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Pahrump, Nevada
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January 16, 1997     Pahrump Mirror
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January 16, 1997
 

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18 Thursday, January 16, 1997 Pahrump Valley Gazette reet.. If Nevada m then ana now Pauline Cushman: Civil War Spy by Phillip I. Earl Nevada Historical Society mong the many performers who graced the stage of Virginia City's Piper's Opera House in the boom days of the 1870s was Pauline Cushman, an actress and a singer famed for her adventures and exploits as a spy during the Civil War. Known as "Major Cushman," she was born in New Orleans in 1833 of mixed Creole, Spanish and French ancestry, but grew up in a Michigan lumber camp where her father had found work. Her heart set on a stage career, she overcame parental objections and set out for New York City in 1855 where she took a position in a music hall. One night, she was spotted by Charles C. Dickinson, a theatrical manager, who persuaded her to return south with him. The next year, they were married and she soon graduated into light dramatic roles on stage, becoming the toast of New Orleans. The good times were not to last, however, and her husband returned north to join the Union Army when the Civil War broke out in 1861. Scarcely a year later, she got word that he had died of camp fever. /.,eft with two small sons to support, she expanded her repertoire to include singing and dancing. New Orleans had been occupied by Union forces early in the war and she became a favorite of both Union officers and paroled Confed- erates. Although her sympathies were entirely with the Union, her southern birth and southern ways launched her on a career as a spy. General Jeremiah T. Boyle, federal commander in New Orleans, persuaded her to become an agent of the U.S. Secret Service and she subsequently passed on considerable infor- mation she wormed out of rebel admirers. She also formed a theatrical troupe to go on the road behind the lines, putting on a production of''The Seven Sisters." In addition to informa- tion on troop movements and planned naval engagements, she also relayed intelligence on confederate spy operations. At one point, Union officials staged an arrest in Kentucky to give her credibility, but allowed her to escape across Southern lines. The ruse was soon up, however, and she was taken in hand in Tennessee by a Confederate troop led by Jack Morgan. Incriminating documents were found in her possession and General Braxton Bragg sentenced her to be shot. Feigning illness, she was able to put off her execution until Union forces invaded, Fortunately, General Bragg left her behind when he retreated. She spent the remainder of the war in Virginia, again risking her life by going beyond rebel lines many times on espionage mssions. In January 1864, she retired, her exploits having become so well known that she could no longer be effective. President Lincoln called her to the White House where he conferred upon her the rank and title of "Major". Northerners who had considered her a southern sympathizer were soon praising her as "The First Lady of the Secret Service" and she appeared with P.T. Barnum's circus troupe for a time before taking up the lecture circuit on her own. On November 10, 1872, she arrived in Virginia City, taking a room at the International Hotel. "Although ten years had elapsed since the events referred to," the Territo- rial Enterprise noted, "she is still young looking, is pos- sessed of handsome features and pleasing address, and is well calculated to play the part she enacted during those troublesome days of the rebellion." While in town, she took up with Alf Doten of the Gold Hill News and they attended a performance at Piper's on November 16. She took ill thereafter and was in no condition to speak on November 20, but went on anyway. Local militiamen showed up in full uniform, as did members of the Grand Army of the Republic and their wives. "Her lecture was a failure," Doten wrote in his diary. She is a poor speaker and she broke down several times, and lost her temper, etc.- had evidently been taking whiskey, morphine, or something of the sort - In the Green Room after lecture she cried bitterly - I tried to console her all possible." In subsequent years, she continued lecturing on her career and wrote a small pamphlet to be sold in connection MajorPaulineCushman, CivilWarspy, atthetime with her programs. She was addicted to liquor and mor- she lectured in Virginia City in November 1872. phine by that time and often made a spectacle of herself. Nevada Historical Society Photograph She lived with several men form time to time and married one of them, Jerry Fryer, but the marriage did not last. Moving to San Francisco in 1890, she lived on a small pension from her first husband's military service. On December 2, 1893, her landlady found her unconscious. A doctor was summoned, but she died later in the afternoon. An autopsy determined that morphine poisoning was the cause, either suicide or an I overdose taken to ease her rheumatic ailments. (