Field of Schemes

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

The fervor filtered up. Governor William Gilpin--no geologist, but a one-man chamber of commerce--accepted an invitation to lecture on the "Diamond Regions of Colorado and New Mexico," a subject on which he knew little but believed much. In fact, during his speech he revealed the location of the diamond fields as being in southern Colorado, providing a geological description of the area to back himself up.

Soon, and despite his paper's own editorial warning, Rocky Mountain News owner and publisher William Byers couldn't help himself, either. Together with eight more of the city's most prominent businessmen, he formed the Denver Diamond Company in November 1872.

The venture was overdue, the rival Tribune observed, even then expressing the city's fear of being left behind. "We think it is high time for our Colorado Company to 'put in its oar.' It is a burning shame that we should have allowed other cities to have secured such great advantages over our town."

In all, 25 mining and speculation companies formed that year, with an estimated capitalization of a quarter-billion dollars.

Dan Hausel: I figure the rush eventually attracted about 35 prospectors and companies into the region.

Even then, I don't think everybody believed there were diamonds in Wyoming. Geologists tend to rely too much on geo-chemistry--that the surrounding rock should have the same chemistry as diamonds. Well, it's true that according to the geo-chemistry, you shouldn't have well-preserved diamonds in this area.

After the diamonds were discovered, we solicited proposals from companies to explore the area and test it. We eventually gave a contract to a company called Cominco.

George Tikkanen, former head of exploration, Cominco American: We're primarily a metals mining company. But at that time, we also had an interest in a small diamond mine in South Africa. So we also started doing some work in the late 1970s in Canada and the United States. We had quite an aggressive program in the State Line region [on the Wyoming/Colorado border northwest of Fort Collins]. We spent millions of dollars there.

Howard Coopersmith: I had graduated in 1975 and started on my master's degree. But then I went to work for Cominco, this company based in Vancouver, B.C. They'd heard the news and come out. They wanted to start a diamond mining operation in the State Line region, but they had no idea how to do it.

Malcolm McCallum: Howard never did finish his master's degree after he went to work for Cominco. It was very disappointing to me--especially since his thesis was being funded by the National Science Foundation. In terms of any prospecting I might do, the federal funding was an ethical problem for me.

Many people have since asked me, "You knew where these things were. Why didn't you go out and pick them up?" The reason is, it just wouldn't have been ethical: The government was supporting my research.

Chuck Mabarek, geologist, Fort Collins: I worked for Cominco for a summer, although I was more interested in the research rather than just finding diamonds. I would go out and look in streams and stream beds for chromian diopside and garnets. If you are getting these minerals, you know that somewhere upstream, you've probably got some kimberlite pipes.

Dan Miller: Kimberlite looks like nothing more than caked old mud balls. It's got a greenish, purplish sheen to the rock, depending on the slant of the sun. In South Africa people go out just before the gray daylight, when there is the faintest dew on the ground, and they look at anthills and other holes that have been dug by burrowing animals during the night, when they carry soil from underground to above. And sometimes you can see the greenish hue of kimberlite caught in the morning light.

In some instances, that's how they have found diamonds.
Malcolm McCallum: The mining-company geologists immediately went around checking out the locations where we had the [CSU] studies going. They also did some of their own exploration, but not much.

They were going around to the ranchers with contracts for them to sign. Some were even sneaking around. In one case, a mining-company representative told the ranchers that he had permission from me and CSU to look around on the property. Well, the rancher knew me enough and figured that wasn't something I'd do, so he called me. I told him no, we haven't given anyone permission.

Basically, they never found anything more than what we had found during our research projects. The worst part was that we lost access to most of the sites we'd been working on. Before, the local ranchers had even helped us find some stuff--they were just interested in what we were doing. But then, when the rush started, many of them said, "We can't tell everyone else that they can't come on and then allow you on."

Howard Coopersmith: It was extremely intense competition. Everywhere you went, there were other geologists out in the field, trying to do it better and faster. Occasionally I would knock on some rancher's door to ask if I could look around on his land, and he'd say, "You just missed so-and-so"--a geologist from another company.

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