Boomtowns begin with gold, silver or other precious metals swiftly followed by prospectors armed with shovels, picks and hope. Goldfield was no exception. However, there is also opportunity for folks other than prospectors in a boomtown. Miners need food, lodging and desire drink and entertainment… and there were plenty of people willing to supply the need. Rilla Alice McDonough Haney was one of these people. Although Rilla was a married woman, she and husband, Martin, had separated in Eureka California shortly after their third child was born in 1894. How she heard of the new gold camp and the reason for the move to Goldfield alone is unknown but it was a bold move.
According to family lore, she opened and operated a restaurant. Sadly, the name of the restaurant is lost to history. But serving food was a good choice with so many single men who had no means or desire to cook for themselves.
In 1904, after ensuring her three children were safely settled in respected boarding schools or with trusted friends, she made her way to Goldfield.
In 1906, Rilla traveled back to California, packed up her children and returned to Goldfield. At this time, Goldfield was rapidly growing into the largest city in Nevada. By 1907, the population would reach over 20,000.
Population growth brought more families which, in turn, meant the need for schools. By the end of 1908, there were four fine stone built schools in Goldfield. The two oldest children, James and Aliceopulation growth brought more families which, in turn, meant the need for schools. By the end of 1908, there were four fine stone built schools in Goldfield. The two oldest children, James and Aliceewere 16 and 15 respectively when they arrived in Goldfield and may or may not have attended school. were 16 and 15 respectively when they arrived in Goldfield and may or may not have attended school. Robina, the youngest of the brood, was an impressionable 12 year old at the time of the move. Years later she would recount the enormous culture shock it was to move from a beautiful seashore in Northern California to the middle of the dry and hot Nevada desert! Within three years, Alice would be married. Robina, did attend school and later oversaw little girls in summer school. The photo to the right shows her with the summer class - She stands in the rear, a young girl not much taller than her charges. That it was summer is obvious due to a sprinkling of bare feet. The names of the students were written on the photo at right… however, the order in which the names match the girls is unknown..
The photo below (right) is the same class inside what was probably a private home surrounded by spectacular wall paper and interestingThe photo below (right) is the same class inside what was probably a private home surrounded by spectacular wall paper and interesting hangings.
Robina and Oliver Brocklis (at left) were fellow students and remained life-long friends. They are most likely part of the crowd of students and staff pictured in front of the Goldfield High School on Euclid Avenue. After graduating, she went to work for the U.S. Post Office and was transferred sometime later to Ely, Nevada.
The family was still living in Goldfield according to the 1910 Federal Census. Rilla is listed as Head of Household, age 41, at 619 Euclid and working as a Nurse for a private family. Son, James, age 21, lived in the same house and was an Engineer at a Lumber Station. Robina, age 16, also in the same residence has no job listed. Rilla’s oldest daughter, Alice, age 19, is living at 711 E. Ramsey with husband, Arnold Gridley, age 22. He is listed as a saloon owner. The name of the saloon is unknown… but it would have been one of many. The 1907 Goldfield Directory lists 49 Saloons.
Rilla Alice McDonough Haney had spirit and a taste for opportunity and adventure. Her children had the chance to live the boomtown experience in the World’s Greatest Gold Camp. Surely, an experience never to be forgotten…
The Goldfield Historical Society wishes to thank society member, Wally Luther (Great grandson of Rilla Alice McDonough Haney), and all of the other proud Haney family descendants, for sharing the story and photos of these early Goldfield pioneers.