Henry T.P. Comstock

Wednesday Sep. 8th, 2010

Mike Comstock

For those that payed attention in US History in high school, one might remember the story of the Comstock Lode silver mines in Nevada. The Lode was located in the towns of Virginia City and Nevada City, about a dozen miles east of Carson City, a one time location of one of the US Mints.

The initial ore discoveries were made by two brothers, Ethan and Hosea Grosh, in 1857, just eight years after the 1849 “49er” gold rush at Sutters Mill. After their discovery, the Grosh brothers headed back east to Pennsylvania, both dying under tragic circumstances before their claim could be recorded.

So in 1858, a prospector and shepherd from Virginia named Henry “ol’ Pancake” T.P. Comstock took possession of the Grosh’s cabin, laid claim to their mining site, and began to search for gold. While there was some gold, it was difficult to mine because of the bluish sand that seemed to plague the area. In 1859, Comstock sold the claim for an insignificant amount of money.

Almost immediately the bluish sand was assayed to be silver ore, and indeed the claim turned out to be the richest silver deposit ever discovered. There was a lot of gold as well, 57 percent of the ore being silver and 42 percent gold. Soon the “Rush to Washoe” occurred and there was a gold/silver rush to the Virginia City and Nevada City areas of Nevada. But large mining corporations also moved in almost immediately and a long period of litigation over claims ensued. Several rich investors eventually owned the claim, including George Hearst, head of the family that became the Hearst newspaper publishing empire.

From 1860 until 1900, the Comstock Lode produced over $300 million in gold and silver. While today congress can spend that much in a slow afternoon, back in the 1860s, that was a significant amount of money.

Three years later in 1862 during the Civil War, gold was discovered in Montana in Virginia City and Nevada City. Those towns in Montana were named after the same two towns in Nevada. Many of the miners from Nevada fled the litigation and silver ore mining to come for gold in Montana. Virginia City, Montana was named the first capitol of Montana territory.

One of those miners was the same Henry T.P. Comstock credited with the original Comstock discovery. He was later hired by Anaconda Copper as a prospector, and led a team around southwest Montana looking for gold and silver ore deposits.

So what has this got to do with Bozeman? What’s the secret that most folks don’t know? Henry Comstock died in Bozeman on September 27th, 1870. Some accounts say he was shot outside of a local bar in town, either robbed or as payback, while other accounts claim he likely committed suicide. Henry did not have a family, and so for lack of anywhere to send the body, he was buried in the Lindley Park cemetery next to the Nelson Story family plots (as in Story Street and the Story Mansion, but not Storey County, NV). His gravestone can be found there which reads, “Here Lies Henry T.P. Comstock, founder of the Comstock Lode, Storey County, Nevada”.

And the fun part is, even if you cannot find the gravestone, there are very many interesting gravestones and untold stories to find during an afternoon walking through the older part of the cemetery. This part borders the fence on the west side overlooking Bozeman.