The Greenwater Heist
After graduating from the New York State Reformatory and changing his name, George Graham Rice was ready to take on his life’s work; race track handicapper, newspaper editor, author, promoter of fraudulent mining and oil stocks, and other matters that over the years put him before the courts in New York, Nevada and the state of Washington. In 1913, he wrote a book titled, “My Adventures with Your Money”. In it he said, “Greenwater, a rich man’s camp, in which the public sank thirty million dollars during three months, is another case in point where a confiding investing public followed a deceiving light and was led to ruthless slaughter.”
Well, he had a hand in promoting the Greenwater camp that “led to ruthless slaughter”. Even the name Greenwater was deceiving -- an isolated slice of mountainous desert lacking both vegetation and water -- water that had to be hauled in by the barrel and sold by the gallon.
The Greenwater mining district was located along the eastern slope of the Black Mountains about nine miles south-east of Furnace Creek Ranch. Furnace Creek Road provided access to the camps and extended south to Shoshone. There were three settlements: Furnace, near the mouth of Copper Canyon; Kunze, in the canyon roughly two miles east of Furnace; and Greenwater, the center of commerce, located farther to the south-east out on the flat. The district is now within Death Valley National Park.
Credit for the start of Greenwater depends on which story you want to believe. The one I favor tells that, on an uncertain date in 1904, two prospectors, Phil Creasor and Fred Birney, were camping at Ash Meadows. There they met an Indian who told them about a mountain range to the west that had yet to be looked at by white men. The next day, with as much water as they could carry, they made their way to the eastern edge of the Black Mountains and found, according to Birney, “little pieces of copper stained ore.”
Patrick (Patsy) Clark, a well respected investor in copper mines, found out about the Greenwater discovery and made a visit to the area. He was impressed with what he found and purchased the claims held by the two prospectors and filed on others in Copper Canyon. Clark believed that high grade copper could be found at some depth below the surface and organized the Furnace Creek Copper Company. Equipment was ordered, delivered by wagon and soon a pile of dirt tailings could be seen near his initial mine shaft. His workers located their tents at Furnace.
The surface material showed copper all along the range and it wasn’t long before every square foot for twenty miles was covered with mining claims. A total of 73 mining companies took form and their stock sold primarily to investors in San Francisco and New York.
George Graham Rice and other promoters wired articles to newspapers around the country hailing Greenwater as the chance of a life time -- the greatest copper discovery since Butte, Montana. Rice was paid by local mining companies to write glowing accounts of copper ore being shipped, but as you might suspect, most of these companies had yet to move a shovel of dirt. His fertile imagination was boundless particularly in promoting the companies in which he held an interest.
Patsy Clark was one of the few making a serious effort to find the mother lode. A few pockets of good quality ore were found and a number of drifts were dug off of the main shaft. The copper content was good enough to encourage further digging. By May of ‘07, the shaft had reached the 500 foot level and the first and only shipment of copper made. The ore was hauled by wagon 50 miles to the nearest railroad and from there sent on to a smelter.