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John Early Andrews Collection of Letters

Letter from Robert N. Slack to his brother James B. Slack, Wharton Texas, May 15, 1848
Submitter: John Early Andrews
jandrewsfam@juno.com
- MAIL:

J.B. Slack

My Dear Bro

- I received yours duly and have deferred answering it for the arrest of suatt. I have settled here on the Colorado River lilica city five miles from the coast. I have been here nearly two weeks and have had three or four patients which I am about to treat each fully and satisfactorilly. There are two other physicians in town very able and talented young men - I believe I shall do well if I keep my own health which is extremely doubtful as there is much cause for disease that cannot be avoided by the practicioner of Medicine sirs. I am not very well contreated in myself yet through some improvement has taken place. I have my horse Brisca yet he is a five is dilth and as pay as a friendship. Locate my had driven had inslect. Doctor was in again to father give him regular also all num relations - Sevrots to "Doctors Ruckin and Overton," both a few days ago. Yours in great haste R.N. Slack

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Notes: Robert N. Slack had two first cousins, namely John Burcham Slack of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, son of Reubin Slack, William G. Slack's brother and Phillip Arnold who were involved in the follwoing famous episode:

Early in 1872, Clarence King (the geologist and surveyor) was informed of a great find of gems somewhere in the region that he was exploring. One day two dirty, bearded and disheveled prospectors, John Slack and Philip Arnold (who were cousins from ELizabethtown, Kentucky), came out of the mountains, appeared at a bank in San Francisco early in the morning and presented themselves to William Ralston, president of the Bank of California in San Francisco, and attempted to deposit a small leather pouch full of uncut diamonds. After they had managed to do so, they disappeared. They stood San Francisco on its ear by announcing they had discovered a diamond mine. Under questioning, Phillip Arnold and John Slack produced samples of diamonds and other gems as well, all from their mysterious claim. They told of long treks in the wilderness and dangerous crossings of swollen rivers, remaining reticent only about the actual location of their mine. Incredible as it may seem, their story was accepted almost without question. If Arnold and Slack said there were diamond fields somewhere in the West, people were quite willing to believe it, and to invest big money to develop them.

A group of California financiers assembled and made plans to begin mining at once if the claim proved genuine. A team of experts from Tiffany's in New York examined the diamonds and confirmed that they were of tremendous value. When the investors were still reluctant, Arnold agreed to guide a mining engineer to the site of the claim. The visit convinced the most hardened skeptic. Leaving the Union Pacific tracks at Rawlins Springs, Wyoming, the prospectors led mining experts Henry Janin and a group of potential investors far back into the hills. Members of the party were blindfolded, and lost all sense of direction during the three day journey. On the fourth day, Arnold and Slack removed the blindfolds and invited their guests to look around. Emeralds shone in tufts of grass and tiny rubies twinkled in the gravel of anthills. In two days, the party gathered over 600 diamonds.

Swiftly, the investors chartered a corporation -to develop their find. They prepared a stock issue, filed claims, and even began lobbying to get mining laws changed in their favor. Former President Grant and other prominent men invested. When Arnold and Slack dragged their feet, the corporation bought them out. A nationwide syndicate was immediately organized, called the New York and San Francisco Mining Company, which purchased the rights to the mining fields from Slack and Arnold for about $600,000. They then went on to make preparations to float a public stock issue of $12,000,000. The prospectors vanished, promptly and completely. Later investigation traced the diamonds to the markets of London and Amsterdam. Arnold had visited both cities in 1871, paying cash for large numbers of low-grade or "bort" diamonds. The total purchases seem to have amounted to about $40,000. Clarence King was the last person known to have set foot on the site, and his report makes it clear that there were many hundreds of diamonds and other stones still' there.

Phillip Arnold had returned to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, his home town. He was living there in quiet respectability when detectives located him, and he had all the money paid for the claim. On threat of lawsuit, he surrendered $150,000 of his ill-gotten gains. Slack was never found. Since Arnold had clearly held onto the loot, there was much dark speculation as to Slack's probable fate, but that mystery was never solved. (It now appears that he spent his final days making coffins in New Mexico and died there.) No hometown jury was prepared to convict Arnold of anything whatever, and the prospector vigorously fought the charges leveled against him. He accused the investors of salting the mine, claiming it was perfectly all right when he sold it to them. The investors still hadn't decided how to handle the situation when Arnold got into a business dispute with a local rival. No stickler for legalities, the rival settled the matter by shooting Arnold dead. Once having made up his mind, King traveled night and day to San Francisco and demanded of Ralston and the Bank of California that sales of stock be stopped at once, announcing that he intended to publish his findings. All Hell must have broken loose over the head of this young government geologist, for he was facing up to some of the richest and most powerful men in California. But he stood his ground and the company collapsed.

That was the beginning of the end for poor Ralston, whose bank failed in the panic of 1875, and he ended as a suicide in the waters of the Golden Gate after he had reimbursed all investors out of his own funds. The irony is that the state geological survey reports that there is a very real possibility of diamonds in the state, but as a result of Slack and Arnold's fraud any interest in diamond exploration in the state had been deterred for over 100 years.

Read more letters in the John Early Andrews Collection

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