The Brennan Family By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
April 11, 2014
The gold rush made many families rich, some more poor than when they started out, and for some, such as the Brennan family, dead. In 1849, San Francisco newspapers were read so thoroughly by citizens in the East that only scraps remained. Front pages were filled with words about finds at Sutters Mill, where it was described as having streams paved with gold. This brought miners from all over the world to the area to get rich. One of those miners was Michael Brennan, an Irishman from New York, who arrived with dreams of finding the mother lode. Brennan was well educated, and somehow convinced the management of the Mount Hope Mining Company that he had a gift for locating major gold veins. He was hired, and soon made the company’s superintendant. Brennan moved his wife and children into a modest home near the mine, and he went to work. For two years Brennan and his team of diggers searched for gold, but the rich strike eluded him. Now he found himself not only racked with guilt over disappointing the mine owners that had invested in him, but he also felt that he had disgraced his family in the process. On February 21, 1858, in a fit of depression and dejection, Brennan decided to end the pain he was feeling. He wrote a suicide note, which said that he could not bear to leave his family behind living in poverty. Using prussic acid, he poisoned his wife and children and then himself. A pistol was found lying next to Brennan’s body, along with the vile of poison. Authorities believed that he had intended to shoot himself if the acid was not effective. The entire family was laid to rest side by side at the Elm Ridge Cemetery in Grass Valley, California, a single marker listing the names and ages of all five Irish Brennans: “Michael aged 38, Dorinda, aged 32, Ellen, aged 7, Robert, aged 5, and Dorinda, 2.
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