John William Mackay (pronounced Mackie) may not be a household name today, but when he died in 1902, he was one of the most admired  and richest  men in America.

In The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West, adventure writer and historian Gregory Crouch, who grew up in Goleta, tells Mackay’s little-known life story.

Crouch, who paints a striking picture of how one man’s hard work and ingenuity forever altered the West, and the entire U.S., with the discovery of the Comstock Lode, will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 28, at Chaucer’s Bookstore, 3321 State St., Santa Barbara.

Through his research, and with an eye for detail, Crouch puts readers in the midst of the action of what it was like for Mackay and his contemporaries to locate, claim and mine the lode.

In doing so, Crouch restores Mackay to his rightful place as a titan of American industry and one of the nation’s most important entrepreneurs.

The Bonanza King also delivers untold stories of daily life in the West in a panoramic sweep on every page, from skirmishes with local natives and the impact of the Civil War, to the surprising hard times the Central Pacific Railroad brought to the Territories and how the technology created to mine the lode, as well as the wealth mined from it, rapidly transformed great Western cities such as San Francisco, Sacramento, and Virginia City, NV.

Filled with maps and photographs, The Bonanza King makes readers rethink the Western history they thought they knew, and have a greater appreciation for the Western states’ role in transforming the U.S. into a world power.

Crouch explains that as the fortune of John Mackay grew through his lifetime in the latter half of the 19th century — from uneducated
immigrant to hardworking mill supervisor to industrial monopoly breaker to U.S. ambassador to the Russian Czar’s coronation — so, too, grew the fortune and stature of the entire country.

Crouch graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., with a military history field of study. He completed U.S. Army Airborne and Ranger schools and served as an infantry officer.

For five years, he was a senior contributing editor at Climbing, where he focused on writing personality profiles of famous climbers. He lives in the Bay Area with his wife and son.

—  Kimberley Collins for Gregory Crouch.