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

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Chapter XXVI.

Discovers Decline to Reveal Location of Diamond Field, But Report of Agent Satisfies Promoters.

Final Proof of Good Faith Is Offered in Form of Bag Filled With Collection of Eye-Dazzling Gems.

When I arrived in San Francisco I lost no time in getting in touch with the principals of the diamond deal. Three prominent men only were concerned in it at that time, W. C. Ralston, George D. Roberts and William M. Lent. From them I learned that the alleged discovery of the diamond fields had been known to them for many months. Two prospectors, Philip Arnold and John Slack, were the original locators. I had known Arnold previously in California. He had been employed by Roberts to look into mining properties in the western country. The later story that he had once been employed by myself in a like capacity was absolutely false. Slack I had known as a plain man about town, of general fair repute.

As an earnest of the great value of the fields, the gentleman had, as near as I can recollect, a large quantity of rough, uncut, brilliant-looking stones which they said local experts had pronounced diamonds of an estimated value of $125,000. Among them were several magnificent reddish-colored stones, said to be rubies. Moreover, they claimed that the discoveries had been verified to an extent sufficient to satisfy themselves.

The story, previous to my arrival, I only know by hearsay and I cannot vouch for every detail of things beyond my personal experience that happened forty years ago. But as nearly, as I can recall the narrative, as it was related, the main facts were these:

One day, in the year 1871, when I was in Europe, two weather-beaten men, looking like typical miners, presented themselves at the Bank of California and arranged to deposit property of great value for safe keeping. The property proved to be nothing more than some handsome-looking stones which they said in explanation were diamonds, of which they had discovered a great store, in the desert section of the West. They were given a receipt for their valuables and quietly took their leave. But, of course, in those days of mad excitement and crazy speculation, such an incident was bound to leak. George D. Roberts located, in his old prospector Arnold, one of the fortunates, and introduced him to Ralston and Lent. Arnold was always the spokesman, the negotiator, in these early transactions. Slack merely was present and acquiesced. At first the men were exceedingly coy and cautious, had all the manner of a couple of simple-minded fellows who had stumbled on something great and, bewildered with their good fortune, were simply afraid to trust anyone with the momentous secret. They declined to give the slightest indication of the locality of the fields, or left the impression that they were distant a thousand miles, or thereabouts, from the actual spot. Relying on vague hints, several parties actually set out for Arizona to locate the new Golconda. At the outset the men refused to part with their rights, except to the extent of a small interest, and only then for a large sum of money which they asserted was necessary to secure claims to a very large territory.

Later, however, they became more amenable to reason. They were willing to part with a half interest to gentlemen in whom they had such implicit confidence. When it was pointed out to them that negotiations were impossible, unless the location of the mines was indicated and some, kind of an inspection allowed, they offered a rather strange arrangement, which, however, seemed fair enough on its face. By its terms they agreed to conduct two men, to be selected by Ralston and Roberts, to the diamond fields, and allow them to satisfy themselves of the general nature of the find, but with this proviso: that these representatives, after reaching the wild, uninhabitable country, must submit to being blindfolded, both going and coming back. These conditions were agreed to and such an expedition was actually made. I am not certain, but my impression is that David D. Colton was one of the two investigators, being selected by Mr. Ralston as a peculiarly levelheaded man of large practical experience. However that may be, the mines were certainly visited and displayed, more diamonds were unearthed, and the party returned with the most rose-colored reports of the genuineness of the properties and their fabulous richness. It was this report that set Ralston and his associates wild.

I had some knowledge of the prospectors. Arnold generally had borne a good reputation among the mining fraternity. Slack seemed to be a stray bird who had blown in by chance, probably picked up by Arnold because of a marriage relationship. It seemed that they had told a straight enough story. It was impossible to tangle them in any detail. Still I had a general, indefinable doubt, which I expressed in plain words to Ralston.

Before I arrived the men made a proposition that seemed eminently fair. This was an offer to go to the diamond fields and bring to San Francisco a couple of million dollars' worth of stones and place them in our possession as a guaranty of good faith. Such a tender was, of course, accepted. Slack and Arnold left San Francisco, promising to be back in record-breaking time.

Shortly after I arrived Ralston received a telegram from Arnold dated at Reno, stating that he and Slack were on the way and urging that somebody meet them at Lathrop, presumably to share in the heavy burden of responsibility. After a hurried conference I was asked to meet our emissaries as per request, and they were so advised by wire. At the same time a later conference was arranged at my residence. After my marriage in 1866 I had bought the fine family home of Mr. Ralston on Rincon Hill. There my friends were to await my coming till the overland train arrived.

I had a long wait at Lathrop, but at last the expected overland pulled in. I located the men without difficulty. Both were travel-stained and weather-beaten and had the general appearance of having gone through much hardship and privation. Slack was sound asleep like a tired-out man. Arnold sat grimly erect like a vigilant old soldier with a rifle by his side, also a bulky-looking buckskin package.

Slack soon awoke and we discussed the business in hand in low tones. The men told a rather lurid story, but yet not improbable in its way. They said they had luckily struck a spot which was enormously rich in stones, which they estimated to be worth two million dollars, that these had been done up for convenience in two packages, one for each; that on their way home they found the water in a river they had to cross extremely high, and for purposes of safety had constructed a raft, had nearly been upset, had lost one of the bags of diamonds, but as the other contained at least a million dollars' worth of stones, it ought to be fairly satisfactory.

Slack and Arnold left the train at Oakland, turning over the sack of diamonds on my bare receipt. It was an awkward, burdensome bundle to handle on the ferryboat. Arrived at San Francisco, my carriage was waiting and drove me swiftly to my home. An eager group was assembled. We did not waste time on ceremonies. A sheet was spread on my billiard table, I cut the elaborate fastenings of the sack and, taking hold of the lower corners, dumped the contents.

It seemed like a dazzling, many-colored cataract of light.

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