Cobh, County Cork, Ireland
|Died||January 4, 1925
Victoria, British Columbia
|Occupation||nurse, entrepreneur and gold prospector|
Born at Belvelly, near Cobh, County Cork in 1845, Cashman came to the United States around 1850 with her mother and her sister Frances (known as Fanny), settling in Boston. As an adolescent, Cashman worked as a bellhop in a Boston hotel. She and her family emigrated to San Francisco, California in 1865.
Following the onset of the Klondike Gold Rush, Cashman left her family home in 1874 for the Cassiar Mountains in British Columbia, Canada. A lifelong Catholic, she set up a boarding house for miners, asking for donations to the Sisters of St. Anne in return for the services available at her boarding house.
Cashman was traveling to Victoria to deliver 500 dollars to the Sisters of St. Anne when she heard that a snowstorm had descended on the Cassiar Mountains, stranding and injuring 26 miners, who were also suffering from scurvy. She immediately took charge of a six-man search party and collected food and medicine to bring to the stranded miners.
Conditions in the Cassiar Mountains were so dangerous that even the Canadian Army advised against the rescue. Upon learning of Cashman's expedition, a commander sent his troops to locate Cashman's party and bring them to safety.
An army trooper eventually found Cashman camped on the frozen surface of the Stikine River. Over tea, she convinced the trooper and his men that it was her will to continue, and that she would not head back without rescuing the miners.
After 77 days of unfriendly weather, Cashman and her party located the sick men, who numbered far more than 26; some estimates credit Cashman with saving the lives of as many as 75 men. She administered a Vitamin C diet to reestablish the group's health. Thereafter, she was fondly known in the region as the "Angel of the Cassiar."
Later in life, Cashman moved to Tombstone, Arizona. She raised money to build the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and committed herself to charity work with the Sisters of St. Joseph. She continued to work as a caretaker, taking a position as a nurse in a Cochise County hospital.
Cashman's sister Fanny lost her husband, a bootmaker by the name of Tom Cunningham, in 1881. Following his death, Cashman arranged for Fanny and her five children to move to nearby Tucson, Arizona. Fanny died two years later, leaving the children in Cashman's care. Honoring her sister's wishes, Cashman affectionately raised the children as her own.
Cashman traveled to Baja California soon after her sister's death, after hearing rumors of untapped gold and silver deposits, and joined 21 men in a prospecting venture. Just 16 hours into the 100-mile journey, the group's water supply was nearly depleted, and most of the men were suffering from dehydration. The venture was quickly abandoned.
In December 1883, bandits committed the Bisbee Massacre, killing several innocent bystanders. Five men were found guilty of the crime and were sentenced to die by hanging on March 28, 1884. Many people were eager to make a spectacle of the execution, and sheriff J.L. Ward ran out of courtesy tickets to the event. A local carpenter built a grandstand next to the courthouse, planning to charge for tickets. Cashman was indignant at the behavior of the citizens of Tombstone, feeling that no death should be celebrated. She befriended the five convicts, visiting them regularly to provide them with spiritual guidance. Cashman further convinced the sheriff to set a curfew on the day of the hangings to prevent a crowd from forming. The night before the execution, Cashman and a crew of volunteers tore down the grandstand under the cover of darkness. The hangings proceeded as scheduled, out of public view. When Cashman learned that a medical school planned to exhume the bodies of the five convicts for study, she enlisted two prospectors to stand watch over the Boot Hill Cemetery for 10 days.
Cashman and her associate Joseph Pascholy co-owned and ran a restaurant and hotel in Tombstone called Russ House, now known as Nellie Cashman's. According to a popular legend, a client once complained about Cashman's cooking, and fellow diner Doc Holliday drew his pistol, asking the customer to repeat what he had said. Embarrassed, the client replied, "Best I ever ate."
Yukon and Alaska
In 1921, Cashman visited California, where she declared her desire to be appointed U.S. deputy Marshal for the area of Koyukuk. In 1922, the Associated Press documented her trip from Nolan Creek to Anchorage.
In January 1925, Cashman developed pneumonia and rheumatism. Friends admitted her to the Sisters of St. Anne, the same hospital that she had helped to build fifty-one years earlier. She soon died of her illness and was interred at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, British Columbia.
On March 15, 2006, Nellie Cashman was inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame.
A fictitious Nellie Cashman, represented as a hotel owner in Tombstone, was played by actress Randy Stuart in the 1959-1960 season of the ABC television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brian starring as Wyatt Earp. The Cashman character was intended as a romantic interest for Earp, but Carol Thurston, as the fictitious Emma Clanton, also had her sights on the marshal in seven episodes of the series.
- Leo W. Banks (1999). Stalwart Women: Frontier Stories of Indomitable Spirit. Arizona Highways Books. ISBN 978-0-916179-77-9.
- LeBlanc, Suzanne (2003). Cassiar: A Jewel in the Wilderness. Prince George, B.C. : Caitlin Press. ISBN 978-0-920576-99-1.
- The Islander, Portraits of Cobh, (No.3), Cobh Museum, Co. Cork, 1999.
- Ellen (Nellie) Cashman (1845-1925). Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation
- Cashman, Ellen Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online