History the Hard Way; Trans Sierra trek resumes

A group is retracing the fateful route of the Grosh Brothers, the original discoverers of the Comstock Lode.
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 6:52 PM PDT
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WASHOE VALLEY, Nev. (KOLO) -They said they’d be back... and today they were.

A team of experienced trail runners set out Wednesday to complete a trek across the Sierra.

Their aim? Rewriting a chapter of early Nevada history by experiencing it first-hand.

The last time we saw these people they were having fun in a local climbing gym having just hit the pause button on a much more strenuous undertaking, a 100-mile wintertime trek across the Sierra. They’d left the Silver City Cemetery the day before, after pausing for some thoughtful moments at a sadly little-noticed gravesite of an early prospector, a minister’s son from Pennsylvania. Their goal was a remote spot across the mountains and the grave of his brother.

The names of Hosea and Ethan Allen Grosh have been barely afforded a footnote in history, but they may be due so much more. Recent research, some of it by the expedition members themselves, points to evidence the brothers were the real discoverers of the Comstock Lode.

They’d followed thousands of others in 1849 to California in search of gold. Nine years later found them still looking for their fortune in the dry canyons of western Nevada. Others doing the same cursed the bluish mud that choked their equipment, The Grosh brothers may have been the first to recognize it as silver.

They needed only to raise the money to work it, but that meant taking ore samples to an assayist on the other side of the mountains and then taking proof to the bankers in San Francisco.

But before they left Hosea struck his foot with a pickaxe, Infection set in and he died. Grief-stricken, his brother decided to make the trip with a friend, Richard Bucke. They set off in November of 1857, leaving their cabin, maps and other belongings in the care of a man named Henry Comstock.

Ethan Allen Grosh died and was buried in a little-known camp called Last Chance, Bucke lost both feet to gangrene and returned to his native Canada. Comstock? Well, you can guess the rest. He got the credit, sold out cheaply and big money interests buried the story of the Grosh brothers.

“They never had the opportunity to capitalize on it,” says History Expedition’s Bob Crowley, “and we think that’s a shame. So part of what we’re doing is bringing the public’s awareness of it. that the Grosh brothers were the real discoverers of that lode.”

Their story is only now fully emerging, told most recently in a book penned in part by historian Hal Hall, another member of the team.

The trek was planned to follow the route from Silver City to Last Chance, grave to grave. The first leg took them over the Virginia Range to Washoe Valley. They made good time in high winds, but the next day added snow and, worst of all, an extreme avalanche danger warning on the path ahead. They decided to stand down and wait for safer weather. We know what those next weeks were like.

Finally, Wednesday they picked up where they left off. Ahead are 80 or so miles of deep snow and, except for a ride around the north end of Tahoe, most of it Sierra backcountry, far from the comforts and security of civilization.

If all goes well they will arrive at Last Chance on Friday. dig through the snow to find Ethan Grosh’s gravestone, say a few words written by one of his descendants, and leave with thoughts gathered while struggling through difficult miles in his footsteps.

“We have about 85 miles. ahead of us,” says Crowley, “and along the way we’ll definitely be talking about their journey and what they endured and ultimately the legacy they left.”

For more information: https://donnerpartyrunners.com