|Home -> James H. Barry Press -> The Great Diamond Hoax - Chapter XIII|
Hits for the Hills in Effort to Lose Pursuers, Passes One Good Thing and Stumbles Into A Bonanza.
Company of Soldiers Goes to Arrest Him; Is Taken Into Camp and Very Soon After Everything Is Fine.
I stayed overnight at San Jose at the house of a friend, a stanch Southern sympathizer, who had been advised by wire that he might expect a guest by the late train. The next morning bright and early I left with a companion and a stout team for Santa Cruz. On the outskirts of that town - pardon me, city - my companion left me late in the afternoon, directing me to a house of accommodation kept by a man I knew, of strong "secesh" proclivities.
I passed into the waiting room, where a number of men were standing. The proprietor received me with evident agitation and invited me to a room upstairs. "Mr. Harpending," he said, "the sheriff has received a telegram from the United States Marshal to detain you if you pass this way. He will hear of the arrival of a stranger, answering your description, as a number saw you enter my house. But" - and here he ripped out an awful oath, none of your feeble modern profanity - "I will send for some of the boys and we will have one devil of a fight before he takes you."
I could see that the man was capable of anything desperate - I excused myself for a moment to get my luggage, slipped down stairs to the waiting room, took the small handbag that contained my personal belongings, went out the rear door and took the road toward Gilroy on foot. I hadn't any plan in view - just walked on well into the night until I was exhausted with fatigue and lack of food.
"Youth will not be denied," is an old saying. I passed a house where the lights were still burning and determined to seek a place of shelter. I knocked at the door. To my astonishment and joy, it was opened by a man called Clark, of Southern birth, whom I had met several times in San Francisco.
Clark received me like a long-lost brother, roused the household, had an old-fashioned Southern meal prepared that made me think of home, and an hour later I was sound asleep in a comfortable bed, safe among friends.
The next evening Mr. Clark accompanied me to Gilroy, where I was concealed in the hotel of a mutual friend for two days, waiting for a southbound stage that journeyed across the mountains to the San Joaquin Valley and thence to Visalia in Tulare County.
There were two passengers on the stage when I boarded it, a gentleman called Byington and his friend, Thomas Staples. Byington's son was afterward District Attorney of San Francisco for several years. The gentleman recognized me at once and as we traveled along I found that he wasn't a half-bad secessionist himself. He told me that he and his friend were bound to inspect a mine in which they were interested at a place called Kernville, about 125 miles southeast of Visalia. He advised me that it was a notable locality to "hole up" and avoid observation indefinitely; that the "vile," in fact, comprised only a few shacks, appurtenant to the mine, which was just in the early stages of development.
It was in the winter of 1864 - the winter of the awful drought when scarce a drop of rain fell in California. The weather was like midsummer. The great valley then only had a few straggling settlements. The vast prospect was unbroken save when here and there a miniature whirlwind in the distance raised a spiral of sand skyward from the parched ground, or where a hand of dust-laden, half-famished sheep, staggered on toward the mountains to escape from a universal desolation. What a different prospect now. To one who saw those unbroken solitudes, that are today among the busiest haunts of men, with fine cities, railroads, power lines, immense systems of irrigation, intensive agriculture, oil fields - everything in short that goes to make prosperity and a high civilization, - nothing is more impressive of what a few brief decades of enterprise can bring forth.
As there was a small military post at Visalia, when we neared that town I made a detour on foot and joined Messrs. Byington and Staples to the eastward. We reached Kern without any noteworthy incident. The place was exactly as Mr. Byington described it a collection of slab shacks to shelter a few men engaged on development work on the mine. This was known as the "Big Blue." It was an immense ledge of bluish quartz, and was enjoying a boom on the San Francisco stock market. Byington was a type of the Californians of the '60s, who were ready to go into any mining stock venture, almost to the extent of their fortunes, without knowing anything more about the actual business than so many cottontail rabbits. At his request, I examined the "Big Blue," and didn't like the looks of things at all. The superintendent raved about the richness of the ore, showed us fabulous assays, but there, staring us in the face, was a stamp mill that hadn't turned a wheel for months. I satisfied myself that while there were here and there small bunches of ore, sufficient to furnish seductive looking assays, the general vein matter was far too low to be worked to a profit. As for the outlook, that was another thing. The mine might prove to be rich at a greater depth, but the chances were at least 50 to 1 that it wouldn't. I advised Byington to unload his stock while he could, which he did to his great advantage. A few months later, "Big Blue" stock certificates weren't worth picking up in the street. Nevertheless, "Big Blue" was the inspiration for several later mining-camp crazes. Among others, Senator J. P. Jones of Nevada dropped a good-sized fortune in it.
I became known at Kernville, and as people were traveling to and fro, it was certain that my retreat would soon be common property to my enemies as well as my friends; so I decided to seek solitude and efface myself. With three companions of a roving nature, we struck out for the mountains, and for some time enjoyed the delightful, care-free bohemian existence that cannot be found in many places outside of California.
I hadn't forgotten my old mining habits. One day I picked up a number of fragments of quartz, broken by the weather from a ledge that had a likely look. I took these to our camp, crushed them in a primitive way, "panned" the product and stood aghast with astonishment at the result. A long, heavy "tail" of gold in the pan told that the rock must be worth hundreds of dollars a ton.
There is something about gold - just the metal - that makes people forget everything else in life. A little prospecting showed us that we were in the heart of a great gold-bearing district, with surface croppings of such value that all a man needed for working capital was a pick, a pan, a couple of hammers and a mule to carry the rock to water, where it could be hand-crushed and washed. Even the mule could be dispensed with if one did not mind the labor of shouldering an ore sack for a short distance every day. We were rich and gold-mad.
Realizing the importance of the discovery I sent one of my companions to collect enough men to form a mining district under the existing laws. These assembled, we perfected an organization and elected officers. Somewhere in the Book of Genesis mention is made of a river in Paradise running through the land of "Havilah, a country rich in gold." We were shy on the river, but the balance of the quotation seemed appropriate enough, so I christened the proposed town "Havilah." The district was called "Clear Creek," under which title it was famous for many a year. Also I showed judgment and forethought in a real estate way, claiming and staking off a natural townsite.
I didn't dare to go down into the settled district to purchase anything like machinery, for fear of arrest, but we constructed rude arastras, primitive Spanish quartz mills, and began to turn out gold bullion in astonishing amounts. Something concerning a new gold discovery began to leak out and occasional prospectors joined our camp. We had no end of provisions, plenty of fresh meat and sort of kept open house. All in all, it was about the best-ordered mining camp I ever saw.
But the big boom for the camp came through my old journalistic enemy, the American Flag. Word came to it somehow that I was located in the mountains back of Kern City, ostensibly engaged in mining. Straightway it gave me a terrific blast, claiming that mining was only a cloak for a new piece of deviltry I was hatching. The effect of this was that it located me for a lot of my Southern friends who really believed that I was organizing a band to fight through to Texas, and as a consequence they began to swarm into Havilah in large numbers. Nearly all my fighting men of the Chapman were among the first arrivals. Also several Northern men, fired by the word "gold," took a chance of entering into an alleged stronghold of conspirators. They would have marched into hell, just the same, for gold. They had the same reception as anyone else. Far up in the mountains, away from strife and faction, these men mingled in perfect amity and good fellowship. It was another illustration of what I said before - that if the people had been left to settle matters in their own way there never would have been a Civil War. Chattel slavery in the South was fast dying at the root. Another decade or so would have seen its finish. And the real question of slavery was not settled at all. There have grown up other forms of slavery far more odious and soul-destroying than the mild system maintained, with very few exceptions, in the South. It was the agitators and demagogues on both sides, who never fought at all, upon whom must rest the responsibilities of our war, just the same as in nearly every other historic struggle. Strangely enough, these men are commonly canonized, instead of being held up to the execration of mankind.
Havilah was fast becoming a large proposition. Its trade was eagerly sought for and pack trains of supplies were arriving daily. But the more it grew, the louder and longer raved the American Flag about the band of outlaws in the mountains, headed by the piratical Harpending. So specific were the denunciations that at length they seriously attracted the notice of the Government. Finally a detachment of troops stationed at Visalia was dispatched to drive us out.
We had timely notice of this kindly intention. I had been recognized as a sort of leader, partly because of my position as the largest owner of the district, partly because of the newspaper notoriety, which had given me the character of a daring adventurer - the character that impresses the rough natures of a mining camp. All the miners were called together. Lookouts were stationed down the canyon to give notice of the approach of a hostile force. I had decided to adopt Albert Sidney Johnston's strategy and try the moral effect of a surprise.
But the wily soldier in command did not come by the usual route. Early in the morning we heard the sound of cavalry tramping down the mountain side. We were prepared for that. The officer and his troopers, about eighty in all, walked into an ambuscade and suddenly found themselves confronted by four times their number, raw-boned, bearded, athletic miners, each armed to the teeth. I stepped forward, saluted the officer, who seemed a trifle rattled, congratulated him on being just in time for breakfast and carelessly asked him if he had lost his way.
The officer replied, in a surly fashion, that his business was to disperse a hand of cut-throats and rebels. I answered that he could hardly mean us; that we were peacefully pursuing a lawful occupation; that we were ready to submit to legal authority, but must first know the nature of our offense. I urged him to examine the camp, interview some well-known Union men who were with us and satisfy himself that we were neither outlaws nor rebels. There was nothing for him to do but make the best of a bad bargain. The troopers rode to camp with their miner escort, had a jolly good breakfast, with more or less joshing on either side, and that part of the incident closed in a happy way. But the officer declined to be comforted. He was clearly mortified at our successful strategy.
We all knew that this was only a respite - that more serious trouble was ahead. But, in fact, it proved the camp's salvation. A gentleman called Sumner - I forget his other name - a Northerner of character and standing, who knew all about our case, came to our defense in San Francisco. I also sent a full statement of our case to my friend, Colonel Crockett, later a justice of the Supreme Court. These two waited on General McDowell, in command of the Department of the Pacific, and so far convinced him that he sent rather peremptory orders to Visalia not to interfere with us further, except on direct command.
At the same time I was advised that I was free to go to and from San Francisco; that there never had been, in fact, a charge against me; that the rearrest of Mr. Greathouse was in no way connected with myself; that the United States marshal had only been advised to keep an eye on me; that he had only wired the Sheriff at Santa Cruz to do the same.
In other words, I had fled from a man of straw - from a lighted pumpkin head in a dark room - and had stumbled over a fortune.
With sufficient money, I made haste to San Francisco, paid my trifling debts, not overlooking the hotel keeper; bought a quartz mill and appurtenances, rushed it down the valley and had the stamps falling in record-breaking time.
The year 1865 was a busy one for Havilah and the Clear Creek mining district. It became a heavy gold producer - miners, capitalists, speculators swarmed into it from all over the Pacific slope. I laid out my town site in due season and sold it out at fancy figures. The main street brought an average of $20 per foot. A boom was on all along the line. I was offered fancy prices for my mining claims. I let them go. My principle was to avoid what is vulgarly known as "hoggishness." When I could make a million by a business turn I considered it a good day's work.
But as a matter of fact, I only cleaned up with $800,000. That is what I banked in San Francisco long before the end of 1865.
The town of Havilah prospered mightily. At one time it must have numbered nearly 3000 inhabitants. It was a brisk center with hotels, livery stables, large merchandise stores, lawyers, doctors, preachers, open gambling houses, hurdy-gurdies, saloons, banks, bagnios and the other evidences of advanced civilization.
Not only that, but its enterprising inhabitants appeared before the next legislature and asked for the creation of a new county. Though by that time a permanent resident of San Francisco, I assisted in the passage of a bill that cut off from Tulare the county of Kern, and named Havilah the county seat. It so remained until the decline of mining and the growth of agriculture in the lowlands moved the capital to Bakersfield.
These statements can be verified by official records of Kern county and of the town of Havilah, which I presume still exist. Also by the testimony of many people still living.
Such were the tricks Dame Fortune played me in a period of a little longer than a year. I was literally chased from absolute poverty into the possession of nearly a million dollars.
I discovered a great mining district and founded a thriving town.
And if the matter of paternity is ever brought up in court, it will probably be proved to the satisfaction of a jury that I am the father of Kern county.