Monday, April 25, 2011

The Gridley Flour Sack

Is there really anything a person could do in Austin, Nevada? If you've ever been there, you'd know that it's a tiny town in which the "Loneliest Road in America" (Hwy 50) runs through. I personally don't know many people who make places to go vacation in Austin, but if your there around July 1st to July 4th you could experience the small town celebrating Gridley Days and an old fashioned 4th of July.  According to travelnevada.com, the events for the 2011 Gridley Day's celebration will include events such as a flour sack race, an old fashioned 4th of July parade, a cemetery tour, and live entertainment. To check out more, go to http://travelnevada.com/events-shows-info/gridley-days.aspx.

Who's Gridley?
Gridley was a man who lived in Austin, Nevada in 1864.  He was part owner of the grocery store in town. His story is one that is famous in the small town of Austin and is included in Mark Twain's book, Roughing It.

The Story of the Gridley Flour Sack
There are a couple different versions of this story that I have found. Although the facts may not be completely true or aspects of the story may have been changed through the retelling, the sentiment of the story is not altered.


In 1864, Austin was holding it's "first mayoral election" (Glass 119).  Depending on which resource you look at, Gridley was either running for mayor as the "Democratic candidate" (Twain chapter 45) or he was supporting the Democratic candidate, being that he was a southern sympathizer.  It was upon this occasion the Gridley and the town physician made wager: whoever lost the election would have to carry a fifty-pound sack of flour through town.  Gridley lost the wager and so he carried the flour sack on his shoulder "while the town band marched behind him playing... patriotic ditties" (civilwartoday.net).  Once the event was finished, Gridley said that he did not need the flour and asked what he should do with it.  Someone chimed in and said that he should auction it off. The money would go to the Union Sanitary Fund, the equivalent of the Red Cross today. The proceeds would help soldiers who needed medical care. After auctioning off the sack of flour to the highest bidder, Gridley inquired where he should deliver the flour too. He was told that there was no need to deliver the flour; he should auction it off again.

The idea became so popular that Gridley went on to other towns in Nevada such as Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City, Dayton and Carson City. He then went on to towns in California and he eventually traveled back east continuing to re-sell the bag of flour until finally he sold it for the last time at the Sanitary Fair in St. Louis. Upon selling the sack for the last time, it is said that Gridley asked for the flour to be used to make mini cakes to be sold for the final proceeds.


Gridley returned home to Austin to find that the "mines had played out" (Glass 118) and that his business had been shut down. Gridley now found himself with very little, having used his own money to travel around with the flour sack. He ended up in Stockton, California. It was here that he passed away, penniless, with a grave "marked only with a simple cross" (civilwartoday.net). After hearing about Gridley’s death, Union Veterans sold mini sacks of flour in order to raise money to erect a statue in memory of Gridley. The statue is in Stockton were he is buried.

Multiple sources say that the flour sack resides in the Nevada State Museum. According to civilwartoday.net, the sack is not on display for visitors to see at the Nevada State Museum and the town of Austin would like it back so that they can put it on display themselves. 

The significance of this story is that it  depicts a good-natured relationship between Southern and Union supporters alike; a depiction that may have been greatly needed during a time of war, in order to suggest that the country wasn’t completely divided, and that there was still hope for reconciliation. 

Information for this story came from the following sources: 

Civil War Today: A West Coast Yankee's Guide to the War Between the States. "Reuel Colt Gridley's Grave- Stockton Nevada." http://civilwartoday.net/GridleysGrave.aspx. April 21, 2011.







Civil War Today: A West Coast Yankee's Guide to the War Between the States. "Austin, NV. 





April 19, 1864: 
Given that so the Civil War divided so many western towns violently, why was the conflict at Austin so good natured?" 















Twain, Mark. Roughing It. Chapter 45.  (You can access this online at http://futureboy.us/twain/roughing/toc.html.)

Glass, Mary Ellen and Al. Touring Nevada: A Historic and Scenic Guide. University of Nevada Press. Reno, NV. 1983. 

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