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Cashman, Nellie (1844–1925)

Cashman, Nellie (1844–1925)

American miner and philanthropist. Born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1844; died on January 4, 1925, in St. Joseph's Hospital, Victoria; one of two daughters of Patrick and Frances "Fanny" (Cronin) Cashman.

Of the thousands lured by the gold-rush fever of the 19th century, few had the staying power or generous spirit of Nellie Cashman. An Irish immigrant who spent her childhood in Boston, Cashman first followed gold miners into British Columbia, Canada, where, during the early 1870s, she operated a boarding house while learning elementary mining techniques

and geology. For the next 50 years, the precious metal led her to Arizona, Nevada, Mexico, the Canadian Yukon, and north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. In addition to successfully prospecting and running mines (at one time she owned 11 mines in the Koyukuk District of Alaska), she operated boarding houses, restaurants, and supply depots.

The quality that truly established Nellie Cashman's place in mining lore was her charity, which earned her the titles "Angel of Tombstone" and "Saint of the Sourdoughs" while sometimes obscuring her career as a successful miner. As early as 1874, while visiting Victoria, she led a dangerous, some called it insane, rescue effort to free a group of miners trapped by a severe winter storm. Later, during the glory days of Tombstone, Arizona, she helped establish the town's first hospital and its first Roman Catholic Church. Although she was known to be tough and aggressive in defending her claims, she was also big-hearted. Upon the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law, Cashman took in her nieces and nephews and brought them up as her own.

Around 1889, Cashman was active in the gold camp at Harqua Hala, Arizona, and came close to marrying Mike Sullivan, one of the original discoverers of gold in that area. Along with mining, she contributed a number of excellent articles for Tucson's Arizona Daily Star, in which she discussed history, techniques, types of claims, and personalities in the field.

Cashman spent the last 20 years of her life on Nolan Creek, in the Koyukuk River Basin of Alaska, then the farthest north of any mining camp in the world. She was among about eight women who joined a group of approximately 200 miners to brave the harsh environment and isolation in hopes of striking the "big bonanza." Once a year, she would leave for supplies and equipment, traveling hundreds of miles to Fairbanks, by sled, boat, or wagon. Her spirit of adventure apparently never died. In 1921, during one of her trips to the outside, she was interviewed for Sunset, a California publication. Then 76, Cashman told the writer that, although she loved Alaska, she was not so tied to it that she wouldn't pull up stakes if something turned up somewhere else.

Nellie Cashman died on January 4, 1925, in St. Joseph's Hospital in Victoria—one of the hospitals she had helped fund some 40 years earlier. The U.S. Postal Service honored her with a stamp in 1944 as part of its "Legends of the West" series.


Chaput, Don. "In Search of Silver & Gold," in American History. February 1996.

suggested reading:

Chaput, Don. Nellie Cashman and the North American Mining Frontier. Tucson, AZ: Westernlore Press, 1995.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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