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Gregory Crouch: From Penniless to The Richest Man in the World – the story behind The Bonanza King

Gregory joins us at Jekyll to discuss his book “The Bonanza King” which describes the rags to riches story of the life of John Mackay. Johns family settled in the “Gangs of New York” area where he got little in the way of schooling. When he turned 16, he became an apprentice in the shipyards. In 1851 he moved to California during the gold rush and didn’t end up earning much. In 1859 he headed over to Virginia City near Reno where the Comstock Lode was discovered.

John arrives without a nickel to his name and ends up working in a mine. Over the next twelve years, he works his way up through the industry. Eventually into management then ownership and by the middle 1860’s he had a few successful mining ventures. Later in the 1870s, John had an enormous success, which brought him the largest monthly cash income of any person in the world.

There was a lot of wealth that came out of the Comstock Lode, and it’s comparable to the wealth created today by the tech industry. Today 850 people live in Virginia City, but at its height, 25000 people lived there. It was the second biggest city in the west and very dominant economically.

Stocks and mining were cyclical even back then, and prices could rise and fall quite quickly.

Talking Points From This Week’s Episode
• He discusses his novel “The Bonanza King.”
• The story details the life of John Mackay.
• The Comstock Lode discovery was massive for wealth creation.

Gregory Crouch is an author who specializes in adventurous and historical subjects. Most recently, he is the author of The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle Over the Greatest Riches in the American West (Scribner, 2018). Crouch is also the author of the true-life World War II flying adventure China’s Wings (Bantam, 2012) and the mountaineering memoir Enduring Patagonia (Random House, 2001).

Crouch has published stores in The Atlantic, National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, Smithsonian, Time, American History, World War II, Islands, Outside, Popular Mechanics, Backpacker, and many other national and regional media, and dozens of adventure stories for Rock & Ice, Ascent, Alpinist, and Climbing, where he was a senior contributing editor. He is also the author of Goldline: Stories of Climbing Adventure and Tradition (The Mountaineers, 2001) and Route Finding: Navigating with a Map and Compass (Falcon, 1999).

In 1988, Gregory Crouch graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, where he studied military history. He completed U.S. Army Airborne and Ranger schools and led two infantry platoons. He left the Army to pursue other interests, most notably in rock and ice climbing and high-stakes international mountaineering. He developed a particular obsession with the storm-swept peaks of Patagonia and made seven expeditions to those remote mountains, where he made a number of world-class first ascents.

Along the way, he became a writer. Crouch’s entire career has been built from following his intellectual and adventurous interests to their absolute conclusions. With his son, Ryan, and wife, artist Tina Rath, Gregory Crouch lives in Walnut Creek, in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. His Website is:

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