Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Angel of Tombstone.....Ellen Cashman


Frontier Angel, Miner's Angel and the Angel of Tombstone were all names known to Ellen (Nellie) Cashman. Ellen was famous throughout the Old West as a nurse, entrepreneur, gold miner and Angel. Ellen was once described as "Pretty as a Victorian cameo and, when necessary, tougher than two-penny nails."

Ellen Cashman was born in Queenstown, County Cork Ireland in 1845. Her father died when she was young, so Ellen, her sister, Frances (Franny) and her mother immigrated to the United States. Ellen and her family settled in Boston, where Ellen began work as a bellhop in a prominent Boston hotel. It is said she met General Ulysses S. Grant, here and he urged Ellen to head west. Ellen and her family did, they headed out west to San Francisco, Ca in 1865.

Ellen was busy working as a cook at various miner camps including Virginia City and Pioche Nevada. Ellen would take the money she earned from the miner camps and open a Miner's Boarding House at Panaca Flat, Nevada in 1872.

In 1874 Ellen came down with gold fever. She, along with 200 Nevada gold miners, traveled to the Cassiar Mountains in British Columbia, Canada to strike it rich. While in Cassiar she set up another boarding house for miners. This time asking for donations to the Sister of St. Anne in return for services at the boarding house. While in Cassiar, Ellen heard of 26 miners who were injured and suffered from scurvy. She quickly put together a six man search party and collected food and medicine to bring to the stranded miners. The conditions in the mountains were bad and Ellen was advised by the Canadian Army not to proceed on her search. She went anyways and eventually after 77 days of tough weather conditions, Ellen located the injured miners who numbered 75 men not 26. She administered a vitamin C diet to nurse the group back to health. Ellen would later be known as the "Angel of Cassiar".

Ellen eventually found her way to Arizona. First stopping in Tucson and then later in 1880 to Tombstone Arizona, just after the arrival of the Earp brothers. Ellen opened a restaurant and hotel called Russ House which served 50 cent meals and advertised "there are no cockroaches in my kitchen and the flour is clean."  Legend has it that a man once complained about Ellen's cooking and a fellow patron Doc Holliday drew his pistol asking the man to repeat what he said. Embarrassed the man replied, "Best I ever ate."  
Ellen spent her years in Tombstone as a business owner, influential citizen, and an Angel of Tombstone. Ellen was a life long Catholic and convinced the owners of the Crystal Palace Saloon (one of whom was Wyatt Earp) to allow Sunday church services until she could raise enough funds for the construction of the Sacred Heart Church. She also raised money for the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and the miner's hospital there in Tombstone.

Ellen came back from an unsuccessful gold expedition in Baja, California and learned her sister had died of tuberculosis and left Ellen to raise her  5 children. Ellen sold the Russ House and spent the next years with the children wandering the mining camps of Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona. Ellen would eventually joined the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada's Yukon Territory. Ellen arrived in Dawson where she opened a restaurant, a mercantile outlet and a refuge for miners. Ellen lived in Dawson for 7 years and was know to all as one of the greatest figures of the Klondike gold rush.

In January 1925 the Angel of Tombstone, Ellen (Nellie) Cashman developed pneumonia and died. She was buried at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, British Columbia. Entrepreneur, humanitarian, gold miner, Angel whatever you choose to call her Ellen embodied the spirit of the Old West through her courage and entrepreneurial spirit.

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