|Rimrock Jones, prospector|
Leave it to Dane Coolidge (1873 – 1940) to write a love story that is 90% about greed, high finance, the stock market, and mining law. Set in the deserts of southern Arizona, this novel pits its title character, a hard-drinking, gun-toting miner, against a railway tycoon in a struggle for ownership of a multi-million dollar copper mine. Between them is a deaf (we would say hearing-impaired today) freelance typist, with her own interest in both the mine and Rimrock Jones.
Plot. This is a novel that requires a reader to follow the money. Rimrock has sold 49% interest in his copper claim to W. H. Stoddard, the afore-mentioned tycoon. With cash received, he pays off everyone who has grubstaked him. One of these is the typist, Mary Fortune, who isn’t satisfied until she persuades him to give her a 1% share of the mine.
A little romantic attraction between them gets him thinking that he can count on her to pool her interest with his remaining 49%, and he’ll retain control. But true love does not run so smoothly. Possessing better sense than Rimrock, she objects to his high-handed ways as he protects his interest in the claim, especially as he kills a man who attempts to jump it.
|Rimrock Jones, frontispiece|
Meanwhile the nefarious scheming of Stoddard to win control of the mine would fill a book (which it does). He gets and keeps key employees in his pocket and drives a wedge between Rimrock and Mary Fortune. The wedge comes in the form of a wildcat skin-wearing adventuress from New York called Mrs. Hattersley.
She lures Rimrock away to the Big Apple, where he takes up residence at the Waldorf and lives the high life as profits from the mine begin rolling in. An inveterate high-stakes gambler, he throws himself into playing the stock market, hatching a scheme to drive Stoddard into financial ruin by manipulating copper shares. Meanwhile, without direct supervision of his trusted employees, he is unaware that they are doing Stoddard’s bidding back in Arizona.
Romance. Disappointed in Rimrock, Mary Fortune takes her earnings from the mine and travels back East as well, for an unannounced operation to improve her hearing. She does not know that he has hired detectives, whose attempts to locate her have been unsuccessful. But any lingering romantic hopes she may have for him are dashed when she happens to see him at the opera with Mrs. Hattersley.
|Mary posts a midnight claim notice|
Though his feelings for Mary continue to simmer, he cannot understand that her affection is for the honest, decent man behind his rough western manners. This was the man she instinctively trusted with her $400 grubstake when he was still an unmoneyed prospector. But as the daughter of a judge, she has an abiding respect for the law, and Rimrock is unashamed in his disrespect for it. He once lost control of a mine when a lawyer used the law to wrest it from him.
Though he is acquitted of eventually killing the man when he tries it again, he does so by rigging the jury with other westerners possessing a like-minded, though rough-hewn sense of fairness. In the end, he’s back in court again, once more attempting to bend the law to his will. This time he has won back some of Mary’s sympathy. Having recovered her hearing, she has overheard the plotting of Stoddard’s men in the mining company office.
But it’s all too late. Rimrock has lost everything. Penniless once more, he faces the truth about himself, that he has been a fool. Swallowing his pride, he once more wins the heart of Mary Fortune, aptly named because copper prices are soaring, and she is now a well-to-do stockholder in what was once his mine. They can make a new start together.
Wrapping up. Though Coolidge’s first novels, Hidden Water (1910) and The Texican (1911), were about cattle ranching, Rimrock Jones is one of several with prospecting and mining as central themes. It needs to be added that following the intricacies of plot in this one requires some understanding of mining law. This includes the right to legally take possession of another claim by determining that a vein already being mined there actually surfaces (apexes) somewhere else.
|Movie poster, 1918|
Such novels seem to appeal to the get-rich-quick fever that possessed the nation for over a half century from the California gold rush to the Klondike. Its nearest modern-day equivalent may be the multi-million-dollar lotteries that draw lines at mini-markets and make news of the lucky winners. But it’s hard to imagine novel readers today with a similar romance for prospecting.
Rimrock Jones was adapted to film in 1918 with matinee idol Wallace Reid in the title role. It was directed by British-born Donald Crisp, who had a prodigious Hollywood career as a director during the Silent Era and as an actor (How Green Was My Valley, National Velvet, Lassie Come Home).
The novel is currently available online at google books, Internet Archive and in ebook format for kindle and the nook. For more of Friday’s Forgotten Books, click on over to Patti Abbott’s blog.
BITS reviews of Dane Coolidge novels
Illustrations from the novel, George W. Gage
Movie poster, caratulan-dia.blogspot.com
Coming up: Glossary of frontier fiction