In June 1985, mild curiosity prompted my first trip to Crater of Diamonds State Park, a modest tourist attraction and nature reserve just outside of Murfreesboro, Arkansas. As a historian with a special interest in geology, I had wondered about the Crater since noticing it on a map a year earlier, but could find very little information except that visitors could pay a small fee, search for diamonds, and keep whatever they found. I drove to Murfreesboro expecting nothing beyond a day or two of novel recreation.
The introduction to diamond hunting proved exciting enough. Scanning the surface of the plowed thirty-acre “mine”; scratching around with a hand trowel and stiffening every time a piece of glass, a shiny quartz crystal, or similar minerals turned up; learning from an industrious and successful group of “regular diggers”—although none of these put treasure in my pocket, all combined into a memorable experience.
As I watched the diggers, it became clear they succeeded primarily because they were working old buried drainage channels where rock, gravel, and heavy minerals had been deposited. Some of their holes were only a few feet deep; others ran well over six feet. As for surface hunting, everyone agreed there was one real hotspot: around “Beatty’s Hill,” at the upper northwest corner of the plowed slope. The area stood out because of its rocky, dark, humus-enriched soil.
Taking a break from the field, I looked into the history of the Crater and found a sketchy outline readily available. According to this version, a simple farmer in southwest Arkansas wandered about his 160 acres one day in August 1906, stumbled upon two shiny little crystals, and thereby drew attention to a diamond-bearing volcanic “pipe,” the first found in North America. Soon, eager mining interests moved in and began testing not only the main deposit, but also several smaller pipes located in the wooded hills nearby. Wealth and fame beckoned; success lay just around the corner. But misfortune—evidently the work of sinister forces as well as faulty equipment—constantly stymied commercial success.
The eventual outcome of that story seemed to clash with the idea that the big pipe ever had commercial-mining potential. After further testing in the 1940s, the owners turned the property into tourist attractions, most notably a highly publicized “Crater of Diamonds” run by Howard A. Millar. Then, after other mining attempts failed, the State of Arkansas acquired the entire pipe and about 800 surrounding acres for $750,000. The park opened in 1972.
On my last day, I put history aside and indulged in more diamond hunting and socializing. Then it was time to resume an ongoing project in Texas. No doubt Arkansas diamonds would have become a fading memory if something had not happened two months later.
On August 18, 1985, an article in the Dallas Morning News suddenly announced grandiose plans to develop a world-class commercial diamond mine in Arkansas. Exuding confidence, promoters in Dallas declared they would “change the world map of diamonds” if allowed to operate at the park. “It’s comparable to South African mines,” they said. “You’re talking about revenue from a multi-billion dollar deal—a massive, very viable project.” The plan embraced more than the Crater. Near the park a broader “diamond province” beckoned, said the promoters, referring to the smaller volcanic formations up in the hills.
Now, the history of Arkansas diamonds proved irresistible. My field work and general research began that August and between 1987 and 1994 produced several reports, an article in the Arkansas Gazette, and a thick rough manuscript titled “Arkansas Diamonds: Dreams, Myths, and Reality.” After a private-State venture finished retesting the Crater in 1997, I updated the manuscript. This condensed edition for the internet, while less technical, provides a substantial treatment of the subject.
Studying the history of Arkansas diamonds meant not only gathering data, but also working through a thick screen of myths and folk tales that has accumulated since John Wesley Huddleston, the lucky farmer-prospector, found the first shiny little crystals in 1906. Such stories are woven throughout the historical record, providing much of its color and drama while often obscuring its basic truths. Some tales are harmless and entertaining, especially many of those about Huddleston and his discovery of the first diamonds. Others are less benign.
The latter category includes two of the major myths: the closely related ideas that the big pipe near Murfreesboro tested at or near commercial levels during the early decades, but was deliberately kept out of production. Samuel W. (Sam) Reyburn, the prominent Little Rock businessman heading the pioneering Arkansas Diamond Company, has often been depicted as a conspirator who helped an international diamond cartel suppress his mine. John T. Fuller, a young mining engineer from South Africa who worked for Reyburn’s company and wrote numerous reports on the big pipe, has been cited constantly as an authority who documented commercial potential. Perhaps the following account will help correct these long-standing errors.
Although limited, the scientific terminology appearing in this edition needs brief clarification up-front. Well into the 20th Century, the main pipe near Murfreesboro was referred to technically as the “Prairie Creek Peridotite”: Prairie Creek was a landmark running immediately north of the pipe; peridotite was the generic term American scientists usually applied to any formation resembling the famous diamond-bearing pipes of South Africa. The term kimberlite was coined about 1890, but took several decades to catch on as a popular description of the diamond-bearing material. Then, adding a bit more confusion, the recent discovery of diamond-rich lamproite in Australia has prompted some geologists to re-evaluate the Arkansas pipes and declare them more similar to lamproite than to the kimberlite of South Africa.
In understanding the Crater of Diamonds, these general classifications proved less important than more-specific terminology applied by the US Geological Survey after 1913, for the big pipe contains three distinct varieties of volcanic material, not one. As the entire historical record underscores, two of these variations, totaling about forty-five acres on the west side of the pipe, are so devoid of diamonds that none have been clearly documented in that area after almost a century of exploration.
The diamond-producing material dominates the east half of the pipe and lies within the approximately forty acres currently plowed for recreational diamond hunting. At the surface, it is easily recognized by its greenish-gray color. The USGS identified this as volcanic breccia.
It helps to bear in mind that all three varieties are essentially the same material, basically peridotite from deep within the earth, but that each was deposited by a certain type of volcanic action. As the first section of this study indicates, a unique volcanic explosion apparently explains the presence of diamonds in the volcanic breccia.
As for the style of this internet publication, it seems to serve the purpose of documentary clarity as well as textual brevity. In a sense, it is a running commentary on sources—one author’s guide to research. It has no bibliography or index: the computer “search” function should suffice, I trust. For full information about a source, scroll to the beginning of the piece and “search” should call up the basic entry, often with extended commentary. Consider this a work in progress; feel free to comment by e-mail.
The focus of this abbreviated edition falls where it seems most important, on the early commercial era, 1906-1932. The remainder draws from enough sources to clarify various topics, but makes no attempt to be as thorough as that basic period. For comment on additional available sources for either period, e-mail me.
Acknowledgments must be brief. Researching at the Crater and in Little Rock, I found the staff of the Department of Parks and Tourism very receptive and helpful. Similarly, I benefited from stimulating conversations with many professionals drawn to Arkansas over the years. Michael Waldman, Hugo Dummett, and Robert Allen, three of the most experienced and disciplined geologists, need specific recognition.
Equally important, my field work in the park benefited considerably from data provided by the regular diamond diggers and surface hunters, especially Grady Snearly (known in the 1980s as “the Diggers’ Digger”), Raymond Schall (the elderly “Dean of Surface Hunters”), and the well-known James Archer, a Black-American from nearby Nashville, Arkansas. All are now deceased. Although I dug holes myself and walked the field often, all that other labor was indispensable to the task of understanding recreational diamond recovery and the ways it corroborated other historical records.
A brief note of appreciation also goes to the old-timers around Murfreesboro who helped clarify some basic topics over the years. There were many of these consultants, and they contributed much more than they might gather from reading this account. I am most deeply indebted to Alton Terrell and his late wife, Alice, a granddaughter of MM Mauney, who once owned a small six-acre tract at the northeast corner of the Crater.
Finally, I must acknowledge an underlying story scarcely evident in the following pages. Inquisitive outsiders sense it immediately while visiting Murfreesboro and other towns and cities around Arkansas, the “Natural State.” A glance at the state flag and its diamond-shaped emblem leaves no doubt. For over a century, now, the people of Arkansas have invested immeasurable pride in their field of diamonds. Commercial production or no commercial production, they know they have a genuine treasure, a publicly owned diamond mine. I trust they also understand that its rich history—myths and all—is in some ways the most vital part of that unique asset.
 Beatty’s Hill, actually the base of the Crater’s East Hill, got its name from an elderly gentleman who once hunted it regularly before the State purchased the property (interview of Sue McCarty, then office manager at the park; notes in author’s possession).
 “Once Again, Mine Teases Developers,” Arkansas Gazette, September 29, 1989, p. 11B (editorial pages); “Diamond Deposits in Arkansas: A Summary of Issues and Evidence, 1907-1993,” unpublished report (1994), the final report produced for the Friends of the Crater Coalition, widely distributed.