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Tahoe Nugget #184:

Ghosts of Gold Hill Nevada
May 20, 2010

With yet another storm blowing in (May has been cold and damp and more snow is forecast for this weekend), yesterday I took advantage of a day with no editorial deadlines or scheduled presentations and drove down to Gold Hill, Nevada, to enjoy one of my favorite activities. Exploring historic cemeteries.

Nugget #184 Tombstone & Cloud
Impressive grave marker stands tall in the Nevada springtime.

 Last month I gave a lecture at the historic Gold Hill Hotel (built 1861) and then spent the night. The next morning while hiking along the newly
reconstructed tracks of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, I observed a fairly large cemetery hidden in the hills below. I have explored all the cemeteries at nearby Virginia City just a mile or two up the road, but I had no idea that there was a significant burial ground at Gold Hill. I made a mental note to return at my next available opportunity.

Nugget #184 Final Resting Place
Isolated gravesite in the windswept desert terrain.

Since there is no road sign for the cemetery turn off, I was prepared to bushwhack over piles of mining tailings and through scratchy sagebrush down from the V&T right-of-way. On a hunch, I first stopped at the Gold Hill Post Office and asked the postmaster if he knew how to get to the cemetery. Even though he had worked there for 18 years, he knew nothing about it. As I exited the post office I noticed two bearded local guys hand rolling a tight cigarette despite the gusty wind. I told them of my dilemma and by a stroke of luck, not only did they know where the cemetery was, one of the guys got in my car and showed me the way there.

Nugget #184 Death by Flywheel
Miner Richard Brey killed in a flywheel accident.

We made a left off the paved road onto a steep dirt road that climbed up half a mile into the hills. As a rule I don't drive back roads in this area
of Nevada. You have a good chance of meeting the business end of a shotgun wielded by one of the reclusive locals that live in these barren hills for one reason. Privacy.

Nugget #184 Knickerbocker Shaft
Miner Thomas Cook killed trying to save his fellow miners.

After I dropped my guide off back at the post office, I drove back to the cemetery and spent about two hours there checking out the headstones and taking photos while broken storm clouds rolled in from the Sierra. In another week colorful wild flowers will be blooming, a glorious sight, but I was content with the dramatic combination of sun and cloud.

Nugget #184 Bennett Hero Death
Miner Bennett also died in a rescue attempt.

As you can see from some of the inscriptions on the grave markers, hard rock mining in the Comstock Era was a tough and dangerous business. Many miners died young and tragically. Underground explosions and fires were a constant threat. The vertical obelisk for Wm. Henry Bennetts from England is inscribed: "Died attempting to rescue fallen miners in the alla drift." (A drift is a mining term used for a tunnel dug horizontally into the side of a mountain.) Fences made of wood or ornate wrought iron protected gravesites from wolves and coyotes.

Nugget #184 Tilted Fence Cloud
Relics from a fascinating past.

More stories from Gold Hill will be shared in a future Nugget.

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