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Gregory Crouch: Keynote: The Story Behind the Richest Man in the World

Gregory enthralls us with the story of “The Bonanza King” set in the 1800s. It details a rags to riches story about the life of John Mackay. Gregory became interested in writing a novel about the Comstock Lode since it’s lies close to his home in California.

Born in Ireland, John was the son of an Irishman whose family emigrated to New York in 1840. John received some schooling but had to start working at age eleven when his father past away. At sixteen John apprenticed as a carpenter for a shipyard. This skill set came in useful when he moved to California during the end of the gold rush in 1851.

John didn’t earn much during the California gold rush, but he did better when he moved to Nevada. After getting a labor job at a mine, he used his work ethic to move up in the company becoming a foreman and then a superintendent. Later, Mackay consolidates his investments into a tiny property.

He has to borrow but is able to build a 250-foot shaft. He fails to strike ore, but the mine next door hits paydirt just forty feet deeper. He was vulnerable to foreclosure but was able to negotiate an extension on his loan. A few weeks later he finds the ore body which covers the entire property and ends up pulling $1.6 million from the ground.

He invests in several other mines which fail to work out. He still has some money and discovers a mismanaged mine operated by a shady bank. He carefully acquires controlling ownership of the shares, fires the management, and later uses the profits to acquire two neglected properties in the Comstock Lode.

He develops those properties, digging a shaft down to 1100 feet and finds a barely profitable ore body. The deeper he digs, the better the ore. They reach 1500 feet, and the ore is like nothing seen before. The mine produces over 110 million dollars worth of silver, making Mackay’s net worth over $600 billion in today’s dollars.

Time Stamp References:
0:45 – Marin Katusa introduces Gregory.
1:30 – Gregory’s background and interest in mining.
4:00 – John Mackay was the seminal figure of the Comstock.
6:45 – Declining returns during the California gold rush.
8:30 – Equity in mining in the 1850s.
11:45 – Debt and foreclosure risk in mining.
14:30 – Making money from a mine without mining gold.
17:30 – John’s mine actually paid a good dividend.
18:30 – John acquires a mine in the Comstock deposit.
21:00 – Mining success worth 600 billion today.
21:30 – John’s wife San Francisco/Paris
24:00 – Entertaining in Paris, more money than some countries.
26:00 – Rubbing shoulders with the European aristocracy.
28:00 – Invests in telegraph technology.
30:00 – Why he is largely forgotten today.

Talking Points From This Week’s Episode
• Gregory discusses his book “The Bonanza King.”
• John Mackay moves to California during the gold rush.
• Moves on to Virginia City, Nevada and has some success.
• Ends up discovering a massive, high-grade deep ore body.

Gregory Crouch is an author who specializes in adventurous and historic 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 several 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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