Used by permission from the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records
A pioneer, prospector and businesswoman, Nellie Cashman lived and worked in the mining camps of the West, from Arizona to Alaska. She spent nearly two decades in Arizona, first running a restaurant in Tucson and later operating a boarding house and restaurant in Tombstone. She helped others wherever she lived, becoming known as “the miner’s angel.”
Born in Queenstown, Ireland in 1845, Nellie immigrated to America with her widowed mother and her sister in 1850. The family lived in Boston and then San Francisco before traveling to the mining town of Pioche, Nevada where they opened a boarding house in 1872. A few years later, Nellie traveled north to Cassiar in the extreme northwest corner of British Columbia. There she opened another boarding house and grubstaked many miners. During the long, harsh winter, prospectors suffered from scurvy. Nellie Cashman worked to bring vegetables to the area, helping many to recover, but people continued to experience great hardship and found little gold.
In 1879, Nellie decided to try her luck living further south. She went to Tucson, where she opened Delmonico’s Restaurant. In 1880, she moved to Tombstone and opened the Nevada Boot and Shoe Store and later a boarding house and restaurant, the Russ House. Nellie Cashman also operated another hotel and restaurant with her sister, Fannie Cunningham. In 1884, Fannie died, leaving “Aunt Nell” to raise her five children. Nellie never married but assumed the responsibility of supporting and educating her nieces and nephews.
Nellie Cashman became very active in Tombstone, helping others who suffered from accidents and illnesses during the 1880s, when the town lacked a hospital. She also organized support for one of the town’s first schools and raised funds for Tombstone’s first Catholic Church. In addition, she invested in claims and partnered with miners to develop them.
Nellie moved frequently, living in Kingston, New Mexico from 1887 to 1888 before she heard about a new mineral find in western Arizona, in the Centennial-Harrisburg vicinity of the Harqua Hala Mountains. She bought claims there and sold supplies to miners, living there for a few years. During the early 1890s, she lived in other Arizona towns, including Jerome, Prescott, Globe, and Yuma.
Nellie Cashman’s great interest in prospecting continued and she left for Alaska in 1898 to strike it rich in Klondike. There she ran a restaurant, purchased claims and grubstaked many miners. She also worked to establish St. Mary’s Church and Hospital. During the early twentieth century, she continued to operate businesses and travel, often by dog team. In 1924, Nellie set a record as the champion woman musher, traveling 750 miles in 17 days with her dog team, from Koyukuk to Seward, Alaska.
In the summer of 1924 she became ill. After traveling to Fairbanks, she was diagnosed with double pneumonia. Nellie Cashman died in 1925 in Victoria, British Columbia at the age of 81.