Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society
With Curry's Compliments
The Story of Abraham Curry
Excerpts of this book are used with permission of the author, Doris Cerveri. The first two chapters are provided here. If you are interested in learning more about the man who founded Carson City, we highly recommend you read this fascinating book, copies are available for borrowing at the Nevada State Library and the Carson City Library. The book may also be purchased at Sundance Bookstore, 121 California Avenue, Reno, NV 89509, phone: 775-786-1188. We are privileged to have the "Father of Carson City", Abraham Curry interred at Lone Mountain Cemetery.
Chapter I - Early Life
"The family Bible reveals that he was born in South Trenton, Oneida County, New York, on February 19, 1815, the first son of Campbell and Elvira Skinner Curry who were married in South Trenton on November 7, 1813. South Trenton, whose origin dates to 1792, is a small hamlet located on Nine Mile Creek in the southern part of Trenton township on the old Utica turnpike.
Curry was not an uncommon or unimportant family name in the East and Old Northwest. There were numerous Currys, many of them distantly related, living in the Cleveland area when Abe resided there in the 1850's. Some were considered important personages because Currys had served in the Ohio legislature for over one hundred years, representing many different counties.
On August 1, 1835, when Curry was twenty years old and still living in upstate New York, he married Mary Ann Cowen, age eighteen, in Ogdensburg. At the time he was living in Waddington, a suburb of Ogdensburg. It is only conjecture, but Curry may have worked as a laborer while residing there. Curry's first child, and only son, Charles A., was born on June 10, 1836, probably in Ogdensburg, as the Currys lived there for approximately one year following their marriage.
After the Currys left Ogdensburg they moved several times, but there is no record of where they were during the period 1836 to 1846. In 1848, they lived in Portage, Summit County, Ohio. During this period, Curry owned a tract of land and a house he purchased from Ithiele and Emily Mills. He also purchased land from John and Hester Kidder in Portage Township (in or near Akron).
During 1852-53, Curry and his wife lived at 19 Johnson Street in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was in business on the waterfront as a commercial merchant. They were still living in Cleveland 1853-54, where he worked as a agent for the Michigan Southern Railroad which operated steamers on Lake Erie. The Cleveland Daily True Democrat has described Curry's business as being on the dock near the firm of Harris & E. Bartholomew, who were in the coal business.
While Curry was supporting his wife and large family (besides their son, Charles, the Curry's had six daughters) he no doubt heard reports of the rich gold strike at Coloma, near Sutter's Mill on the American River in California. Six years passed, though, before Curry left his business, his wife, and his children, and started for the west coast. Living during the Victorian era when devotion to family, allegiance to one's country and a strict moral code prevailed, he certainly felt an obligation stronger than his immediate desire to explore a new way of life.
It is apparent that Curry waited until his daughters Elvira and Jane were married before he made the momentous decision to go west. Only he and his son, Charles, then eighteen, boarded a steamer at New York City, came around the Horn, and arrived in California in late 1854 or early 1855 after a long, wearisome voyage.
During the time the two of them were in San Francisco, the town was a veritable mudhole. Nonetheless, it was an exciting, noisy place. There was a flourishing commercial quarter with most businesses on Clay Street, where there was a small pier. Other concerns occupied an area from California Street to Broadway, while still more were situated along Montgomery, Sacramento and Sansome streets.
During 1849 over seven hundred ships brought hordes of individuals to San Francisco, all eager to become rich overnight. By 1850, more than fifty thousand people traveled overland in all sorts of conveyances, while at least another thirty-six thousand arrived by sea. The money-hungry, motley crowd, representing all nationalities, must have appalled the newly-arrived Currys. The narrow, hilly streets of the city swarmed with the flotsam and jetsam of humanity. Many in this throng spun lurid tales of riches to be found virtually everywhere in the gold camps of the Sierra foothills. It surely didn't concern them that the threads of history were being woven from their yearnings and their desire for riches.
The Currys stayed about a year in San Francisco. By January, 1856, they were in the mountain mining camp of Red Dog in Nevada County. Red Dog, located nine miles east of Nevada City, was established about 1851, when three partners, Henry Stehr, Joseph Chew and Charles Wilson discovered gold in a ravine. By 1854, there were approximately 2,000 inhabitants, with cabins and business houses scattered at random over several small hills. A year later there was a post office. By the time Curry and his son arrived, great hydraulic monitors had already washed away hills and cut through ancient river channels to reach bedrock where gold lay several inches deep in crevasses and riffles. Gold was so plentiful that at one mine a section of gravel four hundred feet square yielded $600,000 in a few months.
With years of experience as a successful businessman, however, Curry was wise enough to realize that a mining community did not offer financial security, no matter how lively it seemed. Although he had had no mining experience, it is possible that he felt the same excitement and anticipation that hundreds of other individuals did, and was fascinated by the thought of getting rich quick. He was able, though, to observe first hand the disappointment and disillusionment of many men when a mine produced only surface gold or silver and subsequently became barren. People moved away from Red Dog after the mines were exhausted and nearly all the buildings, including the Odd Fellows Hall, were moved to nearby You Bet, which boomed by 1860. Three years later, You Bet and Red Dog were consolidated.
During Curry's stay in Red Dog he operated a ten-pin bowling alley and, on March 24, 1856, organized the first tribe of the Improved Order of Red Men in California. Meetings of the Red Men were held in the hayloft of a livery stable owned by the Brooklyn Lodge of the Odd Fellows. Curry and the other Red Men made their own regalia out of ground squirrel and fox skins, as there were no companies in the state at that time to supply their needs.
Curry reportedly also spent some time in Grass Valley, but this has not been authenticated. One thing is certain: Curry was not satisfied with either San Francisco, Red Dog or Grass Valley. Consequently, in 1857, he and Charles joined the hordes of individuals then traveling a rough, narrow road to Downieville. Rich ore was being found everywhere at the new camp. It seemed like everyone had rich claims, and with so much money in circulation, businesses sprang up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. In 1851, the National Theatre was built in back of the town's Lower Plaza by a Mr. Morris. (This is mentioned particularly because it was been written in numerous articles that Curry built Downieville's first theatre. It has also been written that Curry constructed the first livery stable, but William W. White built and operated an express and livery stable in 1852 before Curry's arrival.)
The lure of gold did not entice Curry into mining during his short time in the various mining communities. Instead, during the period he was in Downieville, he undertook some construction work. On April 10, 1858, he contracted with the Mountain Shade Lodge, Masonic Order, to build a room or hall in the second story of a building then being erected by Curry (and known as Curry's Building) on the north side of the Lower Plaza in Downieville. It was to be ready by June 1, 1858, and the contract stipulated that after its completion Curry was to be paid $60.00 a month rent for two years.
Curry and his son owned real estate in Downieville which they later sold to finance their move to Nevada Territory, although there is no record of such transactions found at the Downieville courthouse. There is, however, no denying that it was in Downieville that fate took a definite hand in shaping Curry's future. It was there that he met the men who traveled with him when he first went to Nevada. Three of them, Benjamin F. Green, Francis ("Frank") Marion Proctor and John J. Musser, had lived in the Downieville area for several years before the Currys arrived. These men, and Curry, became active in early Carson City affairs and, although their interests were different, they remained friends throughout their lifetimes. Frank Green, Ben's brother, W. B. Hickok, and Capt. William T. Ferguson, also made the trip over the Sierra to Nevada with the others. The first record of Benjamin F. Green in Downieville appears when he was a partner with Henry Purdy in the jewelry and watchmaking business. Green also transacted some county business and he served as county treasurer in 1857. Proctor, an attorney, married Green's daughter, Caroline, on December 31, 1857 in Downieville, but maintained a home in Forest City. Proctor was quite active in political affairs. In October, 1852, he served on the first grand jury for the court of session in Downieville and was county assessor in 1855. Musser, also an attorney, was district attorney of Sierra County in 1856-57.
In Downieville during 1857, there were rumors that an army was being sent from Washington to put down a possible Mormon rebellion in Salt Lake City because Brigham Young and the federal government had failed to agree on numerous issues. It was further rumored that Young sent word to all his Mormon colonies: 'Dispose of your property, come in one company, let us all keep together so that we can protect ourselves against all foes, red and white.' Soon, stories of the Mormon exodus from western Utah Territory, the area that is now Nevada, were in all of the California newspapers and some of the men who hadn't found riches in the gold fields traveled to that region to try their luck. With most of the Mormons gone from it, western Utah offered unlimited possibilities for an opportunist with plans for a prosperous future.
Curry, his son Charles, Musser, Frank Green, Proctor, Hickok and Captain Ferguson left Downieville some time during the early spring of 1858, and, like others, went over the mountains to take a look at Utah Territory. They stopped at Steamboat Hot Springs, approximately twenty miles from present day Carson City, and then moved on to Washoe Lake, where they did some fishing. At Franktown, the men found a small Mormon settlement in which Orson Hyde had erected a crude "tabernacle." There was another small settlement in Eagle Valley. Curry's party did not stop there but went directly on to Genoa in Carson Valley.
There is no record of how long the group stayed in the area, but it was probably just a few days. At the time, Carson Valley had sufficient water, tall grass and fertile soil to provide a substantial living for any settler. Curry, Proctor, Green and Musser were favorably impressed, for when they went back to Downieville they made plans to return to Utah Territory.
Chapter II - First Years in Nevada
In July, 1858, Curry and his son, Charles, accompanied by Musser, Proctor, and Frank and Benjamin F. Green, left Downieville and crossed the Sierra by stagecoach to Genoa. Musser, Proctor and Green's wives remained in Downieville; Curry's family was still in the East.
A popular explanation of their settling in Eagle Valley is of Curry's offering $1,000 for a corner lot in Genoa where he planned to build a store. The property owners would not accept his offer so he and his companions left and traveled to the next valley to the north.
Eagle Valley was not as attractive as Carson Valley. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but scrubby stands of sagebrush and other desert flora. There were only a few patches of stunted grass and not a tree in sight. By 1857 so much livestock was driven through the valley by pioneers on their way to California that the supply of grass was depleted.
Before the Mormons left the area, a group of men including Joseph and Frank Barnard, George Follensbee, A. J. Rollins, and Frank and W. L. Hall, established a trading post in the valley called the King Ranch. When Frank Hall shot an eagle and mounted it over his cabin door the place became known as Eagle Ranch; the valley subsequently also took the name Eagle. Situated in a circular basin, the ranch consisted of several thousand acres bounded by the Warm Springs (where the Nevada State Prison was later located), present day Minnesota Street and the mountains.
The trading post changed hands several times between 1851 and 1857, and, at the time Curry and his party arrived, it was owned by John Mankin, a widower with four daughters. Besides Mankin and his family and "Cap", an Indian boy who lived with them, the only other inhabitants of Eagle Valley after the Mormons' departure were Samuel Nevers, Dr. B. L. King, Jacob Rose, and the Stebbins family.
After stopping at Mankin's, Curry and his friends offered to buy his holdings. Mankin asked $1,000 for the trading post and accepted $300 in coin from Curry, Proctor and Musser, with the balance to be paid in thirty days from the date of the deed, August 12, 1858. The sale included about 865 acres plus a separate one-half section claimed and taken up by George Mankin. Tradition has it that Mankin, whose dealings had always been a shade less than honest, hurriedly took the money and, accompanied by his daughters and the Indian boy, rode out of town before creditors could catch up with him.
Immediately Curry suggested that a townsite be surveyed. Benjamin Green was sent to Chinatown (now Dayton), a few miles distant, to secure the services of a former Placerville resident, John F. Long, to survey and plat the community. When Long examined the area, he was not impressed and advised Curry and the others to sell and move to some place more hospitable and promising.
Long's advice was not heeded and Curry went ahead with his plans. After paying for the property, there was no money left for Long's survey fee, so Curry offered him an entire block of land east of a plaza that he envisioned. Long could not visualize any part of Eagle Valley as being suitable for settlement and it is reported that he said he would rather have Curry owe him the money than accept a piece of worthless land. Curry, however, possessed foresight. He believed the area would evolve into a city, a city with a central square upon which the capitol building of an independent state would be erected.
In the meantime, it was obvious to Curry and his friends that there was no time to dream. There was work to be done. Shortly after the survey, an equal division of the town lots was made between Curry, Musser, Proctor and Benjamin Green. Also, lots were given to anyone who would build on them. Some individuals who did not have much money paid as little as $50.00 for a piece of land. There was no set price. If a settler had more money than his neighbor, he paid more.
The town, a little over a mile square, was platted in the early fall of 1858 on the south section of Eagle Valley Ranch and was named Carson City in honor of the frontier scout, Kit Carson. Wide streets were laid out and Curry reserved a plaza of four acres in the center of town for a public square. Streets and subdivisions were named for the four men, Curry, Musser, Proctor and Green, thus perpetuating their memory.
Of utmost priority at the time was construction of suitable shelters to withstand the rigors of winter. Curry discovered good clay in the area and made adobe bricks which he used in the construction of numerous buildings, including a small one on the southwest corner of Musser and Carson streets. He also erected a stone building referred to as Curry's Hall.
Curry sold several lots to William Ormsby, who was established in Genoa about a year before Curry arrived in the area. Ormsby built a store and a two-story house, the lower portion of which was used as a hotel. He planned to use the upper rooms as a meeting place for the territorial legislature. Before this could be accomplished, however, Ormsby was killed in the Pyramid Lake War of May, 1860.
About two miles from present day Carson City was an excellent warm springs and a large limestone outcropping which covered about sixty acres. The stone was of excellent quality and for many years Curry used this area as a quarry. Curry walled up the spring and covered it with a hand-hewn stone bathhouse, one hundred-sixty feet long by thirty-eight feet wide. There were six bath areas of various depths and temperatures, each about twenty-five feet square. The pools were frequented by dusty miners, loggers, politicians, and weary travelers who wished to refresh themselves. Additionally, Curry built a stone hotel one hundred feet long, thirty-two feet wide, and two stories high. After the hotel was completed in the summer of 1861, Curry fashioned a large wooden eagle which adorned the top of the hotel.
While Curry was building homes and commercial houses, Benjamin Green operated a jewelry and gunsmithing business, and Musser and Proctor opened law offices in the busy new community. There was official recognition of the town when a post office was established November 18, 1858, with John F. Long as the first postmaster.
During the first part of November, snow fell to a depth of two feet in Eagle Valley, and storms brought fresh snow almost daily until the following March. During this period it was impossible to get provisions or people over the Sierra Nevada. Food was scarce and expensive, and business activity all but ceased. Residents were forced to hunt for wild game, which fortunately was abundant. Henry Fulstone, an early resident of Carson City, reported in his diary that Curry made him a present of one of the few commodities that was available, a bottle of whiskey, in celebration of Christmas.
Undaunted by the severe cold and abundant snow, Carson City residents held a New Year's Eve ball at Curry's Hall. According to the Territorial Enterprise it was an elegant affair with forty-four ladies among the one hundred fifty people present. The article related that, although Curry encountered many difficulties, he succeeded in making it a joyous affair and concluded with the statement that if Curry never gave another ball he certainly would be remembered for that one. (This ball was just the first of many such events that Curry either sponsored or gave while he lived in Carson City.)
Although times were hard, food scarce and the weather severe, the early settlers were a cheerful lot who liked good company and merriment. Frequent dances, held at Dr. B. L. King's public resort at the old brewery west of present day Carson City, were attended by residents of the three neighboring valleys: Washoe, Carson, and Eagle.
With the arrival of spring in 1859 came the news that silver had been found in Gold Canyon, several miles from Carson City, where previously small deposits of gold were discovered. News of the rich silver deposits spread like wildfire, especially in the various mining areas of California. Caught up in the excitement, many young miners crossed the mountains. With so many people coming to the area, California newspapers advocated construction of a good road over the Sierra via Nevada City instead of Placerville. If this were done, they predicted, business in the territory would increase a hundredfold.
Mining excitement continued, especially when the search for silver led to the discovery of new gold deposits. Curry, like numerous other individuals, became interested in mining property. With his son, Charles, and the Clark Brothers, Curry located a claim on the prominent El Dorado outcroppings, the highest point on the Comstock Lode. This claim, which was recorded on May 12, 1859, was later consolidated with one that a butcher, Alva Gould, had located farther down Mt. Davidson. The two claims later became know and developed as the Gould and Curry Mine, at one time the largest, richest ore body known on the Comstock. In November 1859, Curry sold his interest in the claim to attorney Henry Meredith for about $2,000 and used the money to travel east to get his wife and family and bring them to their new home in Carson City. (Curry did not invest in a mining venture again until September, 1873, when he bought and later sold two hundred feet of property in the "Hog's Back" Spode section of the Eagle and Washoe Valley Mining District.)
Carson City was transformed by the gold and silver discoveries. Miners and speculators added to its economy which, at the time, was based solely on farming and trading. Hotels, saloons, stores, and other businesses appeared as if by magic. Curry had all the construction work he could handle. Additionally, Wells Fargo opened an agency and stages ran tri-weekly between Genoa and Gold Canyon. Trees planted by settlers improved the general appearance of the area and numerous small farms produced good hay and grain crops, as well as fresh vegetables.
With the large influx of people, violence was inevitable. On April 29, 1859, in Gold Canyon, William Sides killed John Jessup over a game of cards. Sides was arrested by some miners who brought him to Carson City. A citizens' court was organized to try the case, with Chauncey N. Noteware presiding. Curry was involved in this when he acted as sheriff. Sam Tyler served as prosecutor and John J. Musser was counsel for the defendant. This homicide was just one event that cause the residents of Carson City to recognize a need for law and order and encouraged political organization.
On June 6, a mass meeting was held in Eagle Valley, during which Carson County was apportioned into voting precincts. James M. Crane, who was elected a delegate to Congress when citizens of Carson Valley sought territorial status a few years earlier, was again chosen as a delegate to Washington when an election was held on July 14. Before Crane had a chance to leave Carson City, he died unexpectedly at age forty, on September 27, 1859. John Musser was chosen to replace him.
Also, a constitutional convention was held in Genoa, and Curry was elected a delegate from Eagle Valley. Members of the convention went on record requesting dissolution of any local government believed to be under Mormon domination. After a constitution was completed and accepted, Isaac Roop was elected governor of a new territory, which, however, was not recognized by the federal government.
Curry was encouraged by this political activity, which confirmed the faith that he and other residents of the area had in the territory they had been working to create. In spite of the meetings and consequent elections, however, Probate Judge John Child tried to re-establish the authority of Mormon Utah over the region. A state of political confusion prevailed because three governmental jurisdictions tried to run Carson County; the federal government under District Judge John Cradlebaugh, the Utah territorial government represented by John Child, and the newly-founded provisional government represented by Isaac Roop.
Although no legislation granting Nevada territorial status was passed by Congress in 1860, a number of factors favored it. Principally these were good will generated by the likeable Musser, the discovery of the Comstock Lode, continued westward expansion, and the North-South controversy regarding the slavery question. These represented significant pressures and, although territorial status was refused in 1860, there was good news for Nevadans a year later. Congress passed an act permitting the organization of Nevada as a territory and President James Buchanan signed it on March 2, 1861. Shortly after Abraham Lincoln took office he appointed William H. Seward his secretary of state. James Warren Nye, one of Seward's political friends, was appointed governor of Nevada Territory. Orion Clemens was named territorial secretary, and Benjamin B. Bunker attorney general.
The winter of 1859-60 was just as severe as the previous one, but as soon as there was a break in the weather, and when ox teams working in relays broke roads through the snow, travelers bound for California crossed the mountains in open sleighs. One of these travelers was Curry, who booked passage on a steamer for the East. Proctor, Green and Musser brought their wives and children to Carson City while Curry was gone. In March 1860, an article in Carson City's Territorial Enterprise reported that Curry had returned from his eastern trip, bringing with him his wife, Mary, daughters Mary Etta, Emma, Lucy, Elvira, Elvira's husband John A. Cowan and their infant son, and Jane (called Jenny) and Jane's husband, Fred Turner. The editor of the Enterprise noted that Curry did not particularly like the Puritanical ways of doing things in the older states and that he was glad to be back.
One wonders about the welfare of Mary Curry and her daughters during Curry's stay in California and Eagle Valley before he went back to Cleveland to bring them to Carson City. With his record of poor money management, Mary may have experienced some lean times. Of course, it is possible that he may have saved and sent sufficient money for her to be comfortable while he was away. He did work in California and it is assumed that he periodically sent her money. Nevertheless, mail was slow and she probably never knew when she would receive it. Also, with his habit of helping everyone else who needed a handout, it may be that whenever he tried to accumulate enough money to bring his family West someone would come along and he would assist them financially instead. With the sale of his Gould and Curry mining property, already mentioned, he had more than enough to pay their expenses to Carson City.
Mary Curry's reaction when she first glimpsed Carson City may well have been one of disappointment, for although the town had prospered since her husband's arrival two years previous, it still was not as beautiful as a settled eastern community. Everyone was friendly, however, and there was plenty for her to do in the new place. She soon was so busy, caught up in the excitement of establishing a home and experiencing the heady feeling of being part of the "newness" in everything around her, that there was very little time to regret coming West. It was obvious that in Carson
City, her husband, Abe Curry, was a man of importance.
While Curry was away, his son Charles became smitten with Mary Ellen Stewart, daughter of attorney Wellington Stewart. Two months after Curry and the rest of his family came to Carson City, Charles married Mary Ellen on May 31, 1860. The couple set up housekeeping at a home on the corner of Ann and Nevada streets. Charles may have needed money to start his new life because he sold several parcels of real estate at this time."
Doris Cerveri's book contains ten chapters of history about the life of Abraham Curry and the early settlers of Carson City. In addition, the following genealogical information is recorded in the book.
Appendix I. Van Santvoord Genealogy
Appendix II. Post Genealogy
Appendix III. Curry Genealogy
Appendix IV. Sturtevant Genealogy
Appendix V. Cowen Genealogy
Appendix VI. Cowan Genealogy
Articles by Guy Rocha, Nevada State Archivist
Myth # 9
A Capital Name: Kit Carson and Carson City
Myth # 24
Eagle Valley and Carson City