Sandy and Eilley Orrum Bowers

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society

Sandy and Eilley Bowers built their mansion, shown here ca 1871, in Washoe Valley after striking it rich on the great Comstock Lode. Sandy subsequently died, and poverty forced Eilley to sell her home, which is now a Washoe County park.

Courtesy of the Special Collections Library, University of Nevada, Reno.

Sandy and Eilley Bowers were two of the first people to strike it fabulously rich on the Comstock Lode. They built a beautiful mansion in Washoe Valley, but then Sandy became sick and died, their mine failed, and Eilley sunk to poverty.

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society

Eilley Bowers lost her mansion after her husband, Sandy, died and she was forced to sell her home to settle debts. By the mid twentieth century the place had fallen into disrepair.

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society.

Sandy and Eilley Bowers rose from operating a boarding house to becoming a millionaire, having struck it rich on the Comstock Lode with her husband. She eventually lost everything and became a fortuneteller, dying blind and destitute.

Photograph and Caption courtesy of Todd DeMeza

Bowers Mansion has been restored and is located in the Bowers Mansion Regional Park. Tours of the interior are available to the public.

Sandy and Eilley Orrum Bowers rose and fell with the fortunes of their Comstock mine, becoming the focus of one of early Nevada's more poignant stories. Scottish-born Eilley Orrum Cowan was one of a few women living in the Comstock Mining District when the 1859 strike occurred. She had divorced her second husband after he returned to Salt Lake City in 1857, summoned by his Church of Latter-day Saints to wait for a federal invasion that never took place. Eilley profited from washing clothes, living humbly in Gold Hill. According to local lore, she obtained ten feet of the Lode as payment for room and board.

Sandy Bowers came west from Missouri and worked as a Gold Canyon miner before the strike. He possessed ten feet of a claim next to Eilley Cowan's. When the two married, their union gave them command of fabulous wealth. Eilley was thirty-three, and Sandy twenty-nine.

Most of the original Comstock claimants sold out within a few months, but Sandy and Eilley Bowers kept their holding. They ultimately extracted approximately one million dollars of ore, half of which was profit.

Beginning in 1861, Sandy and Eilley built a mansion costing several hundred thousand dollars. Most who acquired wealth in Nevada mines commissioned large estates elsewhere, notably in California's Bay Area. The Bowerses selected Washoe Valley, west of their mine. Seeking the finest appointments, the couple traveled to Europe on an extravagant spending spree in 1861. Tradition maintained that they attempted but failed to meet Queen Victoria. On the return voyage in 1863, the couple adopted a newborn whose mother had just been buried at sea. They named the girl Persia after the ship.

Upon arrival in Nevada, Sandy found his ore body depleted and his health diminished. He died in 1868 of lung disease. Bowers was a simple honest miner unable to keep his fortune or exploit the opportunity it represented. Eilley struggled financially and emotionally. The death of Persia in 1874 punctuated the decline.

To remain solvent, Eilley hosted travelers passing by the mansion. Eventually, she raffled off her furniture and possessions. She managed to keep her home for a while, but nothing could forestall foreclosure when Myron Lake obtained the estate in 1878.

Eilley long claimed she was psychic and apparently asked legendary mail carrier Snowshoe Thompson to bring her a crystal ball in 1858. The fact that she once struck it rich enhanced her reputation, which she exploited working as a fortuneteller in Virginia City, Reno, and California. She became known as the Washoe Seeress and was credited with predicting Virginia City's great fire of 1875.

Ultimately, Eilley went blind and deaf, ending her career as a clairvoyant. Impoverished, she died in 1903 in California. She was important in local folklore, playing the role of the woman who strikes it rich, a story repeated in other western mining districts. Eilley's poignant tale combined tragic elements with her reliance on the supernatural, which enhanced the oral tradition.

Bowers Mansion passed through many hands, alternating between a resort and an abandoned derelict. In 1946, volunteers worked with Washoe County to acquire the property for a park, a function it serves to this day.

Further Reading

Swift Paine. Eilley Orrum, Queen of the Comstock. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1929.
Alice B. Addenbrooke. The Mistress of the Mansion. Palo Alto, CA: Pacific Books, 1959.

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