I have previously recommended “The Saga of Poor Tom Cover,” a book written by Dan Thrapp about my 3rd great uncle, Thomas Wells Cover. I recently read the book “Discovery Men” by Gary R. Forney. It tells the story of the six “discovery men” that discovered gold in the Alder Gulch of Montana in 1863. One of those six (6) men was, of course, Tom Cover. For anyone interested in the Tom Cover story, this is an excellent book that includes a lot of information about Tom Cover.
As I have read these two books, the one thing that really strikes me about Tom Cover, above and beyond his many exciting adventures in leading parties of miners through wilderness areas, fighting Indians, leading a vigilante group and prospecting for gold, is what a savvy and successful business man he was. Tom and the other “discovery men” each staked out two mining claims 100 feet long in the Alder Gulch. As Forney notes in his book, Tom and Henry Edgar were the first of the “discovery men” to appreciate that the potential wealth of the Fairweather Mining District was much deeper than the dirt and gravel of Alder Creek. Edgar convinced Tom and a few of the other “discovery men” to use some of their newly found wealth to open a butcher shop, which he would operate. Tom was, however, thinking on a much bigger scale.
On June 16, 1863, less than three (3) weeks after the discovery of gold in Alder Gulch, Tom Cover was one of a party of men who filed a claim on 320 acres of land to be used as a town site. That claim was filed on behalf of the “Verona Town Co.” Tom Cover was one of the first men to purchase property in the new town site, some which he bought for investment purposes. Each of the six “discovery men” had a street named in their honor in the new town, which was named Virginia City. To this day, there is still a street in Virginia City named after Tom Cover.
The focus of Tom Cover’s efforts quickly turned from gold mining. Forney notes in his book that ”For much of the autumn of 1863, it was mild enough in the Alder Gulch to permit the continued arrival of freight wagons on a regular basis and for the completion of winter quarters for the hundreds of miners crowding into the new camps, Tom Cover took advantage of the favorable weather and his business acumen, to exploit the virtually limitless opportunities provided by the rapidly developing Gulch communities. Drawing upon his experience from lumbering in Minnesota, Cover formed a partnership with Perry (“Bud”) McAdow and established a saw mill along Granite Creek. The new partners soon followed this enterprise by also opening a lumberyard in Virginia City. The exploding demand for lumber to build shops, saloons, homes, sluice boxes, and coffins quickly made Cover and McAdow two of the most wealthy and influential businessmen of the area.” Tom and his partner initially made huge profits in the lumber business as they had no competition and their business soon employed twenty (20) men with “sixty yoke of oxen skidding saw logs from the great forests to the mill, bouncing them down the spray of gulches that feathered out from the plant into the mountains.” As Thrapp notes in his book, “(f)rom the outset, the business was a gold mine.” However, competing lumber mills sprang up. Eventually, Tom and his partner sold their lumber business, having reaped considerable profits after seven (7) months.
On March 7, 1864, Henry Edgar sold his mining claims to his discovery partners, Cover, Fairweather and Hughes, for $7,000. On the same day, he sold his one-quarter share in the butcher shop, the house and lot upon which it was located, a corral and eleven head of cattle to Tom Cover for an additional $1,000 in gold.
A number of the “discovery men” left Virginia City within a year with net earnings of $30,000 to $40,000 in gold dust. Forney points out in his book that while such a sum seems respectable but not especially impressive in today’s times, each of the “discovery men” was essentially a multi-millionaire in present day terms. To put it in perspective, in 1864, the level of wealth realized by the discovery men had much greater significance . In 1864, a town laborer typically earned about $1 per day and many farm families never saw $50 cash in a year. At that same time, enlisted men for the Union in the Civil War made $13 monthly.
Forney accurately points out in his book that Tom Cover was the discovery man who had the “Midas touch.” “ In addition to his mining claims and the enormously successful sawmill and lumberyard that he and Bud McAdow had established, Cover was realizing huge profits from the sale of city lots in Virginia City. Ever alert to new opportunities, however, Cover took the advice of his friend, John Bozeman, and made a thorough inspection of the Gallatin Valley. Without the same sense of urgency as when he had last ridden through the area, Cover took time to carefully consider the possibilities of the valley and the potential of establishing a settlement. Cover was deeply impressed by the agricultural potential of the broad valley and began to file claims on several parcels of land—where he intended to grow his own gold. By mid-summer of 1864, Cover and his partner, Bud McAdow, were actively supervising the construction of a large gristmill in the northeast section of a bustling new settlement in the Gallatin Valley.” The new town, now known as Bozeman, was named “Bozeman City” and Tom Cover was elected Clerk of Gallatin County.
In early September of 1864, Tom and his remaining partners sold four of their discovery claims for $5,500. This was apparently a formal dissolution of the original partnership between the remaining “discovery men.” Tom was not done, however, buying gold mining claims. In Forney’s book, it is noted that Tom had filed new mining claims on 12 sites beginning in May of 1864. Tom was previously among those who had formed the Eagle Mining Company and he was also a founding partner of the Montana Quartz Mining Company. By late 1864, Tom had sold his mining claims in the Alder Gulch area. It was reported in 1884 in the Press and Horticulturist that Tom sold his Alder Gulch claims for $75,000, a very significant sum at the time.
In the September 17, 1864 issue of the Montana Post, it was reported that Tom Cover had sold his lumber business in Virginia City, that he had resigned his post as Gallatin County Clerk and that he was returning to Ohio to obtain equipment for the grist mill that he and Bud McAdow were building. While in Ohio over the winter of 1864-1865, Tom was able not only to find the grist mill equipment that he needed but he also met Mary Hess, the comely daughter of Daniel Hess, a wealthy judge in Columbus.
Tom returned to Bozeman in late May of 1865, accompanied by his brother Jason Jerome Cover. They arrived in Bozeman by horseback, having ridden for sixteen days after leaving Fort Bridger where they came by stagecoach. Jason was the businessman of the family and was in the mercantile business in Johnstown, Ohio. Jason came to Montana to investigate the stories he had heard from Tom and determine whether a profit could be made selling farm equipment. Jason had arranged for farm equipment, including mowing machines, plows and reapers, to be shipped to Virginia City and he planned to sell or rent them to those interested. Apparently, there were not enough prospective customers as Jason eventually turned the machinery over to Tom for his disposal and returned to Ohio, never to visit Montana again. By the time, Tom returned to Bozeman in 1865, the 3 ½ story mill building on the East Fork of the Gallatin River was completed. In September of 1865, the Montana Post announced that the grist mill was in full operation and was so successful that Cover would be returning to the States to purchase additional milling equipment. The Montana Post also reported that Cover was a thoroughly energetic man and had himself planted 150 acres of grain.
At some point in the fall of 1865, Tom Cover was joined in Bozeman by his younger brother, Perry Daniel Cover. Perry had served for the Union in the Civil War and had been captured by Stonewall Jackson’s army at Harper’s Ferry before being paroled. It is unknown how long Perry stayed in Montana but he later joined Tom in Riverside, California where he lived until his death. Tom returned to Ohio again during the winter of 1865-1866. While his stated purpose was to purchase additional milling equipment, he likely had another purpose in mind as well. Tom arrived in Ohio in mid-December and within two weeks had a wife. Tom wed Mary Hess in Columbus on New Year’s Eve. They were united in matrimony by Mary’s father who signed the marriage certificate as “Elder Daniel Hess.” Tom and his new bride then embarked on a lavish honeymoon on the East Coast with stops in New York City, where Tom called at a brokerage house, and Washington D.C., where Tom’s old partner was the Territorial Delegate to Congress from Montana.
Late in March of 1866, Tom and Mary reached St. Louis on the return trip to Montana. From St. Louis, they took the riverboat Bighorn from St. Louis to Fort Benton, a 2,317 mile journey that took seventy-one (71) days. Tom and his new bride had eighteen fellow passengers on the sternwheeler on this trip up the Missouri river. After reaching Fort Benton, they had a six day stagecoach ride to Bozeman. The new milling equipment purchased by Tom was transported by the riverboat and then overland from Fort Benton to Bozeman. By all accounts, Tom was a pillar of the Bozeman community, donating $100 to help establish a Methodist Church. Tom was also a founding member of the city’s Masonic lodge.
While living in Bozeman, Tom Cover had more than a few business associates, one of which was John Bozeman, who the town was named after. While their project never came to fruition, the Gallatin County Commissioners granted Tom and John Bozeman a charter to establish a ferry service across the Yellowstone River.
For reasons that are now unclear but perhaps related to continuing Indian raids in the Montana territory, growing competition from new gristmills in the Gallatin valley and/or the harsh Montana winters that Mary likely did not enjoy, Tom began looking towards Southern California in 1868 and opportunities that existed there for silk farming. By the autumn of 1868, Tom and Mary Cover were living in Southern California in what is now known as Riverside. Tom began acquiring large tracts of land that he intended to use for his silkworm farms. Unfortunately, Tom’s plans to establish silkworm farms came to an end in 1869 when his partner and silk production expert died.
Tom then went to Plan “B,” and found a way to utilize his large land holdings. Tom became a director of the Southern California Colony Association and served as the superintendent of a large project to build an irrigation canal system. The canal system provided an economic boost to agriculture in the area and the city of Riverside began to quickly develop. Tom sold some of his land holdings as the area flourished and continued to grow. However, Tom retained large tracts of land and, together with his brother, Josiah (“Si”) Cover and Samuel McCoy, introduced the navel orange to California.
Forney’s book, “The Discovery Men,” indicates that Tom Cover became a successful rancher, citrus grower and community leader in Riverside. “Between 1869 and 1884, Tom continued to enhance his financial wealth through investments that included land development and the planting of extensive citrus orchards.” Tom remained very active with the Southern California Colony Association and was not only a founder but became a leading citizen in the new community of Riverside, which was formally established on December 14, 1870. Tom built a beautiful home in Riverside known as “Mountain View,” which was referred to as a “thirty thousand dollar mansion.” Tom’s role in establishing Riverside was recognized with a street in the new city named in his honor. At the time of his disappearance in 1884 on a prospecting trip into the desert in an effort to find Peg-Leg Smith’s legendary lost gold mine, Tom was, by any yardstick, a very wealthy and influential man in Riverside.