The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West

THE BONANZA KING                                    GREGORY CROUCH

Born in 1831, John W. Mackay was a penniless Irish immigrant who came of age in New York City, went to California during the Gold Rush, and mined without much luck for eight years. When he heard of riches found on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1859, Mackay abandoned his claim and walked a hundred miles to the Comstock Lode in Nevada.

Over the course of the next dozen years, Mackay worked his way up from nothing, thwarting the pernicious “Bank Ring” monopoly to seize control of the most concentrated cache of precious metals ever found on earth, the legendary “Big Bonanza,” a stupendously rich body of gold and silver ore discovered 1,500 feet beneath the streets of Virginia City, the ultimate Old West boomtown. But for the ore to be worth anything it had to be found, claimed, and successfully extracted, each step requiring enormous risk and the creation of an entirely new industry.

Now Gregory Crouch tells Mackay’s amazing story—how he extracted the ore from deep underground and used his vast mining fortune to crush the transatlantic telegraph monopoly of the notorious Jay Gould. “No one does a better job than Crouch when he explores the subject of mining, and no one does a better job than he when he describes the hardscrabble lives of miners” (San Francisco Chronicle). Featuring great period photographs and maps, The Bonanza King is a dazzling tour de force, a riveting history of Virginia City, Nevada, the Comstock Lode, and America itself.


A very good book about the history of old California and of the perseverance of men and women of the old west. John Mackay originally from Ireland, then five points New York and then made his way to California during the gold rush. Finding no luck he would walk 100 miles over the Sierra’s to what would become the Comstock mines and through hard work he would end up becoming many years later the 19th richest man according to Forbes. He would always continue to work in the mines even after his wealth, he would pay the workers top dollar. Some of the engineering ideas that they came up with back then for shoring up the tunnels for one are still used in today’s mines. He would fight with businessmen and bankers that would try to take over the mines with ways that they did not expect a simple miner to come up with, but he learned everything as he went along. Even when he married and years later moved his family to Europe he would still work inside the mine. He would be shot, accused of many falsehoods all for the sake of taking over the Comstock. The author goes into the history of not only the area at the time but also what was going on in the country. At one time the amount of bullion coming out of the Comstock was minting 42% of the money in the U.S. that is a large amount for just one place so you can see how he became rich along with his partners. A good well-written book, full of information and if you like history a very good read. I received this book from I gave it 5 stars. Follow us at

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