Why, I wondered, would it be worth risking prison to make counterfeit quarters? Sure, two bits was worth more in 1897, but was it worth enough to risk making little rocks out big ones in Idaho’s penitentiary?
No, it wasn’t. I did a newspaper search for Mr. Eddy and found that he was arrested for counterfeiting in 1897, but quarters didn’t come into play. Someone had simply written the wrong symbol next to the photo. Oh, and the wrong number. It was $5, $10, and $20 gold pieces Eddy and his accomplices were counterfeiting.
As if counterfeiting weren’t bad enough, the gang gave their whole operation a reprehensible twist. To make the coins they would sometimes use silver and sometimes use cheaper babbitt metal (composed of tin, antimony, lead, and copper), heating it up and pouring the melted metal into molds. Then, they put a thin coat of gold over the coin. Once they had a supply, they would target Nez Perce Indians, trading their phony coins for bills the Indians received in government payments. The Nez Perce preferred the jingle of coins to paper money. The gang got away with it for a while, but Deputy U.S. Marshall Mounce, working out of Grangeville, hired a detective to infiltrate the gang. They were caught getting ready to pull off a scheme where they were to race a horse at an Indian meet and change their winnings from greenbacks to funny money.
John Eddy, his brother Lewis, and five other men were convicted of counterfeiting and each was sentenced for up to 16 years in prison. They were called by one newspaper “the most successful gang of counterfeiters that ever operated in the northwest.” I would probably hesitate to assign the word “successful” to people who went to prison, but that’s just me.
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