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

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Chapter XXXIII.

Principal in Diamond Swindle Goes Back to His Old Home in Kentucky to Enjoy Hard-Earned Riches.

Victims Bring Suit for $350,000, But Arnold Is Popular With Neighbors and Forces Compromise.

After Arnold received his final payment of $300,000 he retired to his old home at Elizabethtown in Hardin county, Kentucky, bought a fine piece of land and also a safe, which he kept in his house under strong guard. In this he deposited nearly all his spoils, although he also had a tidy balance in the local bank, which added greatly to his repute among his neighbors. He had a host of relatives in Hardin county, which borders on the primitive section of Kentucky. It was there that the most capable of Morgan's guerrillas were recruited and there most of them returned. Anyone hunting trouble in that locality was almost sure to find it. Arnold settled down quietly among his friends and relatives to enjoy the fruits of a toilsome life.

His place of residence was well known. In fact, the Kentucky papers gave some prominence to the return of this famous discoverer of diamond fields to the home of his ancestors. When the bubble burst, Mr. Lent hurried to Kentucky, hired eminent counsel - Judge Harlan, later a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Benjamin Bristow, a lawyer of equal standing - brought suit against Arnold for $350,000 on his personal account and levied an attachment on his property. All of these proceedings are set forth in the Louisville Journal of December 18, 1872. Two days later the same paper published a long statement from Arnold, in which he denounced in unmeasured terms the outrage that had been committed on his rights. He scored "Bill" Lent in language of scant courtesy, but of picturesque Western expressiveness, and declared he neither owed him $350,000 nor the like number of cents, or any other stint, for the matter of that.

Arnold went on to say that his safe contained $550,000, the result of arduous labor as a prospector and turner in the Far West, not to mention his bank account and real estate. The sequestration of the same by a shark or an aggregation of sharks from California he looked upon as an outrage unparalleled in history. He went into the diamond field story in detail, denied that he had ever "salted'' it or that it had ever been "salted" at all. He appended Janin's report, the Tiffany appraisement and a long extract from the San Francisco Chronicle to prove that he had turned over an absolutely valid diamond property to the San Francisco and New York Mining and Commercial Company, and that if anyone "salted" it, the diabolical act must have been done after the experts' examination and by some of the "California scamps."

Did Arnold suffer any in the estimation of his compatriots by reason of the grave accusations preferred against him? Rather the reverse. They gloried in what
they were pleased to call his "spunk.'' The old Morgan raiders and thousands of their way of thinking looked with pride, almost with reverence, on one of their kind with nerve and wit enough to make a foray into Yankeedom and bring away more than half a million in spoils. To tell the truth, Arnold was the very hero of the hour, for the old war feeling was still rampant.

I followed Lent to Kentucky, whither also went Captain I. W. Lees. Familiar with the field, after some investigation of the state of public opinion in Hardin county, I am satisfied that had Arnold stood his ground unflinchingly not a dollar could have been wrung from him by legal proceedings, no matter what the proof. And, moreover, at that time the matter of exact proof was not as easy as later on.

Negotiations leading to a compromise took place in which I played a part. These resulted in a compromise by which Arnold surrendered $150,000 on consideration of immunity from further litigation. The money was turned over to Mr. Lent personally. What disposition was made of it I am not informed, but understood that it was retained by the recipient to make good his personal loss.

So Arnold, left, according to his own statements, with an uncontested fortune of nearly half a million dollars, everywhere enjoyed the esteem and high respect which broadcloth and a large cash balance invariably inspire. But he did not live long to enjoy prosperity. Arnold, among other ambitions, wanted to shine in finance, and for this purpose opened a bank in Elizabethtown, and for a time did a rushing trade, to the great irritation of his business rivals. The quarrel became very bitter, and as differences of opinion were only arbitrated in one way in Hardin county at the period mentioned, the first time Arnold met one of his competitors the two opened fire at each other on the street, after the manner of the best traditions. Arnold never lacked courage, and had all the best of the arbitration, having winged his man once, when his antagonist's partner appeared in a doorway and landed the greater portion of a charge of buckshot in the diamond discoverer's shoulder. His wounds were considered fatal, but his iron constitution carried him far toward recovery, and he was considering with pleasant anticipation a second meeting with the bankers, with six-shooters instead of a clearing-house to balance the account, when he was seized with pneumonia. Under this last affliction the tough old campaigner, after a hard struggle, weakened and died. This happened, I think, near the close of 1873, so that Arnold's prosperity was short-lived.

What became of Slack? That was a question often asked, but never answered in a satisfactory way. As I said, the last time I ever saw him was when I left the diamond fields with the Janin party. He and Rubery remained behind. When these two separated Rubery came to San Francisco, while Slack took an eastbound train. Many attempts were made to locate him at a later day. He was heard from at various points - St. Louis, New Orleans, Memphis and Mobile. Always it turned out to be another Slack. Finally the impression became general that he must have gone abroad and hid his identity in another land.

But the strange part of it was that Arnold had all the money, or nearly all of it, as appears by his signed statements and later by the inventory of his estate, which corresponded. Granting every possible contingency, the share of Slack was either practically nothing or very small, not to exceed $30,000 at the utmost. As they always figured as partners, and as Slack, though not the spokesman, appeared a man of force, I have always considered that a deep mystery hung over his fate. It seems not unlikely that he died somewhere in the Western country, probably among strangers, and never participated in the profits of the diamond fraud at all.

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