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Hoaxes of the Old West

 Fictitious Precious Metals and Gems

What Will They Believe (and Pay for?)

Always happy for more information on these subjects.
Email OWDR – bottom of Home page.

There was money to made in the Old West! Some made it with a pick and shovel, some with pen, some with a pistol, others with a smart mouth. As you will note here, there were a few who intended to generate wealth for all, some, wealth for a few and others were in it only for themselves. These stories are usually about big money and some of the ways they tried to obtain it are extremely clever. Usually though, it’s just big, bold lies and flim flam…

Fictitious Precious Metals and Gems


The Great Colorado Diamond Hoax of 1872

OWDR Diamond Peak CO - Hoaxes of the Old West

Veteran prospectors Philip Arnold and John Slack spent some time in 1871 salting this Colorado mesa with precious stones; mostly diamonds, purchased London and Amsterdam for $35,000. Primarily the refuse of the European gem cutting industry, most of the gems were originally from South Africa. Then, the cousins arrived in San Francisco with the news of a “Diamond Strike” in Colorado. They deposited a bag of diamonds into the Bank of California and waited for greed to do its thing.
After suitable “persuasion” by local financiers/investors, the “reluctant” cousins lead an expedition, including a mining engineer, hired by the investors, to examine the “mine”. They then sold the claim to prominent businessmen in San Francisco and New York. It also triggered a brief diamond prospecting craze in the western USA, in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.

Government geologist Clarence King* investigated the diamond field for a few days and declared that the diamonds had been planted**. While it was to late for the investors, Phillip Arnold got away to Kentucky with enough cash to buy a bank. King came out of it with a considerably enhanced professional reputation and was widely acclaimed for his honesty.

OWDR Arnold & Slack - Hoaxes of the Old West

Phillip Arnold & John Slack c. 1870’s
Photo: U.S. PD pre-1923

Arnold had acquired a bag of uncut diamonds, presumably taken from his employer, and mixed them with garnets, rubies and sapphires that he likely bought from Indians in Arizona.The San Francisco Chronicle on November 26 stacked headlines that began with “UNMASKED!” followed by “The Great Diamond Fiasco,” “THE MAMMOTH FRAUD EXPOSED” and “Astounding Revelations.” Because Arnold and Slack had long departed from the scene, reporters focused on the company’s gullible principals. The Chronicle chortled at “how the millionaires were victimized.” Janin the mining engineer was criticized for being so easily duped. Harpending came under suspicion as a perpetrator of the fraud because he was reported to have been in London at the time of one of Arnold’s diamond-buying sprees. General Butler was discovered to have received a thousand shares of stock for shepherding a mining act through Congress that had enabled the company to buy the federal land that held the bogus diamond fields. William Lent claimed in a lawsuit that he lost some $350,000, and it was widely reported that Ralston lost $250,000. John Slack was assumed to have either fled the country or died soon after leaving the diamond fields. But in 1967, Bruce A. Woodard, an accountant who had become obsessed with the hoax, asserted in his book, Diamonds in the Salt, that Slack had squandered his share of the money, then taken a job building caskets in St. Louis. Eventually, according to Woodard, Slack moved to White Oaks, New Mexico, where he became an undertaker, living alone until his death at age 76 in 1896, leaving behind an estate of $1,600.  {001}
*Wk. 52, 12/24/1901 – Clarence King
**Wk. 45, 11/11/1872 – Fraud!

OWDR Diamonds hoax-sized - Hoaxes of the Old WestHere are some nice Hoax-sized diamonds

OWDR Diamond Hoax of 1872 - Hoaxes of the Old West

Contemporary cartoon (c. 1872)
depicting the hoaxers


The Idaho Diamond Hoax

Progenitor of the Idaho Diamond Hoax, Idaho Territorial Governor Caleb Lyon* misappropriated government funds, embezzled Indian funds and was involved in numerous scandals, in and out of office. Lyon started a diamond-prospecting frenzy when he claimed that a prospector had found a diamond near Ruby City, ID. Hundreds of men staked claims but found not a single diamond. (c. mid 1860’s) Lyon was never indicted or convicted of any wrongdoing.   {001}
Photo: Governor Caleb Lyon – bottom of page.


FYI: An odd diamond or two had actually turned up during the gold rush.
Notably, near Placerville, CA.
“…though it may not pay to hunt for diamonds,
yet it always pays to pick them up when you do happen to see them.”
A California state geologist of the times…


Mountains of Silver!

An announcement in the Tucson Weekly Arizonian in April of 1870 catches the mood of the moment: “We have found it! The greatest treasures ever discovered on the continent, and doubtless the greatest treasures ever witnessed by the eyes of man.” Located in the Pyramid Mountains of New Mexico, the “it” was a new mine dubbed the Mountains of Silver. Bankers hurried in, miners claimed stakes, investors sought capital in distant cities and surveyors laid out a town nearby. In the end, the much-touted venture did not yield enough silver to fashion a single belt buckle.  {001}


 Kansas Gold Mines

OWDR Acres of gold Ad - Hoaxes of the Old West

Cyrus K. Holiday, one of the founders of the AT&SF RR, sent prospectors out to find a tin mine along the Smokey Hill River in Kansas. Promoters sold stock of companies formed to mine gold from the shale.  Worthless ore-processing mills were built along the Smoky Hill River.  {001}
FYI: The geology of Kansas out there, sort of suggests that it isn’t exactly the kind of place one might expect to find gold*. Some, fine placer gold does occur in the state: glacial up in the north-east corner and some fines in the Platte River drainage from the west. Generally not worth the work. – Doc
*Wk. 29, 07/20/1943 – Charles Sternberg


The Emma Silver Mine in Alta, UT

OWDR Emma Mine - Hoaxes of the Old West

The Emma Mine

Sold to English investors, in the Spring of 1871, for the sum of $5 million!  The “worked-out”, Emma Silver Mine at Alta, Utah; then owned by James E. Lyon (of Wisconsin), Trenor W. Park and Henry H. Baxter.  Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada, had claimed that the mine could be sold for $5 to 8 million in England. As a reward for Stewart’s efforts to accomplish this end; he was to receive a percentage of the profits from the sale of the depleted mine. Along with the usual verbal hyperbole, Stewart had also been sending ore samples, high-graded from other (much better) deposits to get people in England excited about buying out the Emma Mine, which they soon did.

The scandal was exposed by a U.S. Congressional investigation in 1876 led by the Democratic Party. The promoters had persuaded the U.S. ambassador to Britain, General “Poker Bob” Schenck, to serve as a guinea pig director for the Emma company. Schenck was reprimanded by the House investigation committee, but not charged with any crimes. Photo: U.S. PD, LOC – Brady & Handy  {001}


The Mount Pisgah Hoax

OWDR Cripple Creek sunset w Mt Pisgah - 1899 - Hoaxes of the Old Westc. 1880’sCripple Creek in Teller County Colorado. A mini gold rush is sparked by the “salting”*of a bit of of worthless rock. It will be ten years before Bob Womak finds the real thing…**  {001}
Photo: U.S. PD 1899 A.L. Kenyon, LOC, A sunset over Cripple Creek and Mt. Pisgah (the cone).  {001}
*References – DictionarySalt a Mine
**Wk. 42, 10/20/1890 – Last Colorado Gold rush


Thoen Stone

Thoen Stone replica - Dictionary

Thoen Stone – replica


The Thoen Stone is located in the Adams Museum in Deadwood, SD, but a large replica of the stone is located on the site where it was discovered/created (much debate) by Louis and Ivan Thoen (03/14/1887). The stone says that two experienced miners, William King and Indian Crow, were among a party of seven who had traveled to the Black Hills in 1833 in search of gold at a time in which a treaty prevented the party from entering the area legally. The entire party was killed by Native Americans, save one Ezra Kind, the author of the stone (1834). Kind himself later died of unknown causes.

Carved on a sandstone slab, three inches thick and measuring ten inches by eight inches.
The cursive inscription reads…

front side

Came to these hills in 1833 seven of us
Ezra Kind
G.W. Wood
T. Brown
R. Kent
Wm. King
Indian Crow
All dead but me, Ezra Kind. Killed by [Indians] beyond the high hill.
Got our gold June 1834.

back side

Got all the gold we could carry. Our ponies all got by the Indians.
I have lost my gun and nothing to eat and Indians hunting me.

There was and still is, considerable controversy over the authenticity of the stone. Many believe that the stone is a hoax fabricated by Louis and Ivan Thoen,  some point to the fact that Louis was a stonemason. An investigator, Frank Thomson searched on the East Coast for families of the same names as party members. He was able to locate several families, with similar surnames who claimed to have had ancestors who disappeared in the American West (1950’s).
Two handwriting experts, one Marion Briggs and another in California, compared the handwriting on postcards made from photos of the stone (for postcards). Both determined that the inscriptions were not done by either of the two Thoen brothers or John S. McClintock, who was an early advocate for the slab’s authenticity or by John Cashner who owned the store where the stone was first displayed in Spearfish. They also agreed that the inscriptions, front and back, were not done by the same person (this, sometime in the 2000’s).
The Thoen brothers vigorously defended the authenticity of the stone until their deaths. (Louis in 1919 during the 1918 influenza pandemic, Ivan unknown.)  {001}

Thoen Stone - original

Thoen Stone – original
Photo: U.S. PD? internet


What Will They Believe (and Pay for?)


Aurora TX – 1897

UFO‘s in the Old West? Well, maybe, but they didn’t know the term back then. It didn’t come along until 1947. Thing is, these events, whether described in good faith or a hoax, got people’s attention. Men from Mars? Hot stuff! This is an early one, but it was in the middle of the “Mystery Airship” sighting frenzy of 1896 – 97 (and on and off for some years later). Some other early sightings are noted in the see also list – below.  Enjoy!

The Dallas Morning News (04/19/1897)
Aurora, TX early UFO claim - Hoaxes of the Old WestBarbara Brammer, a former mayor of Aurora had some comment on this incident for an episode of the UFO Files on TV (2005). She points out: the local cotton crop (the major source of local revenue) had been destroyed by a boll weevil infestation. A fire on the town’s west side had claimed several buildings and lives. Shortly after the fire, a spotted fever* epidemic hit the town, nearly wiping out the remaining citizens and placing the town under quarantine.
Finally, a planned railroad got within 27 miles of Aurora, but never made it into the town.
Aurora (about 3,000 residents at the time) was in serious danger of dying out!
She further states that S.E. Haydon was already known to be a bit of a jokester, and thus her conclusion is that Haydon’s article was a last-ditch attempt to keep Aurora alive.
As with most such tales, this one still has adherents and investigations/discussions of one sort or another which continue yet today.  {001}
See also:
Wk. 16, 04/19/1897 – Aurora TX (this event, noted in the WEEKS)
Wk. 04, 01/25/1878 – Denison, TX (oldest UFO event in the U.S.)
Wk. 46, 11/17/1896 – Mystery Airship
*The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – DiseaseRocky Mountain Spotted Fever


Death Valley Scotty
Walter Edward Perry Scott

Scotty’s first con was a wealthy New York businessman talked into backing a fictitious gold mining operation. He kept his patron  informed as to the state of the mine for two years, but never shipped any ore. After his mark had invested more than $5000 in the mine, Scott took a train to New York with a bag allegedly containing more than $12,000 in gold dust. He soon reported the bag of dust stolen.  Newspapers printed the “tragic” story, which, among other things, launched Scott on a spree of self-promotion ventures.
He abandoned his previous patron in 1904, in favor of Edward A. Shedd and Albert M. Johnson. Over a period of several months they “invested” more than $4000 into his next “mine”, before pulling out of the deal.
Wk. 28, 07/09/1905 – The Coyote Special
Wk. 01, 01/05/1954 – Death Valley Scotty


How to sell a nice, expensive, dapple grey horse.
Even if you don’t have one…*

Items required:
Dapple Grey Horse - Hoaxes of the Old West1. A nice photo or color drawing of a quality dapple grey horse.
or… considerable personal knowledge of dapple horses…
2. Several weeks of good weather, no rain.
3. A private location, with a usable barn or shed, in the community of the sale.
4. A nice “sale barn” grey or a white horse you can make partly grey. Needs to have dark eyes.
This animal should be purchased in another, somewhat distant community and brought to the afore mentioned private location, during the night, so the horse will be a nice surprise to the community of the sale at a later date.
5. Several bottles each, of white and black liquid shoe dye.
A tablespoon and several small bowls for mixing the dyes.
6. A small chicken egg, an extra-large chicken egg and perhaps a duck, or a goose egg if available.

1. Brush and wipe down the horse (rinse & dry) as required, for cleanliness.
2. While the horse dries…
Create several and various shades of grey in the mixing bowls, using the shoe dyes. White for the spots…
3. Now, using the photo, drawing or experience noted above as a reference, carefully print the dapples on your horse, using the various eggs, their large and small ends, as needed, to achieve the desired patterns (maybe, practice a wee bit on an old hide, before working on the horse).
It’s gonna’ take a while (and a patient horse) to get this done…
4. Dry the horse nicely in the sun.
Maybe sprinkle a little dust on the horse after he dries, so he won’t look too clean.
5. Close the transaction with the buyer as soon as possible and cash any checks involved in the sale.
6. Clear the community before it rains…

*With appropriate experience, this method can produce the occasional appaloosa as well.
see also:
The Originals Index – Horses – Horse Colors


Soapy Smith

Soapy Smith - Hoaxes of the Old WestNo discussion of hoax in the Old West would be complete without mention of one of the best of the old time confidence men.
Wk. 44, 11/02/1860 – Born
Wk. 23, 06/05/1892 – Back to Denver
Wk. 27, 07/04/1894 – Soapy leads a parade
Wk. 27, 07/08/1898 – The Shootout on Juneau Wharf
Quotes Index – Gambler QuotesSoapy Smith


OWDR Caleb Lyon ID Terr Gov - Hoaxes of the Old West

*Idaho Territorial Governor
Caleb Lyon
Photo: U.S. PD pre-1923

barbed wire divider2 - Hoaxes of the Old WestEnd: Hoaxes of the Old West

{001} C 01/19; E 05/19; F 07/15; P 12/17

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