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The tale of Nevada pioneer Eilley Bower

by Ron Walker

Eilley Oram is living in Clackmannan, Scotland. Her life is a combination of cold, damp, and dreary days. Living in a croft is not a week in the Bahamas, as rocks from the rubble-filled fields are so not conducive to warmth. Who could envision her as the queen of a mansion in sunny Washoe Valley.

The year is 1842. Eilley marries Stephan Hunter. She is 15 years old. Hunter wishes to migrate to the Utah Territory and become a Mormon missionary. (Eilley does not warm to being baptized.) They make the journey and get settled, when Hunter is called back to Salt Lake City for the winter. Eilley does not cotton to the idea and remains in the Genoa area.

In quick succession, Eillely meets and marries Alex Cowan and, when that relationship sours, she meets and marries Sandy Bower. They are supremely compatible and the “true” Eilley blossoms. Her relationship with Bower kindles to life and they marry on Aug. 9, 1859. Eilley is 32 and Sandy is 26.

Eilley opens a boarding house. (Miners need to be fed and occasionally they want their cloths washed.) Suddenly, she is in the midst of a mining boom. She collects and trades mining claims and has a flare for knowing where a good deal may be located. In no time, she has accumulated a stack of mining claims.

Eilley has a 10-foot wide claim and Sandy has the adjacent 10-foot strip, so they combine their parcels and their mine produces a bonanza of wealth. Whether it’s the Scotch blood in her or a challenge between the two of them, they formulate a method of mining that produces great wealth ­— to the tune of $18,000 a week. (Who knows how much that would translate into today’s dollars.)

A small problem, however, surfaces. As soon as construction begins on Bowers Mansion, they run out of places to spend money. Thus, they embark on a 10-month shopping crusade to Europe. They purchase elegant furniture, art works, all the refinements necessary to put Bowers Mansion on the map. Folks in San Francisco and Virginia City will now have competition with which to contend.

When Eilley and Sandy return to the forested splendor of the wooded side of Washoe Valley, they finish off the details of construction in gold and silver doorknobs and custom-made hinges on the doors, then their mine starts to play out; in no time, Sandy’s spirit is used up and he passes away. Of course, there had been huge Victorian-age picnics, with crowds of 5,000, but Eilley’s life is no longer on the upswing.

Tamara (Tammy) Buzick, the curator of Bowers Mansion, has devoted a large part of her life separating fact from fiction in Eilley’s life. She is a delight to speak with. A swimming pool, fountain, and many buildings are waiting to be discovered. Eilley lived a life of opulence, told fortunes for a living, was boarding house owner, wife, and mother. Enlighten your mind and awaken your spirit. Take a trip to Bowers Mansion. Enjoy a brush with history and revel life at a slow, slow pace.

Ron Walker can be reached at walkover@gmx.com