Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
While researching a recent column on William Randolph Hearst in Sausalito, I came across this fascinating yarn about his father. George Hearst was a rough and ready American businessman, miner, and politician who epitomized the wild and wooly ethos of the 19th Century West.
In 1888, the Sausalito News carried this unique tale of Hearst being outsmarted at his own game:
Two of the tables in the café off the St. James hotel were drawn up together last night, and there was a nice jolly crowd seated around them. Among them were Senator Hearst, of California, and Col. Tom Kelly, of Arizona.
“Tom. old boy,”‘ said the long-bearded Senator from California, “Do you remember the deal you gave me on that mine near Tombstone back in 1880? I really never knew the true history of that scalping business, but it is all over now, and you ought to tell us how you played it on as. You know you cleaned me out of a cool $100,000.”
“George,” answered the colonel, and he looked very solemn and truthful like, “I think I did best you on that bargain, and by the glaciers of the Rockies, I think I am the one man on the coast who ever downed the senator on a mining deal. But I did— and this is the story:
“Tombstone, Arizona was a very bad town half-a-dozen years ago, and it is not much of a paradise on earth just yet, though they have hanged and shot a couple of hundred of the worst rustlers within the last year or two. I was around there prospecting in the neighborhood early in 1880, and, to confess the truth, I was hard up. I was literally walking on my shoestrings, I could not find anything around that country worth getting George Hearst and my other capitalistic friends to spend money upon, and I was about pulling up my stakes when I ran across an old mine, called the Morning Star, about two miles from Tombstone, which was owned by some of the toughest citizens in that town. It looked promising, and I wrote to Hearst about it. He came on and looked at the hole, nosed around it for a couple of days, and then he would not give $1 an acre for it.
“Twenty-four hours before he had made that statement to me, he and several of his friends had formed a little syndicate and had purchased that very mine for $25,000. I was left out. I was mad, but not half us mad as I was a couple of weeks after when I found out that the new owners had stocked that mine for $l,000,000 — one million shares at $1 each — and were selling the shares pretty rapidly on the San Francisco market at about 50 cents apiece. It was enough to make any man enraged.
“George hired old Piggy McLaughlin, one of the best miners on the coast, to clear away the debris around the place and dig down to pay dirt. He had a force of about 20 men with him. I thought I saw my way clear when Mac came along, for I had often grub-staked him in the old days, as he had me also. So, we put our heads together
“The Morning Star boom went right along for a little while, and I believe George and his friends got rid of about 500,000 shares and cashed into their coffers nearly $300,000 on their outlay of $25,000. But eight months after shares were first put upon the market a committee came along from the shareholders and found that there was not a pound of paying ore on the dump.
“Three days, after they returned to San Francisco and had got rid of their own stock at a profit, the shares fell to 10 cents.
“The next day McLaughlin received dispatch from Hearst telling him to stop work and discharge the men at the end of the week. It was Friday when the telegram reached Mac, and he and I were condoling with each other over the failure we had met with; for really not an indication of pay dirt bad yet been reached. It looked blue for both of us as we walked over to where the men were preparing for their last blast. It was an old hole drilled by the former owners and had been left untouched. Our fellows said they would take no chances but would use George Hearst’s powder sticks to blast everything within reach, for they, too, were mad and ugly.
“When Mac and I looked carelessly into that long hole after the smoke had cleared away you could have knocked either of us over with a feather. The fortune we had longed for lay at our feet. The last blast hail disclosed one of the finest bodies of ore we had ever seen.
“We made no outcry and the miners, paying no attention to the bole, we covered it up and went back to camp. That night we let three of the most reckless devils in the outfit Into the secret, and the next morning I started for San Francisco. No man was to leave that camp until I returned. McLaughlin and the other three fellows were to hold them there by sweet words, if possible, by shotguns if necessary.
“I raised a few hundred dollars In Frisco, played half of it in Corlay’s bank, and stepped out of there with more than $1,200. The shares of the Morning Star mine were worth nothIng and I had no trouble In gathering them in. But I went along quietly and at last I called upon George Hearst. I knew he held about 200,000 of them.
“I told the old boy that I thought I saw a way of making a couple of hundred dollars out of the shares by selling them to eastern capitalists, and as they were worth nothing to him I offered him a $100 note for all he had. He jumped at the offer, and I walked out of his office with nearly 300,000 shares.
“The next morning the Chronicle had a half column story of the great discovery of the Morning Star mine, and I was on my way back to Tombstone. Two days after I got there George Hearst walked down into the drift, looked at the vein of ore, eyed me all over, and said: “Tom, you are a — skin,” and then went away.
“I sold the mine in six weeks, and my share was just a plump million of dollars. No! l am done with mining now. New York, London and Paris are good enough for me.”
“I think it is my turn to treat,” said the big California Senator. And Tom Kelly took wine.