Home -> James H. Barry Press -> The Great Diamond Hoax - Chapter XXI

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Chapter XXI.

Sam Brannan Strikes it Rich and Refuses to Share With Mormon Church Except on Order From Lord.

Mine Bargain Fails to Stand Inquiry of Author, But Others Invest and Figure as Victims of Fraud.

I had early been familiar with Utah and its mines, through an acquaintance with "Sam" Brannan. Brannan had a history of thrills and adventures which if gathered into book form would make the heroes of Dumas look cheap and commonplace. Originally a Mormon, high in the councils of Brigham Young, he led a body of his co-religionists around Cape Horn to California, before the earliest Argonauts. He staked out claims on the American River, about two miles from where Folsom prison stands, the location being known as "Mormon Island" to this day. The diggings were so rich that one of California's evanescent cities sprang up around it, almost overnight, just as suddenly to disappear. "Sam" worked his companions on a per diem basis and very soon accumulated a large fortune - certainly in excess of a million dollars, many well informed people estimating it at two or three times as much. But while he settled promptly his labor bills, he was not so businesslike in squaring accounts with the Mormon Church, which claimed nearly all the profits. Finally, a trusted agent was dispatched from Salt Lake City with a peremptory order on Brannan to turn over the ecclesiastical share of the "dust" at once.

Brannan's reply was historic and to the point, even if a bit profane. The gold, he said, had been placed in his safe keeping on the Lord's account. He would surrender it upon the Lord's proper written order; otherwise not.

"Sam" invested most of his wealth in San Francisco real estate. An important street bears his name. Like most of the early Mormon leaders, he was of a coarse-fibered nature, with a rather forbidding, saturnine face, but singularly keen-witted, resolute, and fearing neither man nor devil.

The latter quality stood him in good stead. Brigham could not permit such a flagrant breach of church discipline to remain unpunished. Flock after flock of "destroying angels" took flight from Salt Lake City, duly commissioned to bring back Samuel's scalp or perish in the attempt. But their holy work was always a dismal failure. Brannan must have had some foreknowledge of their movement against the security of his person. Liking not to meet "angels" unawares of any kind, he arranged to encounter the "destroyers" half way out in the trackless desert, or mountain fastnesses, with a competent group of exterminators he seemed to keep on hand for such occasions; and it was the "angels" who were always taken unawares. Some of them got back to Salt Lake minus tail feathers and otherwise damaged, but the majority of them never returned at all. At last, the disciplining of Brannan became so manifestly an extra-hazardous risk that it was finally abandoned. How he defied the whole power of Mormonism and actually conducted a private and successful war against the church was one of the old romances of the Pacific Coast. In later years Brannan fell a victim to drink, all his enormous wealth became dissipated and he died penniless and forgotten in Mexico.

"Sam" never forgot Salt Lake City or Utah. His life would not have been worth 10 cents if he had once stepped within the territory of Brigham Young. But he always cast longing eyes at the scene of his early struggle. He knew Utah and its resources from end to end, and in our frequent interviews often mentioned the illusive, "pockety" nature of its mines. Therefore, when Ralston and I took a 30-day option on the Emma mine, about 40 miles from Salt Lake City, I was prepared to exercise extreme caution in examining the property.

The Emma mine had startled the Coast with a wonderful burst of production, considering the limited nature of its plant. Its wealth was claimed to be fabulous, and it was a matter of some surprise when its owner's offer to sell it at the low price of $350,000 was made. Nevertheless, the proposition seemed well worth looking into. But remembering Sam Brannan's counsel, I went unannounced to the mine, presented my credentials to the superintendent, who gave me permission to examine the property, although rather surprised that I came alone.

It did not take me long to reach a conclusion that the Emma mine was nothing more than a large "kidney." Considerable high-grade ore had been stoped out of the upper levels. Below, the ore was plainly pinching out. The whole thing was nothing but a shell, with just enough in place to fool a tenderfoot. There was no trace of a fissure vein. Any mining expert would have turned it down without a moment's hesitation.

I had just seen all I cared to see when J. W. Woodman of Salt Lake City, the principal owner of the property, hurried to the mine in some agitation and expressed his regret that I had not advised him of my coming. However, he trusted everything was satisfactory. I told him courteously that I could not pass favorably on the mine, and to consider the option closed. He wished to argue the matter, but I told him that the conclusion was final and decisive. Then he took another tack. He was anxious, he said, to clean up and get away. If he threw off an even hundred thousand dollars, would Mr. Ralston and myself take over the property? Again I answered in the negative, and told him, in so many words, that we did not want the mine at any price.

As a matter of fact, when it was finally bottomed, the mine did not yield anything like a hundred thousand dollars net. I even doubt if it made both ends meet.

Such was the Emma mine, famous, or rather infamous, in history. Just a little later this barren hole in the ground figured in one of the biggest swindles of modern times, in which great names were involved, a minister of the United States to England disgraced and ruined, British investors robbed out of ten million dollars, and the business world filled with such suspicion that for many years the doors of foreign credit were barred against American mining enterprise of every sort. The very character of Americans for common honesty was so seriously besmirched that it caused an international unfriendliness that time only partially cured.

It was a fact of common knowledge that the mine had been bonded to Mr. Ralston and myself for $350,000. It was also well known that I had examined and must have found it unsatisfactory, for the bond was allowed to lapse. This alone gave the Emma such a black eye on the Pacific Coast, then the great market for legitimate properties, that it became almost a waste of time to make any further attempt to market it in the neighborhood where the circumstances were known. Ralston was rather noted for taking a long chance on mining ventures, and while his luck lasted he usually pulled them through. Therefore, when he and his associates turned down a developed and going concern, the wise, conservative natures shook their heads. That is doubtless why the Emma was taken to a market some five thousand miles from home for exploitation.

In fact, it was practically taken off the market for quite a while. After it was first offered for sale to Ralston and myself, my impression is that I was the only one who examined it qualified to pass an honest judgment on such a property, until it suddenly blossomed on the London stock market as the great American ophir, the newly discovered treasure store, of which the human imagination had dreamed for ages and was unloaded on the British public for $10,000,000; or, to use the parlance of our Anglo-Saxon cousins, for £2,000,000.

I have gone into the early history of the Emma mine so minutely because it strikes this narrative a little later at an angle so acute that the two seem to run parallel, and it is necessary to have all the facts in hand to understand how the great swindle that strained the commercial friendship of two great peoples almost to the breaking point had a close relation to the diamond hoax story.

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