Thursday, February 2, 2012

Eilley Orrum - The Lady of the Mansion

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.

When they returned from their honeymoon, they were wealthy. The black streaks of sand Eilley had seen in her peep-stone were silver and together their claims made them two of the richest millionaires in Gold Hill. The couple, one illiterate and the other with illusions of grandeur, went on a European shopping trip to fill the mansion Eilley had built on the site of her old homestead in the Washoe Valley. On their way home the mother of a new infant died. They adopted the little girl and named her Margaret Persia.

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.


  1. That it so sad. I'd never heard of a peep stone before. What a great thing to have, except it didn't really help her much, did it? Thanks for a terrific story.

  2. Fascinating, Paisley. I'd never heard about this woman before. I really enjoyed reading about Eilley.
    ~ Ashley

  3. What an intriguing story. A peep stone. Obviously what it showed was limited, as she often misread the scene. On the other hand, no on can say she never achieved her dreams...she did...but just lost them too soon. Very strange story. It's difficult to believe one woman could go throught that much...but I suppose it happens all too often.
    Thanks, Paisley--I thoroughly enjoyed reading this tale.
    P.S.--I have heard of this woman.

  4. Thanks Caroline. I've never heard of a peep-stone either, but I really think there is something about the Scots that they have some kind of mystic about them. Maybe it's those tall mountains they live in. :)

  5. Thanks Ashley. Eilley certainly had drive to get her dream. I guess women of the west needed to be strong to overcome the hardships. I don't know if I could have survived under some of their circumstances. The mansion certainly was beautiful.

  6. Hi Celia. I had never heard of Eilley before. I know the next time we go over the mountain, I would love to be able to see the mansion. I wonder how much it still resembles the original house. Silver was big during the end of the gold rush days, but it doesn't seem to have the same glitter in history.


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