Grass Valley’s star-crossed lovers: Patrick Hull and Lola Montez had brief, tumultuous marriage in Nevada County
Much has been written about Lola Montez and her time in Grass Valley, but the husband who accompanied her here from San Francisco in 1853 remains in large part an enigma.
Patrick Purdy Hull is best remembered as the man who shot one of Lola’s pet bears. And while his brief life in California was overshadowed by his wife’s scandalous escapades and the death of a bear, Hull remains an important historical figure in Mansfield, Ohio.
Born in Ontario County, New York — probably in 1824 — Hull grew up in Mansfield, son of a tailor. But rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, he studied law — mentored by his uncle, James Purdy, a noted Ohio attorney and veteran of the War of 1812.
After being admitted to the local bar, Hull established a partnership with future Ohio Lt. Gov. Thomas Ford, who had settled in Mansfield in 1848 following duty in the War with Mexico. Ford soon became a rising politician, successful attorney and military leader, but in 1862, following the Battle of Harper’s Ferry, was found guilty of neglecting his post and summarily dismissed from the Union Army.
In 1849, during his partnership with Ford, 25-year-old Patrick Hull was elected mayor of Mansfield and is credited with instituting needed reforms and modernizing the town’s fire department. Although Hull seemed on course for reelection, or perhaps state office, he heard accounts of abundant gold and emerging business opportunities in California, so he headed west. Then, once in San Francisco, Hull acquired an interest in a newspaper — The Whig and Commercial Advertiser — with Frank Pixley and Louis Lull as editors.
Pixley, who spent two years mining near Downieville before moving to San Francisco, was elected to the state Assembly in 1858, and in 1862 became California’s eighth attorney general. Later, he returned to the newspaper business in San Francisco, founding the Argonaut in 1877.
Like Pixley, Lull also served in the state Assembly, but remained a journalist and was publisher of the Marysville Daily Herald when it folded in 1858. In addition, Lull served 14 years as an officer of the Society of California Pioneers, as well as secretary of the California Historical Society.
In July 1853, however, the Whig and Commercial Advertiser staff box changed when Hull married Lola Montez and sold his interest in the paper.
Hull and Montez had met earlier that year — fellow passengers, sailing from New Orleans to the isthmus of Panama on the steamship Philadelphia, and from there to California on the paddle-wheeler Northerner. They arrived in San Francisco in May, impulsive lovers about to tie the knot; a third marriage for the bride, first for the groom.
The honeymoon ended when Hull and Montez reached Grass Valley, and it ended in more ways than one. Hull was captivated by his bride’s beauty and charm, but soon suspected she was more attracted to a local doctor than to him. There are reports of shouting matches about infidelity, Montez’s spending habits, and what Hull felt was an overabundance of animals at their Mill Street home.
A 1923 Oakland Tribune history feature explained that among the animals Montez maintained in Grass Valley were “two pet bears, several birds, dogs and cats, and her favorite of all, a pony.” The article also noted that an enraged Hull had killed one of Lola’s pet bears. The incident reportedly occurred after one of her bruins bit Hull on a calf, causing him to retrieve his gun from the house and return to the yard to shoot the chained animal.
Some accounts claim Hull was drunk; others say it was simply the last straw in a brief, tumultuous marriage. Either way, the bear’s premature death led to a divorce for the star-crossed lovers and influenced Montez’s decision to leave Grass Valley in 1855 — bound for Australia, where a new gold rush was underway.
Hull also left, moving back to San Francisco to run Town Talk, a newspaper that ceased publication after barely a year. From there, he moved to Marysville to work for Louis Lull, his former editor at The Whig and Commercial Advertiser.
In fall 1857, however, Hull, only 33, suffered a paralyzing stroke and was hopelessly bedridden in Marysville until his death on May 21, 1858. Three years later, Montez died in Brooklyn, New York.
Although most history books portray Patrick Purdy Hull as an obscure Gold Rush figure, mis-mated with the flamboyant Lola Montez, he is fondly remembered in Mansfield, Ohio, as a progressive mayor and respected attorney.
Historian Steve Cottrell, a former Nevada City Council member and mayor, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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