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Field of Schemes

A gem of a story about diamond mines--real and fake!

The prospecting party arrived at its destination about 4 p.m. Ignoring the fading sun, the men instantly dismounted their horses and began scrabbling about in the dirt with their knives.

"I had not been on the ground three minutes before I found a large diamond," Harpending told a reporter six months later. "That day we got over 500 diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds."

Several days later, after some surveying and a lot of pocket-filling, the men left the fields. They reached Cheyenne on June 20 and dispatched an encoded telegraph describing the astounding find.

Even Janin, swept up by the fever, temporarily abandoned his geological evaluation to advise a "buy" option to anyone fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to invest in the mine. "No evidence was gathered which could authorize me to do other than to recommend investment at the price of $40 per share," he wrote in his report of the expedition. "I feel perfectly safe in expressing the belief that the amount of the purchase money will be speedily repaid in dividends, to be followed by large additional profits."

For the investors, such good fortune was impossible to conceal. Details of Janin's report promptly leaked to the public, first by word of mouth and then, eventually, through newspaper reports. Fanning would-be prospectors' imaginations was the fact that diamonds were already on everyone's mind: It had been only a few years since the discovery of the first, vast diamond fields in South Africa.

The country spun into a frenzy.

Howard Coopersmith, geologist: I heard of the Diamond Hoax years and years ago. It's a story that passes around everybody in the diamond business, and certainly among geologists in Colorado.

I moved to Colorado from California in 1971 to enroll at Colorado State University. I knew a friend of a friend of a professor there. I had no idea I'd want to major in geology, but ever since I was a kid I liked to travel, and the mountains and getting outside. I was randomly assigned Malcolm McCallum as an advisor.

Malcolm McCallum, professor emeritus of geology: I started at CSU in 1962, when I came there from Laramie. My specialty at that time was pre-Cambrian geology. But I was looking for some local things to do, because most of my work had been in Wyoming and Montana--weekend things.

Well, there were some rock specimens lying around the department, and the chairman told me to try and figure out what they were. He told me where they had been found, and I looked at them. And I discovered that they were indeed unusual rocks.

Dan Hausel: Kimberlite is a complicated rock. It is derived from the earth's upper mantle, about 90 to 120 miles down into the ground, and it occurs primarily in pipes. Because they extend down to the place in the earth where diamonds are stable, kimberlite pipes act like a giant geological retrieval system for diamonds.

Malcolm McCallum: As I started mapping and working on these rocks, and in talking with various people in the United States Geological Survey, I concluded that they had to be a diatreme--or pipe--of kimberlite. That's the type of rock mostly generally associated with containing diamonds.

Frank Yaussi, private prospector, Fort Collins: I don't get along so well with Malcolm McCallum. He wanted to be first and he wanted the glory, which I didn't care about. I wouldn't go so far as to say he was the first to discover diamonds. But he likes to tell people that.

I started prospecting up there in 1957. We were looking for precious metals, mostly gold, when we found this peculiar outcropping about 35 miles northwest of Fort Collins. It was just green rock, showing up on the side of the hill, and greens is sometimes associated with gold. We didn't know what it was, but there was already an abandoned tunnel in there, about six feet wide and six feet tall. It was a dark, dull green.

It wasn't too long after that, when the beryllium boom was on, a geologist from back East was here. We was trying to get him interested in some mines. He saw the outcropping and asked what it was. Well, we went over there, and he identified it right away as a kimberlite. We thought it was really far-fetched at the time. Except for Arkansas, we really never thought much about diamonds in the United States.

So I started looking for diamonds. But I didn't know what they looked like. I was doing strictly visuals, panning for them mostly, but we didn't really know what we was looking for. Finally we gathered enough information, from looking in museums and such, that we eventually found some. My wife found a one-sixth-carat stone.

In the early 1970s we were sending terrazzo chips to Wyoming Tile and Terrazzo in Cheyenne for polishing, and they broke a saw blade on one of them. That's when Malcolm McCallum got interested. I had even turned a kimberlite sample over to him and CSU several years before, but he had identified it as serpentine. He didn't know it was kimberlite until he went to that conference and someone told him what it was.

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