Colorado History: The Great Diamond Hoax of 1872
It's hard to believe, that even though it was in the last 1800's in Colorado's history, just two men were able to "pull the wool" over so many people's eyes.
It is a story that seems prime for re-telling again, and again; there have been some TV shows about it, but a major motion picture doesn't seem far-fetched. Two men come up with a scheme, and swindle (what would be) millions.
Breezing through an old book about Colorado, I came across a chapter about the "Great Colorado Diamond Hoax," and it caught my attention. Who doesn't love a good story about a con; and it involves diamonds?
In 1871-1872, two cousins out of Kentucky pulled off this big crime in Colorado. They took advantage of the "hunger" racing through the nation, the hunger for gold and riches. It's hard to say how much time and effort went into their hoax, but it had to be worth it, to them.
WHAT WAS THE GREAT DIAMON HOAX IN COLORADO?
According to Smithsonian Magazine, these two cousins portrayed themselves as having found a large "cache" of diamonds ready to be "mined." They hustled more than a few people, including Horace Greeley (after he had helped to found Greeley, Colorado) and even the Tiffany Company.
HOW THE GREAT DIAMOND HOAX BEGAN
One of the cousins had a job at a drilling company in San Francisco; the drills of which were diamond-tipped. The cousin, a bookkeeper there, managed to stash away a bag of uncut diamonds. He reached out to his cousin, and they started their con.
These two cousins told "investors" that they had found all these rough diamonds (and other jewels) in the Colorado Territory (in an area today that is near the Wyoming border in northwestern Colorado.)
HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER = $$$$
The two cousins took some diamonds and jewels and "salted" about one acre of land; they later brought their "suckers" out the field, where the diamonds would be "found," further convincing these investors enough to buy the cousins out for a reported $660,000. In today's money, that would be about $17,000,000.
BAD TIMING LEAD TO THE UNCOVERING OF THE HOAX
A geologist hired by the U.S. Congress to look for such diamond find in the Rockies happened to be aboard the same train as the investors the cousins had been dealing with.
This geologist was shocked to hear that their find was within the same area that his team had scoured, and had found nothing. One thing led to another, and the fraud was found out. The investors ended up looking like fools and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars more.
WHAT BECAME OF THE COUSIN CON MEN?
The two cousins were never prosecuted for the hoax.
Reports have it that the one cousin who wasn't really the "brains" of the operation, ended up becoming an undertaker in New Mexico. The other "more savvy" cousin reportedly became a banker, back in Kentucky.
Infamous Colorado Crimes
Gallery Credit: Kelsey Nistel