Nellie Cashman, nurse, restaurateur, businesswoman, Roman Catholic philanthropist in Arizona, and gold prospector in Alaska, dies on January 4, 1925, in Sisters of St. Anne hospital, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Cashman is born in Midleton, County Cork, one of two daughters of Patrick and Frances “Fanny” (Cronin) Cashman. Along with her sister, she is brought to the United States around 1850 by her mother, first settling in Boston. As an adolescent, she works as a bellhop in a Boston hotel. In 1865 she and her family migrate to San Francisco, California.
Of the thousands lured by the gold rush fever of the 19th century, few had the staying power or generous spirit of Cashman. She follows gold miners into British Columbia, where, during the early 1870s, she operates a boarding house while learning elementary mining techniques and geology. For the next 50 years, the precious metal leads her to Arizona, Nevada, Mexico, the Canadian Yukon, and north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. In addition to successfully prospecting and running mines, one time owning 11 mines in the Koyukuk District of Alaska, she operates boarding houses, restaurants, and supply depots.
The quality that truly establishes Cashman’s place in mining lore is her charity, which earns her the titles “Angel of Tombstone” and “Saint of the Sourdoughs” while sometimes obscuring her career as a successful miner. As early as 1874, while visiting Victoria, she leads a dangerous rescue effort to free a group of miners trapped by a severe winter storm. Later, during the glory days of Tombstone, Arizona, she helps establish the town’s first hospital and Sacred Heart Church, its first Roman Catholic church. Although she is known to be tough and aggressive in defending her claims, she is also big-hearted. Upon the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law, she takes in her nieces and nephews and raises them as her own.
Around 1889, Cashman is active in the gold camp at Harqua Hala, Arizona, and comes close to marrying Mike Sullivan, one of the original discoverers of gold in that area. Along with mining, she contributes a number of excellent articles to Tucson‘s Arizona Daily Star, in which she discusses history, techniques, types of claims, and personalities in the field.
Cashman spends the last 20 years of her life on Nolan Creek, in the Koyukuk River Basin of Alaska, then the farthest north of any mining camp in the world. She is among about eight women who join a group of approximately 200 miners to brave the harsh environment and isolation in hopes of striking the “big bonanza.” Once a year, she leaves for supplies and equipment, traveling hundreds of miles to Fairbanks, by sled, boat, or wagon. Her spirit of adventure apparently never dies. In 1921, during one of her trips to the outside, she is interviewed for Sunset, a California publication. Then 76, Cashman tells the writer that, although she loves Alaska, she is not so tied to it that she would not pull up stakes if something turned up elsewhere.
Nellie Cashman dies on January 4, 1925, in Sisters of St. Anne hospital in Victoria, one of the hospitals she had helped fund some 40 years earlier. The United States Postal Service honors her with a stamp on October 18, 1994 as part of its “Legends of the West” series.