By Dennis Cassinelli
In the history of the Comstock Lode, hundreds of anecdotes could be related, tragic, pathetic and comic. Typical of these is the story of Lemuel S. Bowers, commonly known as Sandy Bowers. This is the story of an uneducated, easy going frontiersman who fatefully was blessed with extraordinary wealth.
in 1859 when the fabulous Comstock Lode was discovered, Bowers happened to be mining for gold in Gold Canyon using the simple rocker process of washing the mineral bearing earth. It just happened that his 10-foot claim covered a portion of the Comstock Lode.
Adjacent to Sandy’s claim was another of the same size belonging to Mrs. Cowan, otherwise known as Eilley Orrum. She had been running a boarding house in nearby Johntown. The two of them decided to combine their claims into one and soon were married. As it turned out, the combined claims quickly provided extraordinary richness for the couple. Within a few years, they were overwhelmed with amazing wealth.
Both Sandy and Eilley were totally ignorant about business matters. They knew nothing about making prudent investments and became the tools of harpies and charlatans. One thing they did seem to understand early on was how to spend a great amount of their fortune.
In 1861 work began on the fabulous Bowers Mansion in nearby Washoe Valley. Mrs. Bowers decided it should be fitting to travel to Europe to shop for furnishings for the new mansion. Sandy’s friends jokingly advised him to see the sights and become polished in accordance with the station they were in the future to occupy.
Before leaving for Europe, Sandy was told that the proper thing do was to give a banquet. Sandy thought this was a splendid idea, so the International Hotel in Virginia City was engaged for the occasion. Every obtainable luxury was ordered that Virginia City or San Francisco could furnish. Champagne was to be free as water in a spring flood. Everyone in town was invited. Toasts were drunk and Sandy Bowers was called upon to reply. He arose and delivered the following speech:
“I’ve been in this yer country amongst the fust that come here. I’ve had powerful good luck, and I’ve got money to throw at the birds. Thar ain’t no chance for a gentleman to spend his coin in this country, and thar ain’t nothin much to see, so me and Mrs. Bowers is agoin’ to Europe to take in the sights. One of the great men of this country was in this region awhile back. That was Horace Greeley. I saw him and he did not look like no great shakes. Outside of him, the only great men I’ve seen in this Country is Govenor Nye and Old Winnemucca. Now me and Mrs. Bowers is goin’ to Europe to see the Queen of England and other men of them countries, and I hope you’ll all jine in and and drink to Mrs. Bowers health. Thars plenty of champagne, and money aint’t no object.”
Sandy and Eilley spent several years abroad. They purchased much elegant furniture, laces and pictures for their mansion in Washoe Valley. This mansion was completed during their absence and was erected at a cost of more than $400,000.
Sandy still had “money to throw at the birds,” but it was not long before the hawks, vultures and other birds of prey got the greater portion. Sandy Bowers died not long after the couple returned from their European tour. Eilley lived on for several years, but her existence was nothing like the former glory of the Comstock days. She did the best she could by telling fortunes to pour souls who would never experience the Glory she had seen. Eilley built a third story on the mansion to use as a boarding house so she could bring in some extra money.
This edited article is from Dennis Cassinelli’s book, “Chronicles of the Comstock” Being in short supply, it is now available from Amazon as an e-book