Clarence King

Posted by: balzaccom

Clarence King - 01/01/19 10:08 AM

I've often recommended Clarence King's book, Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, as one of my favorite books about the Range of Light. King writes beautifully, and his perspective as a member of the Whitney survey that really put the Sierra on the map (literally) is quite wonderful.

Over the years, I've heard some complaints (mainly from geologists) who have suggested that King may have exaggerated his own role in the survey party, and I'm in no position to disagree with those. But he is a writer, and a good one, and he tells absolutely wonderful stories about the Sierra in the very earliest days of the exploration of that range by the United States.

The book is now out of copyright, so you can find versions on the internet for free. No excuses!

But as I was doing some research on Clarence King for fun, I came across the rest of his story. And it is quite remarkable. It turns out that in his capacity as a geologist working on the 40th parallel survey, he investigated and exposed one of the biggest diamond mine frauds in the US, and gained international celebrity because of that. He also saved untold numbers of people who were going to invest in that mine.

And in a completely unrelated story, he led a remarkable double life in his later years. He somehow managed to pass himself off as an African American railroad employee, fell in love with a freed slave woman, and married her. They lived happily for almost fifteen years, he often leaving to work in the West, and she staying behind with their children in Massachusetts. He believed strongly that the future of the human race depended upon inter-racial marriage. Here's a link to his Wikipedia bio....and you can read all about it. More Googling will get you more details
Posted by: TMacpherson

Re: Clarence King - 07/22/19 01:41 PM

My great, great uncle worked with Clarence and was one of the first employees of the US Geologic Society. He traveled all over the world. He was the first person to take a photo from a plane over Japan. He mapped all over the Northwest coast. He died here in NH at the Glencliff Sanitorium for TB. He was only 31 and only saw his wife for two days after their wedding. An incredibly interesting and tragic story. The book about Clarance's double life is called "Passing Strange" and is very good. Best - Tom
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Clarence King - 07/29/19 08:57 PM

My parents wrote up the history of Daggett County, Utah, for the Utah centennial in 1947, and my father was asked to revise it for the US bicentennial in 1976. The "Great Diamond Hoax" took place in that county, so I am quite familiar with that story!

The finding of diamonds (cheap industrial ones) on anthills and at the edge of gopher holes should have been a dead giveaway!