True love overcomes, even for reporters

A little girl was born Sept. 10, 1844, on Patch Mountain, Maine. She will grow up to be a mother, grandmother and a newspaper reporter, editor and owner. She would bury two husbands before dying nearly 101 years later on June 23, 1945.

Like most of us, her newspaper career began as a romance. Some of us love the written word and the construction of the language. Others the thrill of the big scoop. In Ellen Verrill's case it was the love of a man with a "worthless heart."

Or so her future husband Henry Rust Mighels wrote to her while serving in the Union Army in March 1863.

"I am glad to tell you frankly that I love you with all my worthless heart -- But let us both make light of that fact -- fact as it is, for it is worse than useless to make the matter a serious one. So, Nellie you may laugh at the confessions of a poor old bachelor -- and when one of these days you may gladden the board and fireside of some most fortunate lord of creation you have my consent to point your finger at me -- or my picture and say -- 'that old chap was dead in love with me once.' And then, if I am present I will say 'yes, -- that's a fact,' -- and I am not cured of the malady yet."

Such honesty and humor is lost in 21st century of courtship by cell phone, e-mail and cross-continent flights.

Henry's persistence and professions of love were generally answered in a similar tone. On March 27, 1864, she closed saying: "Good bye Harry. Be a good boy and do just as I say in all things and I'll think of you every day for a month."

The pair met in 1860 when Harry was in town visiting his parents. As he left, Harry told the 16-year-old he'd be back to marry her.

He lied, of course.

Nellie agreed to marry him Nov. 26, 1865, and then only after he promised to give up drinking and chewing tobacco.

The pair married Aug. 20, 1866, in Placerville after Nellie came West accompanied by Nevada State Treasurer Eben Rhoades, who had been East for the state. Hank Monk brought them home.

Nellie began her career as a writer when Henry asked her to take down the sermons each Sunday at church. She filled two columns of the four-page paper.

She eventually wriggled out of the church pew to cover the not-so-glorious proceedings at the statehouse and even penned a piece for a Chicago paper on the famed Corbett and Fitzsimmons bout.

Heady stuff for a 19th century "little country girl."

Ever the tease, Nellie referred to herself thusly in the piece she penned to Harry . "I guess (pshaw! you little country girl) I know that I--I-- I love you dearly, and will try very hard to make you happy. There! It's out and didn't quite choke me after all."

Harry received the letter on Christmas day saying her promise was "the most precious gift I ever received."

Their love letters have survived as family heirlooms for nearly a century and a half -- 20 times longer than most marriages last today.

It is a tribute to them both.

The pair had four children and a fifth who lived only a few weeks. Today only her great-granddaughter survives. Harry died in Nellie's arms May 27, 1879.

Nellie went on running the paper, managing the family and remarrying Samuel Post Davis in July of 1880. The pair bought a 600-acre ranch in north Carson City where Sam added cattle raising to his list of duties and he and Nellie added two daughters to the family tree.

Sam died March 17, 1918.

Nellie is buried between her two loves in Lone Mountain Cemetery.

She said she did not know Mark Twain, but did know some of the girls he had dated. "They used to tell me that Mark was a very poor beau. In the first place he was lazy. In the second, he never had any money."

A man ahead of his time?

Happy Valentine's Day.

Kelli Du Fresne is features editor for the Nevada Appeal. The historical information for this column came from the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, fall 1991.


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