The Comstock Lode

A Miner’s Cabin sketch by Wendy Harty September 2020

Great grandson of John Curly Penrod, Emanuel Penrod, was born September 3, 1826 at Cairo, Alexander Co. Illinois. Emmanuel would be my 2nd cousin 5x removed. He died in California in 1913 at the age of 86. He was a married man by 1848. Emanuel’s parents John and Barbara Tope Penrod joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1842. His father John Penrod died in 1843 and left his mother Barbara (Barbary) Tope (1799-1878) a widow with some very young children. In 1847, The Mormon Battalion was formed to fight in the War with Mexico. Brothers Jacob, 24, Emanuel, 21, John 19 and Oliver 16, marched to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Jacob died there of measles. “Manny” and his brothers marched 1500 miles to southern California, where they learned Santa Anna had surrendered never having fired a shot, except at some wild bulls in Arizona. Imagine the boys seeing the ocean for the first time? These three brothers returned home to Illinois. John and Oliver would soon leave again for California, searching for gold? Emanuel married Esper Anna Sides in Union Illinois in 1848. They had seven children. In 1852, his mother, Barbary packed up with four children and made the Mormon Trek to Utah arriving in the Utah Territory on October 1, 1852. As a widow Barbary had made the overland travel in the “6th Company” with David Wood as Captain. She died on Jan 25, 1878 at Mountain Green in Utah. In her will she left her houses and lands to son, William H. H. Penrod, her daughter Mary – wife of David Bybee her furniture, to son Oliver the livestock. I’m thinking she was a quite a woman during her 78 years!

Soon after arriving in Salt Lake City, Emanual left Utah to find his brother in Nevada.

The California Gold rush happened in 1849. But in and near Virginia City, Nevada one of my Penrod relatives was discovering silver ore. The discovery was made public in 1859, and sparked another rush of prospectors to the area. But before this happened how did these relatives arrive here. The answer: Mormon emigrants. The wagon train camped on the Carson River to wait for the snow in the mountains to melt. On the edge of the gravel river banks by panning they found gold. Other emigrants followed, camped in the canyon and worked at mining until the supply of water gave out; they then continued on toward the California goldfields. The two credited with the discovery of the Comstock Lode were Ethan Allen Grosh and Hosea Bailou Grosh. To raise funds they set out with samples and maps and trekked towards California. They never made it: suffering from frostbite while crossing the Sierra Nevada they amputated limbs but the last ditch effort didn’t save their lives. Henry Comstock was left as caretaker of their cabin and a locked chest of silver and gold samples. He claimed it as his own as the claim had never been filed. By the spring of 1859, other men were making discoveries. Unhappy with his claim, Comstock filed another claim directly adjacent. Comstock and his partner, “Manny” Emmanuel Penrod, made threats and got a deal that granted them interest on the claim called the “Ophir”. Eventually there were six partners, none with money or expertise to investigate thoroughly. They made an additional claim called the “Spanish”. By June 27, 1859, a bluish putty material was clogging the rocker and interfering with washing out the fine gold. It was rich sulfide of silver being 3/4 silver and 1/4 gold.

Emanuel Penrod, partner to Henry Comstock, sold his 1/6 share of the Ophir mine for $5500 to Judge James Walsh, and his half interest in the Spanish mine for $3000, for a total of $8500. Selling for just a trifle of its worth, within the year the Ophir was selling at nearly four thousand a foot. Two other partners lost everything; one was declared insane and died in a private asylum. Comstock opened businesses in the area and went broke. Prospecting in Montana without success, he died by suicide with his revolver; a story of riches to rags. Eventually 700 Million dollars worth of silver and gold would be mined from the Comstock Lode. Emanuel built the first fire proof hotel in Carson City, Nevada, known as the Penrod Hotel/house. In 1860 the townspeople fortified the hotel by surrounding it with barricades after the outbreak of the Pyramid Lake Indian War. It is listed as an American fort called Penrod Hotel Fort. In Mark Twain’s “Geography” he wrote about staying in the Penrod House on 5th Avenue, Carson City: “a good supper, a cigar, something warm and the certainty of a bed calmed the mind and gave satisfaction of having surmounted our difficulties.”

Emanuel went on to farm and served in the Nevada State Assembly, Elko County, November 1874 to November 1876. By 1910, he was living in Vallejo, Solana, California with a daughter, where he died April 9, 1913 at age 87.

Another son of John and Barbary Tope Penrod was Jacob born in 1823 in Illinois. He volunteered for service in the Mexican War in May 1847 but died that same year in July at Fort Leavenworth of measles at age 23.

Their daughter Mary Elizabeth was single, about ten years old when she trekked to Utah, a young child her father had died when she was one. There she married David Bybee, one of his three wives, and had 10 of his 19 children. A son, Oliver farmed in Utah (1831-1908) and inherited his mother’s livestock. William Henry Harrison 1836-1922 inherited his mother’s land. Singleton Penrod died in the early morning hours before sunup, 9th December, 1861. An avalanche roared down the mountains into Washoe Valley, Nevada. The avalanche carried away 3 houses, two into the creek. The debris in the creek caused a flood. Poor Singleton was carried to the bottom where he was buried. People and family looked and dug for seven days before finding his body in the sand.

Other siblings of Emanual’s: Allan Penrod was written about by his brother Emanuel stating his brother was killed by an Indian near Kelsey, California in 1853, while he was panning for gold. Hannah (1818-1836) died of complications in child birth. Her daughter survived. John A Penrod stayed in Illinois 1833-1919 died age 85. Willis his twin died before age 1. John Grammer Penrod was one of the family looking for Singleton and died back in Illinois, age 45.

As the tale enfolded of the life of this family did you contemplate Barbary’s decision to trek to Utah, taste the dust from the oxen wagon train as little Mary Elizabeth walked barefoot, mile after mile, feel the rush of finding that silver ore? Was your heart pounding and searching deep in your soul to find the stamina to keep searching and digging under the weight of the snow from the avalanche? And the question I keep asking, did Emanual ever second guess his decision to sell the Comstock?

One thought on “The Comstock Lode

  1. Very fascinating. Thank for sharing. I remember hearing before that one of our distant redelivered has had found silver ore before but did not know the story

    Like

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