I’m reading An Editor on the Comstock Lode, a book Virginia City in the 1870s, and the author mentions that Ethan Allen Grosh and Hosea Ballou Grosh are often credited with finding the Comstock Lode. If he was named “Hosea Ballou Grosh” after the great Universalist theologian, I thought to myself, he had to have been a Universalist. And it turns out he was.
A 2008 Associated Press article, “Letters from Gold Rush era are themselves a treasure,” by Martin Griffith, has more information:
Brothers Hosea and Ethan Allen Grosh were jubilant after they discovered a “monster ledge” of silver in the parched mountains of present-day Nevada in the summer of 1857.
The sibling prospectors never prospered from the find, however. In fact, both went to early graves without realizing they were on the verge of locating one of the world’s greatest bonanzas: a massive, underground pocket of silver and gold know as the Comstock Lode, about 20 miles southeast of Reno….
The sons of a Universalist minister in Marietta, Pa., the Grosh brothers arrived by ship in San Francisco in 1849 to find a tent city “growing like a mushroom,” full of grog shops and gamblers. But they faced problems from the start in the West, suffering from dysentery soon after arriving, and both were ill off and on until the end eight years later.
Just when their hopes were highest, Hosea Grosh died in September 1857 of an infection after striking his foot with a pick. That winter, his brother died near Auburn, Calif., of complications of frostbite after being caught in a Sierra Nevada snowstorm. Hosea Grosh was 31 and his brother 33.
More information about the Grosh brothers can be found in various books about the Comstock strike. Papers of the Grosh brothers from 1849-1857, including many letters, are in the Nevada Historical Society in Reno.
Update: More on the Grosh brothers —
From The History of Nevada by Sam Post Davis, vol. 1 (The Elms Publishing Co., Inc., 1913), pp. 382 ff.:
The Grosh Brothers. — In 1857 E[than] Allen Grosh and Hosea B[allou] Grosh, sons of Rev. A. B. Grosh, a Unitarian [sic; actually Universalist] clergyman of Philadelphia, were working on the Comstock. From the testimony of many old miners who knew them, they were men of considerable scientific attainments, being chemists, assayers and metallurgists. In addition to all this, having quite an outfit of assaying implements, they also brought with them to a spot afterward occupied by the Trenck mill quite a formidable library of scientific works. Captain Gilpin and George Brown were also regarded as partners of the Grosh brothers. They went over into the gold region —now the Comstock—from Mud Springs, El Dorado County, California, in 1857, and continued to prospect for nearly a year. They came across a young man named McLoud and took him along with them. He was a Canadian, about twenty years of age, and had crossed the plains with some Mormon emigrants.
The Mormons, who were the early settlers of Nevada, wanted McLoud to remain with them, but he declined to accept their religion, and so cast his fortunes with the miners. The Grosh brothers occupied the cabin along with young McLoud, and Comstock, after whom the ledge was named, was a frequent visitor to their little home. By this time there was considerable mining done about Mt. Davidson, but it was all for gold. The black sulphurets, so rich in silver, were regarded as of no value and thrown away. In fact, the presence of these sulphurets was regarded everywhere with disfavor by the miners.
There is no authentic record of any assay made by the Grosh brothers, but they had the necessary appliances for the work and must have made [p. 383] the assay, for in the fall of 1857 they told Comstock that they knew of rich silver mines in the vicinity, and were going back to Philadelphia to secure capital to work them. They asked Comstock to remain at their cabin during the winter with McLoud, who had been engaged by them to cut wood, etc., until they returned. At that time there was considerable stunted cedar in the vicinity, and this, with the sagebrush, was used for fuel.
It would be of great interest for the world to know the history of the first silver assay made by the Grosh brothers. What it amounted to they kept to themselves. The testimony of McLoud on this subject is interesting. After he reached Last Chance, with his feet frozen from exposure, he stated to Bill Leet, the storekeeper there, that he had come over the mountains with one of the Grosh brothers and that they had endured horrible sufferings on the way. McLoud stated to Leet that he saw the Groshes “pour some of the silver ore in a glass after pounding it in a pot and wetting it,” and that after that “they got very much excited.” This was McLoud’s description of the formula of taking an assay. McLoud now lives in Montreal, Canada, where he is practicing medicine. The assay thus described by McLoud is unquestionably the first assay ever made of the silver deposits of the Comstock.
What a subject this scene would have made for a painter’s brush — in the interior of a miner’s camp at night, the faces of two fortune-seekers lit by the ruddy glow of the cupel-furnace, as they eagerly held up the glass where the silver-button had dissolved in the acid solution! On the result of that assay the fortune of thousands hung. Out of that assay sprang the millionaires of the Coast, blocks of the finest buildings which now adorn San Francisco, the great enterprises that have made Nevada and California famous, and along with it, a landslide of misery and bankruptcy that has carried thousands to the foot of the hill to be covered with the debris of shame and oblivion. Out of the little glass came a giant more powerful and relentless than the awful shape that sprang from the pan in the Arabian story, and this giant still lives to make and unmake the destinies of thousands. The men who made the assay are both dead. The grave of one is in California, and of the other in Nevada, and neither themselves nor their descendants ever realized a dollar from their discovery which added to the world’s wealth over seven hundred millions of dollars and saved the American Union in the Civil War.
[p. 384] The Grosh brothers seemed to fully realize the importance of the discovery they had made, for they began to make plans for going back to Philadelphia to interest capitalists there to invest in their find. They at once staked off several claims, but there being no mining district there at the time, naturally they could not have recorded them. They told Comstock, who combined with them, what their intentions were, and where the find was located.
While preparations were being made for the departure of the Grosh brothers, Hosea, while prospecting, ran a pick in his foot, and the result was lockjaw, from which he died on the 2d of September. His grave was marked by a few boulders, but on June 27, 1865, Hon. Schuyler Colfax, who was en route for California overland, participated in the erection of a marble-slab over the grave. About 200 people took part in the ceremony. This slab had been sent from Philadelphia by the father of the deceased, and it was inscribed as follows:
“Hosea B., second son of Rev. A. B. Grosh.
Born at Marietta, Pa., April 23, 1826.
Died at Gold Canyon, Nev., Sept. 2, 1857.”
George Brown, who was out on the Humboldt river, was in some way a partner of the Grosh boys, but in what way has never been clearly stated. He was murdered at Gravelly Ford on the Humboldt shortly before Hosea Grosh injured his foot. He was mentioned by the Grosh boys as “our partner,” and they said that he was coming to help them with $600. When they heard of his death they were very despondent. They learned the news of Brown’s death from Mrs. Louisa M. Dettenrieder, whose name at that time was Mrs. Ellis. She is still living in Nevada, having first gone there in 1853. She states that she first met them in Nevada as early as 1854, after which they went to Volcano, Cal., to winter and returned to Nevada in 1855. They told Mrs. Ellis in 1857 of their discoveries, and also 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 for 300 feet.
Mrs. Ellis became quite interested in the discoveries, and made a proposition to sell her property in California and put $1,500 into the scheme of developing the discovery. Winter came on, however, and Mrs. Ellis never had further opportunity to invest.
About November 1, Allen, the remaining Grosh brother, took young [p. 385]McLoud and started across the mountains for Mud Springs by way of Georgetown. They crossed by way of Lake Tahoe, then known as Lake Bigler, and after being in a succession of snowstorms finally reached Last Chance, in Placer County, where Grosh died from the effects of the privations he had suffered, and McLoud was obliged to have his feet amputated.
Johnson Simmons, who was stopping temporarily at Last Chance at the time, and who now resides in Oakland, gives the following account: “I recall the time when two miners were brought into Last Chance in the winter of 1857. Some men were out hunting deer when they found the two lying in the snow, where they were dying of cold and hunger. The one named Grosh never spoke after he was brought in. The miners carried them from the place where they were first found, as they were too weak to walk. Grosh, I think, lived about three days after being brought in. His stomach refused nourishment and his legs were frozen. The other man we found pulled through, but they were obliged to amputate his feet. The miners then took him to Michigan Bar, where they kept him until spring and then raised a subscription to send him to his relatives in Canada. Before he left for Canada he told me of his trip. He said their provisions gave out after passing Lake Bigler and their sufferings were terrible. They had their provisions, etc., on a pack-mule, but there was nothing but small twigs for him to eat and he became so weak that they were obliged to kill him. After the mule was killed he was cut up and portions of his flesh roasted. The meat was lean, tough and unsavory, and only their terrible hunger made the repast endurable. They ate their last cooked mule on the banks of the Truckee, and, slinging as much of the roast meat as they could carry on their shoulders, they pushed on. They became so faint that they could no longer carry anything except their blankets, so they ate as much as they could and threw the rest away. 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 into a piece of canvas and deposited them in the hollow of a large pine tree. McLoud said that he never saw the assays, Grosh being very close-mouthed regarding them. All that he knew of them was that they were high in silver, and from a conversation he overheard he believed them high in the thousands. The tree in which they were deposited had blown down in the wind, having broken about [p. 386] twenty feet from the ground. Grosh told them that it was safer to select a tree of that kind than a standing one, liable in a storm to be uprooted. The hollow in the 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. The next day there was a big snowstorm, and they finally threw away their blankets, as they were useless from the wet, and their matches were useless from the same cause. After the snowstorm it turned colder, and for four days and nights they wandered in the mountains nearly dead and demented from exposure and hunger. At night they could hear the howling of the wolves, but none were ever near enough to attack them, and once they crossed the track of a bear. They finally sank down with exhaustion near some rocks, and Grosh said he had rather die there than make any further effort. After giving themselves up for lost they heard shots, and McLoud roused himself and went in the direction of the shots, when he came on a party of miners hunting deer. He took the party to Grosh, only a few hundred yards away, and then sank down alongside him. The miners carried the two to Last Chance, a camp near by, and there Grosh died after a few days, never having been able to speak. Had he been able to speak, McLoud felt confident he would have made some statement relative to his discoveries.”
In the spring Comstock learned that Allen Grosh was dead, and concluded to take advantage of the knowledge then acquired. The partner of Grosh claimed afterward that Comstock ransacked the cabin for papers and data, and was thus enabled to relocate the ledge. It is not probable, however, that such was the case, as the Grosh brothers did not trust him with anything, nor was it likely that they left anything in the cabin that would benefit him. After they left he probably went over the ground where he had seen them prospecting and located the likeliest places….
[Comstock wound up losing his claims and dying poor.]
[p. 393] …Some years after the Comstock had become a heavy bullion producer the heirs of the Grosh brothers tried to secure their rights on the Comstock by litigation and employed Benjamin F. Butler, then the most noted lawyer in the United States to prosecute the case. He made a very thorough examination into the matter and stated to the litigants that there was no legal question about the absolute rights of the heirs to some of the most valuable ground on the Comstock, but he gave them the advice that the defendants were men so thoroughly intrenched in possession, and having unlimited money at their command they would be able to buy up any jury that could be selected to try the case, and that, [p. 394] under the circumstances, the winning of such a case would be an impossibility. The heirs of the Groshes wisely concluded to drop the idea of attempting to wrest the big mines from the hands of William Sharon and the Bank of California.