The tragic case of Michael Brennan

But not all miners had the perseverance of Alvinza Hayward. Take the tragic case of Michael Brennan and his mine near Grass Valley. Brennan came to America from Ireland and landed a job with the New York Herald. When news of the California gold reached him he invested a lot of cash in the Rocky Bar Company who operated a gold mine on Massachusetts Hill near Grass Valley. For several years his investments paid off handsomely but hard times fell on the mine and Brennan, with his wife and three children, came west by way of Panama. He got to the mines in 1856 and immediately reorganized the company, calling it the Mount Hope Company, and set to work to make the mine that overlooked Wolf Creek productive again.

Rocky Bar Mine

He abandoned the now unproductive shaft and sank another nearby. At first it was enormously lucrative and he took out enough gold to pay stockholders a dividend of $10,000. When that shaft played out he was still inspired by its success so he installed a stamp mill and other expensive machinery and sank yet another shaft, called the Brennan shaft, that cost over $30,000. The pit went well beyond where he expected to find the main lode, but Brennan would not quit. He invested all of his money in the mine. He borrowed more money and dug in all directions, looking for the gold he was sure was close. His family often went hungry. His health suffered. Investors became uneasy then angry. And, at last, the mortgage holders foreclosed. It seemed there was nothing left he could do. He had failed.

It was on a Sunday the 21st of February 1858 that his body was found on the parlor floor of his home. His wife lay on the sofa nearby and his three children in an adjacent room. All had died from drinking prussic acid mixed with wine. A cocked pistol told of his determination. A letter explained his reasons. Michael Brennan had spared his wife and family the humility of having to live with his failure. Soon the mine reopened under the ownership of the men who had foreclosed on Brennan and, with the first blast of black powder that exploded against the rock face where Brennan had given up hope, the glint of gold shone clearly in the white quartz that came down. Michael Brennan had given up hope just one blast too soon.



  1. This is such a tragic tale, and yet my thoughts are it is not unique to the area or life in general. How many times do people stop short just before the pay off?

    • It’s a tragic tale made even more so because we know how close Upham really was to the a gold strike. You have to wonder how many more gave up in other ventures where there is no way to tell how close they were.

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