Gerald Hulbert: I am a retired Customs Agriculture Officer and veteran of Navy, Air Guard, and Airforce Reserves (1969-1994). I have worked on several campaigns. I have lived here in Sumas since 1993.

Nellie Cashman

The Queen of the Gold Rush

Nelli Cashman

As we forage our way through the pandemic and all the partisanship which besets us, it can benefit us to take a stroll on a side road, or a siding from the main track to regroup, relax, refresh, and reflect on what America means to all of us. For me, it was a biography of Nellie Cashman, the “Queen of the Gold Rush” by Thora Kerr Illing.  Born in Cook County, Ireland, Nellie and her family suffered as victims of the 1845 Irish Potato Famine which claimed at least 800,000 people and drove many to legally immigrate to America. She moved to America with her sister and widowed mother after having lost her infant brother to the Famine.

During her early years in Boston, working as a bellhop in a local hotel, Nellie soon realized that her working as a servant or a factory girl was not her life’s goal especially after a chance conversation in Boston with none other than General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union Army during the Civil War!  After a brief conversation with him punctuated with her anxious desire to obtain wealth,  independently as a new American, he told her, “Why don’t you go West, young woman? The West needs people like you”.  So she did.

That strong determination and with this advice led Nellie Cashman, a newly struggling Irish immigrant, to seek and reach her dream, the American Dream to become the renown Queen of the Gold Rush. It led her independently to seek gold in the Cassiar Gold Rush region of northern British Columbia, Dawson City area of the Yukon, Nolan Creek in Alaska, prospect for silver in the Pinoche, Nevada area, and in the Tombstone, Arizona area, meeting and working with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

It also led her to prospect for silver on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.  As a fervent Catholic, she financially supported convents in the San Francisco and Victoria, B.C. areas. She was also a team player when it came to the miners with whom she shared her interest in prospecting. She used her cooking and business talents to start such enterprises as hotels and restaurants to support the many mining boom towns developed in the late 1800’s, both in the United States and Canada.  She was respected by all the miners who met her, never carrying a gun to defend herself! She was a real pioneer!

The photo  shows the Stikine River, off the western British Columbia coast which was used by her and many miners to reach the headwaters of the B.C. Cassiar Gold Fields to avoid the 4,000 mile trip to the delta area of the Yukon near Nome, Alaska and up to its headwaters. Though a short trip though treacherous, it was never an obstacle for Nellie and her one dog as she mushed her way by herself to Cassiar for gold.

Nellie Cashman’s true life story by Thora Kerr Illing is an inspiration for all of us representing the American Dream, one that she included vision, hard work, sacrifice and respect for humanity, where it all added up to freedom!