Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin
Baldwin and his family settled into the rundown Pacific Temperance Hotel. Three days later he bought it for just over five thousand dollars. Thirty days later, after making some improvements, he sold it for ten thousand dollars. After the sale of the hotel Baldwin started another hotel which did not do as well. In order to avoid spending his capital he tried his hand at various jobs. Placer mining had stripped most of the easy riches out of the Sierras and business was not very good in San Francisco. On August 25, 1854, Sarah gave birth to their second daughter - Elizabeth. Elizabeth, unlike Clara, was not a strong child. Later that year Baldwin went into the brick-making business, first with the son of an old friend from Racine and later on his own. San Francisco had long suffered from fires and new building in the city favored the use of brick. The brick-making business boomed and Baldwin prospered, but on October 30, 1855, Elizabeth died. The brick business brought Baldwin into contact with the men who were building the city and he began successfully investing in real estate. On March 1857, Sarah gave birth to a son - Elias Jackson Baldwin, Jr. The child died two weeks later. Shortly after his son died Baldwin established a livery-stable and began speculating in mining deals.
Late in 1859 San Francisco learned that the Comstock Lode had been discovered in the Washoe District of western Nevada. Baldwin decided to go and have a look at the Comstock but because the Sierra passes were blocked by winter snow he had to wait until spring to make the trip. Most of the rest of California decided to go too and Baldwin's livery-stable did a brisk business at considerable profit to the owner. Baldwin left San Francisco in early spring and tried to force his way through the remaining snow. In the process he was saved from freezing to death by Snowshoe Thompson. He finally got across the mountains in the midst of the Pyramid Lake War with the Paiute Indian tribe. He joined the punitive expedition against the Indians who had wiped out the Ormsby expedition. He also investigated the new mines and invested in several of the new unproven mines before returning to San Francisco and his livery-stable. In 1862 he sold his livery-stable and headed for the Comstock with several wagon loads of lumber. He established a retail lumber yard on the edge of Virginia City and set up a tent as living quarters. In a short time he invested in a Livery-stable on Commercial Street with J.N. Killip.
While Elias was living in Virginia City his wife Sarah remained in San Francisco. She was despondent over the loss of her two children and unhappy with Elias for his prolonged absences. She divorced Baldwin and married J. Van Pelt Mathis, an assistant clerk in the San Francisco Customs House. Baldwin remained in Virginia City and continued buying and selling mining shares. In 1867 he sold his livery-stable business and concentrated on his mining investments. The price of Comstock mining stock fluctuated wildly. Baldwin invested wisely and held on to his investments until the value of the stock that he held soared to astronomical heights at which he sold. He made a great deal of money and decided to go off to India on a tiger hunt with some British acquaintances. On his return from India in 1867 he stopped in Japan and recruited a team of acrobatic jugglers to return to New York with him. The group opened in New York and was a smash hit. After New York the group went on to play other locations across the country ending their US tour in San Francisco at which time Baldwin sold the act to William S. Gilbert who took it to Europe for another successful tour.
Before leaving for his tiger hunting he had given his broker instructions to sell his shares of the Hale & Norcross Mine when it reached the price he had paid for it - eight hundred dollars a foot. On his return to San Francisco he learned that the mine had hit another bonanza and its value had climbed to twelve thousand dollars a foot. Thinking that at least he had made recouped his investment, he went to his broker's office and learned that the stock had not been sold. He had locked it in his safe before leaving for India and the broker could not get to it to sell at eight hundred dollars as Baldwin had instructed. The "error" had made him a multi-millionaire overnight. Although there are many other incidents of good fortune in Baldwin's life, this incident is thought to have been how he first got the nickname "Lucky." On May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed and sometime around that time Baldwin married for the second time. His new bride, a widow from New Orleans, was Mary Cochrane. Mary and Lucky took one of the first transcontinental trains back to Indiana to visit his sister. Afterwards they went on to New York and Saratoga for their honeymoon.
On his return to the west coast, Lucky moved to Virginia City where he took up residence in the luxurious Imperial Hotel. His money made him an important figure in mining circles and he associated with all of the principals working on the Commstock. He assiduously cultivated his sources and, based on the information that he obtained, was able to trade mining stock very successfully. He was involved in all of the great Comstock-related imbroglios of the time and grew ever more wealthy. His prestige grew right along with his bank balance. When the Bank of California collapsed he helped restore it. In 1873 he built the Baldwin Hotel in San Francisco and made it the West Coast's grandest. The Baldwin Theatre, next door to the hotel, was ranked with the best in the country. In 1875 he was elected President of the Pacific Stock Exchange Board. He weathered the turbulent business cycle of early San Francisco and continued to prosper. He built the Tallack Hotel at Lake Tahoe. He purchased large tracks of land in Southern California and promoted the area for settlement. He developed the showcase Santa Anita Ranch and eventually built the famous Santa Anita Race Track. Lucky liked fast horses and beautiful women. His racing stables were among the finest in the country and he was an avid fan of horse racing. A long series of scandals involving women were associated with his name and resulted in numerous lawsuits, but he seemed not to care.
On March 11, 1879, Lucky Baldwin married Jennie Dexter. The Commstock Lode had finally been exhausted, San Francisco and the rest of the state was suffering from a serious financial resession, and Baldwin's finances were stretched thin because of his heavy investment in numerous projects throughout the state. He was land rich, but money poor, and had a great deal of trouble meeting his financial responsibilities. His fame dimmed and he developed a reputation for never paying a bill unless he was taken to court and even then he would usually appeal the verdict. His new wife sickened suddenly and died on November 16, 1881, in their suite at the Baldwin Hotel. After Jennie's death Lucky continued to live a fast life and was involved with a number of other women. On May 20, 1884, he married Lillie Bennett, but the scandals continued. Lillian Ashley accused Lucky of having fathered her child and took him to court. During one of Lucky's court appearances Lillian's sister, Emma Ashley, seated directly behind Baldwin attempted to shoot him in the head. She missed. The court decision stated that Baldwin's reputation as a womanizer was well known and that there was evidence that Lillian was aware of it.
On November 23, 1898, the Baldwin Hotel burned to the ground. In 1900 Baldwin travelled to Alaska to investigate the gold fields but could not find an opening that suited him. He had arrived in Nome too late. The press began to refer to him as the "former millionaire." On March 1, 1909, he died at his Santa Anita Ranch at the age of eight-one.