“A monumentally researched biography of one of the nineteenth century’s wealthiest self-made Americans…Well-written and worthwhile” (The Wall Street Journal) it’s the rags-to-riches frontier tale of an Irish immigrant who outwits, outworks, and outmaneuvers thousands of rivals to take control of Nevada’s Comstock Lode.
Born in 1831, John W. Mackay was a penniless Irish immigrant who came of age in New York City, went to California during the Gold Rush, and mined without much luck for eight years. When he heard of riches found on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1859, Mackay abandoned his claim and walked a hundred miles to the Comstock Lode in Nevada.
Over the course of the next dozen years, Mackay worked his way up from nothing, thwarting the pernicious “Bank Ring” monopoly to seize control of the most concentrated cache of precious metals ever found on earth, the legendary “Big Bonanza,” a stupendously rich body of gold and silver ore discovered 1,500 feet beneath the streets of Virginia City, the ultimate Old West boomtown. But for the ore to be worth anything it had to be found, claimed, and successfully extracted, each step requiring enormous risk and the creation of an entirely new industry.
Now Gregory Crouch tells Mackay’s amazing story—how he extracted the ore from deep underground and used his vast mining fortune to crush the transatlantic telegraph monopoly of the notorious Jay Gould. “No one does a better job than Crouch when he explores the subject of mining, and no one does a better job than he when he describes the hardscrabble lives of miners” (San Francisco Chronicle). Featuring great period photographs and maps, The Bonanza King is a dazzling tour de force, a riveting history of Virginia City, Nevada, the Comstock Lode, and America itself.
Crouch's comprehensive narrative combines the history of Nevada's bustling Comstock Mine with the tale of how penniless miner John Mackay became a famous multimillionaire. The book's first half establishes background on the life of miners and the technical elements of mining. Mackay takes center stage in the second half, rising from poverty (so abject that the family shared quarters with its pig) to form a partnership that eventually built a very successful mine operations company. Since the former miner was a man of few words (and had a stutter), Crouch lets Mackay's work speak for him, showing how his firsthand mining knowledge gave him a competitive edge: while other mining companies engaged in speculation over mine stocks, Mackay focused on the tangible ore itself and was shielded from a major economic bust in 1860. The taciturn Irishman also enjoyed an unconventional but happy personal life; Crouch provides an admirably well-rounded description of Mackay's wife Louise's difficult early life and the balance that she offered him, despite their living apart most of the time. Helpful footnotes relate historical sites to modern landmarks or locations. This is a thorough tribute to the life and work of an honest man who earned his fortune and kept his good name in an era of fierce competition and astounding corruption.