Silver Bonanza Kings

The Comstock Lode was one of the largest veins of silver ever found.  Its discovery in 1859 made fortunes for men like William Ralston, William Sharon and George Hearst.  In 1873, when everyone thought the Comstock mines were tapped out, another huge vein of silver was found.  This Bonanza Strike made instant millionaires out of the four partners who owned the Consolidated Virginia Mining Company.

James C. Flood
1826 - 1889
Flood was a New Yorker who came to San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Unsuccessful at mining like most, he partnered with William O’Brien to opened The Auction Lunch Saloon, on Washington St. in the financial district.

Flood began to trade stocks using information overhead from the businessmen in his bar. Soon Flood and O’Brien became full-time financiers. In 1868, Flood and O’Brien agreed to provide the financial backing for miners Fair and McKay to further explore the Comstock Lode.

His son, James L Flood, was a real estate investor who built the Flood Building downtown.

Photo courtesy: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

William S. O'Brien
1825 – 1878

O’Brien distanced himself from his partners, preferring a simple, quiet life.   Less than five years after the Bonanza strike, he died of diabetic complications, then known as Bright’s disease.

James Graham Fair
1831 – 1894

James Fair was an Irish immigrant, who had been a mine supervisor before forming Virginia Consolidated Mines.  After striking it rich, Fair spent most of his life steeped in scandal which continued on for years after his death. 

Fair had a well-earned reputation as a woman chaser.  When his wife divorced him in 1883 after 20 years of marriage and four children, he continued to carry on very public affairs. After Fair’s death, his children spent years fighting over his estate with a woman named Nettie Cravens, who claimed a secret marriage to Fair.

His oldest son James died of heart problems after receiving a controversial treatment for alcoholism.  His daughter Tessie so disliked her father that she turned him away from her wedding.  His son Charles was always in debt and was disowned by his father after marrying women of questionable reputation. The couple was killed in a car accident in 1902, which led to several years of gruesome headlines while their heirs fought in court over who had died first. 

 Photo by Matthew Brady , Courtesy: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection.

John William Mackay
1831 - 1902
McKay was the richest of the Bonanza Kings because he owned two-fifths interest in the mine, having bought out an early fifth partner named Walker.    

Like O’Brien, Mackay left daily operations of the company to Flood and Fair.   In 1866, he used his fortune to escape to Paris with his new wife. In the 1880s, he formed a communications company that laid two trans-Atlantic cables, increasing capacity and driving cable rates down.  He was involved in planning the first trans-Pacific cable, completed after his death.

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