The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: August 29, 1879, Tybo, Nevada
Died: April 2, 1947, Fallon, Nevada
Maiden Name: Ellen CLifford
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: Joseph Brigham Nay, December 7, 1899, in Belmont, Nevada
Children: Emma Nevada and Olephia
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Austin, Lander County
Major Fields of Work: Prospector, Road house owner
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother, Blacksmith
Mount Ellen stands east of Tonopah, as does the mining district of Ellen and the ghost town of Ellendale, though no modern explorer is likely to find a trace of them. Ellendale is the ghostliest of ghost towns, but once Ellen Clifford Nay’s name studded the landscape. The fourth of eleven children, she was a petite sprite, barely five feet tall, born in the mining camp of Tybo. She followed her father and brothers everywhere and did what they did, including heavy work. From an early age, she dreamed of making a rich gold strike.
As a young woman, she had new concerns – her marriage to a Mormon cowboy, Joe Nay, and the birth of her two daughters, but her dream never died. The spring of 1909 found them running a road house to sell necessities to travelers – and prospect on the side at Salsbury Wash, about thirty miles east of Tonopah. Her dream came true on the day when she came running to Joe with a rock wrapped in her apron. “I never saw so much gold on a single piece of rock before,” she later said. Boomers rushed to the new discovery, town lots in Ellendale sold for fancy prices, and mining commenced, only to evaporate in a mere two months. The site had contained only ore with surface concentrations of gold.
Newly prosperous, Ellie and Joe retired to southern California and quickly learned that retirement was not for them. Thanks to Ellendale, they would now be able to buy the Barley Creek Cattle Ranch, a remote and beautiful spread in the shadow of the Monitor Mountains. Although returns from occasional mining leases were modest, Ellen kept her faith in Ellendale. Every year her family gathered there for about a week to do the annual assessment work legally required to retain ownership of the site – and prospect a little. Ellen’s daughter Olephia panned enough gold to buy a major luxury, her first washing machine.
After Joe died in 1939, Ellen retired to Tonopah and sold the ranch. Nonetheless, when the family went for a drive, the car had to immediately halt when Ellen thought she saw a sugar loaf mountain, one of the distinctive features of Ellendale. She died in 1947 of pulmonary congestion. Without Ellen’s hopes to keep it alive, her family at last sold Ellendale and it reverted to nature.
Researched and written by Sally Zanjani. Posted to the Web site April 2016.
Sources of Information:
- For more on Ellen Nay, see Sally Zanjani’s A Mine of Her Own: Women Prospectors in the American West, 1850-1950.
- Zanjani, Sally. A Mine of Her Own: Women Prospectors in the American West, 1850-1950. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.