Rhyolite, Nevada was one of the great boom towns of the early 20th Century. When gold was discovered in early 1905 people flocked to the town just east of Death Valley, and a thriving community rose around the Montgomery Shoshone Mine, the largest producer in the area.
Baseball was an important part of the mining communities. Every town had at least one team, and while the region was only part of a league recognized by the National Commission for only one season (the 1907 Nevada State League composed of teams in Carson City, Reno, Tonopah and Goldfield) semi-professional and professional leagues were present throughout the decade.
In June of 1905 the Rhyolite team was playing a game against the team from the nearby town of Beatty, on the town baseball grounds, near the Montgomery Shoshone Mine. A wire service report that appeared around the country tells the rest of the story:
“At a baseball game the other day between the towns of Rhyolite and Beatty, William Griffith, of Salt Lake City playing first base for the Rhyolite team, reached down to stop a fast grounder, with visions of an easy put-out for his team when the ball struck a small stone and bounded away. While waiting for the ball to be returned by one of the spectators Griffith picked up the stone, which he found to be full of free gold.
“The game was played on the flat between Ladd and Montgomery Mountain. Griffith put the stone in his pocket, and late at night, with the aid of a lantern, prospected the region where he made his find.”
A mine shaft was sunk on the spot of Griffith’s find and discovered to be part of a large deposit of gold “It is reported that the baseball player has been offered $25,000 for his interest.”
The find contributed to Rhyolite’s growth; Industrialist Charles M. Schwab purchased the Montgomery Shoshone Mine.
The town boomed quickly, and busted just as quickly. Rhyolite’s population peaked somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 by 1907 (some sources have it as high as 8,000 and others as low as 3,500), and boasted three banks, a stock exchange, and opera house, electric lights, water mains, telephones, a daily newspaper, a hospital and a two-story school. By 1908 the richest ore had been mined and the town started on a rapid decline.
By 1911 the town population had dropped to 1000, in another decade it would be nearly deserted. Just as quickly William Griffith and the ground ball that helped create a boom drifted into obscurity.