The Flimflam Men of the Gold Rush Days
Of course, it wasn’t limited to men. The gold rush days of sunny
California produced all types. I go back to this topic regularly
because I find it to be great fun.
There was such a shortage of women in those days, that the mere
discovery of a woman’s slipper could bring in $50.00 to the
seller. To understand the extreme value, you have to know that an
ounce of the metal only brought in about $16.00. Figure that out in
today’s value folks. Women made a fortune. One young woman in fact,
of less than what one might consider the highest moral caliber,
retired after one year’s activity with a savings account of
There were con men all around. They made a fortune without
dirtying their hands. How many times, I wonder, did a flimflam man
load his shotgun with gold dust and then fire it at a rock face or
a gravel pit in order to “salt” it? The bits of shotgun propelled
gold stuck to the rock as though it had been there since the
beginning of time. Mr. Flimflam man would then approach Mr.
Greenhorn, who had just recently arrived from the east and was
weary and eager to make the long trip worth while, and say
something like: “Hey there fella. I got me mine already. But I want
to share the wealth. Come with me boy, and I’ll show you an
untouched claim where you kin jest scrape the stuff off and make
yerself a fortune. And it won’t cost you much neither. Test it out
yerself, lad. Scrape away and get it assayed. And if ya like what
ya see, jest pay me what’s due, fer showin’ ya the way ta yer
fortune. Heh heh.”
The exaggerations and lies of the old west were notorious. Mark
Twain was supposed to have said that a gold mine was nothing more
than a hole in the ground with a liar on top. Sealed bags ready for
assay were often salted by simply opening up the seam, putting in
some dust, and sewing the seam up again. Played out mines were sold
over and over again, thanks to the techniques of “salting.”
Murder abounded and blood flowed in them thar days. I bet the
streets were as often red as they were yellow. Daily killings were
common. And when folks weren’t killing…aw heck folks, they were
stealing. And it was not only not frowned upon, it was, in some
circles, condoned. The philosophy went something like this: Ya see
this here lad, folk? Wal… he’s been prospectin’ fer weeks now.
Spent his fortune, he did, on a played out mine which some son of a
mother salted fer him. He’s been a sufferin’ folks. Heck. He ain’t
got not choice but to steal. Right? Yayyyyy!!!
And so it went. Large volumes of populace starved. I don’t think
anyone knows how many were murdered in 1860, the year of the gold
rush…but there are statistics as to how many were punished and
what the punishment was. After all was said and done, and all the
crimes tallied…fifteen men and women were told to leave and never
come back…and two people were hanged. That’s it folks. Did crime
pay in them thar days? Y’all kin bet yer bippies it did.
And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.
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