What Happened to Manny?
Emanuel "Manny" Penrod (1826-1913)
Last of the Original Six Claim Holders of the Comstock Lode
It began in 1859 on the Comstock Lode, the biggest and grandest silver strike in the nation. Others made the discovery on Sun Mountain (now Mount Davidson) but Henry Tompkins Paige Comstock bullied, stole, and conned his way into history. Yes, he was there prospecting but he didn't find the big treasure. Both of the original discoverers, Allen and Hosea Grosch, died within a few months of each other. Their claim markers disappeared over night and it was generally thought that Comstock had taken them. He bragged so much about his rich strike that the area was soon called Comstock's Lode.
Comstock, described as a very dirty, illiterate, ragged, mangy, and a lice-ridden miner (historians didn't think much of him), was also a crook. Without going into too much detail because this story is about Emanuel "Manny" Penrod, Comstock soon enlisted a few partners. The first was Penrod, followed by Peter O'Riley who was shy and easily led, Patrick McLaughlin was illiterate and gullible, Joseph A. Osburn was relatively honest, and con artist Joseph D. Winters. That's a dubious lineup of owners who, when they joined over a few bottles of rotgut, were each immediately worth millions. Ignorant of that fact, they soon sold their claims for pocket change.
Comstock sold his interests in the Ophir and other claims for $11,000. He later died in Montana. Some say he did himself in while others say he was robbed and murdered. The money, $11,500, seems to us to be dirt cheap. Today that's about $250,000 - a small fortune but nowhere near the millions the Ophir, Mexican and other claims would have produced for him as an owner.
O'Riley thought he was the most successful of the partners. He held
out for $40,000 for his share but died in an insane asylum.
Osburn realized $7,000 for his share of the Ophir. He is buried somewhere in a potter's field.
Winters shoved his profit, if it could be called that, into his wallet and went east. There, he met men who were sharper than he and they took him for all he had. He died broke, alone and unwanted.
That leaves Penrod who ended up with $8,500. Manny showed up in the Island Mountain Mining District in northeast Nevada around 1873. He and others made a few mediocre discoveries there. The town that haphazardly rose from the sagebrush was first called Penrod then later changed to Gold Creek. He and a partner, C.B. Macon, bought 70 acres of mining ground up Hope Gulch at the 7,500' level. In the years that followed his ore profits were up and down, nothing really worthwhile. He and Macon next tried hydraulic mining and washed thousands of tons of ore off the slopes. That, too, yielded nothing about which to shout. By the time he sold the Ophir (same name as the famous mine in Virginia City) it had produced nothing worth bragging about in gold or silver. It was another grandiose dream gone.
In August 1874 Manny and Macon sold some of their claims in the district. The Elko Independent announced, just one week later, that the new people made a big discovery on the property formerly owned by Manny and his partner. Although he again dodged prosperity, the two associates were, according to the Independent, making $15 to $20 a day which wasn't really that bad in those days - wasn't great either.
Manny, a Democrat, was elected to the Nevada Assembly to represent Elko County for the 1875 session. In 1880 he and his wife, Seranna, son, Jim, and a granddaughter lived in Elko. He probably spent most of the summer months up in Gold Creek when water for mining was available.
Tiring of not finding the big bonanza and with a typical prospector's way thinking that new riches beyond imagination were hiding under the next rock, he tried another place. In 1893, after selling the rest of his Gold Creek mining interests, he began working his claims in Tennessee Gulch where he, with Walter Stofiel, discovered the Constitution and Oro Grande mines. Six years later he built a three-stamp mill and refinery. In nine days a gold bar worth $1,000 was poured. That was the biggest splash he made in area mining and it was near the time he left northeast Nevada for good.
After losing the big one back in the Comstock Lode, not realizing another dream of riches at Island Mountain, and again failing in Tennessee Gulch, it may be that Manny finally came to terms that none of his mining ventures were anywhere near successful. He and his family moved to California. He was tired, worn out and sick. It was time to put aside his pipe dreams and mining tools. Penrod found it hard to give up because he was a dedicated prospector. He was one of the men who helped chart the course of the American West - a man who wrote his own chapter in history.
His last connection to mining was in 1909 when he was honored as the last survivor of the original claim holders of the Comstock Lode. Virginia City was the scene of a big party to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the biggest silver strike in the nation's history and Manny, frail and not well, was the center of attention. Penrod never hit the bonanza he diligently pursued for decades but he had something the other first claim holders did not. He was still alive but that advantage did not last long.
On April 12, 1913 he passed away in Vallejo, California. To the day he died he probably anguished over the riches that might have been. He had untold millions of dollars in his hands only to give it all away for a measly $8,500.
Sources: Political History of Nevada - 1996, issued by Dean Heller, Secretary of State of Nevada; Lost Legends of the Silver State, 1976, by Gerald B. Higgs; Nevada's Northeast Frontier, 1969, by Edna Patterson, Louise Ulph (now Beebe) and Victor Goodwin; Nevada's Metal and Mineral Production (1859-1940), 1943, Nevada State Bureau of Mines and the Mackay School of Mines, University of Nevada; Elko Independent, August 1, 8, 1874, May 15, 1875; Dwain Penrod, Elko; and local historian Jan Petersen.
©Copyright 2003 by Howard Hickson.