az fun facts
The Great Diamond Hoax
THE LA TIER HALF of the nineteenth
century was a time when Easterners
believed that every coyote
hole in the Arizona territory was
a potential gold or silver mine.
Promotional brochures showed
oceangoing ore vessels plodding
up Arizona rivers, such as
the Hassayampa, that rarely ran
Of all the schemes during the
late nineteenth century, none was
more bizarre than that perpetrated
by a couple of Kentucky grifters
back in 1872. Philip Arnold
and John Slack got their hands
on a large number of flawed,
industrial-quality, or otherwise
inexpensive gems and began a
quest to find a greedy but unwise
investor. California was chosen to
unleash their scheme.
Arnold and Slack, whose
names conjure up thoughts of
a vaudeville team, approached
their "pigeon," the great banker
V/illiam Ralston, in San Francisco.
'With dramatic flair, they
emptied a sack of diamonds and
other precious gems on to his
d esk and, having acquired his
undivided attention, proceeded
to stage a great argument about
whether they should share their
secret and accept financing from
outsiders. Soon, the erstwhile
skeptical banker was begging
for the opportunity to provide
8'1 MAR ~H AI I TRIM ll E OFIIC A ARILC 'IIA S f<T HIS-ORifdo,
money to deve lop the huge
diamond f ield "somewhere"
in northeas tern Arizona. H e
en listed a well-known mining
man named George Roberts
and financed another expedition
into the area. The tv.ro swindlers
returned three months later in
tattered clothing, looking like
they'd been ridden hard and put
away wet. They spun harrowing
tales of Apache attacks. They
also produced a sack full of diamonds.
Ralston sent the gems
to an East Coast merchant who
pronounced them genuine. Of
course they were genuine- Arnold
and Slack had purchased
them with some of the money
Ralston had given them.
Tiffany & Co. of ?>Jew York
became interested in the gems
and sent out an engineer, Henry
Jan in, to examine the diamond
field. This presented a slight
problem for the two con men.
They had to create a diamond
field. They found a remote mesa
in southern Colorado and spread
a large selection of gems throughout
a small area.
Actually, different varieties
of precious stones ra rely occur
in the same surroundings, and
that should have been enough
to expose the hoax. Henry Jan in
was, in fact, one of the foremost
mining engineers in the United
States to inspect the site. Jan in's
reputation would give the scheme
a degree of respectability.
However,Janin had no previous
experience with gemstones,
and so he became an unwit ting
partner in the scheme. H e was
escorted to the site in theatrical
secrecy and, using his report, the
two con artists coaxed large sums
of money from interested prospects,
including Tiffany & Co.,
the Rothschilds, and the Bank
of Cali fornia. Bank president
Ralston estimated the value to be
worth at least $50 million. A $10
million corporation was formed
to exploit the field, and Tiffany
& Co. bought out Arnold and
Slack's interests for $660,000.
As word spread about the diamond
field, treasure hunters were
eagerly scouring the deserts for di-
The two swindlers returned three months
later in tattered clothing, looking like they'd
been ridden hard and put away wet. They spun
harrowing tales of Apache attacks.
amonds and other precious jewels.
Obviously, the promoters wanted
to keep the exact location of the
diamonds as vague as possible.
Reports from so-called experts
claimed the field to be somewhere
in the vicinity of Fort Defiance,
Canyon de Chelly, or the Hopi
Mesas. Eventually, it vvound up
Clarence W. King of the U.S.
Geological Survey became suspicious
of the scheme, located the
salted mesa, and wrote a withering
expose in 1872. Not only did he
note that rubies and diamonds are
not found together in nature but
also that none of the stones was
recovered from natural surroundings.
H is suspicions were said to
have been first confirmed when he
found a diamond with a jeweler's
facet already polished upon it.
When the hoax was uncovered,
Arnold and Slack had vanished
after clearing a tidy sum
from the scheme. Arnold opened
a bank, and Slack became an undertaker
and casketmaker. Fraud
suits were filed but were settled
out of court, and the gri fters kept
most of their ill-gotten gains.
Apparently, the Old West had
a degree of respect for creative
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