William Shoney O’Brien: The jolly millionaire
A man of dignity, courtesy, kindness and consideration, William Shoney O’Brien did not have the hauteur of the other Bonanza Kings. He was not as prominent or as wealthy as John Mackay. He did not lavish upon himself the lifestyle or ethos of a wealthy American mandarin in the vain of James Fair or James Flood. Unlike George Hearst and James Fair, he did not leave any monument as a legacy of his success. But O’Brien was not, as the public thought, a coarse and ignorant man. He simply preferred the company of ordinary men to the rich and famous. Born in Dublin, Ireland, O’Brien came to New York as a child and worked in a grocery store. In July 1849, the 23 year-old joined the Argonauts and came to California, landing in San Francisco. In a series of partnerships he opened a tobacco shop, a news agency and a ship chandlery, but 1854 was economically hard on him, almost landing him in bankruptcy.