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Object ID 1000.122.05
Title From the Comstock Lode to Chevy Chase
Object Name Exhibit
Date 1998
Creator Eleanor Ford
Description From the Comstock Lode to Chevy Chase (p. 5 of 7: see 1000.122.01-04 and 1000.122.06-07)
May 20, 1998
For Ed Heller's slide lecture for Chevy Chase Historical Society

Panel #5

The Kings of the Comstock

The Bank of California, San Francisco

Darius Ogden Mills, 1825-1910
Born in North Salem, N.Y.
Elementary education only
Clerk in bank in New York City
1847: Cashier of Merchant's Bank, Buffalo
1849: Moves to Sacramento trading merchandise and N.Y. Exchange stocks
1850: Founds Bank of D.O. Mills & Co. which leads Sacramento's development and earns Mills a fortune
1864: With Ralston, organizes Bank of California in San Francisco. President of bank, 1864-72. Succeeded by Ralston
1875: Ralston's extravagance forces Bank of California to close. Mills and Sharon fund its re-opening 40 days later. Mills again bank president to 1878
1878: Returns to and remains in New York City - investor in and director of banking, railway and industrial organizations. Supports many public charities

W.C. Ralston, 1826-1875
Born in Wellsville, Ohio
1842: Clerk on Mississippi River steamboat
1850: Agent of steamship co. in Panama City
1854: Moves to San Francisco as company partner
1856-7: First try at forming a bank fails
1864: With Mills, organizes Bank of California, succeeding Mills as president in 1872
1875: Impetuous, audacious, risky investments (often made with irrational enthusiasm), using bank funds, bankrupt Ralston and close the Bank. Mills and Sharon force him to resign. He swims to sea and drowns.

The Bank of California became the nexus and foundation of the state's fiscal stability, using its resources to advance both city and state, famers, mechanics, miners and capitalists; investing in railroads, shipping, irrigation, mills, mining, hotels, theatres and real estate development.

Virginia City and Washington D.C.

William Sharon, 1821-1885
Born in Smithfield, Ohio
2 years at Athens College; farming
2 years of law in office of E.M. Stanton (later Lincoln's Sec. of War); admitted to bar in Steubenville, Ohio; practices law in St. Louis
1846: With his brother, sells merchandise along the Ohio River
1849: Heads for gold fields: Sierras, Placerville, Mt. Davison, Sacramento, where he opens a store selling miners supplies
1850: Moves to San Francisco, investing his store profits in town real estate and mining stocks
1862: Loses almost all, speculating in Comstock shares
1864: Ralston sends Sharon to Virginia City to open bank branch. Sharon lends at low rates to mills, forecloses when mines slump
1867: Organizes Union Mill & Mining Co. to buy and manage mill property held by bank
1869: Starts building the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, which gives the bank control of transport to VA City
1875-81: U.S. Senator from Nevada, succeeding Stewart. Bank of California closes. Sharon organizes syndicate to provide funds, re-opening the bank in 40 days; assumes control of all Ralston's holdings and administers bank's (10 Comstock mines, ½ of VA & Truckee R.R., Spring Valley Water Works, etc.)
1880s: Sharon is largest single taxpayer in California
1885: Dies at Palace Hotel, leaving 1/3 of his fortune to his son-in-law Francis G. Newlands and Newlands' 3 daughters

William Morris Stewart, 1827-1909
Born near Lyons, N.Y.
Works thru school farming and teaching
1848-50: Yale
1850: Moves to Nevada City, prospecting very successfully for 12 years
1852: Oversees formation of mining rules at Nevada City. District attorney of Nevada County
1854: Attorney-general of California in S.F.
1860: Moves to Comstock area. Resolves disputes over miners' claims to Comstock Lode, exposes corrupt Nevada judiciary
1864: U.S. Senator from Nevada - to 1875
1866: Wins passage of 1st national mining laws, with additions in 1870 and 72 - still in effect.
1875: Returns to law practice in San Francisco, Nevada and Arizona. Invests in mines
1883: Defends Sharon against lawsuit
1885: Moves to Carson City; runs for U.S. Senate, backed by Mackay, against Fair
1887: U.S. Senator - to 1905
1905: Moves to Rhyolite Nevada
1909: Dies in Washington, D.C., having helped to establish the political, legal and social institutions of the new western communities

The careers of these four men were so full, so various, so tumultuous, so entwined with the major events of their days, so open to conflicting interpretations that all summaries are inadequate.

Information and illustrations from:

Eliot Lord: Comstock Mining & Mines
1959 reprint of 1883 edition
Nowell-North: Berkeley, Cal.
Effie Mona Mack: William Morris Stewart 1827-1909
Nevada Historical Society Quarterly,
Vol. VII, 1 & 2, 1964.
Douglas McDonald: Virginia City & the Silver Region of the Comstock Lode
Nevada Publications, Las Vegas, 1982.
T.A. Rickard: A History of American Mining
McGraw Hill: N.Y. 1932.
John D. Wilburn: Gold & Silver Mines on the Comstock Lode
Publications Press: Mesa, Arizona 1988.
Frank Wright: The Comstock
Nevada Historical Society 1985.
Ted Worm and Harre Demoro: The Silver Short Line
Trans Anglo Books: Glendale, Cal. 1983.