By Paisley Kirkpatrick
As a young girl, Allison "Eilley" Orrum realized she was destined for a life of success and riches. She knew it as she ran over the grassy moors and climbed the craggy ridges of her homeland in the Highlands of Scotland. Eilley had a rare gift: with the help of a glass sphere she called a peep-stone, she could see the future. Eilley, however, saw only a part of the things to come. Her famous crystal ball showed a vast fortune and a mansion. It did not reveal the personal grief she would encounter.
Born in Scotland in 1826, Eilley was a high-spirited young woman who was filled with ambition and a burning desire to achieve fame and fortune. Unfortunately, Scotland, in the 1800s had little to offer, so in order to escape, Eilley converted to Mormonism. She gave up her traditional Presbyterian faith and, with several hundred converts, sailed for America. The large group settled in the Mormon colony at Nauvoo, Illinois in 1843.
She married an elder of the church for the prestige, but bore him no children. They settled in Salt Lake City, where her marriage ended when her husband wanted to practice polygamy. Eilley secured a divorce and found employment at a trading store. While working there, a customer offered to sell a sphere of glass the size of a duck egg that he said was a crystal ball. Eilley immediately recognized the sphere as a peep-stone, similar to the one she had used in Scotland.
Peering into the mystical stone, she saw a vision of a green valley with a blue lake surrounded by large mountains. She knew this was the special place where her fame and fortune would be found. She married a farmer and they moved to a new colony of Mormons in the Carson Valley, Nevada. Instead of a sparkling lake, they found a sluggish creek and barren mountainous land. Disappointed, Eilley urged her easy-going husband to move on. Several days later they found her valley, which was exactly as she'd seen in her peep-stone with a beautiful lake and landscape. She envisioned a mansion with many rooms, gardens and flowing fountains. She also saw happy children. They marked off half the section of land and together built a cabin. The only thing missing was money and her husband's ambition to earn it.
Before winter set in, they left their homestead and moved to Gold Hill, a new town in Nevada that had just started to grow. She saw pieces of gold, miners, and wagons in her peep-stone. Eilley felt there was money to be made in Gold Hill, which at the time was a community of tents and saloons. They built a cabin and she started taking in boarders. The venture turned into a success until her husband was called back to Salt Lake City. He left immediately with their wagons and livestock. She stayed alone in a lawless town with only her peep-stone and herself to depend on. She was 32 years old...and childless.
She took in laundry as well as boarders. Her rule was that she would cook, wash, and care for the miners, but her bed was hers alone. She divorced her husband and the boarding house flourished, but she was not getting rich. One of the miners offered her his claim for an unpaid bill and Eilley accepted. The claim beside it belonged to Lemuel Sanford ”Sandy” Bowers, a young teamster who had recently arrived in Gold Hill. He asked her to share her life with him as well as her claim. He was 26, eight years younger than Eilley.
After they returned home, Eilley stayed at the mansion and raised Margaret while Sandy returned to the mines. It was the happiest time of Eilley's life. She had everything she'd seen in the peep-stone. Unfortunately, her happiness didn't last. Her husband died of Silicosis, also called miner's disease. The Silver of the Comstock died out in 1867, and the business deals in which Sandy had been involved had been poorly handled. She tried to turn the mansion into a hotel. While she was expanding the mansion, she sent her daughter to Reno to live with friends. Margaret became ill and died. In 1875 Eilley lost the mansion by default and all the belongings were auctioned off.
Eilley was penniless. She started telling fortunes with the aid of her crystal ball and became known as the ”Washoe Seeress." Eventually the visions in her peep-stone vanished, and in 1903, at the age of 77, she died and was buried next to her husband and child overlooking her mansion.
Written by Anne Seagraves in the Women of the Sierra.