Lola Montez in Grass Valley

From San Francisco and Sacramento, Lola took her performances to Marysville and then up into the foothills to Grass Valley and Nevada City. She drew appreciative crowds wherever she went, always to see her famed Spider Dance and sometimes in the hopes of theatrical fireworks. If she was greeted with boos and hisses, she would stride to the footlights, scold the perpetrators, and then carry on with her performance. Critics who panned her dancing were threatened with pistol or horsewhip in the hands of the tempestuous faux Spaniard.

Her fame had spread far and wide. Everyone knew the name of Lola Montez. Mines, racehorses, ships, and cigars were named for her.

But perhaps she was growing tired of life on the boards and the constant travel. She liked the looks of Grass Valley. Probably the scenery and fresh mountain air reminded her of her time in the Bavarian Alps. She wanted to settle down.

During her time in Munich and Paris she had always chosen the most expensive, the most splendid mansion she could find. But there were no mansions in Grass Valley. She was content to purchase a small one-story white cottage on Mill Street. You can still see it today.

In 1853 Grass Valley was a small city of only 2,000 people, but it was the sixth largest town in California. It was home to several mines, including the Empire Mine (now a state park) which would become the richest mine in California history. Gone were the days of placer mining and the single prospector with gold pan and cradle. The future was in quartz mining, burrowing deep into the earth, and stamp mills that crushed the ore to extract the gold. Steam and water-driven mills filled the air with the constant din of industrial mining. Lola invested $20,000 in the Empire Mine.

Nevada Journal (Nevada City) 5 August 1853

Lola settled into her cozy cottage. Her fights with Patrick Hull, her latest husband, escalated and she soon sent him packing. Instead she surrounded herself with admirers and animal pets. She kept several kinds of birds, including a parrot, four dogs, a horse, a goat, and two grizzly bear cubs.

(I am not sure who “Gil” is in this news article, but presumably he was the owner of the cottage that he sold to Lola.)

Lola enjoyed her life in Grass Valley. She was accepted by its residents — she had her eccentricities, but so did many others. But after almost two years in her mountain retreat she grew restless. And perhaps she needed to replenished her funds. She wanted to travel again, and she decided on a tour of Australia.

She never returned but she was fondly remembered in Grass Valley and nearby Nevada City. One newspaper editor wrote:

Madam Lola (as she chose to be called while a resident of this town) although eccentric in some respects, did many acts indicative of a kind and benevolent disposition. We recall her riding many miles over the hills to carry food and medicine to a poor miner. More than once she watched all night by the bedside of a child whose mother could not afford to hire a nurse. . . . Lola was one of the lions of our town; and visitors from below, clerical as well as lay, while taking a look at our quartz mills, invariably sought an introduction to her, and always returned delighted from an hour’s chat at her hospitable cottage.

National Gazette (Nevada City) 11 November 1858, as quoted in Bruce Seymour, Lola Montez: A Life.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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2 Responses to Lola Montez in Grass Valley

  1. Jodie says:

    “Gil” might have been the former own, but I think “Gil” could very well have been one of her dogs, laying faithfully at her feet.

  2. nancyleek says:

    Yes, that makes sense. Lucky dog indeed!

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