The Copper Queen

Women weren’t supposed to prospect for precious metals in the 1800s. They were considered too delicate to travel across wilderness and deserts, collecting ore samples and chasing veins while carrying everything they needed to survive in a backpack. Ferminia Sarras did it anyway.

A small, compact woman, she identified herself as Spanish—not Mexican—and appeared on the Esmeralda, Nevada tax records as Ferminia Sarras, Spanish lady, in 1881. Eventually she would become known as Ferminia Sarras, the Copper Queen.

There’s no clear record as to why Ferminia, who was born in Nicaragua in 1840, came to the United States with her three young daughters in 1876. One theory is that she came

Esmeralda, Nevada

to join up with her husband in the Nevada mining camps. She placed two of her daughters in a Virginia City orphanage, quite possibly for their safety, before embarking on her journey to the camps with her oldest daughter, who married a miner a few years later.

Ferminia started prospecting in 1883, wearing pants and tramping the hills alone. She prospected in several Nevada mining districts, including the Candelaria, Silver Peak and Santa Fe Districts and recorded numerous copper claims.

candelaria

Candaleria, Nevada

After the Comstock Lode petered out, Nevada went into a depression, however the discovery of gold in the central part of the state revitalized the mining economy and Ferminia’s copper claims increased in value. Her first sale came in 1901, with several more to follow, and eventually she made a fortune on her copper claims, thus earning the name the Copper Queen. She kept the gold coins from the sales in her chicken coop, which she considered safer than a bank.

gold fields

Goldfields, Nevada

 

Ferminia married at least five times to men younger than herself. One husband died in a gunfight protecting her claims and according to a newspaper account, all of her husbands died violent deaths. Historians theorize that she may have married younger men to help protect her claims, however one of the last men she was involved with robbed her and used the money to flee to South America.

Ferminia died in 1915. The town of Mina, Nevada, which currently boasts a population of 155,  was named in her honor.

For further information on Ferminia Sarras and other women who dared to prospect in the American West, check out A Mine of Her Own by Sally Zanjani. Much of the information I have on Ferminia came from that resource.

Jeannie Watt
Jeannie Watt lives off the grid in an historic cattle ranching area and loves all things western. When she's not writing, Jeannie enjoys sewing, making mosaic mirrors, riding her horses and buying hay. Lots and lots of hay.

19 Comments

  1. This is very interesting. I wouldn’t have thought about women doing any mining back then.

    1. There weren’t many, but there were some. Women were considered bad luck underground, so if they were involved, it was in the prospecting end of matters, unless they had their own private mine. Thanks for stopping by, Janine!

  2. Sounds like quite the gal.

  3. What a fascinating character, Jeannie! I loved this post and can easily picture her tromping around in her trousers and taking no guff from anybody. And she might have been onto something there with the chicken coop. Guard chickens to peck and poop enough to keep folks out. Sounds smart to me. 🙂

    1. Right? Who would look in the chicken coop? Brilliant!

  4. Wow, great story! She certainly lived a full life. Women who braved the rigors to settle in the old West just fascinate me. And that she was a miner just adds to my deep respect for her. I hope she got her youngest daughters out of the orphanage. That was sad. But to marry younger men…I can see that. 🙂

    1. She did get her daughters out of the orphanage and they married miners. That concerned me, too.

  5. So interesting. I love all of y’all post, I find out things I never knew nor never even thought of for that time period.

    1. I love researching my posts as well as reading those of the other fillies. I always learn something new!

  6. You know, Jeannie, my husband used to mine — one of my stories — I think it was LONE ARROW’S PRIDE was based on a true mining story that my husband related to me. He and his brother mined gold mostly — Grandfather George, who also lives with us, was also a miner. One of the stories was quite humorous — about where the gold vein was and how they had to get into it. Anyway…

    1. How cool! I also come from a mining family and love the lore. I’m so curious about the gold vein story. How did they get to it?

  7. What an awesome tale, Jeannie. I love learning about our “foremothers.” It cracks me up how women were considered “delicate” by men. Ever go into labor and squish out a baby? Sheesh. The saddest thing I heard about the Comstock is how the eastern shores of Lake Tahoe were totally denuded for timber to shore up the mines. Wow. The Washoe Indians who summered there must have had broken hearts. Super post today, filly sister! xo

    1. Thank you, Tanya! The square set timbers in the Comstock saved lives, but what a cost. Yes, a heartbreaker for sure.

  8. Sounds like one tough lady. Thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Kim!

  9. What an interesting woman! Thank you so much for sharing, Jeannie!

  10. Hi Jeannie! There are numerous things named copper queen in Bisbee AZ. Any connection to this copper queen, or a different one?

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