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Media Life: Sometimes-grisly Grosh brothers’ letters bought for $210,000

Last Chance proved a last stand; Auburn’s Lost Rocker emerges from the musical past
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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In a development that was more coincidence than any plan in timing, the Nevada Historical Society has finished more than 11 years of fundraising to acquire a trove of more than 80 Gold Rush-era letters by the ill-fated Grosh brothers. The announcement this month came just as the new Western States Trail history documentary DVD “They Crossed the Mountains” was premiered at the Old State Theater in Auburn. The DVD features a gripping segment on the Groshes, employing readings from their 151-year-old letters to tell a tragic tale. The Groshes were the snake-bit discoverers of the Comstock Lode, the mother of silver lodes, located 22 miles southeast of Reno. Through the worst of luck, they were never able to come close to enjoying the fruits of their find. Instead, they both died tragic deaths — that were vividly described in letters sent home to Pennsylvania. The letters have now been bought for $210,000 from descendents after more than a decade of fundraising by the Nevada history organization. The most vivid accounts were written from what is now the Placer County ghost town of Last Chance in December 1857. By that time, the Groshes had discovered what would become the Comstock Lode and one brother had already died. Hosea struck a pick into the hollow of his foot and died in September 1857 from the infection that resulted – or from the ramifications of using a cow manure poultice to treat it. He’s buried in Silver City, Nev. Ethan Allen Grosh ventured out onto what is now the Western States Trail late in November 1857, bound for an assay office that would legitimize his discovery. But heavy snow thwarted his journey and ultimately, led to his demise. By the time a relief party of miners with sleighs could get to him and take him to Last Chance, his legs were so badly frozen that they had to be cut off. He died shortly after the primitive double amputation took place. LAST CHANCE END His traveling companion, Maurice Buck, would write from Last Chance — in one of the letters that make up the Nevada Historical Society collection that: “I said to Allen that we might as well lay there until we died, but he said that as long as he could crawl he would not give up, … On the 10th (of December) the miners from Last Chance came up and hauled us down on sleighs to this place. (A doctor) did not get here until the 19th … it was then too late poor Allen died a little while after he got here.” Hosea was 31 when he died. His brother was two years older. Later accounts would tally the yield from the Comstock Lode at 9 million ounces of gold and an astounding 220 million ounces of silver. About 11 years ago, New Jersey resident Charles Wegman saw a TV special that talked about the silver discovery and realized the 80 or so letters in his possession were valuable historical artifacts. He’s the great-great-grand-nephew of Ethan Allen Grosh. A few days ago, the letters came home — so to speak. Unknown for nearly a century and a half, they’re now part of the Nevada society’s collection. With discovery and preservation of the letters has come broader dissemination, including the opportunity for Colorado documentarian Ginger Kathrens to incorporate the Grosh story into the story of the Western States Trail. The DVD takes viewers to Last Chance — accessible only via a foot or horse trail and about 8 miles northeast of Foresthill — to see the gravestone erected a century ago by Buck at Ethan Allen’s grave site in a small, forest enshrouded cemetery. Copies of the DVD can be obtained by going to teviscup.org or phoning the Western States Trail Foundation at (530) 823-7282 during office hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays. FINDING THE LOST ROCKER Auburn’s Al Hendrix is finding the rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll tracks he recorded a half a century ago have taken on a life of their own. Hendrix has been the unknown Lost Rocker for much of the time period since the release of classic cuts he sings on like “Young and Wild” and 1958’s “Rhonda Lee.” Now Hendrix is making a stab this year at long-overdue recognition with a compilation of his 1950s and 1960s recordings and freshly minted tracks. Since the release of the independently produced “Rare and Rockin’” this winter, Hendrix has been written up in fanzines both stateside (Blue Suede News and Rockabilly magazines) and England and Germany. On the strength of the recordings and the music press, Hendrix is getting invites from clubs in Hollywood and the Midwest and as far away as Spain and Portugal to perform. With vocals scrubbed from his recent studio recordings, Hendrix said he’s considering those and several other offers to get back onstage. There have also been messages from fans Hendrix never knew he had, like the Sussex, England man who requested an autographed picture and the Brest, France retro-rock follower who sent two paper sleeves from 1958’s “Go Daddy Rock” for autographs. To add to the Lost Rocker’s comeback year, he’s been named the 326th member of the Internet Rockabilly Hall of Fame, based in Burns, Tenn. Hendrix made his most famous recordings with the Dot and ABC-Paramount labels during a time when rock ‘n’ roll was either losing favor with the masses (by 1958) or was in hibernation (the early 1960s). He had some regional success but never a national breakthrough. With a surge in interest among a new generation of rockabilly collectors as well as die-hard fans from the genre’s early days, Hendrix said he’s finding that rock ‘n’ roll may just never have forgotten him after all. STORIES THIS WEEK ABOUT AUBURN'S LEIGH STEPHENS AND BLUE CHEER'S "SUMMERTIME BLUES" BEING NAMED TO ROLLING STONE'S TOP 100 GUITAR SONGS, A CLARK ASHTON SMITH PHOTO DISCOVERY, AND AN AUBURN JOURNAL CARRIER BAG QUERY ON MEDIA LIFE: ETC BLOG For more from Media Life this week, see Friday's Media Life: Etc. blog elsewhere on the Journal Website. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust(at)goldcountrymedia. com or call (530) 852-0232.