The Ozark Venture, 1908-1915

    The Ozark Diamond Mining Company emerged at the height of the speculative frenzy in Pike County, and for a time seemed merely one its irresponsible elements.  Headed by Robert D. Duncan, the operation began in June 1908, less than a month after that newcomer first negotiated an option to purchase the forty-acre “Mauney Diamond Land” for $20,000.  Duncan, recently from St. Louis, was President.  Charles McKee, a Little Rock banker, served as Vice President; and David. B. Russell of Little Rock, Secretary-Treasurer.  Declaring Murfreesboro their “place of business,” the group conducted business at McKee’s office in Little Rock.[1]  Soon, all three were also involved in running a small bank in that city, the State National Bank.[2]

    Initially, the Ozark Company was capitalized at $100,000, divided into 4,000 shares of stock at $25 par value.  The three incorporators subscribed all shares and reported they had “actually paid in” $5,000.  Duncan, the driving force behind the venture, received 2,160 shares; McKee, 750; Russell as an individual, 90; and Russell as Trustee for the treasury, 1,000.[3]

    Almost immediately, the behavior of Ozark officials suggested a certain promotional bent.  In June 1908 they wrote Philip F. Schneider, a leading geologist in Syracuse, New York, who previously had studied the pipe for the State of Arkansas.  They needed a “scientific” analysis of their property, they said.  “We want this report to submit to our stockholders, and, of course, would like to have it along lines as favorable as possible for that purpose. . . . let us know for just how much you could get up a good report . . ..”[4]

    Rejected by Schneider, Ozark officials hired an old mining engineer with South African experience, “Colonel” E. G. Woodford, recently the director of Reyburn’s operation.[5]  In October, they expanded their operation by uniting with Horace E. Bemis of nearby Prescott, Arkansas, who recently had bought the 160-acre “Riley place” immediately east of the Mauney tract.  Prospectors already had found traces of peridotite on that tract, and it was reportedly “considered among the best diamond producing property in the section.”[6]  Moreover, the Ozark group’s plans for the Mauney property, itself, had inspired visions of “developments that will astonish the world.”[7] 


    Woodford’s formal report to the Ozark Company in October 1908 reinforced the group’s excitement and imagination.[8]  Relying on experience in the diamond provinces of South Africa, he thought he and others had found a “new pipe” at the center of the Riley place.  It seemed to occupy “about 60 acres.”  Outlining a thorough test of the company’s properties, Woodford cautioned:  “No miner—no engineer—however long his experience, can tell the value of a diamond mine until it has been opened as I recommend; ten times the amount of work above mentioned has been done on African mines before average values have been finally determined.”[9]

    As almost all consultants of the time, Woodford advised that the ongoing “surface recovery of diamonds” on the main pipe “renders your properties a legitimate mining venture with exceedingly favorable prospects.”  If the properties were in South Africa, he concluded, the company’s stock “would probably stand at considerable premium.”[10]



[1] Supra, “Speculative Heyday”; Pike County, Articles of Incorporation 1, 156, Articles, Ozark Diamond Mining Company, June 19, 1908; “Articles of Agreement and Incorporation,” July 2, 1908, Arkansas Secretary of State, Corporate Records, File No. 0-1, Record 1-15-375.  Also Nashville News, “Pike Mining Company–Is Being Incorporated by R. D. Duncan,” July 4, 1908, p. 1.  The News identified Duncan, correctly, as the venture’s “prime mover.”

    Robert D. Duncan was from St. Louis, and apparently maintained some link to that city after moving to Arkansas.  Later, during the Ozark bankruptcy (infra), he submitted a bid bearing the letterhead “R. D. Duncan, Investments, St. Louis [and] Little Rock” (“Trustees Report of Sale,” December 14, 1914, bid for Ozark Corporation property attached).  Very little information about his background is available.


    Robert D. Duncan’s overall activities in 1908 demonstrated both skill and determination.  In November 1907, Hess and Buie had dropped their option on the forty-acre “Mauney Diamond Land” (supra, Heyday).  In May 1908, R. D. Duncan of St. Louis took an option to purchase the tract for $20,000, thus gaining primary control of all six acres on the northeast slope.  Two days later Duncan and the Mauneys signed a contract limiting the option to a three-quarter interest in the forty acres, but with the division of the property still undetermined (Pike, Deed Book P, 200, Option Contract, M. M. Mauney and Bettie L. Mauney to R. D. Duncan, May 23, 1908 [ninety-day lease for $1 cash, with option to renew lease for $500 and purchase for $20,000]; P, 201, Contract, May 25, 1908 [ninety-day lease and an undivided three-quarter interest in the property, with an option to renew one year for $1,000 and purchase for $20,000]).

    On August 29, 1908, Duncan’s new Ozark Diamond Mining Company paid $1,000 to extend the option ninety days.  This time, however, the contract allowed no further extension; the Ozark Company paid the $20,000 in November 1908 (P, 547, Warranty Deed, M. M. and Bettie L. Mauney to Ozark, November 23, 1908, conveying the undefined three-quarter interest in the forty acres; final extension typed on the back of the original Contract of May 25, 1908, in the Mauney Records, which include original option deeds, supplemental agreements, extensions, amendments, warranty deeds, drafts, the cancelled $20,000 check, and so on).

    After a period of confusion, during which Mauney petitioned a local court to either help set boundaries or order a sale of the property, the parties finally agreed on the thirty acres belonging to the company (Q, 180, Partition Deed–Contract, M. M. Mauney and Ozark Diamond Mining Company, February 25, 1909 [in this “perfect and absolute partition,” the Ozark Company effectively sold Mauney his ten-acre tract for $1]).  See the US Geological Survey map of 1916 for the division.

    The Mauneys’ petition to the Pike County Circuit Court in December 1908 apparently was designed to force Duncan and his company to negotiate seriously and resolve the matter.  The Mauney’s Nashville lawyer, William C. Rodgers, evidently sorted things out before the court responded; only the petition is available in the case file (Millard M. Mauney, and Bettie L. Mauney, vs. Ozark Diamond Mining Company, December 12, 1908, Pike Circuit Court, Civil No. 707, file drawer 47, Pike Court House).


    Duncan did not originate the Ozark Company.  It began April 14, 1908, as the Pike County Diamond Mining Company, incorporated by J. G. Brickley, Reece Lamb, and A. C. Lamb.  The authorized capital was $100,000, divided into 4,000 shares at $25 par value.  The three incorporators took a majority interest, subscribing to $50,100 of stock (the total at par value).  They reported $1,000 of capital stock “actually paid in” (Pike County, Articles of Incorporation 1, 151).   

    The Pike Count Diamond Mining Company was reorganized (“superceded”) under the same name on June 8, 1908, by R. D. Duncan, President; Charles McKee, Vice President; and D. B. Russell, Secretary-Treasurer (Pike, Articles of Incorporation 1, 153).  Duncan’s group reorganized again June 19, 1908, as the Ozark Diamond Mining Company, with the same officers and capitalization—$100,000 at $25 par value (ibid., 156). 


[2] The later bankruptcy of the Ozark Corporation (infra) produced paperwork and testimony connecting the three to State National back to late 1908 (especially see the Depositions and the Referee’s “Order Allowing Claim,” November 2, 1914).  During bankruptcy proceedings, Duncan was identified as vice president and cashier, effectively the manager (ibid., p. 1; “Deposition of R. D. Duncan,” October 8, 1914, p. 1; “Deposition of D. B. Russell,” September 17, 1914, p. 14).  Details are not yet available about their initial involvement with the bank.   


[3] Pike, Articles of Incorporation 1, 156, Articles, June 19, 1908; “Articles of Agreement and Incorporation,” July 2, 1908, State Corporate Records.


[4] D. B. Russell, Secretary & Treasurer, Ozark Diamond Mining Co., to Phillip [sic] F. Schneider, Syracuse, New York, June 30, 1908, I.B, “Correspondence,” Crater archive.  The letterhead stationery listed officers of the company.  Schneider already had become a close acquaintance of Austin Millar, and sent him Russell’s letter.  Advising that Ozark officials “are not putting in any cash but forming stock Co.,” Schneider said he would turn down the consulting offer, which “should leave the way a little more clear for you should you wish to deal with Mauney when they give up” (Schneider to Austin Q. Millar, Murfreesboro, July 7, 1908, ibid.).


[5] It is not clear when Woodford left the ADC and began working for the Ozark Company.  He completed the ADC’s first plant in June 1908.


[6] “Another Deal Made,” Nashville News, October 10, 1908, p. 2.  By this time the entire countryside had been explored, exposing peridotite deposits within a few miles of the main pipe.

    Buying the Riley place, Horace Bemis signed a deed agreement with both the Rileys and Walter Mauney, who already had contracted to sell the property for the Rileys.  Both took notes for payment (Deed Book P, 413, Marion W. Riley and wife, Amanda Roxana (Mandie), and Walter J. Mauney to Horace E. Bemis, October 7, 1908 [deed for the west half of the southwest quarter of Section 22 and the east half of the southeast quarter of Sec. 21, Township 8 S., Range 25 W.]).  Mauney received $1,000, payable July 1, 1909; the Rileys, $20,000 ($1,000 cash in hand; $4,000 on January 1, 1909; and then $1,000 every six months for the balance, at 6% interest).  Ibid., Q, 635, Release Deed [Quit Claim], Walter Mauney to Horace E. Bemis, July 5, 1909, also summarized previous transactions.


[7] “Option is Renewed,” ibid., September 2, 1908, p. 1.


[8] Report, Woodford to President, Ozark Diamond Mining Company, October 28, 1908, “Misc.” box, Crater archive.


[9] Ibid., 5-6. 


[10] Ibid., 7.

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