THE GREAT "SENG' SWINDLE OF 1893 - Hayseed Kalhouner Rogues Take The Rap

(06/05/2022)
Gingseng diggin' season is opening in September.

The 1893 article in the Parkersburg Enquirer began with "Them city Chaps are slick, but ole Kalhoun County ain't far behind...She's way up when it comes to ginseng."

The story unwinds about a "clever swindle worked by the guiless natives of the West Virginia mountains" i.e. Sunny Cal.

Here's the put-down tale, believe it or not:

Calhoun county, about 40 miles above on the Little Kanawha has been looked upon by West Virginians as Australia is by Europeans, antipodes of civilization and the home and residence of hayseeds, yet untouched by process of evolution.

But Calhoun has redeemed herself and made a sudden spring into notoriety as the abiding place of a very slick set of swindlers.

The ordinary confidence games, gold-brick swindlers and sawdust men will have to take a back seat when their talents are compared with the gang of seng diggers whose operations just came to light through the merest accident today.

A merchant of this city, Mr. Daniel Gardway, who deals in hides, furs, wool and ginseng, is the victim. Yesterday Mr. Gardway received a consignment of ginseng (dry) which is worth in the market, say $2.75 a pound.

In one lot there was sixty-nine pounds of what had every appearance of thoroughly dry No. 1 ginseng. The seng was excellent in appearance.

But somehow it looked as if it was awfully heavy for its bulk. No suspicion of fraud of any kind was felt, however, as fraud in seng was something never heard of heretofore, and the stuff was prepared for shipment East.

By accident one of the finest looking roots was broken into across the center, but, instead of separating with a snap, the root merely bent like a piece of rubber.

Curiosity induced the man to examine it, when he found that the root had been loaded with lead.

This discovery caused the holder of the root to make an examination, which he did by cutting the root open from end to end.

When he found to his astonishment that it had been filled with lead from half an inch of one end to half an inch of the other.

Gardway concluded to examine another piece, which he did, and found that also leaded.

In fact, almost every root contained more or less lead, so much that out of the seventy pounds of the alleged seng there proved to be half as much or more of lead.

In that lot alone the buyer had been swindled out of more than $100.

How long this unique operation has heretofore been undiscovered in Calhoun is not known, but it is believed that it has been carried on a long time.

The failure to discover it is easily explained. The ginseng root, when green, is soft and porous, but when dry is of close texture.

While in its green state the swindler, or seng loader inserted a wire into the root, making an opening below the end in one of the may folds of the root.

The wire, a good sized one, if the root was large, could be pushed through the root until its point reached near the end. The cavity thus made was filled with hot lead, poured into the hole, and the lips of the opening were drawn over.

In the process of drying, the lips of the wound closed so tightly that it would take an expert to find it among the many natural folds of the root.

This is the most unique swindle that was ever perpetrated on root buyers, and, as this especial root is worth anywhere from $2.50 to $3 per pound it can readily be seen that it wouldn't take a sharp scamp long to make a fortune in a way which would not be apt to be discovered.

This exposition will probably cause a hasty examination of a big lot of dry ginseng all over the country.

While the truth is if it originated in Calhoun County at all, some slick rogue has worked this trick on some honest and unsuspecting merchant, who bought it, believing it was a genuine article.