Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Nellie Cashman - Woman Prospector

By Suzanne Norquist

When I think of mineral prospecting in the gold rush days, an image of a bearded man in suspenders comes to mind.

Not much information is available about the few brave women who joined them in the hunt for riches. A certain wanderlust is required. Marriages didn’t last, and they often left their children to be raised by someone else.

Yet, one woman stands out as a legendary heroine in her time. Nellie Cashman.

She never married, yet maintained a spotless reputation while working among the men. Many considered her an “Angel of Mercy” for her brave deeds and work to serve the poor. If Nellie asked for donations for a hospital or church, the miners coughed up the money.

Born in Ireland in 1845, she moved with her family to Boston and then to San Francisco. Nellie traveled to Virginia City with her mother in the early 1870s. There they ran a boarding house, and she listened to the miner’s stories.

In 1872, Nellie and  her mother ran a boarding house in the remote and rough mining camp of Pioche, NV. Most likely, this is where she began prospecting. Perhaps her work alongside her mother as a young woman (properly chaperoned) allowed her to maintain her reputation.

Then in 1873, she joined a group of miners on an expedition to Cassiar district of British Columbia, leaving her mother behind. Although only five feet tall and less than a hundred pounds, she had carved out her place as the only woman in an all man party. There she opened a boarding house and saloon.

She went to Victoria for the winter, but many of her friends stayed in the Cassiar district. When she learned that they were without supplies, she determined to help them. She persuaded six men to go with her on a crazy seventy-seven-day mission to bring them supplies. When the snow was too deep for the dogs, she pulled the sled herself.

The military sent a rescue party, only to find she didn’t need rescuing. Her party arrived in time to save lives. This adventure solidified her reputation as an angel.

Later she opened a boarding house and restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. Then in Tombstone, Arizona, she ran a shoe store, grocery store, and restaurant. After her sister died, she looked after her nieces and nephews for three years before placing the children with the Catholic church. She assumed financial responsibility and returned to prospecting.

She invested in several profitable mining ventures and moved through western mining camps. In 1883, she traveled with a party to Baja, CA. Legend says she found gold but hid the discovery to protect the navies. Rumors circulated that she’d saved the prospecting party, but she admits they saved her from dying of thirst.

In 1897, she joined the Klondike gold rush and made the brutal climb up Chilkoot Pass.

For the rest of her eighty years, she followed the gold rushes, mostly in Alaska.

In 1994, she was featured on a United States postage stamp as part of the Legends of the West series.

She makes me proud to be a woman.


Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.

She authors a blog entitled, Ponderings of a BBQ Ph.D.

“Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

For a Free Preview, click here: http://a.co/1ZtSRkK


  1. Wow! I've never heard of Nellie and am so glad to learn of her!! Thanks for posting.

  2. She certainly led an interesting life. Thanks for commenting.

  3. A woman out of her time, and yet she managed to be in so many places when most needed. I think a novel needs to be written with her as the heroine :)