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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Birth of James Graham Fair, Mining Tycoon & U.S. Senator

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James Graham Fair, banker, mining tycoon, and United States Senator from Nevada, is born in Clogher, County Tyrone on December 3, 1831. He is credited with discovering the Big Bonanza, one of the richest pockets of gold and silver on the Comstock Lode.

Born in what is now Northern Ireland in 1831 to Scotch-Irish parents, Fair immigrates with his family to the United States when he is a boy and grows up on a farm in Illinois. Following the 1849 California Gold Rush, he travels to California. He earns a reputation for understanding ore bodies, inspiring his eventual employment as superintendent of various mines.

The 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada provides Fair with new opportunities. In 1865, he becomes superintendent of the prestigious Ophir Mine. Two years later, the Hale and Norcross Mine in Virginia City hire him as assistant superintendent, but the owners dismiss him within a year for unclear reasons.

While at the Hale and Norcross, Fair meets John William Mackay, whose success at the Kentuck Mine made him a millionaire. The two Irish immigrants recognize common interests and form an alliance. Mackay gives Fair the position of superintendent of the Rising Star Mine in Idaho, a property he had recently acquired. The venture proves unsuccessful, but it solidifies a working relationship between the two.

Fair works quietly with Mackay and investors James C. Flood and William S. O’Brien to obtain control of the Hale and Norcross Mine. Fair turns it to profit with better management. He and Mackay combine their expertise to acquire and explore other claims. In 1873, largely through Fair’s persistent search in the Consolidated California and Virginia Mine, the partnership discovers the famed Big Bonanza, one of the richest ore bodies in history. Fair and the others become extremely wealthy. He uses his assets to defeat the incumbent William Sharon for a seat in the United States Senate, which he holds in an undistinguished way from 1881-1887 as a Democrat.

Fair develops real estate in San Francisco and acquires mining property outside Nevada. Theresa Fair, his wife, is respected in Virginia City for donations to causes including those of the Catholic Church and the Daughters of Charity. When she divorces her husband in 1883 for habitual adultery, national public opinion turns against the senator. During his bid for reelection, he finds little support. Even Mackay fails to come to his aid, and he easily loses his seat to William Morris Stewart in 1887. He then moves back to San Francisco.

James Fair dies on December 28, 1894 in San Francisco of diabetes mellitus at the age of 63. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California.

Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017). I have also served on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, Chairman 2017-2018) and the Walnut Valley Property Owners Association board (2015-2020, Secretary 2017-2020).

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