Gold mining near Virginia City

South Carson River

In the spring of 1850 a party of Mormon emigrants headed to the gold fields of California camped on the Carson River near present day Dayton, Nevada to wait for the snows to melt in the mountain passes. To pass the time they panned the gravel bars along the river and found some gold but, expecting a larger return from the proven gold fields of California they left as soon a the snow melted. There are also reports of Mexican miners working at about the same time near Gold Hill just south of Virginia City. For several years men continued to stop here and mine before they continued their journey to California. But by 1853 around 200 men were placer mining in Gold Canyon.

Gold Hill from Peep at Washoe

Among them were Hosea B. Grosh and his brother Ethan Allen Grosh who had come to California in 1849 and mined for a while in Mud Springs, or today’s El Dorado southwest of Placerville. They found gold mixed with another metal near Sugarloaf Mountain in Six Mile Canyon but they left the area for the winter and went back across the Sierra. Then in 1855 they returned. Now they talked with other miners about finding silver in 1853 but little attention was paid to them. Everyone was after gold.

Crossing the Sierra between Washoe and Placerville

Again they went back to California and this time stayed away until the spring of 1857 but when they returned this time they built a cabin and started work in earnest. Then, in August, Hosea stuck a pickax through his foot and soon died from infection. In November his brother Ethan Allen tried to cross the Sierra again but was caught in a snowstorm near the summit. By the time he was rescued his legs were frozen above the knee and although a surgeon amputated them in an attempt to save his life he died in early December. The Grosh cabin, and a locked trunk that contained ore samples and maps of the Grosh brothers’ claims, were left in the care of a gold miner called Henry Comstock. But Comstock was not an educated man and little happened with the silver the two had found until the spring of 1859.

Silver ore from the Comstock



  1. Steve Stapp says

    absolutely amazing stoke of luck…wow

    • Yeah, Steve, but it was both good luck and bad luck. The poor Grosh brothers, who actually realized there was silver there, died before they could mine it. That left the discovery to be named for the drunk, Henry Comstock. It does seem that the Mormons discovered gold along the Carson River while waiting to cross the mountains on the route other members of the church had pioneered when they left California for Salt Lake City the year before. Then the silver boom that followed contributed to the anger of the local Piutes so they attacked the Pony Express stations starting the Piute War that allowed a young Bill Cody to make a name for himself. Things in history sure are interconnected.

  2. I remember reading the story about the brothers somewhere, but don’t remember where. Fascinating. Spending some time researching Leadville, CO for some comparisons to Cripple Creek. Fascinating reading.

  3. PS Leadville was known for the silver that it mined.

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