Adjusting in Murfreesboro, 1918-1921



    Selling the house in Arkadelphia, Huddleston returned to Murfreesboro in March 1918 with Delia and settled into a well-equipped home.  He occupied himself with grandchildren, cars, and real-estate.  In less than two years, he sold almost all the remaining assets in Clark County and invested over $12,000 cash in more properties around Murfreesboro, particularly on the expanding north and south sides of town. [89]  When a writer for the Arkansas Gazette visited in late 1920, he found the Discoverer still “a wealthy man, as wealth goes in this remote region,” a man who had “fared better than anyone else engaged in the [diamond-mining] enterprise.” [90]


    Of course, the John Huddleston who returned to Pike County in early 1918 differed considerably from the person who departed a decade earlier.  While as illiterate and unsmiling as ever, he was active and businesslike?better prepared to assume the role of Diamond John.  Helping compensate for personal limitations, J. C. Pinnix and other advisors were still available, and now Pinnix' Pike County Bank could oversee his financial affairs more closely.  Huddleston facilitated the process by remaining, in the words of those who knew him best, “reliable and honest” and “always” prompt in paying his bills. [91]


    During the first four years in Murfreesboro, Diamond John engaged in only three lawsuits, none of which related to the buying or selling of real estate.  Two of these, however, were long battles providing additional insight into the man's abilities as well as his character.

    The first episode began in October 1918 when Huddleston ordered a large quantity of roof coating and paint to redo one of his rental houses.  After an agent of the Republic Paint & Lead Works of Cleveland, Ohio, filled out a contract, Huddleston scratched his X and promptly received a half-barrel of coating and twenty gallons of outside paint at the railroad depot.  The bill:  $99.50.  Believing he had ordered only $89 worth, he refused delivery and asked the company to correct the charge.  Republic's credit department made the mistake of implying he was acting dishonestly.  He, on the other hand, began suspecting someone had taken advantage of his illiteracy and altered the contract. [92]

    Subsequently, Republic Paint & Lead offered to compromise but found Diamond John unyielding.  On August 31, 1920, the company finally filed in a Pike County small-claims court (Justice of the Peace), which quickly dismissed the suit.  Filing in Circuit Court, the company introduced a contract bearing Huddleston's mark; the salesman testified the total of $99.50 was correct.  Huddleston's lawyers, including J. C. Pinnix, invoked the state law requiring that contracts bear the signature of a witness beside the mark of any illiterate principal.  Huddleston testified “that he could not read or write, and that he had no recollection of having signed an order; that if the order introduced in evidence covered the materials to the amount of $99.50, it had been changed and was not the order given by him.”  Furthermore, the person renting the house supported Huddleston's argument. [93]

    The Circuit judge, however, ignored all other issues and instructed the jury to deliberate only one question:  did John Huddleston owe $89 or more than that amount?  To Judge James S. Steel, the mere fact the material had been delivered to the railroad and shipped to Murfreesboro meant the company was due payment. [94]

    Appealing to the state Supreme Court, Huddleston easily won a reversal of the Circuit decision.  The high court's terse Opinion in March 1921 pointed out that no one had witnessed the mark on the contract and that a purchaser was not obligated to accept “goods of substantially different value from those ordered by him.”  The court ruled the jury should have decided not merely an amount due, but also if Huddleston owed anything at all.  It remanded the cause for a new trial. [95]

    In September 1921, a Circuit jury again followed instructions and found Huddleston owed the paint company $84.20 plus $13.45 interest.  He also had to pay all costs of litigation.  As determined as ever, Diamond John moved for a new trial and, when overruled, gained permission for another appeal to the Supreme Court.  This evidently inspired a settlement out of court. [96]


    Before that case terminated, Huddleston had gotten into a different sort of legal battle ? a sensational affair that somehow escaped the attention of the mythmakers.  The unusual adventure originated during the Democratic primaries of 1920, when Huddleston publicly disparaged one of the candidates for Pike County Sheriff, R. M. Steuart.  According to Steuart's later testimony, “Huddleston, in order to secure votes against him, told some of the voters that he, Steuart, had killed his father and had cursed his mother on her deathbed.  He [Stuart] had done nothing to his parents to give rise to such a report, and he suffered great humiliation and anguish of mind when he was informed of the language used about him by Huddleston.”  Huddleston, denying slanderous intent, testified he merely had asked someone if there was any truth in local rumors about Steuart's mistreatment of his parents.  Huddleston presented evidence “tending to show that Steuart about twenty years before had had a row with his father; that he had struck his father with his fist; that his father became sick in a few days and died in about a week thereafter from pneumonia.  There was also introduced the evidence of a physician to the effect that pneumonia is sometimes caused by a blow.” [97]

    Whatever the exact circumstances, Steuart had followed Huddleston into a local store, confronted him, and struck him at least once with a fist, knocking him down.  Then, in April 1921, Steuart sued Huddleston for slander, requesting a total of $15,000 for compensatory and exemplary damages.   When Huddleston countersued for what he described as an unprovoked and severe beating, asking for $1,000 damages, Steuart pleaded self-defense :   during an argument in the store, he said, Huddleston tried to draw his gun, intending to shoot him. [98]

    After hearing witnesses and arguments, Circuit Judge James S. Steel instructed the jury to first consider Steuart's suit and, if the law and the evidence warranted, determine the amount of damages he should receive.  Essentially, jurors were told to disregard any local rumors about Steuart's character and simply decide if Huddleston's public comment constituted slander.  Addressing the countersuit and Steuart's claim of self-defense, the judge placed Huddleston in an even weaker position:


    The court instructs the jury that the plaintiff [Steuart] was entitled to act upon appearances, and, if the language and conduct of Huddleston was such as to induce in the mind of a reasonable man, under all the circumstances then existing and viewed from the standpoint of Steuart, a fear that death or great bodily harm was about to be inflicted by Huddleston upon him, it does not matter if such danger was real or only apparent, and, if Steuart acted in necessary self-defense from real and honest conviction as to the character of the danger, if any, your verdict should be for Steuart on the cross-complaint, even though he was mistaken as to the extent of danger. [99]


    In September 1921, the jury awarded Steuart $1,700 damages and all costs of litigation.  John Huddleston received nothing?although Judge Steel's instruction suggested the trial had raised serious doubt about any intent to shoot Steuart. [100]

    Upon appeal, the Arkansas Supreme Court found no error in the finding of slander, but it agreed with Huddleston's challenge of the key instruction on self-defense .  In April 1922, the high court reversed the Circuit decision and remanded the cause for a new trial. [101]   Private negotiations evidently produced an undisclosed settlement the following year; the court merely adjudged that Steuart was due $280 in costs.  Reflecting his current financial problems, Huddleston was allowed six months to pay that amount. [102]



[89] Cross Reference 4 .  Local Brevities, Southern Standard , March 14, 1918, p. 5 (Huddleston selling home to John Riggan; moving to Murfreesboro); Clark County, Deed Book 85, p. 411, WD, J. W. Huddleston to John M. and Emma Riggan, March 26, 1918 (the three acres); Pike County, Personal Tax Record 1918, p. 124, line 18 (entries included two wagons/carriages; a piano; $75 in other household items [a high level for the area]; a firearm; $500 in “monies, credits, and bank balances”; two horses; two mules; three cows; sixteen hogs; . . .; $1,005 total valuations, very high for the area); Shiras, “Arkansas Diamond Discoverer” (comment about the home, where he interviewed Huddleston); Federal Census, 1920, Pike County, Thompson Township, household 15/15.  The census-taker recorded three grandchildren living at the home:  William Manley, 7; Myrtle Manley, 5; and Martha Manley, 4½.  Delia, still with her father, evidently was mistaken for the mother of the children, and was listed as “Delia Manley, 24.”  Willie, then 24, was not listed (remarried soon after the census, to J. M. Goodlett, real-estate developer).

    Sales of Clark County properties are listed in Cross Reference 1, above.  In Pike County, a flurry of buying occurred in 1918-1919, with cash payments of over $12,000 indicated by the following deeds.  Very few sales occurred in that period.

    John Huddleston's Pike County purchases, 1918-1921 (between the return to Murfreesboro and his second marriage): Pike, Deed Record 30, p. 480 , Warranty Deed, Z. A. and Amanda C. Copeland to J. W. H., October 24, 1918 (price of $1,250, with $800 cash paid and balance by January 1, 1919 [marginal notation: paid in full January 27, 1919], for total of 20 acres: 10 acres, S ½ of S ½ of NE ¼ of SW ¼ of Sec. 9-8-25, and 10 acres, S ½ of S ½ of NW ¼ of SE ¼ of 9-8-25); 34, p. 519 , WD, G. T. and Eula Parker to J. W. Huddleston, June 3, 1918 ($1,050 cash paid, for 40 acres, NW ¼ of NW ¼ of Sec. 16-8-25); 34, p. 537 , WD, Chas. And Ina Parker to J. W. H., July 16, 1918 ($300 cash paid, for a parcel 813' X 425' along Prairie Creek in NE ¼ of NE ¼ of Sec. 17-8-25); 34, p. 543 , WD, Z. A. and Amanda Copeland to J. W. H., June 4, 1918 ($4,000 cash paid, for total of 80 acres, SE ¼ of SW ¼ and NE ¼ of NW ¼ of Sec. 16-8-25); 34, p. 544 , WD, Z. A. and Amanda C. Copeland to J. W. H., July 27, 1918 ($1,346.20 cash paid, for 40 acres, SW ¼ of SE ¼ of Sec. 9-8-25); 37, p. 65 , WD, J. E. and Mary Terrell to J. W. H., December 16, 1918 ($370 cash paid, for 3.7 acres in NW ¼ of SW ¼ of Sec. 9-8-25); 37, p. 282 , WD, R. N. and Ollie Alford to J. W. H., September 2, 1919 ($400 cash paid, for Lots 901 and 903 on Washington St. and Lots 902 and 904 on School St., Kelly's Addition, Murfreesboro); 38, p. 105 , WD, M. W. and Carrie Greeson to J. W. H., June 14, 1919 ($700, with $50 cash paid and balance in annual payments by January 1, 1925; for 6.7 acres, Tracts 24-26 of the Murfreesboro Heights Addition); 38, p. 219 , Special Warranty Deed, R. W. and Ollie Alford to J. W. H., September 2, 1919 ($2,000, with $40 cash and the trade-in of a 1920 Maxwell automobile priced at $1,095 ; a balance of $865 due to Georgia State Savings Association, Savannah [Huddleston assumed a previous mortgage]; for Lot 805 on Conway St., Lot 806 on Washington St., and an adjacent 115' by 189' strip along the N sides of Lot 803 on Conway and Lot 804 on Washington); 39, 472 , WD, J. R. and E. M. Johnson to J. W. H., March 27, 1919 ($1,000 cash paid; for Lot 4, 46' X 54', in Block 18, original Murfreesboro); 47, p. 301 , Warranty Deed with Lien, G. P. and M. E. Crawford to J. W. Huddleston, April 12, 1921 ($2,200, with $100 cash down, note for $700 due by November 1, 1921, and note for $1,400 by November 1, 1922; for 24.5 acres and 30.5 acres, W and E of Prairie Creek, partial SE ¼ of NE ¼ and partial NE ¼ of NE ¼, both in Sec. 8-8-25); 30, p. 595 , WD, J. R. and E. M. Johnson to J. W. Huddleston, November 4, 1921 ($500, with $1 down, $199 due in sixty days and the balance by November 1, 1922; for forty acres, SE ¼ of NE ¼ of Sec. 6-8-25).

    Huddleston's Pike County Sales, 1918-1921 :  Deed Record 30, p. 481 , WD, D. A. and I. A. Stell to J. W. H., November 8, 1918 ($1,000, with $20 cash paid and balance due by November 1, 1919 [marginal notation:  full payment certified by Stell and County Clerk; no date indicated], for Lot 2, Block 5, original Murfreesboro);  30, p. 500 , Warranty Deed, to W. O. Basham, March 31, 1919 ($1,000, with $250 cash down and $250 annually on January 1 [marginal note: paid in full February 22, 1921]; Lots 2-3, Block 4 of Goodlett Addition, a part of NE ¼ of SW ¼ of Sec. 17-8-25); 30, p. 579 , WD, to E. L. Dabney, April 4, 1921 ($800, with $600 cash down and $100 annually for two years, due by April 4, 1923 [satisfied in full September 3, 1938]; 40 acres, NW ¼ of NE ¼ of Sec. 26-8-26); 30, p. 616 , to Mary Wallace (Huddleston's daughter}, December 28, 1921 (stated price of $500, with $165 cash down, 10% interest stated; for part of the E ½ of the SW ¼ of Section 8, a large lot on the north side of Murfreesboro); 43, p. 32 , WD, to Lee J. Wagner (Huddleston's brother-in-law), May 26, 1921 (a stated price of $1,500, with $500 down and $500 annually for two years; Lots 7-12, Block 3 of Goodlett Addition, Murfreesboro); 43, p. 45 , WD, to Z. A.[E?] Copeland, November 3, 1921 (“not exceeding $500,” with $5 cash “and exchange of other property” [unstated price was fully paid; exchanged property not specified]; Lot 10, Kelly Subdivision of Murfreesboro, a part of W ½ of SE ¼ of Sec. 8-8-25); 42, p. 469 , Warranty Deed, to Delia Huddleston (his daughter), December 28, 1921 (stated price of $500; large lot adjacent to that of Mary Wallace, above); 45, p. 505 , WD, to Willie Goodlett (Huddleston's daughter), December 28, 1921 (stated $500, with $200 cash down and balance by January 1923, at 10%; for part of the E ½ of SW ¼ of Section 8, a large lot adjacent to that of Delia, above); “ lost” deed , Huddleston to Eunice Gentry (Huddleston's daughter), “about” December 28, 1921, replacement by Record 55, p. 506 , Quit Claim Deed, J. W. Huddleston to M. C. Barton, November 18, 1936 (no price stated, for Lots 805 and 806, Kelly Addition).

[90] Fletcher Chenault, “Pike County Destined to Become a Great Golconda,” Arkansas Gazette , October 4, 1920, p. 4.


[91] Quotation from confidential credit report by Pike County Bank, cited in Credit Department, Republic Paint & Lead Works, Cleveland, Ohio, letter to J. W. Huddleston, Murfreesboro, Arkansas, March 11, 1919, Plaintiff's Exhibit C, Pike County Circuit Court, Civil, David Bernstein v. J. W. Huddleston, August 31, 1920, No. 406, case packet in file drawer 129, third-floor storage room, Circuit Clerk's office, Pike County Courthouse.

    As illustrated in this case and in others cited below, Pinnix remained one of Huddleston's principal lawyers as well as his chief financial manager.


[92] Credit Department to Huddleston, Bernstein v. Huddleston.   The letter referred to an “Account of Nov. 29 th .”


[93] The case packet for Bernstein v. Huddleston contains affidavits and other relevant documents, beginning with the company's letters to Huddleston and his lawyers.  The company's Complaint at Law filed in Circuit Court on September 11, 1920, included affidavits of the Justice of the Peace and others.  Supreme Court of Arkansas, Huddleston v. Bernstein, Opinion, March 7, 1921, 148 Arkansas 1 1921 [Vol. 148, p. 1 of Arkansas Reports ] , provides a basic summary of previous actions, including the testimony of Huddleston and the renter.


[94] Supreme Court, Opinion; Circuit, Judgment, No. 406, case packet.


[95] Appeal from Circuit Court, October 9, 1920, case packet; Supreme Court, Opinion; Order for new trial, May 26, 1921, in case packet, No. 406.  Huddleston's Motion for New Trial had listed eleven court errors (Circuit, September 25, 1920, case packet).


[96] Circuit Record, Civil, D, 41, David Bernstein v. J. W. Huddleston, Judgment, September 28, 1921, No. 406; D, 44, Motion and Granting of Appeal, September 29, 1921; full documentation, case packet.  The case file ended with the granting of appeal.


[97] Quotations from Supreme Court of Arkansas, Huddleston v. Steuart, Opinion–Statement of Facts, April 24, 1922, 153 Arkansas 270 1922; also, Pike County Circuit Court, Civil, R. M. Steuart v. John W. Huddleston, Complaint, April 28, 1921, case No. 428, case packet in file drawer 130, Clerk's Office, third-floor storage, Pike County Courthouse; Answer and Cross Complaint, June 13, 1921; Answer to Cross, no date; Amendment to Answer, September 22, 1921; and other related filings, No. 428, case packet.


[98] Steuart v. Huddleston, Cross Complaint and Answer to Cross, No. 428.  Many witnesses were summoned for the Circuit trial, but their court testimony is not reflected in the case packet.  The basic Circuit proceedings, including testimonies of Steuart and Huddleston, are summarized in the Supreme Court's Opinion:


    Huddleston's testimony:  “Steuart followed him into Ballard's store . . . and tapped him on the back with his open hand and asked him why he had not spoken to him before he came into the store.  Huddleston has passed Steuart just before he entered the store.  Previous to that time Steuart had threatened to sue Huddleston for slander . . ..  They had some words about this in Ballard's store, and Huddleston told Steuart not to get it into his head that he was afraid of him.  Huddleston told Steuart, however, that he did not want any trouble with him, and then went back into the store and put both hands upon the counter.  As he was standing there looking down towards the floor, Steuart hit him above the right eye with his right fist and knocked him senseless.  Huddleston went down on his hands and knees and tried to get up.  Steuart knocked Huddleston to his knees the second time and then kicked him in the left side.  Huddleston was going on a trip to a distant part of the county when he encountered Steuart, and had a pistol.  He did not at any time attempt to use the pistol on Steuart or to hurt him in any other way.  Huddleston was badly hurt by the blow he received from Steuart.  Huddleston was about 59 years old and weighed about 156 pounds.  Steuart was 35 years old, and was a very stout able-bodied young man.”  (Opinion, 271.)


    Steuart's testimony:  “. . . he went into Ballard's store to talk to Huddleston about the slander case he anticipated bringing against him.  During the course of their conversation Steuart saw the pistol which Huddleston was carrying, and Huddleston became angry and attempted to draw his pistol and shoot Steuart.  Steuart then struck him with his fist and knocked him down on a bench.  He did not strike Huddleston except to keep him from shooting him.  Steuart did not make any attempt to jump on Huddleston or to kick him.  About twenty years before that time Steuart's father had gotten drunk and tried to fight him.  Steuart pushed his father away, and did not strike him at all.”  (271-272.)


[99] Quoted in Supreme Court, Opinion, 275. 


[100] Steuart v. Huddleston, Judgment, September Term, 1921, No. 428.


[101] Huddleston v. Steuart, Opinion:   “A specific objection was made to this instruction on the ground that the plaintiff [Steuart in Circuit Court] must have acted without fault or carelessness on his part before he could invoke the doctrine of self-defense.  In this contention we think counsel are [sic] correct.  It is true that the defendant's standpoint is the proper one from which to view the imminency of the danger, but such belief on the part of the defendant [Steuart in the appeal] must be an honest belief, and not due to his own negligence.  Mere honesty, however, is not in itself sufficient.  The defendant must be free from fault or carelessness.  If his belief is due to his own negligence, his honesty is not sufficient to justify the assault as having been done in self-defense.”  (275-276.)


[102] Circuit Record, Civil, D, 85, R. M. Steuart v. John W. Huddleston, Motion of Defendant and Order of Continuance, September 21, 1922, No. 428; D, 85, Stay of Execution, May 21, 1923 (Surety Bond and agreement that Huddleston would pay $280 plus interest to Steuart or to the court within six months, “being the costs adjudged against the defendant” in case No. 428).


    In a third, minor case in Circuit Court, Huddleston was awarded $22.50: Record, Civil, C, 538, J. W. Huddleston v. S. R. Graham , Order, March 18, 1920, case No. 311½.  The case packet is missing and the court record failed to clarify details.  Information in Bernstein v. Huddleston indicates Graham lived in a rental property that Huddleston owned.