American El Dorado: The Great Diamond Hoax of 1872, by Ron Elliott, Acclaim Press, Morley, Mo., 2013, $24.95
With the help of a cousin, Philip Arnold pulled a con (eat your heart out Soapy Smith, who never came up with anything this big) on some of the richest financiers in San Francisco. A story about it appears in the October 2013 issue of Wild West. Ron Elliott’s book provides a much more detailed picture of this great diamond hoax and the people involved—dupes and perpetrators. One word of warning: There is a lot of dialogue, and while it is good, believable dialogue, it is still made up. While this device might make the line between fiction and nonfiction too blurry for some readers, the facts are all there and documented.
How did Arnold make investors truly believe he and his cousin had discovered an “American El Dorado,” not in gold but in diamonds? Elliott suggests it was once fantastic to believe there was gold in California until prospectors actually discovered that precious metal. “So, then in 1870,” he continues, “who was to say that there were not diamonds to be found somewhere in the largely unexplored American West?” The untold shiny wealth a diamond field offered blinded the would-be investors when approached by Arnold, whom Elliott calls “a silver-tongued con worthy of Bernie Madoff’s admiration.” Given the same situation, how many of us could have avoided being just as foolish? That question comes to mind after reading Elliott’s still relevant cautionary tale about our lust for riches. Clearly, diamonds are more than just a girl’s best friend.