Bertha Gresh

Honored by:Deborah L. Freeland
Brick location:G:22  map

More than a free and independent spirit, more than a true pioneer, Bertha Gresh was a fine example of the strong, faithful and fiercely independent women who conquered the wild west.

I know little about her childhood other than that she was born Bertha Heinrich of German immigrants in Cedersburg, Wisconsin in 1883. In her early 20s she decided to "come west" and set off all alone by train for Los Angeles. During the trip she made friends with two young women passengers. It was through one of these friends that she met the handsome college educated Cyrus Gresh who had come west at the start of the gold rush to recoup his family's fortune.

He had taken a position as an assayer in Searchlight when the gold mines were in full swing and prospected around the town of Nelson on weekends staking several claims. Cyrus and the friend's husband were partners in a mine in Eldorado Canyon where Nelson and Searchlight are located. Bertha and Cyrus knew each other for several years before war broke out.

Cyrus was called in the last draft of World War 1 and they were married in 1918 before his departure. After the war was over they settled in Eldorado Canyon living in a corrugated metal mining shack with only two tiny rooms. Supplies had to be shipped in from towns some 60 miles away and most of the time they had to bring in their own water as well. Bertha cooked on a small kerosene stove and a small two-burner cast iron stove in the little kitchen. Of course there was no air conditioning and the only respite from the desert heat was found in a narrow shaded breezeway. Preserves and vegetables were kept cool in a little cellar dug out of the hillside behind the house.

On this same hillside Bertha constructed a small shrine to Our Lady of Eldorado Canyon - she was a devout Catholic but there were no churches nearby - at which she worshipped. She invested her savings along with Cyrus' in the mining operations. When she was 56 her husband was paralyzed. She continued to care for him entertain his friends run the household and oversee the mining operations until his death 16 years later - still two years before I was born.

When I was a young woman growing up in Southern Nevada in the 1960s and 70s this pioneer woman was always a part of my life. A very dear friend of our family and adopted great aunt she lived alone (but surrounded by friends) in the same tiny house in Nelson she had shared with her husband. At age 70 she had taken up painting and her bedroom was filled with canvasses covered in the flowers that she loved.

She held tenaciously to the mining claims of her late husband and would traipse around the steep desert terrain with us children - taking us up to see the Techatticup and Wall Street mines and pointing out different minerals and rock formations. Even at age 90 she would still kill the rattlesnakes she inevitably encountered with her cane and construct dams along the wash near the house to avert flood waters. She loved the desert planting and caring for native wildflowers around her house and inspired this love in all of us.

When she died in 1975 at age 92 she was affectionately known as the Queen Mother of Nelson and Eldorado Canyon. Bertha and others like her funded a legacy from which we are still drawing dividends - one of fierce independence indomitable spirit strength of character and faith eternal optimism and undaunting courage.

God Bless You Aunt Bertha!