Chapter 11: The Coburn Mystery [Original Draft]

“Mr. Coburn reminds me of one of those golden carps that live in Japanese ponds. He lies there with his mouth open and everything that comes to him he greedily absorbs; he gorges and he grows and grows until he is a big pondering mass of gold.”–Dr. J.W. Robertson, “alienist,” (about 1909)

As told by attorney Crittendon Thornton who knew Loren Coburn in 1860.

When Loren was 12-years-old he lived in Massachusetts. After his parents’ death, his brothers kicked him out of the house for good. Even his own kin couldn’t stand to spend another moment under the same roof with him.

Thornton’s story concludes that this demeaning experience fueled Loren’s lifetime quest to accumulate great wealth so that nobody could push him around again. His opportunity came during California’s great Gold Rush.

There aren’t many tales of Loren Coburn’s youth leading up to his decision to leave the East Coast for California. As an adult, Coburn had a secretive nature. The tall, slender, “exceedingly spare man” wasn’t easy approached either–he was a very private man.

San Francisco attorney Crittendon Thornton, one of Coburn’s many lawyers remembered: “…on his numerous trips from San Mateo County to San Francisco, no one ver knew where [Coburn] roomed, or resided in the City…Suffice it to say that during several years during which I was his legal advisor…I never knew where he could be found…When pressed for an answer he would say, ‘When you desire to see me I will call to see you. You will have no occasion to call upon me.'”

Jubal Early Craig, another Coburn attorney, said: Loren “was secretive about matters he doesn’t think are your business.” He was, for example, reluctant to discuss his son Wally’s exact condition. His second wife, Sarah, who may have had more access to Loren than anyone else once said: “I never had much conversation with him…on any subject whatever.”

Some handwritten notes:

One of his attorneys– Thornton or Craig–¬† said their client was not a total miser. “Once he invited me to lunch. We started¬† up the street and he took me straight to Marchands and there we had a feast fit for the Gods, washed down with the choicest of wines..I have never been able to fathom his unaccustomed relapse in this case from his usual frugality…”

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