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Anna Frances Elleser Rechel

At a glance:

Born: January 1, 1884
Died: August 21, 1967
Maiden Name: Elleser 
Race/nationality/ethnic background:  Caucasian (German) 
Married: George Rechel, Alvin Nelson
Children: six (two daughters, two sons survived beyond infancy)
Primary city and county of residence and work: Rawhide (Mineral County)
Major fields of work: mining (prospector, miner)
Other role identities: wife, mother 

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Biography: Rechel image

Anna Frances Elleser was born on January 1, 1884 in Pearl River, New Jersey and raised in comfort. Her parents were immigrants from Germany who settled in Tappan, New York, where Anna grew up in a mansion. She was still a young woman in her early 20s when both parents died, and her brother Walter became her life-long friend and companion. She married young, but divorced her husband quickly when she realized her mistake. They had one child, which died. She remarried to George Rechel in 1911, and when complications from her divorce developed, the couple moved to Nevada to complete the process. 

They settled on a ranch south of Fernley where all of Anna's children were born. While there, a prospector named Bill Stewart often stopped to visit with Anna about his mining ventures. The mining fever struck and Anna began reading everything she could find on the subject. When the Rechel's ranch failed to support their family and the Great Depression brought hard times to the whole nation, Anna and George made a dramatic change. They moved to the small town of Rawhide, Nevada, population approximately 100. George worked for the state highway department, and Anna spent all of her time prospecting. Because of the Depression, their move was a good economic solution. They lived very inexpensively in a two-bedroom cabin, and miners could make enough money to buy food when most people in the country couldn't even find a job. 

People who chose mining had to be hardy. Conditions in such a small mining town were primitive -- no phone, no gas station or grocery store. Water was scarce and most people saved every drop when it rained and hauled the rest from Dead Horse Wells nearby.

Evidently, Anna thrived living with just the basics. From then on, Anna was a prospector and a miner. Her daughter, Rees, described Anna's optimism, always believing that she would strike it rich: "She just knew that she was going to find it. It kept her going." 

When tragedy struck, Anna must have been glad that she had a way to earn a living. First her husband had a stroke, which left him hardly able to walk for several years before he died in 1938. Her son, George, died in 1937 after never fully recovering from a burst appendix. Her two daughters, Rees and Fern, were grown and gone, leaving Anna as the sole provider for her son, Walter ("Pal"), and her brother, Walter, whose spirit had been broken by financial problems from the Depression. 

During World War II, Anna mined tungsten, which was considered a strategic metal for the war effort. She worked underground, blasting with dynamite and mucking (shoveling) the ore to be hauled out of the mine. By the 1950s, with nuclear testing and atomic energy on the way, uranium was in demand, and Anna searched for that. She also mined, polished and sold turquoise. 

Anna drove an old pickup truck when she went prospecting and often slept on a mattress in the bed of the truck. When Alvin Nelson offered to help her with her mines and buy her a new truck, she married him, but quickly divorced him when she discovered he really wanted her to become a housewife. 

In Rawhide, Anna's house was the social center. Neighbors and friends stopped to visit and play chess. Often they discussed political ideas. She was vocal on her views, especially on rights for women. She believed women should not have just two choices, either to work for low wages or to marry in order to support a family. She was for equal pay, government operated free daycare and the right to choose any work that interested a woman. 

In the 1960s, Anna was the last resident of Rawhide. She loved her home and refused to leave. Finally her family moved her to Fallon for her own protection, because dangerous people were beginning to roam the desert. She died on August 21, 1967, having lived the life she chose. She lived in her beloved desert and worked at prospecting and mining, which she loved. Although she never discovered her big bonanza, she was an early example of a Nevada woman who made her own choices in life.

Biographical sketch by Victoria Ford

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Sources of Information:

Zanjani, Sally. A Mine of Her Own, Women Prospectors in the American West, 1850-1950. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press,1997.


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