December 15, 2005
Nevada's Online State News Journal
[From The History of Nevada, edited by Sam P. Davis, vol. II (1912)]
724 THE HISTORY OF NEVADA
SANDY BOWERS AND HIS MANSION.
No stranger tale of the sudden rise to affluence and the swift descent to poverty was ever told than this true story of Sandy Bowers and his accidental acquirement of a great fortune. He was a waiter in a Gold-Hill restaurant, and there he met Mrs. Gowan, a young woman serving in the same capacity. They were both simple-minded people with no thought in life except to work at their calling and get their slender wages.
The miners who patronized the place thought it might be rather good fun to induce the two to marry. With this end in view they promised them one million dollars as a wedding gift, that is a donation of stock certificates whose par value would total a million. These stocks represented holdings in Gold-Hill mines and were considered of so little value that the miners papered their cabins with them, and some even kindled their fires with them.
On the wedding night the miners gathered at the marriage-feast with mock solemnity and one of them presented the young couple with about a bushel of stock certificates "to begin house-keeping with," and everybody made merry, and the linking together of this odd couple was one of the jokes of the town.
Not long after, however, ore was struck in the mines of Gold-Hill, and these stock certificates suddenly began to advance in value. Some of them went in leaps and bounds and Bowers took the friendly advice of a broker and unloaded. The stocks, given him amid so much hilarity, netted something over one million in cold cash, and then the laugh was on the wags who had made Bowers a millionaire as a practical joke. The day he got his money he made a short talk from the veranda of the International Hotel, and in closing announced that he "had money to throw at the birds" and that he wanted to treat every man on the ledge. He had made arrangements with the saloons to keep the conviviality up all night, and champagne was the favorite tipple on
SANDY BOWERS AND HIS MANSION 725
that occasion. No one ever knew what that great spree cost Bowers, but the accounts he settled the next day went into many thousands.
The pair went to Europe and Mrs. Bowers was "presented to the Queen." This was probably the greatest day of her life and she gave orders to the dressmakers to have a gown that would be mentioned in the Court journal as the costliest of the season, which it was.
Returning to Nevada, they purchased a piece of ground in Washoe County, where there was a forest of giant pines, and a natural hot-spring. "The Mansion" cost something like $600,000, but the middlemen got most of the money. The windows were all of French-plate and the door-knobs solid silver. Bowers had designing advisers in those days, and they led him into all manner of foolish extravagances. His convivial disposition induced him to keep open house at the Mansion, and with a cellar full of wine, an orchestra of musicians, and a well-stocked larder, he managed to have plenty of company. There was a dance nearly every night in the year, and he was never happier than when his place was jammed with guests. The throb of the music, the midnight wassail, the light, laughter, and bubbling wine, all made their inroads into Sandy's bank account, and the end came at last.
He and his wife tried to stem the tide of poverty by taking what little they had left and building additions to the house that they might entertain summer boarders. They remodeled the place, and issued printed circulars to their old friends, inviting them to come and spend the season at twenty-five dollars per week. It is claimed that of all their old-time friends they had entertained so lavishly, not quite a half-dozen responded. The ominous figures "$25 per" seemed to be the main stumbling block to a renewal of past acquaintance. So the place fell into other hands, being sold under the Sheriff's hammer to satisfy debts.
Sandy Bowers died and lies alongside of his wife in the rear of his old home. After his demise Mrs. Bowers earned a precarious living telling fortunes, being known as "The Washoe Seeress." A few years after she had been presented at the English Court in a gown that dazzled the British aristocracy, she was out at night on the bleak hillside gathering fagots to keep her fire alive.
Some twenty years ago a Reno newspaper-man visited the spot and gave the following graphic pen picture of the scene. His name cannot be ascertained.
726 THE HISTORY OF NEVADA
"The gate was tied up, and the unbroken road showed that no carriages had passed through it for many a day. A stroll over the grounds showed that they were really deserted by everything except the birds and jackrabbits. The dancing hall was empty and the old bath-house supplied with water from the hot springs had been turned into a sort of hostelrie for the wayfaring tramps, who, at the approach of footsteps, crawled out and betook themselves to the hills. The trees, no longer pruned or cared for, had begun to assume the form and look of the natural production. The fountain, which in better days had sent its jet of silver high in the air and showered its spray upon the grass when the wind was high, had evidently not been in a state of activity for years. The upper basin was as dry as a limekiln, and the lower one was in but little better condition. At the approach of the scribe a number of frogs croaked a lugubrious acknowledgement, which, if the language of reptiles means anything, was a palpable hint to take a walk. A black snake lay coiled on the edge of the masonry. Unabashed by human presence, he continued basking in the sun, and wore the air of a party who knew his rights. Lizards darted in and out of the crevices of the stones; and mottled toads, with bellies of aldermanic pattern, sweated and sweltered in the grass, the growth of which no lawn-mower had ever worried.
"The house had kept pace with the premises in the matter of decay. The doors were all nailed up, and any one stepping on the porch would wager any amount that the building was empty. Each tread was multiplied into a score of echoes which only empty houses respond to. A peep through the windows showed nothing but uncarpeted floors, bare walls and ghastly white ceilings.
"In one corner, however, the reporter discovered a ragged plaid apron whose stains of yellow soap, etc., told of its brave service in the interest of cleanliness and its many desperate encounters with the washboard.
"At the north end of the house, evergreens, boxwood and laurel grew each after their own fashion as if in their native forest, and the tall grass and weeds reared themselves so rankly .that if they could only hold out through the long winter and tackle the proposition afresh in the spring, they would soon outstrip the trees. Masses of coarse ivy with leaves as broad as one's hand hung from the walls. The presence of
SANDY BOWERS AND HIS MANSION 727
his plant, which seems to gloat over decay and foster dilapidation, completed the picture for a ruins; without ivy it is only a fraud of a ruin anyhow and will not pass muster as a genuine antiquity."
It afterwards fell into the possession of Theodore Winters, who in turn gave it to General Clarke, the attorney, for a fee. It is said that Winters avoided General Clarke after that, fearing that Clarke might take a notion to give it back to him. It was later purchased by Philip Mighels, the novelist, but a single summer convinced him that it was not exactly the place for a human habitation. He sold it to Henry Ritter of Reno, and it is now utilized as a summer resort. It has been restored to something of its old beauty by the expenditure of large mounts of money, and to some extent the old scenes of gaiety are being re-enacted in the summer season, when gay picnic and moonlight excursion parties come down from Reno.
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[Ed. note -- Bowers' Mansion is now a park, operated by Washoe County, Nevada. For more information, see: