Bonanzas & Borrascas. By Richard E. Lingenfelter. (Norman, Okla. : Arthur H. Clark Co., 2012. 2 vols., 1056pp.)
Recommendation submitted by Gordon Russ, Volunteer, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA
Bonanzas & Borrascas is a well written two-volume set on mining and mineral investing in the West. The first book is “Gold Lust and Silver Sharks, 1848-1884”, the second book is “Copper Kings and Stock Frenzies, 1885-1918”. Mining is a very expensive operation requiring large amounts of cash with little or no certainly of making money or even getting your investment back. To raise the cash mine owners sold stocks or shares offset expenses. In its simplest form, you’re buying a share in the mine you were eligible to share in its profits. To develop a mine thousands even millions of dollars were and still is required to place it into operation. Even then there is a high risk the mine would never have any value. All these factors played into the hands of disreputable people selling stocks and greedy people buying stocks. Mr. Lingenfelter does an excellent job of weaving the story of these miners and stock manipulators together. Some are humors, some are heart rendering and most are fools having a good time. He starts with the 49ers moving into California during the 1849 gold rush and the development of gold and silver mines throughout the west. The second book is about the corporate movement into the mining business developing names like ASARCO, Kennecott, Phillips Dodge and others developing copper mines.
The Author presents an interesting tightly written story of the people and circumstances that developed the mining industry of the west. He is aided along the way with the audacity of mine owners, and stock brokers and willing buyers participating in any schemes or scams that looked to make unbelievable wealth. In the world of big money and a few successful players the attraction of money and possible wealth is uncontrollable. As one Idaho mine owner stated when ask how could he lose a newly made $100,000 so quickly. He replied,
“A man with good sound judgment and reasonable-sized head does not lose it”, but “A man who begins to feel poor when he gets his first $50,000, a man who constantly and willfully…getting in over his head in the confusing water of speculation, who belittles the size of his pile as he associates with millionaires, joins their schemes, and buys their stock…he it is who loses a hundred thousand dollars”.
At first you start think the sharks are the miners and brokers feeding on the unassuming public then as the stories develop I began to feel the sharks are the public on a feeding frenzy of the tidbits of possibilities provide by the stock brokers. These people are not ignorant of what they are doing, but guided by the greed of desire for wealth. As one unscrupulous scoundrel said, “Never appeal to the intelligence of fools….., turn your batteries on the thinking ones and convince them…the unthinking ones will follow.” This was the case time after time. In some cases, the craze for mining stocks is so high that stock brokers just registered a mines name and printed stock certificates then sold them in hours without buyers questioning its backing. The old adage “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” the “me” people were in the great majority.
Much legislation was proposed and put into law trying to protect people from themselves not everyone was in agreement it should be done. Future U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who was a mining engineer, said, “if a mine should fail…” it “is in and of itself not an economic loss. It simply means …national wealth was transferred from one individual into another…”and “often invested to more reproductive purpose than if it had remained in the hands of the idiots who parted with it.” In many ways, he is right. Much wealth that built America in to the country it is today came from these mines and the people who owned or invested in their future wealth. I would encourage you to give the books a try. It is very entertaining on many levels from the humors stock broker “Corduroy Bill” in Baker City, Oregon selling stock on a worthless mine to acquaintances in his home town of Des Moines, Iowa to the fortunes made by the Guggenheim family and many others.