A little more than a century ago an Arkansas farmer named John Wesley Huddleston spotted two “round pebbles with fiery eyes that blazed up at him” from the gravel of his barnyard where he was feeding his hogs.
Huddleston arranged for the stones to be sent to a jewelry store in Little Rock to be appraised. The jeweler confirmed they were indeed diamonds, one white weighing 2.63 carats, the other was yellow and weighed 1.38 carats, both stones were “of fine grade.” The news spread like wildfire.
Before Huddleston’s discovery, no diamond had ever been found in its original location anywhere in the entire Western Hemisphere. Since then, tens of thousands have been plucked from the plowed furrows of a 37-acre patch of lamproite (a mixture of soil atop an eroded volcanic pipe where diamonds were created) that is today Crater of Diamonds State Park and was once part of Huddleston’s farm.
The park is conveniently located just two miles south of Murfreesboro in the hills of southwest Arkansas and more than 100,000 visitors a year pay a small fee to dig (only hand tools are allowed and can be rented) and keep all the diamonds they find. Some have become famous. There was the 40.23-carat Uncle Sam, the largest diamond yet found in North America (1924); the 15.33-carat Star of Arkansas (1956); the 7.28-carat Dickinson-Stevens (1998); the 5.75-carat Arabian Knight (2009) and the 4.25-carat canary-hued Kahn Canary diamond (1977), which Hillary Clinton wore at the 1993 and 1997 presidential inaugural balls.
Spectacular as those may be, the largest so far has been the 3.03-carat white Strawn-Wagner (1998), which after being cut weighs 1.09 carats and is valued at nearly $34,000. On revolving display at the park museum/visitor center, the stone is set in a white gold and platinum.
Treasures To Be Found
The chances of finding such a treasure may be relatively slim, but the possibility of it entices visitors to come to the crater for a dig. Many visit often, some every day for months, even years. Friendly rivalries sometimes develop, such as between two prospectors we met years ago, James Archer and Angelo Cela, both in their 70s. Both had retired from other occupations and moved to Murfreesboro to dig for diamonds six days a week, rain or shine, and both had found dozens, always good-naturedly trying to out-dig the other.
Park interpreter Margi Jenks, a volcanologist, told us “between 800 and 1,000 diamonds in a wide range of sizes, color and quality are found every year. White diamonds are the most common, followed by brown, with yellow the least-often found.”
Today one might marvel that Huddleston (who, sadly, died a pauper), after making his serendipitous discoveries, did not scour his 160-acre farm for more. Instead he promptly sold the land for $36,000 to three Little Rock, Arkansas investors, who then formed the Arkansas Diamond Company. Their commercial mining of the site soon revealed numerous “diamond-productive” acres. Three years after the first gems were discovered, a South African diamond mine operator came to test the site and found diamonds throughout a 205-foot deep test shaft.
As the news spread, so did a treasure-seeking frenzy that soon resembled the California Gold Rush of half a century earlier. The excitement was further fueled when Huddleston’s neighbor M.M. Mauney opened his land to visitors, since it contained the site’s remaining diamond-bearing acres. Mauney charged just 50 cents for ice cream, the chance to dig for diamonds and keep whatever visitors unearthed. Many were found, including a 10-carat gem.
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