The First Big One

    By 1917, the U.S. was on the verge of being drawn into the European war, and materials and financing were already flowing into that great event.  Wages and prices were rising, making it more costly to try reviving a mining venture out in rural southwest Arkansas.  So Lee J. Wagner continued working the surface layer, slowly gathering diamonds and periodically sending them on to Little Rock or to Reyburn in New York.[1]  Then in May 1917, a few weeks after the U.S. declared war on Germany, he made a bit of history, himself.

    According to records, Wagner was sluicing the surface near the southwest corner of the diamond field when he flushed a gem-quality yellow beauty weighing 17.86 carats.  The U.S. Geological Survey team marked the spot on its map, on a small rise later named Canary Hill.[2]


    With war raging, the spectacular gem caused scarcely a ripple.  But as German forces crumbled in late 1918, Reyburn wrote Wagner asking for ideas about an effective way to step up his little operation.  “We think you have done awfully well considering the means at your disposal,” he said, “and believe from your experience you could plan a little pumping plant that might enable you and two or three other reliable men, if you could get them, to do some effective washing out of diamonds.  You might also send me all the stones you have in your possession.”[3]

    After Wagner sent suggestions, Reyburn asked for a cost estimate for the plant and its operation.  “You see Lee we are talking about a pretty big thing now, and I will not ask the Board of Directors to spend the money until we have made a very careful plan.”  Reyburn said he had received the diamonds sent on August 3, and asked for any found since.[4]





































[1] Sam W. Reyburn, NY, to Lee J. Wagner, original correspondence, Box I, Crater archives (unfiled, in box with “Correspondence,” folders A-Y).


[2]   The USGS survey map, Plate 10, marked the spot, defined the “mine workings” in the area, and attributed the find to Wagner.  Fuller’s comprehensive mining map, drawn to accompany his report in 1931, defined the sluiced area and dated it 1916-1917 (“The Prairie Creek Peridotite Occurrence, Showing the Arkansas, Ozark and Mauney Mines, with Surface Workings, Topography and Approximate Locations of Intrusive Rocks,” December 1931, large folded map, VI.3, Crater archive).

    The map and the report (“John Fuller’s Estimate of Unit Value in Carats per Load, 1931,” in “Reports and Information,” 35ff.) evidently were separated when the State of Arkansas used the “Reports and Information” in Little Rock during the mining controversy that began in 1985.  Notice the arrangement of the two items in the Arkansas History Commission’s microfilm of the Crater archive, made in April 1984 (entered on the first “separate roll” of film added to the basic six-roll series, “Crater of Diamonds,” AHC Research Room, Little Rock).


[3]   Sam W. Reyburn, NY (Lord and Taylor letterhead), to Lee Wagner, September 24, 1918, I, Crater archive.


[4]   November 8, 1918, ibid.  Reyburn expected the work to be delayed for several months.

“If this war ends pipe as well as labor may be cheaper,” he advised Wagner.


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