The Great Diamond Hoax Hatched By Kentuckians

Midday Thanksgiving Surface NAM

Midday Thanksgiving Surface NAM

The weather forecast still is on track with a little bit of a wrinkle.  Look for lots of sun on

Midday Thanksgiving Rain Forecast NAM

Midday Thanksgiving Rain Forecast NAM

Wednesday and Thanksgiving with much more seasonal temperatures in the low to mid 50’s.  Here’s where the wrinkle comes in.  The data is not totally consistent but we feel like a front approaching for the weekend will help to draw up milder air.  The low that had been advertised to move by stays well south.  So, we still have chilly nights but afternoon highs on Friday and Saturday still get to the low 50’s.  Then, the front moves through on Saturday night and the chillier air gets in here for the second half of the weekend into early next week.  Bottom line is that we’re extending the mild air by a couple of days and Friday looks good for Light up Louisville.

Diamond Scam Pulled Off My Enterprising Kentuckians

Diamond Scam Pulled Off My Enterprising Kentuckians

On This Date in History:  In the second half of the 19th century, there was gold fever out west.  Lot’s of

Charles Tiffany Duped By Kentuckians

Charles Tiffany Duped By Kentuckians

swindling was going on.  A typical scam was for someone to “salt” a worthless mine by tossing out some gold dust or small nuggets so that somone else would think that there was lots of gold there and they would buy it for an exhorbitant sum. 

William C Ralston Duped By Kentuckians

William C Ralston Duped By Kentuckians

A man from LaRue County Kentucky, Philip Arnold, had gotten into the prospecting game for about 20 years without much success.  In 1870, the poorly educated Arnold got a job as an assistant bookkeeper in San Francisco for a drill maker that used industrial grade diamonds on drill bits.  No one seemed to notice but, for an accountant,  Arnold took quite an interest in the diamonds as he read many academic sources on the subject. 

In 1871,  San Francisco businessman George D. Roberts was sitting in his office one night when two dirty men entered carrying a bag.  They said what they had inside was something of great value but they could not deposit it in the bank due to the late hour.  At first, they were reluctant to say what it was but one of the men let slip that they were uncut diamonds.  Roberts tried, but they refused to say from where it came.  The two men were Philip Arnold and his cousin John Slack.  Arnold later told the Louisville Courier Journal that he told Roberts not to tell anyone.  Arnold knew that the best way to spread a tale was to tell someone not to tell anyone else.  As soon as the pair had left his office, Roberts was out the door to tell a big shot financier named William Ralston. 

This is a legnthy and interesting story (worth the read if you’ve got the time) but the long and short of

Asbury Harpending Duped By Kentuckians Then Wrote About It

Asbury Harpending Duped By Kentuckians Then Wrote About It

 it is that Ralston got together some other bigshots and started the New York Mining and Commercial Company with $10 million in investors money. Among the investors were prominent politicians, military leaders and businessmen, including Asbury Harpending  who wrote extensively of the story in his biography.  Arnold and Slack first took a blindfolded expert to the site in Colorado where the man “found” all sorts of diamonds..and rubies..and emeralds!  When they returned to San Francisco, Ralston offered to buy them out but the pair of Kentucky hoodwinkers weren’t as dumb as the city slickers thought.  They took $50,000 up front.  They then went to London where they bought a large volume of low end jewels…so crummy they were generally considered not jewels…for $20,000.  They returned to the states and salted the site a couple of more times to convince more experts.  The Ralston group even took 10% of the take to Tiffany’s in New York for appraisal and were told that the $20,000 worth of stuff bought by Arnold and Slack in London was worth $1.5 million.  So, they ended up paying Arnold and Slack $600,000 (1872 dollars).  They disappeared.  News of the big jewel find got out and piqued the attention of a young member of the geographical survey who was assigned to that region.  Clarence King and his crew were extremely skeptical and decided to investigate.  The found the site and determined that it was a fraud.  On This Date in 1872, Clarence King became an international celebrity when his story was printed in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin which dubbed it as The Great Diamond Hoax.  (Here is another version of the story along with evidence produced by King)

Clarence King Exposed Kentuckians But Died A Pauper

Clarence King Exposed Kentuckians But Died A Pauper

Arnold was tracked down in Elizabethtown where he had started a bank and was living the life of luxury.  The good old Commonwealth of Kentucky, for unknown reasons, decided to protect one of its boys and refused to extradite him.  Arnold paid $150,000 in exchange for no charges being filed but couldn’t enjoy the remaining part of his fortune for long because he died of pneumonia in 1878.  His cousin, John Slack, apparently was not the brains of the operation because he was last reported to be a coffin maker in New Mexico.  Then again, maybe he was smarter than I give him credit for because his fate is unknown…maybe he gave everyone the slip and lived like a king.

Speaking of King….Clarence became the first director of the US Geological Survey and became friends and hobknobbed with a host of international dignitaries, politicians and celebrities.  He became a celebrated author. He had it all, but apparently not enough.  He left the Geological Survey and tried getting rich in mining, ranching and even banking.  He lost all of his money, most of his friends and much of his reputation.  He died at the age of 60 in poverty and debt of tuberculosis in 1901 in Phoenix in a small brick house.

So, it would appear that the whistleblower who gained fame and prominence was the biggest loser in this tale.  He had it all and lost it all and more.  The brains of the caper, Arnold, did okay but didn’t get to enjoy his larceny for long.  History seems to suggest that John Slack was also a loser because the last thing they know about him was he was making coffins in New Mexico.  But, I would submit that its possible the nit-wit cousin may have been the big winner and the smartest of them all, pulling off one final scam before disappearing from view.  As Hank Williams, Jr sang, A Country Boy Can Survive.


4 Responses

  1. Hello Mr. Symon,

    I always enjoy reading about my great-grandfather, Asbury Harpending, Jr. Perhaps your readers will be interested in more about him, from a personal and family perspective, here:

    I will “follow” your blog to see where you are taking it.

    Happy Thanksgiving,

    Ron Pavellas
    Stockholm, Sweden

  2. Wow. Mr. Pavellas, I am honored that you have decided to comment. If you can follow where I take it let me know because I certainly have lost the map. Just muddling through. If you scroll back, I get going during the hurricane season. Since I’m a meteorologist here in Louisville, I do regularly give a little weather and focus more on it if there is any thing that is of great significance, especially things that can be disruptive or dangerous. If it looks like potential death and destruction from tornadoes then the history gets left to the cutting room floor. It’s possible that this weekend I may have to ramp back a bit on the fun stories because we may have a good snow coming…but that remains to be determined. I’ll know this weekend. These things take their time before they show themselves. But, other than hurricanes, storms and general local weather, I pretty much just wander wherever I go.

    Last year I got a note from the grandson of the company that invented the hard hat. That was interesting because it came from near Cincinnati but the story was with the Golden Gate Bridge. I also once got a note from a former player on the Greensville Bluesman, a minor league team from Greenville MS. I had written how he got traded for a box of pheasant. I didn’t know his name but he chimed in. So, I appreciate your note.



  3. Bob,

    Everything connects up, eventually. Re: the hard hat and the Golden Gate Bridge, I was born in San Francisco in the year (1937) that both the Golden Gate and the SF-Oakland Bay Bridges opened for traffic.

    My blog is similar to yours in that I let it take me where it wants, or where life takes me. I publish once per week, Wednesday, so I don’t get myself jammed. I have other writing projects too.

    As for weather (or not), I have lived in Alaska for 8 years at the same latitude (59-60 degrees North) where I now live in Stockholm. No big deal, either way, despite the stereotypical stories. The northern tier or states in the lower 48 has worse winters than Anchorage or Stockholm. I lived in Dallas for six months and thought the rain there was the worst weather I had ever been in.

    Best wishes,


    PS: I wrote a blog on the disappointing Christmas (?) display at the premier department store in Stockholm:

  4. I went to your blog and tried to comment but I messed it up. I tried to direct you to a fun post I did some time ago but has some popularity..the nudist prophet!

    I forgot to tell you about another familiar tie that I got…I did a post on Al Capone’s brother. He was known as Two Gun Hart….if you google that you’ll probably find it. One of his relations…perhaps son/grandson or nephew/great nephew…wrote a little defensively but it was great hearing from them. I think the most interesting aspect of this machine is that its sorta like shortwave. I’ve gotten views and responses from all over the world and have been translated at least into French, Portuguese and Italian and I know I’ve gotten google searches in German. They like the giant rabbit story, of which the associated video is in German.

    I’ll try to figure out how to comment again on your postings.

    I suppose that you have T-giving over there…have a good one. And congratulations on your wedding and move across the pond.

    BTW…I grew up in Houston.


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