’s work on behalf of his brother meant that he would have to linger in the days after Hosea’s death, working and having to borrow $60 from the other miners to purchase a suit for his brother so that Hosea could be properly buried in what is today known as Silver City, Nevada. He then stayed longer, into the month of November, in order to pay off the debt he’d accrued before he set off for California.
Most historical accounts refer to the Grosh Brothers’ original plans, before Hosea’s tragedy, to go west to San Francisco, and maybe back to Pennsylvania, in order to raise capital for the purpose of forming a company, procuring equipment, coming back to their mining claims in Nevada, erecting machinery, and begin working their discovered silver ore veins. They had traveled over and back over the Sierra several times over the past several years as they fleshed out their discovery. The Daily Sun, Comstock Lode Name is Wrong, March 15, 1957, indicated that (Ethan Allen) Grosh and a companion (Bucke) was headed to Grass Valley to have the ore samples assayed (to determine its ingredients and quality from an expert); thereby, be able to demonstrate to prospective investors that their discovery was independently tested. Melville Atwood, a chemist, and metallurgist resided in Grass Valley.” Richard Bucke wrote in the Overland Monthly in 1883, “Their plan was now to go to San Francisco, form a company, come back, erect machinery, and begin at once working the ore.” … “On the 19th of August, just as the Grosh brothers had located their “claims,” and were about to leave for the coast to raise the capital required to work them, as Hosea was doing some final work before starting, his pick glanced from a rock, struck his left foot, and passed nearly through it.”
Accompanied by Richard Bucke, Ethan Allen set out for California on Nov. 15. Both were experienced trans-Sierra travelers, although Ethan had not travelled over the route that he and Bucke took over the Sierra Nevada in November/December 1857. Bucke, who despite his young years, had worked and traveled throughout the West and had gone over what he described as the “Washoe Trail” (today known as the “Western States Trail”) at least four times when he traveled back and forth to his Marysville, California mining site. Extensive study of Grosh/Bucke journey maps by the members of the Grosh Brothers Expedition indicate that it makes sense that Ethan Allen Grosh and Richard Bucket would have taken the Washoe Trail if indeed their plan was to go to Grass Valley or Damascus. A number of maps, including from the Bucke and Seaborn collection (fonds), Western Libraries, London, Canada; Dr. Bucke’s Maps, London Public Library, Seaborn Collection; and, Bancroft’s Map of the Washoe Silver Region of Nevada Territory, 1862, show an “Emigrant Road” near the north west end of Washoe Lake, which would have essentially then taken the two travelers on the Washoe Trail.
Almost from the beginning, though, their journey did not go as planned. Once the two travelers arrived at Washoe Lake, a pack mule made an escape. The mule proved deft in its ability not to be found. Grosh and Bucke spent five days – five days that proved to be quite precious – in searching for the mule before they made their ascent from the valley floor to what is believed to be the boulder-strewn area near what is today known as Slide Mountain. They then made their way to today’s Olympic Valley, California. Given the time of year – it was now late November – what happened next should not have been a surprise. They were hit with a fierce snowstorm. Now in the high country, Ethan Allen and Bucke struggled to maintain an idea of where they were. The snow was high enough to obscure the trail, and to make a retreat back to Washoe Valley nearly impossible.
They were able to take shelter at a cabin in the Little American Valley, which was known as the “Greek Hotel” or “Valley House” built by Jorge Ballen (aka “Greek George”), a Greek emigrant. “Greek George” had built the cabin in the hope of profiting from the prevalence of a wagon road (known as the Placer County Emigrant Road) that connected the mining excitement of gold country communities in California with what was happening in Washoe Valley and the areas in and around Gold Canyon. The Grosh Brothers Expedition Team located the former site of the cabin in October 2022 based, in part on a photo taken by Auburn, California businessman and trail advocate Wendell Robie in September 1931. Square nails and other artifacts were found at the former site. The cabin served as protection from the elements, but provisions they hoped to find their had been pilfered from earlier in the season.
Following their stay in the cabin (aka Greek Hotel) in Little American Valley, Grosh and Bucke followed the blazes in the trees that marked the trail. Grosh and Bucke got lost while the weather changed for the worst. The story then turns on an intriguing mystery: At some point in this general area, did Ethan Allen, fighting the worsening elements and struggling to maintain a sense of his own location due to the quickly deteriorating trail that was disappearing under the heavy snowfall, stashed or ditched diagrams of veins, maps, ore samples, assay book of the brother’s discovery in a pine tree? A number of magazine and newspaper writers, journalists and historians have taken this subject up, from Sam Davis’ The History of Nevada, The Placer Herald, Placer’s Big Tree, W.B. Lardner, Volume LXVIII, Number 6, August 21, 1920; Tahoe Topical, The Discovery of Silver on the Comstock and the Groshes Bros., by Marshall W. McDonald, June 14, 1946; Nevada Magazine, The Brothers Grosh, J.B. Roberts, Nov/Dec 1990, Page 51; Margaret Sanborn, The River of El Dorado, Page 210; and, Norman McLeod, Distant Voices, Different Drums – A Collection of True Stories, High Drama at Last Chance, 1991.
There was only one person who had a first-person recollection of what happened, however. In the Discovery of The Comstock, The London Advertiser, December 16, 1897, Richard Bucke a half-century later indicated that, “Among other things, we threw away the bundle containing Allen Grosh’s papers. That, of course, was left haphazard(ly) on the ground, probably miles from any path, in the wilderness, where there was no possible chance of it being ever seen again, either in winter or summer, because scarcely anyone ever went up those mountains at any time of the year except on the regular trails. It was absolutely lost.”
Both the Auburn Journal, in October 16, 1889, and Sam Davis’ book indicates that a few days later, aafter Grosh and Bucke arrived in Last Chance after wandering lost in the snow, Johnson Simmons indicated that, “The one named Grosh never spoke after he was brought in.” The article goes on to indicate that McLoud (Bucke) describes details about what Grosh did with abandoning his belongings along the ridge 4 to 5 miles past the cabin (in Little American Valley), “… At that point Allen Grosh, who had stuck to his maps and assays through all the journey, concluded to abandon them also, and so he tied them up in a piece of canvas and deposited them in the hollow of a large pine tree.”
Whatever was placed, and in what large pine tree it was placed in, has never been fully learned, nor ever discovered. It remains another tantalizing detail in a story that would soon see even more tragedy. The two men’s condition worsened as they wandered through the snow-bound high country. They were reduced to their hands and knees along the ridges above the American River and then, 17 days after wandering in the mountains, along a ditch near a miner’s cabin they were rescued and taken by sleds to the mining settlement of Last Chance. Richard Bucke would write later in a letter from Last Chance of what the two had done in order to survive: “I said to Allen that we might as well lay there until we died, but he said that as long as he could crawl he would not give up. … On the 10th (Dec. 10, 1857) the miners from Last Chance came up and hauled us down on sleighs to this place. … (The doctor) did not get here until the 19th it was then too late poor Allen died a little while after he got here.”
Both men’s feet were frozen. Ethan Allen’s condition was much more grave then Bucke’s. The doctor, Tibbits, was summoned. Tibbits amputated both of Richard Bucke’s feet, which Bucke later said … Although he was quite ill, Ethan Allen was able to summon the strength to write his final letter to Governor Francis J. Hoover – whom A.B. Grosh later identified as a good “genial and generous” friend of Ethan’s, who like Ethan was a Pennsylvanian who had made his way West — on Dec. 12, 1857. Ethan, in his final letter, remained to the end a gracious and god-loving person, writing that he was “indebted” to those who had rescued and were tending to him, “God bless them all, until we can make a better return to our prayers.” He was equally indebted to his companion, Richard Bucke, writing that “though not yet twenty-one years of age, has shown the high Norman blood, in encountering our difficulties and trials.”
Ethan Allen Grosh passed away on Dec. 19, 1857. There are differing accounts whether or not that Ethan Allen Grosh said anything before his death to anyone after arriving in Last Chance. In The Auburn Journal, Grosh Brothers, Volume 6, Number 3, October 16, 1889 indicated that, “The one named Grosh never spoke after he was brought in.” The Placer Herald, Volume LXVIII, Number 6, August 21, 1920, indicated that … “Grosh died in a few days, never having recovered enough to speak.” The Tahoe Topical, The Discovery of Silver on the Comstock and the Groshes Bros., by Marshall W. McDonald, June 14, 1946, indicated that, “He regained consciousness before dying but was never able to speak or to give any clue as to the location of his claims on Mount Davidson.”
There are also accounts that Ethan Allen did speak. According to the Auburn Journal October 30, 1889 article, Grosh was taken to Ben Leggett’s hotel (in Last Chance) and did not die immediately, but he lived about a week and was attended by William (W.J.) Harrison, a miner there who had received an education in medicine. Grosh, it was said, was able to converse during his sickness and likely talked and those who attended him about his discoveries on the Comstock. A.B. Grosh, in his letters to Richard Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882, one of those who were there, Harrison, the miner with medical training who later became a member of the California State Legislature, late said that, “there can be no doubt about the title to all, or nearly all, the valuable leads (lodes) that are now worked so successfully and profitably in Carson Valley. I think he has, or can get, the books, papers and other memoranda which Allen left on his last journey through the snow.” Harrison, supposedly, “I think he now has them (books, ores, etc.) in his possession, and will produce them at the proper time. He says Allen told him all, just before his death, but enjoined secrecy in the matter, and until he is compelled to make the disclosure in a court of law, he cannot do it!”
Richard Bucke, after having one foot amputated, as well as part of the other, would survive. He would be referred by Dr. Tibbits to Alpheus Bull, who knew the Grosh Brothers when they travelled together across Mexico in 1849. Bucke then traveled to San Francisco in April 1858 and stays with Alpheus Bull who cares for him and buys Bucke a ticket to send him home to Canada by ship.
A.B. Grosh was later informed by those who attended his son that Ethan Allen died at “twenty minutes past four o’clock A.M., December 19th” and that Ethan was buried at Last Chance “decently” on “December 20th, at a quarter past four o’clock.” A lock of his son’s hair was sent to him. W.J. Harrison wrote him that, “Could money have purchased the life of your son, it would have been freely paid. The miners wish me to express to you and your family their warmest sympathy in your present bereavement. They feel sympathy, for your son died in their midst, where alla round looks desolate and gloomy, among these inhospitable mountains of the frontier.”
After surviving the tragic ordeal with Allen, Richard Bucke returned to Canada in 1858. He enrolled at McGill University to study medicine. He graduated in 1862 with the distinction of being the gold medalist of his year and winning a prize for his thesis, “The Correlation of Vital and Physical Forces.” After spending time in Europe for post-graduate studies he returned to Sarnia to take over his late brother’s medical practice. He was summoned to California in 1864 to give evidence in Comstock Lode Litigation before returning to Canada in 1865 where he married Jessie Maria Gurd and settled down to practice medicine in Sarnia for the following ten years. Bucke and his wife had eight children.
Bucke was appointed Medical Superintendent at the new mental hospital in Hamilton in 1876, and after a year he was transferred to the Ontario Hospital in London where he served for 25 years. Bucke read Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” in 1867 and claimed it to be one of the most important events of his life. He travelled to New Jersey to meet Whitman in 1877 which marked the beginning of a long, close friendship between the two men. Upon Whitman’s death in 1892, Bucke became one of his literary executors and was a pall bearer at his funeral. In popular culture, the Bucke-Whitman friendship found a place in the 1990 film, Beautiful Dreamers, which was a dramatized account of the true friendship between Whitman (Rip Torn) and Dr. Bucke (Colm Feore). The setting is a 19th-century Canadian institution for the mentally retarded. Bucke appears as a compassionate London, Ontario, doctor who defies his superiors by treating his patients as human beings rather than animals. When Whitman champions his cause, the doctor is ostracized by those who fear the poet’s reputation as a freethinking radical. It was based on a true incident – Whitman spent the summer with Dr. Bucke in 1880.
Bucke was also a memorable figure in that he was one of the first of his time to depart from orthodox therapeutics at the Asylum. By 1882 he had abolished the medicinal use of alcohol in the Asylum and by 1883 he had discontinued the use of physical restraints and initiated an open-door policy. He also pioneered many surgical “cures” for lunacy, including gynaecological surgery.
Bucke was an active writer, and his many noted works include several psychiatric papers, “Walt Whitman, a biography of the man,” “Man’s Moral Nature,” and “Cosmic Consciousness,” the last of which has been held in high esteem for many years and reprinted many times since its publication. Bucke was one of the founders of the University of Western Ontario’s Medical School and in 1882 was appointed Professor of Nervous and Mental Diseases, as well as elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Bucke delivered the opening academic lecture of the year at McGill University by request of the medical faculty in 1891. He became President of the Psychological Section of the British Medical Association in 1897, and the following year he was elected President of the American Medico-Psychological Association.
Bucke died on February 19, 1902. The mystery of the stashed/ditched documents and diagrams that Ethan Allen left in the snow of the high country in 1857 followed him throughout his life. The Western Libraries Bucke collection adds some light and insight into this question.
According to Dr. Seaboarn’s (Bucke’s son-in-law) notes regarding Allen Grosh (Westerm Libraries, AFC 20-S5-SS4, Pg 17), from Marietta, on February 12, 1861, (A.B. Grosh) writes, “Hoover believes Harrison can get the papers and memos which Allen left in the snow, asks Bucke if he could direct them to the place where they threw them away.” Also in Dr. Seaboarn’s Notes (AFC 20-S5-SS4, Page 18 of 27) indicates the following from A.B. Grosh at Marietta, PA, on March 10, 1861 (p. 54):
- Bucke gives information as to the depositing of Allen’s papers, &c. (Letters of A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882, Page 54)
- B. Grosh received a letter from W.J. Harrison as follows, “A few days since I received a letter informing me that Bucke who was with your son in crossing the mountains claims an interest in those discoveries — Now I am willing to be qualified that Mr. Bucke never had the shadow of a claim. Your son never saw Mr. Bucke till the morning your son Hosea was buried. I did, on the second day after bringing your son over to our little town, ask him if Mr. B. was a partner. Your son told me, so did Mr. B., that he, B., was not interested in any way in the discoveries.” (Letters of A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882, Page 54).
- “Could the bundle of papers etc. left by your son as he crossed the mountains, be found it would be a great advantage in the suit. I am satisfied that I could find the deposits of ore made by your son as he came over.” (Letters of A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882, Page 54)
- Hoover says of Harrison: “I think he now has them (books, ores, etc) in his possession, and will produce them at the proper time… He says Allen told him all, just before his death, but enjoined him to secresy (secrecy) in the matter, and until he is compelled by law to make the disclosure in a Court of law, he cannot do so.” (Letters of A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882, Pages 54-55)
It appears that Harrison was informed by Grosh and/or Bucke of Allen’s burying of maps, samples, etc. along their journey in the pine tree stump and may have later found the location, retrieved, and possessed the contents. Since there was never a court order required disclosure, Harrison does not appear to have made his assertion public. Bucke would have informed Alpheus Bull of this situation and this is perhaps why, in part, he returned to California and traveled horseback from Tahoe to Last Chance and back in the summer of 1864. Was he looking for Allen’s belongings? This part of the mystery has never been resolved. Harrison was elected as an assemblyman from Placer County in 1860. Later he moved to Healdsburg, CA., and not heard from again.
There are also these important aspects of the Grosh-Bucke relationship to consider:
Richard Bucke first met the Grosh Brothers in the summer of 1857 (this according numerous sources,including The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald, 13 July 1880, page 7; and, Peter A. Rechnitzer, R. M. Bucke-Journey to Cosmic Consciousness, 1994)
What did Bucke really know about the Grosh Brothers silver discovery, what encounters did he have following his ordeal of their journey, and what did he tell others?
Dr. J.Z. Tibbits was the doctor summoned by miners in December 1857 to Last Chance and performed the amputation of Bucke’s feet. Tibbits referred Bucke to Alpheus Bull of San Francisco with a letter that sets forth the plight and asks for assistance. Note: A. Bull is associated with both the Ophir and Gould & Curry mining companies, which would later become part of litigation associated with determining the source of the Comstock Lode. (Source: Western Libraries Bucke and Sanborn collections; and, Peter A. Rechnitzer, R. M. Bucke-Journey to Cosmic Consciousness, 1994, Page 30).
On July 8, 1861, Tibbits writes a letter addressed from Iowa Hill, California, to Dr. Bucke in Montreal, urging him to establish his mining claims along with those of Reverend A.B. Grosh. The letter is telling as it refers to what was said by Bucke to Tibbits following the surgery in Last Chance, e.g., Bucke was a partner of Grosh and heir to the Comstock Lode silver discovery riches (Westerm Libraries, AFC 203-S1-SS1-F26)
Johnson Simmons was stopping at Last Chance at the time and gave an account that indicated his understanding of the Grosh/Bucke trans-Sierra journey including Grosh’s companion, whom he referred to as “McLoud” (Bucke) said about the tree in which they were deposited had blown down with the wind, having broken about twenty feet from the ground, Grosh told him that it was safer to select a tree of that kind than a standing one liable in a storm to lie uprooted. The hollow in this tree was quite small, and after depositing the records he cut a mark on the tree with his knife and rolled a good-sized stone in front of the hollow.
Interestingly, this account by Bucke differs from subsequent newspaper and book references to what Grosh did with his documents, maps, assay records, ore samples, etc. Were subsequent accounts changed on purpose at A. Bull’s request as part of his (Bucke’s) testimony regarding the pending litigation? (Auburn Journal, Volume 6, Number 3, The Grosh Brothers – Their Part in the Discovery of the Comstock-Death of Allen Grosh at Last Chance, October 16, 1889).
W.J. Harrison resided with his brother, Thomas Harrison, in Last Chance when Grosh and Bucke arrived in December 1857. E. Allen Grosh was able to converse during his sickness at Ben Leggett’s hotel in Last Chance. William Christian, a miner, when talking with a reporter indicated that he did not know, but thought it likely that Grosh talked with (W.J.) Harrison and others who attended him about his discoveries on the Comstock. Following the death of E.A. Grosh, William (W.J.) Harrison was the person that wrote two letters from Last Chance – the moving, mournful letter to A.B. Grosh and the other to J.H. Hoover about the death of E.A. Grosh on 12/20/1857 (Auburn Journal, Volume 6, Number 5, October 30, 1889, Page 3).
On February 12, 1861, A.B. Grosh wrote, “(Francis J.) Hoover believes Harrison can get the papers and memos which Allen left in the snow, asks Bucke if he could direct them to the place where they threw them away.” (Westerm Libraries, AFC 20-S5-SS4, Pg 17).
Grosh has received letter from W.J. Harrison as follows, “A few days since I received a letter informing me that Bucke who was with your son in crossing the mountains claims an interest in those discoveries — Now I am willing to be qualified that Mr. Bucke never had the shadow of a claim. Your son never saw Mr. Bucke till the morning your son Hosea was buried. I did, on the second day after bringing your son over to our little town, ask him if Mr. B (Bucke). was a partner. Your son told me, so did Mr. B., that he, B., was not interested in any way in the discoveries.”… “Could the bundle of papers etc. left by your son as he crossed the mountains, be found it would be a great advantage in the suit. I am satisfied that I could find the deposits of ore made by your son as he came over.” Mr. Hoover says of Harrison: “I think he now has them (books, ores, etc) in his possession, and will produce them at the proper time… He says Allen told him all, just before his death, but enjoined him to secresy (secrecy) in the matter, and until he is compelled by law to make the disclosure in a Court of law, he cannot do so.” (Source: Dr. Seaboarn’s Notes, AFC 20-S5-SS4, Pg 18).
It appears that Harrison was informed by Grosh and/or Bucke about Allen’s burying of maps, samples, and the like, along their journey in the pine tree stump and may have later found the location, retrieved, and possessed the contents. Since there was never a court order required disclosure, Harrison does not appear to have made his assertion public. Bucke would have informed Alpheus Bull of this situation and is why, in part, he returned to California and traveled horseback from Tahoe to Last Chance and back.
According to Francis J. Hoover’s, From Early Days: The Silver Discovery in Washoe Valley, San Francisco Call, Vol. 75, No. 157, May 6, 1894, E.A. Grosh died from the terrible effects of freezing and exposure at the house of William J. and Thomas Harrison.Alpheus Bull. Through Dr. Tibbitts, R.M. Bucke meets Alpheus Bull in San Francisco in 1858 after his disastrous adventure in the Sierra Nevada and it was the same Mr. Bull who had purchased a ticket for him, which enabled Bucke to return home to Canada.
On March 5, 1864 Bucke received a telegram from Bull who sought Bucke’s assistance in a lawsuit that had been filed against the Gould and Curry (Silver) Mining Company, of which Bull was a trustee and President from 1864 to 1875 (Eliot Lord, Comstock Mining and Miners, 1883). Bull wanted Bucke’s testimony that the land mined by the Grosh brothers was not the site of the Comstock Lode (Peter A. Rechnitzer, R.M. Bucke – Journey to Cosmic Consciousness, 1994. Page 44).
The Gould & Curry Mining Company was one of the key producers on the Comstock. Incorporated on June 27, 1860. The Gould & Curry began as two adjacent mining claims of Gould & Co. and Curry & Co. located between the Savage and Best & Belcher mines in the central part of the Comstock lode. Located in early 1859 as one of the first Comstock claims, it is named after Abram Curry, one of the first settlers into Carson City, and Alva Gould. Both men sold out their interest in the claim for an aggregate sum of less than $10,000. Gould & Curry was the first major mining company to build their own mills, two in 1861 and one in 1863. The stock rose to $6,300 per foot in June 1863, or about $1,600 per share, after Comstock mine production went from $6 million in 1862 to $12 million in 1863. Among the original incorporators were George Hearst, Lloyd Tevis, John Earl, Alpheus Bull, Thos. Bell, A. Head, B.F. Sherwood, and Wm. Blanding. William Chapman Ralston was initially appointed treasurer, and Charles Strong the mine superintendent. Shareholders George Hearst, William Lent and John Earl, would all go on to be instrumental in the building of the new mill at the junction of Six and Seven Mile canyons that was completed in 1863 and later sold and dismantled after 1870. The mine produced over $17 million in gold and silver and was the primary financial motivating machine in 1863 that changed Virginia City from a good mining region to a great one.
Alpheus Bull, as a youth had traveled through the Midwest as a fervent, itinerant preacher of the Universalist religion. He came to California in 1849. On the way he befriended the Grosh brothers. He made a fortune at Red Bluff in mining and then in the mercantile business. He was the president of the Gould & Curry for most of the 1860’s and a California millionaire (Source: https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/gould-curry-early-1869-stock-signed-by-alpheus-bu-2340-c-2a8470193d).
Moving to San Francisco in 1858, Bull made an astonishing occupational leap, becoming president of several major Nevada silver mines and Vice President of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. In 1871, his wife Sarah hung herself in the attic of their Russian Hill home. The Alta California newspaper attributed the suicide to insanity. Two years later Bull became the leader of a new Universalist Church in San Francisco, but its pastor was accused of “amorous irregularities,” causing a split in the congregation. A letter from 1884 reveals that in addition to the headaches and respiratory problems he had experienced for many years, Bull suffered from severe mental depression. His death in 1890 occurred during a family outing to Fort Point. As his second wife Jennie and their daughters walked ahead, Alpheus lingered behind to enjoy the sea spray. He apparently became faint and pitched over the sea wall. At age 74, he left a fortune of over a million dollars (Source: https://rhnsf.org/about-russian-hill-neighbors/ ).
In 1864, Bucke was urgently requested by Bull to go to California in the interest of the Gould & Curry Silver Mining Company. Bucke went, and was amply remunerated for his time and services, returning to Sarnia in 1865, which not only enriched in experience, but with a substantial sum of money (Source: James H. Coyne,Richard Maurice Bucke – A Sketch 1906, Page 33).
Ironically, A. Bull had befriended the Grosh brothers while travelling across Mexico in 1849 and did the same with Bucke after his fearful trip with E. Allen Grosh over the Sierra Nevada in November/December 1857. Five years later, the Grosch Consolidated Gold and Silver Mining Company brought legal action against Gould & Curry and Henry Comstock, where Bucke’s knowledge of Grosh’s discoveries was a factor in the case.
Bucke, who was being paid handsomely, spent over a year in California and Nevada awaiting to testify during which time he travels with Bull to western Nevada where the Grosh brothers were prospecting including meeting with George Hearst and, for whatever reason, travels horseback from north Lake Tahoe along the route taken in 1857 to Last Chance and back. Unfortunately, Bucke’s diary does not indicate the reason for this journey; only to indicate he found the rifle that was discarded. There is no mention if he found Allen’s belongings buried in the pine tree. There are other sources that demonstrate that the Grosh family was deliberately and diabolically denied any rightful claim or renumeration from the riches made by Comstock Lode’s mining companies.
There was a subsequent claim and resulting litigation from A.B. Grosh, who throughout the remainder of his life to ensure that somehow, someway, that their legacy would be one remembered for what they had accomplished – that they were the ones who had seen something and discovered something that others had failed to see and wouldn’t have found. A.B. Grosh sought demands of and possible settlement or litigation from Comstock Lode mining companies that purportedly were as a result of his son’s discovery On August 16,1857, writing from Gold Canyon, E. Allen Grosh gives more particulars of their discoveries… but everything in (Allen’s) memoranda confirms the idea that they had really struck the Comstock Lode (Western Libraries, Seaborn Fonds, from Bucke Diary, AFC 20-source mat page ref from index F80 Page 15 of 51; and, the letters from A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882). Additional evidence is afforded by the story that one of their friends, Mrs. Ellis (Dettenreider), who was to furnish some capital with which to open a mine, was told by them that their largest ledge was on what is now Mount Davidson, and she had a piece of ore containing ” gold, silver, lead, and antimony,” which description would very well apply to Comstock outcroppings (Thompson and West, pub. History of Nevada 1881 with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Berkeley, California: Howell-North, 1958. Pages 51-54). A button of silver extracted from ore of one of their claims was shown to Bucke by Allen Grosh (Source: AFC 20 – source mat page ref from index F79 (pages 343).
A.B. Grosh hired Benjamin F. Butler (a noted Washington, D.C., attorney) to litigate the assertion over ownership. Butler conducted a thorough examination of the claim and concluded that a good argument could be made that the Grosh Brothers’ heirs had a right to demand compensation in view of a reasonable assertion of at least partial ownership of the Comstock. Nevertheless, Butler added that “the defendants were men so thoroughly entrenched in possession, and having unlimited money at their command that they would be able to buy up any jury that could be selected to try the case, and that, under the circumstances, the winning of such a case would be an impossibility.” (The Gold Rush Letters of E. Allen Grosh & Hosea B. Grosh, edited by Ronald M. James and Robert E. Stewart, University of Nevada Press, 2012, Page 205; and, Sam Davis, The History of Nevada, Chapter XIII, 1913, Pages 389-390).
Later, A.B. Grosh was represented by Francis J. Hoover (a California attorney and friend of Allen and Hosea) until his death on January 4, 1864 (Source: Letters of A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882). The Gould & Curry and Ophir mining companies were represented by C. Temple Emmett, a San Francisco attorney (Source: Western Libraries, Bucke’s manuscript and diary).
A.B. Grosh deeded his ownership to Douglas and Nickerson, both of Placerville, California, who represented the Grosch Consolidated Gold and Silver Mining Company, and later determined that he had been swindled as he was never paid what had been promised to him (Source: Letters of A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882). A.B. Grosh ultimately determined that he was cheated by Alpheus Bull while he was associated with the Ophir and the Gould & Curry Mining Companies (Source: Letters of A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882).
A complaint was filed, The Grosch Consolidated Gold and Silver Mining Company vs. The Gould & Curry Silver Mining Company and Henry T. P. Comstock, with the U.S. District Court of the 12th Judicial District, San Francisco, on October 17, 1863 (Daily Alta California, Volume 15, Number 4983, October 20, 1863. The Statement of the Grounds of the Claim of the Grosch Consolidated Mining Company was for 3,750 feet of the Comstock Ledge by Benjamin R. Nickerson. The Plaintiff was the Grosch Consolidated Gold and Silver Mining Co. 420 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA., represented by Edward Tompkins, S.W. Sanderson, and McHenry (on a contingent fee) and, the Defendant was the Gould & Curry Silver Mining Company and Henry T.P. Comstock represented by C. Temple Emmett, a San Francisco attorney) (Several newspaper articles in the Sacramento Daily Union). Henry Comstock asserts that he had inherited claims from the Grosh brothers that remained valid and had never been purchased by the mine operators of the time. In addition, Comstock arrives in San Francisco on January 3, 1865, and meets Bucke at the Russhouse (hotel), where he lets it be known that “he is on the Grosh side of the case.” (Western Libraries, Bucke’s diary, AFC 20-S5-SS4-F1).
Daniel S. Dickinson and Reverdy Johnson agreed to prosecute the Grosch (Grosh) Consolidated Mining Company claim against Gould & Curry Mining Co. (Virginia Evening Bulletin, No. 27, Vol. 1, August 5, 1863).
The case was dismissed on March 9, 1865 (E. Lord, Comstock Mining & Miners, 1883, Page 133; and, San Francisco Evening Bulleting, March 9, 1865).
According to a letter to Dr. (Edwin) Seaborn from S.A. Moss, dated March 29, 1940, Records of any law-suit were burned in the fire of 1906 (from the San Francisco earthquake)(Western Libraries, AFC 20 – source mat page ref from index F79 (pages 385-386)).
There remain a number of compelling pieces of evidence that point in support of A.B. Grosh’s claims. Perhaps the most telling are references to the discoveries made by the Grosh brothers as given by a manuscript written by Francis J. Hoover who died in San Francisco on January 4, 1864. It is called A True History of the Discovery of Silver in Washoe, then Utah, now the State of Nevada, and is dated September 9, 1863. The story it tells is that in July, 1853, Frank Antonio, the ” Old Frank ” after whom the Grosh brothers named one of their mines, went from El Dorado County, California, with five others, to prospect in Western Utah. He had a horse stolen, and while searching for him ” on a table-land running north and south and broadside to the sunrise” he found rich silver ore, which he knew, having worked in the silver mines of Brazil. Frank kept the specimen after he returned to California, and tried to interest men in the subject, but long without success.
The Hoover manuscript proceeds to say, Frank then told the Grosh brothers, who had been mining in Gold Canon, about his discovery of silver ore in that region, and finally helped them to organize the Frank Silver Mining Company, which was composed of nine members, mostly Californians. In 1856 the Grosh brothers found what they supposed to be the main ledge, and located four hundred feet for each member of the company. This, Mr. Hoover believes, was along the axis of the Comstock lode. The first claim notice, he says, was posted on what is now the Ophir, and another was on Gould and Curry ground.”
We are now 165 years from the deaths of Ethan Allen and Hosea Grosh. Over the years, from the initial sensationalistic newspaper coverage of Ethan Allen’s death at Last Chance, they have risen from a tragic footnote in history to something more. Some histories lump them in with James Finney (aka Old Virginia) and Henry Comstock (aka Old Pancake), as harbingers who missed an opportunity that was leveraged by men with more colorful nicknames and histories. The first miners who worked the district died for the most part in obscure poverty. Local folklore has always been colorful in its description of the discoverers of the ComstockLode, depicting them as mad, lazy, drunk, and unimaginative or incredibly unlucky. From the Grosh brothers to “Old Virginny” and “Pancake” Comstock, the early characters seemingly lived a tragi-comedy of errors, with obligatory tragic endings. They filled the repertoires of local writers and continue to provide tour guides with material. It is probably a universal attribute of mining camps that their citizens revel in celebrating the eccentric nature of their origins. Perhaps people also like to think that were they placed in similar circumstance they would not make the same mistakes, and thus they characterize history’s players who failed as inept or unfortunate. Nevertheless, it was through local tradition that these early miners gained the notoriety that their discovery might also have afforded them. The Groshes were industrious and intelligent young men who, though they faced incredibly challenging moments in their lives, had the kind of intellectual capabilities and imaginative capacities that in a different era would’ve been rewarded. Today we might call them innovators and celebrate their creativity and optimism. 165 years ago, these were personal tendencies and abilities that were hardly recognized, and rarely ever celebrated.
There was apparent fraud and collusion, as well as loss of evidence and other key documentation. Bucke’s diary on May 3, 1864 indicates that while he was at Gould & Curry’s attorney, (C. Temple) Emmet’s office, Bull shares a letter that he had received from A.B. Grosh. Bull and Emmet were meeting regarding the suit brought against Gould & Curry. Bucke states that as it relates to A.B. Grosh, “it seems that the poor dear man is at last fairly cheated out of his claim, for they (Grosch Consolidated Gold and Silver Mining Company) have the deed of sale, and have given him for security for the $10,000 they were to have given him for it 100 shares of $1,000 each of Grosch Consolidated stock.” On May 5, 1864, Bull wants Bucke, “in a day or so to state what it will be worth to stay here (California) this balance of year. On May 6, 1864, they conclude it would be better not to mention any sum until after the trial as it might look bad.” (Western Libraries, Seaborn AFC 20-S5-SS4-F9 – Bucke Diary. Also refer to the letters from A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882).
The monumental importance of Richard Bucke, particularly in the life that he led after his amputations in Last Chance, remains one of the connective tissues in gaining a fuller and richer perspective of the life and significance of the Grosh Brothers. Bucke’s life post-Last Chance is critical in understanding what the Groshes were on to, what they hoped to do with it, and what was done by others in an effort to minimize their role in the discovery of silver in Nevada. In addition to the cover-up of key facts as the prospect of credit/litigation heated up, Bucke’s letters and papers offer a window into the heart of the story of the Grosh Brothers. There is a needed dimension that is added to the life of the Grosh brothers that is missing without the Bucke perspective included. They are flat footnotes without him; with Bucke, their story is enlivened, made more human, and becomes much more relatable and understandable. His is a story that shouldn’t end at age 20 at Last Chance. By examining Bucke’s life afterward, the life of the Grosh Brothers comes back to life as well.
A.B. Grosh’s story, too, is one that matters. His letters provide not just a roadmap of the journey his sons followed, but give heart and soul to a story of deep feelings, of paternal pride, and give voice to moments that would otherwise be lost to time. Two letters from Schuyler Colfax (former Vice President and Speaker of the House of the House of the United States House of Representatives) to A.B. Grosh, dated April 5, 1869 and January 18, 1880, respectively, are excellent examples.
The 1880 Colfax letter states, “I never made a speech (at Hosea Grosh’s memorial at the Silver City Cemetery or afterwards at a theatre on June 27, 1865) more _? from my heart than the one I made that day, for I recognized _? in the departed the real discoverer of that wonderful Ledge, the richest silver deposit in the _?; …” “By the way, it occurs to me – why do you not do something to have your brave boys the reputation they deserve in history, by writing their interesting particulars to the … Talisman, or some other of our I.O.O.F. (Odd Fellows) Periodical…” (Source: Charles T. Wegman and George C. Harvilla, The Letters of Ethan Allen and Hosea Ballou Grosh 1849-1857 sold to the Nevada Historical Society in 1997, Pages 210 and 211).
There were others who felt it important that the Grosh Brothers represent more than a mere footnote in history. It was repugnant to them that the one of the greatest mineral discoveries in history was known as “The Comstock Lode.” What about the Groshes? Weren’t they the ones who clearly had made the discovery? Caroline Winslow’s letter to Mr. and Mrs. Grosh, dated August 19, 1879, indicates that she sent a short account of their situation and the loss sustained in the death of their sons to The Virginia City Enterprise. The letter continues on August 20-22, 1879, and describes meeting with Dan DeQuille where she indicates that … “something told me he did not himself believer what he as saying (about the Grosh brothers’ discovery of the Comstock ledge). She was referred to Mrs. Detternreider, who she met that evening and inform her that she confronted Henry Comstock about stealing the Grosh brothers’ papers and books (from their cabin). Comstock did not deny it. (Charles T. Wegman and George C. Harvilla, The Letters of Ethan Allen and Hosea Ballou Grosh 1849-1857 sold to the Nevada Historical Society in 1997, Pages 188-191). A.B. Grosh’s letter in response was also included with the Wegman collection of GB letters to the NV Historical Society (Charles T. Wegman and George C. Harvilla, The Letters of Ethan Allen and Hosea Ballou Grosh 1849-1857 sold to the Nevada Historical Society in 1997, Pages 192-194).
Warren R. Grosh’s (brother of the brothers) indicated much of the same sentiment: “I place a mem. (memorandum) in connection with this papers act to show that it is the Comstock lode that was discovered by my brothers. Several years ago there was to have been started a compa (company) for contesting the Coms (Comstock)… under the name of the “Grosh M… Co.” but those who were in it so… out, it is supposed, for that was the last heard of it, after the Comstock people became alarmed it was easier to buy out the party than to resort to a defense [sic] before the courts.” The memorandum goes on to make reference to the meeting of Dr. Winslow and Mrs. Detternreider met and where, Detternreider describes when the Grosh brothers told her of their discoveries and pointed to Mt. Davidson saying that the big silver ledge was at the foot of the mountain and that in locating their claims they had put her down as part of the claim (Charles T. Wegman and George C. Harvilla, The Letters of Ethan Allen and Hosea Ballou Grosh 1849-1857 sold to the Nevada Historical Society in 1997, Page 209).
The Pacific Coast Mining Review, which contains detailed official reports of the principal gold and silver mines in Nevada (and other states) indicates that the first location on the Comstock, that made by the Grosches, was called the Pioneer, and was located where Virginia City now stands, and is doubtless comprised in the ground owned by the Ophir. The first assessment ever laid on the Comstock was levied on the Pioneer, and paid during the winter of 1855-6 (Pacific Coast Annual Mining Review, Henry S. Fitch · Volume 1, 1878, Pages 150-151). Note: The Map of Sutro Tunnel and Silver Mines at Virginia City, Nevada, by Hatch & Foote, 1878; and, the 1875 map of the Comstock Lode and the Washoe mining claims in Storey & Lyon counties, Nevada: compiled from official surveys and other reliable data by T.D. Parkinson, supports the Pacific Coast Mining Review findings and conclusions (Yale University Library Digital Collections).
According to William Hickman Dolman (Captain) Galphin pointed out the place (where Grosh Brothers mined) to me (Dolman) but did not accompany me to … quartz croppings were nearly one and one-half miles westerly from the Devils Gate, where the Pioneer lode was located. (Source: Before the Comstock 1857-1858 – Memoirs of W.H. Dolman, New Mexico Historical Review, 1947, Page 234).
Peter Rechnitzer, R. M. Bucke-Journey to Cosmic Consciousness, 1994, Chapters 2 through 4, and endnote. Rechnitzer is one of a few authors that conducted research beyond the death of Allen Grosh by following Bucke back to Canada, onto Europe to study medicine, and returning to California to testify against A.B. Grosh (Source: Western Libraries Collection).
Despite all of this, the sad ending of a tragic story was determined by who else … Richard Bucke. At Alpheus Bull’s written request, Bucke return to California in 1864-1865 to testify against A.B. Grosh’s demands and the suit brought forth by the Grosch Consolidated Gold and Silver Mining Company and where Bucke visits in both Nevada and California. Bucke was well compensated by Bull for his testimony while being instructed to be silent during his stay and beyond (Source: Western Libraries, Bucke’s manuscript and diary). In his last letter Ethan Allen Grosh had praised his young companion for his bravery in meeting the “difficulties and trails” of their 17 days of shared snow-bound misery. It is clear in that final letter that Ethan Allen has found a kindred spirit, a younger brother, someone whose companionship made the entire experience one that was about “we” and not “I.” “We are 6 or 7 miles above Last Chance and 18 or 20 above the Bluff,” Ethan Allen writes, using an interesting and telling pronoun to describe the shared experience. “We have had a very narrow escape of it – and God’s providence alone saved us.” That a young man who would go on to have one of the more celebrated lives of the 19th century would change a story that should have never been changed is perhaps the greatest tragedy of them all in this tragic story.
At the end of February 2023, the Grosh Brothers Expedition will follow in the footsteps of Ethan Allen Grosh and Richard Bucke. They will do this to honor the memory of two brothers from Pennsylvania who died tragically in 1865.
And they will do this to help make the case that:
The Grosh Brothers were first to discover the Comstock Lode:
The Surveyor General, in his report of 1865, claims that the Grosh Brothers made the discovery of silver in this district as early as 1857 (Thompson & West, History of Nevada, 1881, Page 498; and, the Annual Report of the Surveyor-General of the State of Nevada, for the year 1865, Page 19).
Some references to the discoveries made by the Grosh brothers are made in a manuscript written by Francis J. Hoover (1812-1864), an attorney in San Francisco (Hoover had also been a friend and neighbor of the Grosh Brothers while at Mud Springs (El Dorado), California, and later was A.B. Grosh’s legal counsel). It is called A True History of the Discovery of Silver in Washoe, then Utah, now the State of Nevada, and is dated September 9, 1863. Hoover’s manuscript indicates that the Grosh brothers, who had been mining in Gold Canon, about their discovery of silver ore in that region. In 1856 the Grosh brothers found what they supposed to be the main ledge, and located four hundred feet for each member of the Frank Mining company. This, Mr. Hoover believes, was along the axis of the Comstock lode. The first claim notice, he says, was posted on what is now the Ophir, and another was on Gould and Curry ground (Sources: Charles H. Shinn, The Story of the Mine, 1896, Page 29; and, San Francisco Call, Vol. 75, No. 157, May 6 1894, FROM EARLY DAYS – How Francis Hoover Found & Lost Wealth).
Robert Ruxton, The Tale of Silver, 1907, Pages 9-10, indicates that the Grosh Brothers …” had found two veins of silver – one of them a perfect monster.” In their June 1857 letter home (to A.B. Grosh) included a diagram – if this diagram is examined now, it will be seen that it was almost certainly a reproduction of the south end (of the) Comstock ledges, whose marvelous production has become historical. Surely, Dame Fortune was about to dower the brothers with riches! From rock they took from this vein they had an assay made which runs over thirty-five hundred dollar to the ton! Millionaires now, of course, you say—they died miserably poor. Hosea from blood- poisoning, by a wound from his pick, in their miserable little cabin at the mouth of American Flat Ravine. Allen, starting some little time after to explain to capitalists the bonanza he had found, died from exposure in the bleak Sierras. Some say he carried his secret to the grave; others, that it was unearthed from papers left behind in the little cabin when he started on his fateful journey, and which were later unearthed by a man named Comstock.
Dr. R.M. Bucke is quoted from an interview in 1897 when asked about the November 29th New York Sun article, which indicates, “The article in the Sun states that the Grosh brothers were the first discovers of silver in the west,” said the reporter. “That is a fact,” replied the doctor (Bucke). “They discovered silver in the west as early as 1853, if not earlier. I have read all their letters to their father on this matter, and I know absolutely about that. Comstock I last saw in 1864. He was then alive and hearty. No, I never saw him drunk; he was a very sober man.” (Source: Discovery of The Comstock, The London Advertiser, 12/16/1897).
The San Francisco Call, The Real Discoverers of Silver in Nevada, C.H. Shinn, August 16, 1896, concludes from an interview with Bucke …But the fact remains, now generally recognized, that these two patient, plodding, unfortunate Californian prospectors, the Grosh brothers, did really find the silver of Nevada, though they failed, through no fault of their own, to reap the fruitage of their victory.
The Expedition also hopes to bring light to the fact that the Grosh heirs had a legitimate claim on Comstock Lode, and were swindled.
Among the first prospectors attracted to the vicinity by the hope of finding gold, were Allen and Hosea Grosch, better known as the Grosch Brothers, and James Finney, the “Old Virginny” of early days. The Grosch Brothers were the only ones of these pioneers who had sufficient knowledge of geology to recognize the existence of silver in any of its native forms, and they, soon after arriving in 1853, reported the discovery of a silver ledge lying east of and along the side of “Sunrise Peak,” since called Mount Davidson; but it is questionable whether the first location by “foreigners,” as the prospectors were called, was made by them or by “Old Virginny,” but they made theirs on the Comstock, “Old Virginny” on the west or Virginia ledge. Still, placer mining held the attention of the miners almost to the exclusion of all thought of the silver lode. The first location on the Comstock, that made by the Grosches, was called the Pioneer, and was located where Virginia City now stands, and is doubtless comprised in the ground owned by the Ophir. The first assessment ever laid on the Comstock was levied on the Pioneer, and paid during the winter of 1855-6. (Pacific Coast Annual Mining Review by Henry S. Fitch · Volume 1, 1878, Page 150).
When Allen Grosch started for California, he left the records of his and his brother’s claims and the personal effects of both with (Henry) Comstock, who naturally went into possession of the locations and exercised the rights of ownership over the whole. It was in this way that he became connected with the claim which has given his name to the lode, and rendered it immortal. This claim became subsequently embodied with others controlled by Penrod & Comstock, and “Old Virginny,”and is now included in the Ophir. It also includes the claim of John Jessup, who was killed by Sides in Gold Hill. This claim was jumped by Reilly and McLaughlin while the most of the people were off to Carson, where Sides was taken for trial; and this is their claim to the credit of first discovering the Comstock. Had the lode been named after the true discoverer it would have been called the Grosch Lode, for the brothers unquestionably made the first location thereon. This was made before any other persons in the whole section knew anything about silver ores or their reduction. In the year 1859 locations were made, not only along the line of the Comstock, as then known, but the entire country was dotted with them. (Pacific Coast Annual Mining Review by Henry S. Fitch · Volume 1, 1878, Page 151).
The partner of Grosh claimed afterward that Comstock ransacked the cabin for papers and data, and was thus enabled to relocate the ledge (Source: Sam Davis, The History of Nevada, The Elms Publishing Co., Inc., 1913, Page 385)
According Letters of A.B. Grosh to R.M. Bucke from November 1856 to March 1882, Page 52, on February 12, 1861, Mr. Hoover indicates, “I saw, a few days ago, W.J. Harrison, who is now a member of the Legislature of this State (California), and he tells me there can be no doubt about the title to all, or nearly all, the valuable leads that are now worked so successfully and profitably in Carson Valley. I think he has, or can get, the books, papers and other memoranda which Allen left on his last journey through the snow.” Pages 54-55, on March 10, 1861, Mr. Hoover says of Harrison, “I think he now has them (books, ores, etc.) in his possession, and will produce them at the proper time. He says Allen told him all, just before his death, but enjoined secrecy in the matter, and until he is compelled to make the disclosure in a court of law, he cannot do it!”
Left in charge of the Grosh Brothers’ cabin near Silver City, NV, via a written contract (with terms to ¼ interest in one claim) with Henry Comstock to keep the cabin and their effects from being “jumped,” Comstock found what remained such as notes, charts, ore samples, and/or assaying tools. From this information their was “jumped” by Comstock including their Grosh’s claim(s) that later became the Pioneer, Ophir, and Gould & Curry mines. (Charles H. Shinn, Story of the Mine, 1896, Pages 33-34; The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume XXV, History of Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming (1540-1888), 1890, Page 98, footnote 9; and, Sacramento Daily Union, The Grosch [sic: Grosh] Brothers in WASHOE, Volume 25, Number 3870, August 17, 1863, Page 5, Column 5).
In the Spring (of 1858) following, Henry Comstock hearing of the death of young (E. Allen) Grosh, begun to bestir himself to realize the value of his suddenly acquired fortune, he soon found willing listeners to his exhibits of the marvelous assays by the Grosh brothers, who at once contracted with him that for his title and possession they would pay him (Comstock) ten thousand dollars in cash and ten thousand dollars in merchandise, provided the rock proved as rich as the Grosh brothers’ assay. Judge Walsh and others tested several hundred pounds of the rock, found it rich, bought out Comstock’s title, gave the lodes the name of the Comstock Claims, and at once commenced operations on a gigantic scale, claiming the whole district as included in their purchase of Comstock. All parties holding under Comstock took good care to sell out as soon as possible for a few hundred thousand dollars, before the extent of their plot should he discovered to preclude the Grosh brothers and their legal representatives of the benefit of their discovery and location. Parties resident of El Dorado who had known of the above, and had furnished means to the Grosh brothers during the time of the early development of the claims, concluded that they had undoubted rights, and that the father of the Grosh brothers had also equitable and just claims. They, in the Spring of 1860, organized a company (I send their certificates of stock—The title of the “Washo Gold and Silver Mining Company”), furnished means, employed a Business Agent, who went to the States and made, for a valuable consideration in cash, a contract with the father of the Grosh brothers to take possession of the entire interest of his deceased sons. Matters of form only delayed their action, which having now been obviated, the said parties have organized their company under the general incorporation laws of this State, and now claim and demand their legal and equitable rights, which they will at once proceed to enforce, under the name and style of the “Grosh Consolidated Gold and Silver Mining Company.” (Sacramento Daily Union, The Grosch [sic: Grosh] Brothers in WASHOE, Volume 25, Number 3870, August 17, 1863, Page 5, Column 5).
Legacy is often a difficult thing to quantify, and even harder thing to recognize. In the case of the Grosh Brothers, there is the recognition that they received not long after they died. The then-Speaker of the House of Representatives (later, Vice President of the U.S.), Schuyler Colfax and the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, William Bross, presided at the ceremony of erecting a commemoration tablet over the grave of Hosea Grosh in the Silver City cemetery on June 27, 1865.
Schuyler Colfax’s speech at Hosea Grosh’s memorial at the Silver City Cemetery or afterwards at a theatre on June 27, 1865 included the following:
“Neither Allen nor Hosea had died in vain. 40,000 people had followed up Sun Mountain (Mt. Davidson) in their wake. Its slopes – its depths teemed with their discovery. Its canons and ravines were lined with mines and mills – the smoke from whose stacks blackened the heavens – the clatter of whose stamps filled the air and rocked the earth.
“The output in bullion had gone forth to swell the coffers of the world – to alleviate suffering on the battlefield – to play a part in national politics – to aid in freeing the slaves – to sustain the failing credit of the country – to provide the national armies with the endurance needed to win the war of rebellion. What more could the Grosches have asked of their discovery than that it had been of help to man? Last, but not least, their discovery had made it possible for President Lincoln to add a much-needed star to the galaxy floating over Sun Mountain.”
The discovery of silver by the Grosh Brothers would be felt in the years and decades to come. Their discovery that resulted in millions in riches helped the Utah Territory eventually become the territory of Nevada. Nevada, and its eventual statehood, would become a political centerpiece in President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to abolish human slavery. The admission of Nevada and an amendment to the Constitution would be equivalent to a million more men in the field of war.
The story of the Grosh Brothers is one that will be re-imagined and freed of myth in the coming days as a group of five modern-day explorers attempt to retrace 100-mile journey that in 1857 seemed bound for glory but ended in tragedy. It is a saga that with every step that will be taken over the snow, toward the heaven of the Sierra high country, will come into a clearer focus, where time will halt and today will become yesterday and yesterday will become tomorrow. It will be a journey where the lives of two unforgettable brothers can once and for all step out from the shadows of memory, and find their rightful place in the hem of history.
(The Expedition has a website at historyexp.org to view more details about the Expedition, maps, history and details on how to track the Expedition Team live.)