In San Francisco, on Saturday, September 8, 1883, William Sharon, a former U.S. Senator from Nevada and a wealthy man about town, was arrested on a charge of adultery. This was a surprise to all who knew the senator since his wife had died in 1875. As far as anyone knew, the senator was a widower.
Not that he deprived himself of female companionship. He was known to have had a series of young ladies whom he paid to be available. He could afford the luxury, since he was a multi-millionaire, having made his pile in the Comstock Lode. Mining operations and real estate deals had made him the “King of the Comstock” and he used some of his profits to build two luxury hotels, the Palace and the Grand Hotel on Market Street.
The charge of adultery was brought by William Neilson, a shady character recently arrived from Australia, who was acting on behalf of Sarah Althea Hill, a young woman who claimed to be Mrs. William Sharon. Although books on the case usually refer to her as Sarah, she actually used her middle name and was called “Allie.”
Miss Allie Hill was well known in San Francisco society, but not as Mrs. William Sharon. She had come to California from Missouri in 1871 with her brother, Morgan Hill (for whom the town of Morgan Hill is named.) She had inherited enough money from her deceased parents to support herself and claimed that she initially met Senator Sharon when she went to him for investment advice.
Allie claimed that she had a marriage contract signed by Sharon and herself, which he insisted on keeping secret when he was running for reelection to his senate seat. He claimed that the contract was a forgery. Interviewed about the scandal, he told a newspaper reporter, “I am a pretty old fish and that kind of bait won’t catch me.”
He was indeed an old fish at sixty-five, and Miss Gertie Dietz, his current paramour, was only the latest in a long sequence. Allie Hill was thirty years old when she started her relationship with Sharon. He said he had paid her $500 a month to be his mistress, and as a young lady who liked to dress in the height of fashion, she easily managed to spend that amount. If he had stopped paying her monthly stipend, then she had good reason to seek another way to get money out of him.
The charge of adultery was dismissed by the court. Allie then sued for divorce, alimony and division of community property. This meant she would have to prove that they were married.
Next: The Source of the Story
The story of Senator Sharon and Sarah Althea Hill is told in full in Sarah and the Senator, by Robert H. Kroninger, published by Howell-North Books in 1964. This is the source of my information. Another more recent book about Sarah (or Allie) is Enchantress, Sorceress, Madwoman by Robin C. Johnson (California Venture Books, 2014), but I have not seen that book.