Lee Wagner’s Heyday

    Closing the big plant, the ADC continued the assault on the diamond-rich black gumbo.  The field crew wielded water hoses powered by gravity flow from the plant’s large water tower, and began steadily flushing the dark surface material, stripping the field down to the fresh peridotite.  Before finishing in June 1925, they cleaned about half the big northeast slope, almost to the high ridge.[1]  The only recorded disruption during that remarkable performance occurred in 1923 when supports of the 15,000-gallon water tank gave way, bringing it down.[2]

    It is debatable how many diamonds the ADC recovered in that period.  Schenck and Van Haelen’s evaluation of one lot in 1926 is only suggestive:  the 4,615 stones were appraised at $57,432.85.[3]  Although Fuller’s comprehensive report of 1931 failed to break down the period October 1919-July 1925 clearly, the 10,792 diamonds recorded for that full ADC operation came overwhelmingly from the surface and largely from the work in 1922-1925.  As in the past, the total from the surface would have run much higher if not for intentional and unintentional losses:  the 9,576 diamonds from the basic surface run averaged 0.60 carat in size, indicating the screens in the modified small plant let some fairly sizeable stones pass with tailings.[4]  There was one big one, however, that had not gotten away.



[1]  Fuller’s comprehensive mining map, December 1931, outlined the areas sluiced and indicated dates (“Prairie Creek Peridotite Occurrence,” VI.3 Crater archive).  The photo collection in the Crater archive, VIII, holds many photos of sluicing that Wagner accumulated at the mine.  Examples:  Nos. 23.17, 23.43, 23.46 (excellent), 23.61 (excellent), and 23.85 (excellent).  O. L. Brace’s report in October 1923 mentioned the ADC then was using only the small plant; Brace considered this an appropriate method until the potential of the field was determined (Brace to Ingalls, October 17, 1923, pp. 1, 2).

    An old-timer in Murfreesboro, Alton Terrell, told of his experience as a boy going to the mine with “Uncle Lee” Wagner.  Born in 1914, he clearly remembered the sluicing after the big plant closed, including the discovery of the “Uncle Sam” diamond.  He described how, at some point, Wagner and local craftsmen built a small processing plant on skids and pulled it up and down the field with a huge steam-engine tractor.  He described the plant, and the big mill, in detail (notes in author‘s possession).  Mr. Terrell’s general comments, however, suggested the portable plant probably was built after another group of Little Rock businessmen took over the ADC in 1928.  Fuller’s comprehensive mining map of 1931 shows the little “washing plant” still out in the field.


[2] “15,000 Gallon Tank Falls at the Mines,” Courier, August 17, 1923, p. 1.  Also Brace, report to Ingalls, 1923.


[3] Schenck & Van Halen to Reyburn, December 8, 1926, in “Reports and Information,” 37.  These were run-of-the-mill stones.  The ADC held large and exceptional diamonds for special placement.  Some served as collateral for loans; others went to private collectors.  Miser and Ross’s statement in 1923 applied up to about that point:  “Most of the diamonds have been held by the companies, though some uncut stones have been given away or sold and some cut stones have been sold.  The first cut stones were offered for sale in 1921 by Tiffany & Co. of New York City and by the Chas. S. Stifft Co., of Little Rock, Arkansas” (Miser and Ross, USGS Bulletin 735-I, 319).  Stifft’s initial exhibition in the window of his jewelry store created a stir.  “All Arkansas diamonds that are sold by Charles S. Stifft are sold for the Arkansas Diamond Corporation, Stifft receiving only a commission on the sale,” the Gazette reported (Arkansas Gazette, reprinted as “Interest Shown in Diamond Display,” Pike County Courier, November 18, 1921, p. 1).

    Miser and Ross, USGS Bulletin 735-I (1923), 320-321, discussed and illustrated the collection of Col. Washington A. Roebling, Trenton, N.J., which  included the uncut 17.86-carat canary yellow and nine other Arkansas gems in the rough (11.21 carats, 6.83, 4.40, 3.3, 2.77, 2.5, 1.4, 1.19, .92).  In early 1927, after Roebling’s death, his son donated the vast collection of minerals to the Smithsonian Institution (New York Times, January 3, 1927, p. 18, and February 6, 1927, Sec. 7, p. 15). 


[4] “Estimate of Unit Value,” in “Reports and Information,” 36.  The first entry for “Surface and Peridotite”—evidently the troublesome run in the big plant—showed 5,812 loads yielding 963 diamonds weighing 391 carats, for an average of 6.73 carats per 100 loads.  A second entry, “Surface and Peridotite,” indicated 22,238 loads, 9,576 diamonds, and 5,749.58 carats, for 25.85 carats per 100 loads.  Excluding the small percentage of peridotite in the mix, this would have been about the historical average yield of the surface layer, but at a significantly larger average size (0.60 carat per diamond).  The size suggests Zimmerman’s solution to the gumbo included a small screen with a bit larger mesh than the ADC previously used in the little plant (reports indicated he did purchase a new screen in 1921 for the surface-mining operation: “Big Stone Found at Diamond Mine,” Gazette; “Rich Find at Diamond Mine,” Courier , supra).


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