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Clarence King (far right) – who later became head of the U.S. Geological Survey – and his men helped foil one of the boldest prospecting hoaxes in history.

The Great Diamond Hoax

The hoax fooled the city’s wealthiest men — and left them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars

Knowing that diamonds are an investor’s best friend, two prospecting cousins, Philip Arnold and John Slack, pulled off a sparkling con game and never looked back.

From grubby prospectors washing dirt in a thousand Western streams to bankers and speculators in San Francisco, New York and London, everyone, it seems, just embraced the idea that the West’s mountains and riverbeds held an abundance of mineral wealth there for the taking. 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 but in the end, the much-touted venture did not yield enough of the stuff for a single belt buckle.

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