During the early gold rush days, salting techniques were pretty crude, but gradually very skillful techniques were developed and were often successful. In more than one case, when someone was trying to sell a claim, flakes of gold were placed in the stream bottom, where the buyer might test for colors. If a buyer was using a rocker to test the gravels, the owner might simply fill his pipe with gold dust instead of tobacco and accidently knock his ashes into the rocker.
Any distraction during the testing of the property gave the owners a chance to sweeten the ground, so buyers and hired consultants checking the property had to be alert to any suspicious activity of behavior.
Sometimes, the charlatan didn’t have to introduce illicit gold directly into the property. as an example, the gold ore in Cripple Creek, Colorado, occurs in chemical combination with tellurium in the form of calaverite. Calaverite is a silvery mineral that is often found sparsely scattered in the surrounding rock. Such rocks would not carry enough gold to make a property pay, but intense heat would boil off the tellurium, leaving behind a small, but bright, series of bubbles of nearly pure gold. Enough of these bubbles would prompt a buyer into an immediate purchase of the property.
One of the ways of salting an underground mine was to load a shotgun with gold dust and blast the face of the mine tunnel. The gold would be embedded in the rock and any samples collected would be tainted. Smart prospective buyers would insist on blasting away the face to get fresh ground, but that didn’t deter the the owner’s efforts to salt the digs. Gold dust would be introduced into the blast holes along with the dynamite. When the blast occurred, the tenor of the ore would show improvement.
One of the more insidious ways of salting a property would occur after samples were collected and bagged and ready to go to the assayer. Sampling was often done by an expert hired by the prospective buyer. These experts were wise to all the fraud techniques, so they were not easy to fool, but it was done again and again.
A standard patent medicine was in use at the time which was purported to cure kidney ailments. The treatment was gold chloride, a liquid that was consumed, but the only cure it really offered was a cure for low-grade ore. All the owner had to do was drink the gold chloride sometime before the sampling process, then urinate on the sample bags before they went to the assayer!
A second useful liquid that was used was silver nitrate. It could be poured over the samples either in or out of a sample bag to enrich the yield at the assay office. Fortunately for miners, engineers, and prospective buyers, assayers as a lot were honest and highly respected.
Archie Wilson may no longer be with us, but the old saying “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) is just as valid in mineral collecting today as it was back in the Wild West mining days. We may not have as many mining deals fraught with shady doings, but the temptation to improve a specimen where improvement is fraudulent is still with us.
Claims today are being bought and sold for ridiculous prices with no basis for their valuation. For the hobby miner, your chances of recovering your initial investment, let alone your travel expenses, etc. are very remote. I personally, was given the opportunity to purchase a claim that consisted of multiple cells for a life-changing amount of money. I was shown a rather large amount of gold which supposedly came from this claim, when in all actuality, it came from a different location. In addition, I booked a week to test the claim, only to find after six hours of travel, the owner would only agree to a pan and shovel for one day. Needless to say, I did not buy the claim.