Wild West


In late February 1878 Nate Vestal bonded his mines the Penobscot and Snow Drift, near Marysville, Montana Territory, to Chicago-based conglomerate Frazier, Chalmers & Co. for $300,000, with the first payment of $75,000 due in 60 days. However, Vestal could back out of the deal with a payment of $5,000. The Helena Weekly Herald soon trumpeted word that one of its reporters had seen Nate’s personal check for $5,000—the deal was off. Who was Vestal that he could turn down nearly one-third of a million dollars (the equivalent of roughly $8 million in present-day currency)?

on Feb. 14, 1835, soon after his parents had moved north from Alabama. His father was of German descent; his mother English and Irish. His maternal great-grandfather was a Revolutionary War veteran who lived to the remarkable age of 114, and Vestal could recall the old gentleman regaling young relatives with his war stories. Nate was only 6 when his father, a skilled mechanic, died. As a result the boy’s formal schooling suffered, and he was mainly self-educated. At age 17 he was offered a job as

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