Mauney and the Beginning of Recreational Diamond Mining

    In June 1909, MM Mauney saw another opportunity to innovate. The Memphis, Paris and Gulf Railroad had just extended to Murfreesboro from Nashville, allowing easy access for potential investors and other visitors as well, including the trainloads of “excursionists” prominent in those days.[1]  Up to then, Mauney and his two grown sons, Walter and Henry, had dug around their property on the northeast edge of the big pipe, finding a number of diamonds in the black surface layer.[2]  When the railroad passed just north of the Mauney Mine, they thought the future might lie not in commercial mining, but in operating a tourist attraction.  Mauney had let the Ozark Corporation have four of his six acres, but that group apparently had few qualms about letting visitors stroll about the entire slope.[3]

        To some extent, the idea of tourism was prompted by what seemed a general lull in diamond exploration at the time.  But it was rooted in experience with residents of the area who often visited the diamond field wanting to look around.  “The local men, women and children appear after each rainfall and search the surface for diamonds, generally with results,” wrote one observer in 1908.[4]

    Along with those local hunters, visitors were also coming on scheduled “field days,” mostly Sundays set aside for special groups or for the families of those involved in diamond exploration.  Many came decked out in their “Sunday best.”[5]

    When the railroad came through, Mauney and sons immediately went into business.  Clearing their field, they began plowing and harrowing it—a method especially effective because it allowed rains to melt the dirt from around diamonds, giving well-dressed tourists a better chance while strolling the field.  For 50¢, visitors could scan the surface or scratch around and keep anything found.[6]

    The diamond finds began in mid-June.  A resident of Pike County, Drew Huddleston, carried home only “a small chip,” while a jeweler from De Queen, Arkansas, O. W. C. Smith, came up with “a fine diamond, its estimated worth being about $200.”  Publicized in area newspapers, Smith’s diamond prompted a large delegation of excursionists from De Queen.  News of subsequent finds ranging up to a record 8.1 carat gem kept the public interested for some time.[7]

    In September, 1909, the Mauneys began using large newspaper advertisements.  Beckoning investors as well as tourists, they announced plans to build a “motor car line” connecting their mine with other attractions south of Murfreesboro and with a railroad about twenty miles to the east.[8]  By that time, the diamond fields and the new railroad linkage with Nashville had stirred unprecedented expectations and planning for economic development in Pike County.  The Memphis, Paris and Gulf Railroad had explored possible routes for extending the line on to Hot Springs, where it would connect with the railroad to Little Rock.[9]


    It was too late, however, for such elaborate dreams.  The heyday was already ending, investments were drying up.  Eventually, in the spring of 1912, the Mauney’s leased their remaining two acres on the northeast slope to the Kimberlite Diamond Mining and Washing Company, and the pioneering tourist attraction passed into history.[10]


[1] The dynamic diamond exploration of 1907-1909 spurred extension of the railroad.  Excursionists began making sight-seeing trips along the line before it reached Murfreesboro, and packed two train units for an organized outing at the Little Missouri River in early May 1909, as crews built a steel bridge for the final, three-mile leg to town (“A Great Excursion,” Nashville News, May 8, 1909, p. 4; also, “Road Opens Sunday–Between this City and Murfreesboro,” ibid., June 2, 1909, p. 1, and “Murfreesboro was Entered–By Memphis, Paris and Gulf Work Train,” ibid., June 9, 1909, p. 1).  A photograph identified as the first MP&G passenger train between Nashville and Murfreesboro was contributed to the Park’s “Old Photo Contest” in the 1980s (No. 7 in box, Crater archive).


[2] Infra, “Northeast Slope-Enterprising Mauneys.”


[3] MM Mauney’s original option to the Ozark group had stipulated his right to continue prospecting on all the property until a purchase.  Although the group then bought three-fourths of Mauney’s tract, there was very little activity on the Ozark’s part of the northeast slope in 1909.



[4] Woodford, Report [to Reyburn], cited in Fuller, Report to Loree, June 25, 1908, in “Reports and Information,” 17, 14.  That document, Woodford’s first report in 1908, evidently was lost later.


[5] A number of photographs in the large collection at the Crater archive, some dated, show the details (almost all of these photos are on the microfilm of the archive, copies at the Arkansas History Commission Research Room, Little Rock, and the Crater).  It is not clear exactly when the Field Days began.  As photos illustrate, groups usually gathered at the Mauney House on Prairie Creek, which served as the mine office, then walked across a swing bridge and strolled over to the Mines (VIII, 23.96 [crossing the swing bridge], 23.102 [Field Day at the mine], 23.106 [part of a Field Day group brought in by an excursion train], 23.121-124 [Field Day groups]).  The Mauney Records also has several relevant photos.


[6] Mauney Records, photos of harrowing, brush clearing, excursionists leaving the train near the Mauney and Ozark Mines and gathering for a short wagon ride, visitors at the mine, and so on; “News Staff–Visited the Pike Diamond Fields Monday,” Nashville News, August 11, 1909, p. 4 (“The surface of the Mauney enclosure is being rapidly cleared off, and the ground is frequently plowed and harrowed over for the benefit of the searchers”).


[7] “Two Diamonds Were Found,” Nashville News., June 19, 1909, p. 4 (finds and the excursionists); “News Staff,” August 11, 1909, p. 4 (diamond finds); “12-Carat Diamond,” June 17, 1911, p. 1 (diamond “which will cut at least 12 carats” found on Mauney property, by John Key [Keys], who was using a “crude hand washer”).  Evidently, this was the 8.1-carat rough stone:  cf. Fuller, “Arkansas Diamond Field [1911],” EMJ, 6, which reported an 8.12-carat found on the Mauney Mine in 1911-the largest to date in the Arkansas diamond fields.


[8] The media campaign began September 1 with a huge banner ad:  “Over the Memphis, Paris & Gulf [RR] to the Mauney Diamond Mine—See the Big White Diamond in the Rough—Admission 50¢—Keep all the Diamonds You Find—Open all the Year” (ad in Nashville News, p. 6); also, “A Motor Car Line–Will be Built from Gurdon and Ft. Smith–To Diamond Fields,” September 8, 1909, p. 1 (about plans for a rail line running from the Mauney property through potential local attractions and then connecting to the Gurdon and Fort Smith Railroad at Antoine); ibid., p. 8, and following issues (ad including:  “A Motor Car Line Will Be Built to Mauney Diamond Mine—All parties wishing to subscribe to stock in this enterprise should apply to W.C. Rogers—Nashville, Arkansas“).


[9] “Survey Being Made–Between Murfreesboro and Little Rock,” Nashville News, June 16, 1909, p. 1.  For imagery of the local “boom,” encouraged in part by Mauney’s Kimberley Township project:

    “Lands Too Cheap in This Section, Says Northern Visitor,” Nashville News, June 2, 1909, p. 5 (“Local realty dealers report that many inquiries are being received from various sections of the country, especially from the north, from people who are desirous of locating in this section”; one tract of land is listed at $15, and one visitor stated that Northerners wanting land would pay $30 “without complaint”);

    “Pike County Diamonds,” ibid., June 12, 1909, p. 5 (that was the heading for a repeated real-estate ad featuring both the city of Murfreesboro [“the embryo metropolis of the Pike County Fields,” which lies between the diamond fields “and the great natural water power which the shrewdest business men of Arkansas are preparing to harness in order to supply electric lights and power to cities within a radius of one hundred miles”] and a new Murfreesboro Heights “suburb” a mile north of the city [“an opportunity for investment that comes but once in a life time”]);

    “Murfreesboro is Building . . . The Mineral Interests Are Assuming Gigantic Proportions . . .,” ibid., August 11, 1909, p. 4 (“substantial growth” being sparked by the new railroad and “wonderfully rich mineral deposits,” including kaolin and fullers’ earth [among “the largest and richest in the world”], along with diamonds and “rich deposits of asphalt and plaster”; cites new Murfreesboro Heights, Kimberley Township, other real-estate developments).  


[10] Available documents fail to clarify exactly when the tourist operation closed.  Photos in the Mauney Records include very few dates, and photos of excursion trains in the Crater archive provide little information.  The Nashville News virtually lost interest in tourism after the initial publicity, and apparently after Mauney stopped placing big ads in the paper.

    The Kimberlite group is discussed infra, “Northeast Slope.”


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