Book Review "The Infamous King of the Comstock: William Sharon and the Gilded Age in the West" |

Book Review "The Infamous King of the Comstock: William Sharon and the Gilded Age in the West"

Michael J. Makley’s new book on William Sharon makes the Enron gang look like choir boys. Makley relates tales of shady dealings stretching like a malevolent web across the West. Clearly, the Gold Rush brought out the worst in men.

For almost 20 years, Sharon controlled not only the mining industry, but also railroads and water rights throughout the West. He was referred to as “The King,” not out of respect but in reference to his monomaniacal control of everything he touched. You’ll find plenty of familiar names in this book: D.O. Mills, Leland Stanford and Adolph Sutro, to name a few. Sharon used poker to bolster his income and forced many a man into bankruptcy. He served in the U.S. Senate and did almost nothing; he was apparently “seated at only five sessions.”

His ultimate undoing, however, was not a competitor in business or politics but a woman named Sarah Hill. After his wife’s death from stomach cancer in 1875, Sharon proceeded to consort with a variety of women. Hill and Sharon spent two years together, and although there was no other evidence the two had married, Hill was able to produce a “document” signed by herself and Sharon in which they reportedly “took one another as husband and wife.” Their divorce case created one of the greatest scandals in California history.

The fascinating material in this book will alternately polish and tarnish your perception of “The Gilded Age.”


Reviewer Deborah Russell lives in Grass Valley and teaches English at a local community college.

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