John Huddleston’s Crystals

    By the turn of the century, Americans had learned that the mere presence of peridotite, or kimberlite, seldom indicated diamond content, much less commercial potential.[1]  Diamonds still stirred the imagination, especially when news spread about other great finds abroad:  the stunning Cullinan Diamond, taken from the new Premier Mine of South Africa in January 1905, weighed 3,106 carats, twice as much as the previous world record.[2]  Yet, even that event stirred no evident fraud or excitements like those of recent decades.  It was clear that a great deal of skepticism awaited any news of another discovery.

    Then suddenly, on September 12, 1906, the Nashville (Arkansas) News announced, “John Huddleston has located a diamond mine on his land situated three miles south of Murfreesboro.”[3]  Actually, the tall rawboned farmer had only picked up two or three diamonds from the surface of his 243-acre farm, the largest 2⅝ carats.[4]  The first reportedly was found over a month earlier, on August 1.[5]  In any case, the volcanic matrix of the diamonds was verified within months, and leading American experts declared it the first original source discovered outside of South Africa.[6]


[1] Statistics on kimberlite deposits vary; but of several thousand worldwide, perhaps 10% contain diamonds, and a very small percentage of those have proved commercial.  One early reminder was George F. Kunz and Henry S. Washington, “Diamonds in Arkansas,” Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, 39 (1909), 176:  “Peridotites are not uncommon, but very few are diamond-bearing.  Indeed, the great majority of those rocks found all over the world show no trace of diamonds.”


[2] There is no evidence anyone reexamined the peridotite of Pike County in the wake of the Cullinan or other sensational finds abroad.  John C. Branner left Arkansas years earlier.


[3] “Diamonds in Pike,” Nashville [Arkansas] News, September 12, 1906, p. 1; Pike County, Deeds, Book L, p. 340, Warranty Deed, McBrayer and Ross to John W. and Mary Huddleston, July 15, 1905.  According to the prevailing myth, the Huddlestons bought a 160-acre farm in 1906, paying $1,000 and trading in a mule for a $100 down payment (the price of the 243.56 acres was $2,000, with $300 cash down, the balance due in three annual payments of $425, and the first payment due December 15, 1906).


[4] Although the News mentioned only two diamonds, Huddleston picked up a third soon afterward, reportedly while Samuel Reyburn of Little Rock was at the property shortly before September 20th securing an option to purchase it (“Diamonds Genuine,” Nashville News, August 10, 1907, p. 3).  Charles S. Stifft, the Little Rock jeweler who evaluated the first two diamonds, also mentioned a third reportedly had been found after he received those (statement in “Diamonds Found in Pike County,” Arkansas Gazette, September 21, 1906, p. 1; reported as “Pike Diamond Lands–Have Been Sold to a Little Rock Syndicate,” Nashville News September 22, 1906, p. 1).

    George F. Kunz of New York, the nation’s leading gemologist, and Henry S. Washington, a New York-New Jersey geologist, provided a detailed account of the discovery after long visits to Huddleston’s farm in late 1906 and early 1907, and stated the first two diamonds were found August 1 and the third September 8 (Kunz and Washington, “Occurrence of Diamonds in Arkansas,” Mineral Resources of the United States, 1906 [1907], 1247-1251; cf. “Diamonds Genuine,” Nashville News, August 10, 1907, p. 3).

    Kunz-Washington, “Diamonds Genuine,” and a few other sources said diamonds were sent to St. Louis for evaluation, as well as to Little Rock and New York (Stifft took the first two to Kunz in New York). Horace Bemis, a prominent lumberman from nearby Prescott, reportedly sent, or took, one of the diamonds to St. Louis, but that is an open question (with other sources in this note, see “Diamonds,” in David V. Thomas, ed., Arkansas and Its People, 2 [New York: American Historical Society, 1930], 386, which said Huddleston first showed his diamonds to Bemis and then a “little later” one or more went to Stifft).  John T. Fuller, a mining engineer who worked at the diamond field from mid-1908 into 1912, mentioned two diamonds, saying the first went to Stifft, then to Arnstein & Bros., New York, and on to Mermod, Jaccard & King Co. and Boland & Sons of St. Louis (Fuller, Report to L. F. Loree, President, Delaware & Hudson Railroad Co., New York, June 25, 1908, in “Reports and Information Gathered by John T. Fuller From 1908 to 1931, Diamond Fields in Pike County, Arkansas” [c. 1940], 13-14 [see comment, end of this note]).

    Charles S. Stifft, the Little Rock jeweler who first examined the two diamonds, specified their weights in his first public statement:  2 5/8 carats and 1 3/5 carats (“Diamonds Found in Pike County,” Arkansas Gazette, September 21, 1906, p. 1; “Pike Diamond Lands,” Nashville News, September 22, 1906, p. 1).  Kunz and Washington, who had ample opportunities to talk with Huddleston in the field, reported 4½ carats and 3 carats, and one-half carat for the third find (“Occurrence of Diamonds in Arkansas,” 1249).  Later writers, including John Fuller, almost invariably mentioned large sizes, adding to an evolving maze of myths.  Most likely, Huddleston showed Kunz-Washington and others some diamonds found after he contracted to continue diamond hunting for Reyburn’s group, who had gotten an option on the farm (infra, “Sam Reyburn and the Arkansas Diamond Company”).  Those diamonds belonged to Reyburn, the group Trustee, to be returned to the Huddleston’s only if the group dropped the option; but undoubtedly John Huddleston was allowed to keep “demonstration” diamonds while in the field, perhaps in the Bull Durham tobacco sack mentioned in a later tale.

    The News (September 12) reported Huddleston had sold the first two diamonds for $600 (one for $400; the other, $200).  Some statements suggested he kept his first finds; one source said they “were sent to a Little Rock jeweler, and were later cut by Tiffany in New York, being pronounced perfect gems, equal in purity to those of South Africa” (Jim G. Ferguson, Minerals in Arkansas [Little Rock:  Arkansas Bureau of Mines, Manufactures and Agriculture, 1922], 56).

    For further examples of the way the tales of discovery began varying almost immediately after 1906, compare Kunz and Washington, “Occurrence,” with “Diamonds Genuine,” Nashville News, August 10, 1907, p. 3, and “Pike County Has Real Diamonds, He Says,” The World, August 14, 1927, (clipping, unidentified newspaper, no page number, IV.E.5, Crater archive).


 Bibliographic Note.   Copies of the “Reports and Information,” cited above, are available in the Arkansas Parks and Tourism files, the Crater of Diamonds State Park archive; and the Butler Research Center, Little Rock Central Library (with files this writer deposited recently).  It is also available on microfilm in the Arkansas History Commission Research Room (AHC), near the state capitol, Little Rock:  see the separate roll following the basic “Crater of Diamonds” microfilm series (the basic six rolls of film, completed April 11, 1984, included all items in the Crater archive at the time; then two rolls were added to cover some documents in the Department of Parks and Tourism’s “Crater of Diamonds” vertical files, located down the hall from the History Commission).  The archive at Crater of Diamonds State Park, near Murfreesboro, has a copy of the basic six-roll series, but not the two extra rolls.

    The main copy of Fuller’s “Reports and Information” was donated to Parks and Tourism by Arthur Slocum, whose small private venture leased most of the Crater in the late 1950s (Letter of transmittal, A. G. Slocum, Mill Valley, California, to Richard Davies, Dept. of Parks and Tourism, Little Rock, June 13, 1986, Parks and Tourism, “Crater of Diamonds” files; first separate roll of microfilm).

    Although the dates of a few items have been mistyped at points, the authenticity of the “Reports” is largely verifiable.  For example, Samuel W. Reyburn and Stanley H. Zimmerman, “Diamonds in Arkansas,“ EMJ, 109, No. 17 (April 24, 1920), 986, quoted at length from reports Fuller had written earlier for Reyburn’s group.  Similarly, the Arkansas Diamond Company’s prospectus in late 1908 reprinted the initial report of November 11, 1908, along with the earlier report of Henry S. Washington (Sam W. Reyburn, Trustee, “Diamonds in Arkansas,” January 1, 1909, in the W. C. Rodgers Collection, Box 2, IV, File 18, AHC; also, separate roll of microfilm in the “Crater of Diamonds” series, AHC, and available on microfilm from the University of Arkansas, Lafayette [“AgProject” reel, microfilm 13.19, LC TN 993.B75 1908]).

      However, it is clear that a few pages of Fuller’s report, or reports, to the Arkansas Diamond Company were mixed up at some point (perhaps during the typing of copies), or perhaps Fuller updated some pages as he reissued the basic report after November 1908.  The most obvious out-of-place statement appears on the first two pages of his report to the ADC dated January 1, 1909:  “The present northern terminus of the Memphis, Paris & Gulf R.R. is at Murfreesboro.  This railroad which was extended to Murfreesboro last June, connects with the main line of the Kansas Southern at Ashdown, Ark., some 40 miles south-west of Murfreesboro” (“Reports and Information,” 21-22).  The railroad was not extended to Murfreesboro until June 1909 (infra, “Mauney and the Beginning of Recreational Diamond Mining”).

    Similarly, there is a clear instance of misdating:  “Public Statement by John T. Fuller on April 7, 1929,” Reports, 33.  Fuller spoke at the meeting in Little Rock on April 7, 1928 (“New Corporation to Acquire Mine,” Arkansas Gazette, April 8, 1928, p. 11; infra, “Reyburn and Arkansas Diamond Company—Inactivity and Change of Leadership”).


[5] Kunz and Washington were the first to secure the information, during long visits to the property in late 1906 and early 1907 (supra; also Kunz, “Diamond Mine in Pike County, Arkansas,” EMJ, 87 [May 8, 1909], 963).  In the early decades, August 1st was widely accepted as the date of discovery.


[6] George F. Kunz and Henry S. Washington, “Note on the Forms of Arkansas Diamonds,” American Journal of Science, 4th Series, 24 (1907), 275:  evidence “seems conclusive” that diamonds are coming from the peridotite, and “if so, this is evidently the first occurrence of diamonds in place on either the North or South American Continent.”  At the time, the only significant diamond-mining known outside Africa was in South America, and that, as all activity outside Africa, was assumed to be strictly alluvial (“placer“) mining.  The point is further clarified in Kunz and Washington, “Occurrence of Diamonds in Arkansas,” Mineral Resources of the United States, 1906 (1907), 1250:  “As this is the only place outside of South Africa where diamonds have been found in peridotite, . . ..”  John T. Fuller, “Diamond Mine in Pike County, Arkansas,” EMJ, 87, No. 3 (January 16, 1909), 154:  the Arkansas diamond field is the first “original matrix” discovered in the Western Hemisphere.  Hugh D. Miser and Clarence S. Ross [U.S. Geological Survey], “Diamond-Bearing Peridotite in Pike County, Arkansas,“ Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institute for 1923 (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1925), 261-262, stated the only diamond-bearing peridotites were in South Africa and Arkansas, while deposits in Brazil and elsewhere were “placer.”  Also, for example, Robert S. Lanier, “Has Arkansas a Diamond Field,” American Review of Reviews, 36 (September 1907), 301-303.

    At first, editors of the New York Times adopted the cautious statement used often by non-professional publications:  “The Pike County diamond field is the first to be discovered in the United States” (“The Diamonds of Arkansas,” August 4, 1907, p. 6).  Later, the newspaper followed Kunz’s lead, referring to “what geologists believe to be the only native diamond bearing matrix in the United States and the only known geological counterpart of the South African diamond area” (“Diamond Mines are Busy in Arkansas,” June 14, 1931, Sec. 8, p. 7).

    Some doubt might have been raised in 1909 by John C. Branner, after he led a second field trip to South America (first in 1889, second in 1907; also in 1874 as a graduate student).  In the “Engineering and Mining Journal, he challenged John Fuller’s recent statement in that publication “to the effect that ‘diamonds have never been found in South America in the true matrix.’” Not true, said Branner.  “Certain washings near Diamantina in the state of Minas Geraes took their material entirely from itacolumite decomposed in place.  This locality I have visited and I make this statement from personal observations.  The late James E. Mills stated to me that he had seen a diamond in place in the itacolumite.  Recently Prof. O. A. Derby, the director of the Geological Survey of Brazil, has seen a diamond from Bahia in the original quartzite” (“Some Facts and Corrections Regarding the Diamond Region of Arkansas,” EMJ, 87 [February 13, 1909], 372; also reprinted as “Didn’t Overlook Diamond Rock,” Arkansas Gazette, February 27, 1909, 12).

    Branner neglected to give dates of these events.  In any case, the suspected sites evidently turned out to be unusual sedimentary deposits.  For early background on Brazilian diamond mining:


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