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This was done. The two of them got the mine for $45,000, and transferred it into a corporation with a million shares; and then Rice got busy sending advertising orders out, along with breathless notifications to various brokerage houses back east.
Larry probably had a few very bad moments over the subsequent week or so. The telegraph bill came to $1,200 (“When Sullivan learned of its size he nearly collapsed,” Rice wrote). Then, having dipped his toe in that far, Sullivan found Rice putting the bite on him for an additional $10,000 to cover the ads he’d placed. He must have been wondering, at that point, whether he wasn’t being taken for a ride.
He found out six days later, when the ads appeared in newspapers all over the country.
“Within ten days … Sullivan showed me telegraphic orders for 1,280,000 shares of Jumping Jack stock at 25 cents a share,” Rice writes. “That week and the next, Sullivan gave me carte blanche to speculate in local mining stocks with partnership money, and within a fortnight we had made another small fortune from (Jumping Jack) securities. These were advancing in price on the San Francisco Stock Exchange by leaps and bounds.”
This was the beginning, as Humphrey Bogart might have said, of a beautiful friendship.
Soon their partnership was formalized into the Sullivan Trust Company, and the two of them launched themselves upon a stunningly lucrative run. They’d buy up mines, incorporate them, boom them back East and let the money just roll on in. If the mines were productive, that was great; but it was understood by all parties that mines were speculative by nature, so they could (and did) get away with a number of promotions of properties that never came close to breaking even.
V.I.P. customers would often come to town to inspect their properties. Most likely the mines were “salted” before their arrival to encourage them; although there’s no record of them having done so, it was pretty common practice among shady mine promoters.
The Sullivan Trust Company boomed up a series of mines, several of which turned out to be pretty productive. Soon they were riding a real tiger. A genuine full-fledged investment bubble was growing in mining-stock investments, and Goldfield was Ground Zero in it.
AT THE PEAK of the excitement, Larry Sullivan — who, as you may know, was a former professional prizefighter — was in the thick of plans to stage a “battle of the century” in Goldfield between Oscar “Battling” Nelson, the lightweight champion of the world, and former lightweight champ Joe Gans. Legendary boxing promoter “Tex” Rickard had come to town to back Nelson, and the Sullivan Trust Company was the primary backer for Gans.
Sullivan, who’d been one of the dirtiest fighters on the Portland waterfront, became Gans’s manager, and according to Rice’s memoir, he did quite a bit of advance work in preparation for the fight. Having learned through the grapevine that the referee Rickard had picked really needed the work, he lodged an objection, claiming the ref was prejudiced against Gans because Gans was Black. The referee, who had traveled to Goldfield from Chicago just to cover this fight, met with Sullivan to plead his case, promising he would never dream of favoring Nelson.
“Gans is a clean fighter,” Sullivan told him, “but Nelson isn’t.”
“If he does any fouling in this fight I’ll make him quit or declare him out,” pledged the referee.
Having planted this little seed, Sullivan pronounced himself satisfied, and withdrew his objection.
WHEN THE FIGHT got started, it was soon obvious that it would run long. Twenty rounds in, the fighters were still battling it out; but Rice was getting worried.
“This doesn’t look like the cinch for Gans you said it would be,” Rice whispered to Sullivan.
“Wait a minute,” Sullivan whispered back, and went to Gans’s corner and held a long whispered conference with him.
Upon his return, he told Rice that Gans had hurt his right wrist and didn’t think he could use it for a knockout blow. But not to worry: they had a plan.
During the subsequent dozen rounds or so, Gans took special pains to make it look like Nelson was fighting dirty and he (Gans) was battling squeaky-clean. By the 40th round it was clear that Gans had gained the sympathy of the crowd.
Sullivan now hurried over to Gans’s corner and held another whispered conference. Apparently it was time to spring the trap.
They sprang it (according to Rice) in Round 42 — this was already the longest-running boxing match anyone had ever heard of. Gans, after taking a blow low on the midriff, dropped to the mat, clutching his crotch and howling in agony.
Sullivan leaped into the ring. “You saw that foul, didn’t you?” he shouted to the referee. “It’s a foul, isn’t it? Gans wins, doesn’t he?”
The ref — who had not seen the foul blow land, if it did — was white as a ghost. He nodded and muttered something, and Sullivan raised both arms to the skies and hollered, “Gentlemen, the referee declares Gans the winner on a foul!”
The crowd, which by now was more than ready to believe Nelson was a foul fighter, roared its approval. Nelson’s protests were drowned out.
Was there a foul? The history books say there was. Rice, in his memoir, says there was not. But Rice isn’t exactly a disinterested observer, so we’ll never really know.
“I won that fight,” Sullivan boasted to Rice afterward (or so Rice writes). “I told Gans that if he lost he would be laying down on his friends, and that he had the audience with him, and it was time to take advantage of Nelson’s foul tactics.”
THE SULLIVAN TRUST Company, of course, couldn’t last forever. The mines it promoted were sometimes profitable, but Rice and Sullivan didn’t much care if they were or not; and, as the mines started petering out, their batting average started to sink. The whole thing collapsed in 1907.
The unabashed and unrepentant Rice moved on, becoming publisher of the Nevada Mining News and launching efforts to “boom” the town of Rawhide. Later he got involved in another mining-stock swindle, this one dedicated to manipulating the stock of Ely Central Copper Company. This time, the collapse took him down with it, temporarily; he spent a year in prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud. It was during that year in durance that Rice wrote the memoir I’ve been quoting so liberally from, cheekily titled “My Adventures with Your Money.” (By the way, this memoir — which is in the public domain, and you can read it on line for free — is well worth the two or three hours it’ll take to read it. Like its author, it’s every bit as entertaining as it is untrustworthy.)
Rice would have lots more adventures with “your money” in the years after his release, booming fake mining companies and publishing sketchy periodicals, making and gambling away vast quantities of money. He spent four years in federal prison in 1928 after being caught defrauding investors in a fake copper mine, earned the moniker “The Jackal of Wall Street,” and finally died in 1943.
As for Larry Sullivan, he moved on to Mexico and tried to pull a George Graham Rice-type swindle down there, but was stymied by the fact that the mine he bought was an utter dud; and he lacked the magic touch that Rice had with press releases and public relations. Later he landed a job in Los Angeles, supposedly as a private detective working with Clarence Darrow for the defense of the McNamara brothers — the men who blew up the Los Angeles Times building, killing 21 people, as part of a labor strike. He was suspected of trying to bribe the jury, but nothing was ever proved.
Sullivan then got involved in Mexican lotteries in southern California for a while, until authorities clamped down on that.
By the time he got back to Portland, all the things he knew how to do — run gambling houses, fix fights, and serve liquor — were illegal. He tried anyway, bounced around in and out of trouble with the law and calling in old markers to stay out of jail.
Finally, when the First World War broke out, he ended up as a security man at a shipyard — quite possibly the first legitimate employment he’d entered into in his wild and colorful life.
But by then his health wasn’t good enough to support a life of crime any more. He died in 1918 of Bright’s Disease — nephritis of the kidneys — at the age of 55.