Experiencing history the hard way: a trans-Sierra trek aims to correct history

Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 7:38 PM PST
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SILVER CITY, Nev. (KOLO) -Travel by Interstate 80 across the Sierra was halted Monday, deemed too difficult and dangerous for motorists, but a group of intrepid adventurers set out to make the same journey, much of it through Sierra backcountry on foot. Their mission? Nothing less than rewriting history by experiencing it first hand.

Anyone who witnessed a strange gathering on a late February afternoon this weekend in Silver City would have to at least wondered what would bring a group of people, some dressed in pioneer garb, out to a rarely visited graveyard to stand in snow in a bitterly cold breeze. It was, in fact, a prelude to what promises to be an unlikely difficult journey. The conditions here will be mild here in the Silver City graveyard compared to what’s ahead.

It’s a journey to link two graves, the last resting spots for two brothers who played a key role in one of the great turning points in Nevada and American history.

Ethan Allen Grosh and his younger brother Hosea grew up in Pennsylvania, the sons of a Universalist minister. They joined the great California Gold Rush in 1849, experiencing all the hardship with little success, always falling short of a big find. Eight years later, life found them on the other side of the Sierra, working the dry canyons of what is now known as the Comstock.

With an education, which included some knowledge of chemistry and metallurgy, they were uniquely prepared to discover and recognize the riches the area held. Not gold, but silver. The richest strike anywhere at that time.

To exploit it, they needed to confirm their find and raise the capital to mine and process it. That meant a trip to an assayist in Grass Valley and beyond to Sacramento and San Francisco.

They gathered the necessary samples and the maps of their claims. But just before leaving, Hosea hit his foot with a pick. At first the wound didn’t seem serious, but infection set in and he died.

Grief stricken, Ethan Allen set out across the Sierra in the winter with a young companion, Richard Maurice Bucke, leaving his cabin in the care of an acquaintance, Henry Comstock.

Frostbitten, starving, and almost out of hope they were eventually rescued by miners from a camp called Last Chance where Ethan Allen Grosh died and was buried. Their maps, the ore samples had been stashed along the way when they became too weak to carry it.

Time and others’ greed would eventually erase most of their story, even as their discovery built fortunes. The Grosh Brothers never made a dime.

“Not only did they miss out , but so did their family,” says Hal Hall, who with John Trent has authored ‘Myth-Busting the Myth: The Grosh Brothers’ Grasp on an Unforgiving History,’ “Their father specifically who years afterwards when he learned of the Comstock Lode and its riches staked a claim.”

Hall and others say they were also robbed of their place in history.

“Perhaps, instead of the Comstock Lode, we should have been calling it the Grosh Lode,” notes expedition team member Bob Crowley.

The expedition, following a map drawn by Bucke may be a first step toward righting that wrong, but first they have to make the trek, In this weather, no mean feat.

“These were remarkable brothers, young men,” says Crowley. “So we’re incentivized to tell that story and, if Mother Nature going to serve it up just like it did for them, we’ll take it.”

Of course that didn’t end well 165 years ago.

“We expect a different outcome,” insists Crowley. The team members are no strangers to the Sierra or challenges like this. It includes veteran distance runners and has traced the treks of the Forlorn Hope relief effort to the Donner Party.

You’ll find more information about their expeditions and the Grosh Brothers story on their website, historyexp.org