January 27, 1862 “…But if you shall think best to repudiate our demand or any part of it, all right. We shall not make it up again in this world in any shape of any of you; but the said R.D. Sides and Jacob Rose shall be living and dying advertisements of God’s displeasure, in their persons, in their families, in their substances; and this demand of ours, remaining uncancelled, shall be to the people of Carson and Washoe Valleys as was the ark of God among the philistines. (See 1st Sam. Fifth chapter.) You shall be visited of the Lord of Hosts and thunder and with earthquakes and with floods, with pestilence and with famine until your names are not known amongst men.” —Orson Hyde.
Richard D. Sides came to Carson Valley, in what was then Utah Territory, in 1854. In December of that year he, along with L.B. Abernathy and James M. Baldwin, bought the Clear Creek Ranch at the base of Spooner Summit. Sarah Winnemucca, the Paiute author and educator, lived near Clear Creek for a time, and the partners were so close that in her book Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, she misidentified them as “three brothers, named Sides, with no families.” The following year the partners bought more ranchland in nearby Jack’s Valley; and, after the discovery of the Comstock Lode, they acquired a mining claim in Virginia City, naming it the Dick Sides.
Sometime after September 1857, when the Mormons were called to return en masse from the far West to Salt Lake, Sides entered into an agreement with Jacob Rose to lease a sawmill in Washoe Valley from the territory’s Mormon probate Judge Orson Hyde. While attempting to organize the district into a county, Hyde had built the mill and “made considerable improvements” on the adjoining lands. When he was forced to leave for Salt Lake Hyde had rented the properties, which he estimated to be worth $10,000, to Rose for an advance of “one span of small indifferent mules, an old worn-out harness, two yokes of oxen, and an old wagon.” Hearing that Sides was operating the mill, Hyde repeatedly sent bills to Rose and Sides over the course of many months. His efforts achieved no results. By 1862, with the discovery of the Comstock Lode, Hyde now valued the properties at $20,000. Doubting a favorable response and decrying the fact that they had “chuckled and gloried in taking the property of the Mormons,” he issued what came to be known as Orson Hyde’s curse.
In the mid-1850s violent animosity had developed in Carson Valley between settlers from California and the majority of the pioneers—Mormons from Utah. Hyde claimed that his efforts to establish the territory had been met with opposition “unceasingly made in almost every form both trivial and important, open and secret.” Sides was a leader of the anti-Mormons who, in differentiating themselves from the religious sect, referred to themselves as “Americans.” Sides was elected territory treasurer when Judge Hyde attempted to fill county offices in 1855. But, owing to the extreme divide in the electorate, no county revenues were collected and the government failed. In 1857, upon the Mormons departure, Sides served on a committee that again unsuccessfully attempted to form a territorial government.
In spring 1858 Sides was involved in the controversial vigilante action that resulted in the hanging of an early Carson Valley settler, Lucky Bill Thorington. The hanging took place at Sides’ Clear Creek Ranch. Thorington had assisted a murderer named Edwards secure an escape after Edwards swore to him that he was innocent. Captured and admitting his guilt at the Clear Creek vigilante trial, Edwards testified that he had assured Thorington of his innocence. But the vigilantes, who had a history of heated quarrels with Thorington, condemned him as an accessory after the fact. Edwards was taken to Honey Lake, where the murder had occurred, for hanging, while Thorington was hanged from gallows constructed during the trial.
Although there was only one professed Mormon still living in Carson Valley, a third attempt to form a government failed because the Thorington hanging had divided the territory further. Thorington had supported the Mormons in opposition to the vigilante faction. The vigilantes termed those who disagreed with them, or those who sided with Thorington, Mormon sympathizers. In the election held in October 1858, four of six precincts were disallowed because of illegal voting. Of the dozen offices voted on, only two anti-Mormons were chosen: Sides as a selectman and his partner Abernathy as sheriff. Declared elected, the disputes caused the positions to be mere sinecures.
As to the curse on Sides, in his1913 The History of Nevada, Sam Davis reported, “And it is a curious instance of the accidental fulfillment of a portion of the curse, that in 1880, a flood caused by the breaking of a mountain dam, did wash out of existence the very site of the old mill, the town below it and covered the ranch that once belonged to Sides with such quantities of sand that it was rendered practically worthless.”
In fact, another affliction struck Sides with more immediacy. The Sides’ Comstock mining claim had been worked for years without producing a ton of ore. Finally abandoned, it was procured by James Flood to be mined by John Mackay and James Fair. It comprised nearly half of what came to be called the Con Virginia Mine, whose lower levels held the “Big Bonanza.” Richard Sides had lost the richest spot in the world.