A Natural Born Businesswoman

Nellie Cashman

That’s one way to describe Nellie Cashman, one of the Old West’s most famous entrepreneurs, who showed the gold in her heart to the miners who regarded her as an “angels of mercy.” Someone described her as “Pretty as a Victorian cameo and, when necessary, tougher than two-penny nails.” Nellie—her real name was Ellen—immigrated as a child from Ireland with her sister, Fanny, and took advice from Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant to go west. Fanny settled down and had five children, but that wasn’t the life for Nellie, who sought out adventure. Her first business was the Miner’s Boarding House at Panaca Flat, Nevada in 1872, where miners learned that even if they had no money, Nellie would take care of them. When gold was discovered in British Columbia in 1874, off she went, not only building another hotel for miners, but raising money for the Sisters of St. Anne to build a hospital. When she learned that 26 miners were stranded in a snowstorm in the Cassair Mountains—land so rugged and weather so bad the Canadian Army refused to mount a rescue mission—Nellie organized her own and went off with 1,500 pounds of supplies. After 77 days, she found the men, who actually numbered about 75, and nursed them back to health. Her fearlessness was known throughout the west, including Arizona Territory where she moved to the silver fields in 1879. Her Delmonico Restaurant was the first woman-owned business Tucson had ever seen. Her years in Tombstone are the stuff of legends—she drove her buggy into a mob intent on lynching a mine owner and saved his life. When her sister died, Nellie took over raising the five children, taking them with her as she set up businesses in Nogales, Jerome, Prescott, Yuma and Harqua Hala. Later she had businesses in mining camps in Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico. Nellie finally settled down in British Columbia in the early 1920s, and died there in January of 1925 in the hospital she’d help build. On March 15, 2006, Nellie Cashman was inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame.

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