Pride, Suspicion, and Taxes


    In 1925 Reyburn and his backers found themselves in an odd predicament.  They had confronted the old diamond pipe again, at great expense, and learned the same harsh lessons about its commercial potential.  Now they had no reason whatsoever to be hopeful or optimistic.  On the other hand, the general attitude in Arkansas had grown more supportive toward the Pike County diamond fields.  There was much less skepticism and pessimism than in earlier years.  The persistent imagery of the surface yield—both the quantity and the splendid quality of the gems—had proved irresistible.

    To a great many Arkansans the important thing was that their state, long a target of mockery from outsiders, now had a unique treasure, the only diamond field in North America, the first diamond-bearing pipe found outside of South Africa.  Diamonds, whatever the precise quantity, had become symbolic of the “Wonder State’s” magnificent array of natural resources.  In 1913 the diamond emblem dominating the new state flag began displaying this pride unmistakably.  Before the 1920s, public officials and other ambassadors of the new Arkansas traveled across the country, attending gatherings and either displaying or handing out diamonds to help convey their message.  By 1925, the campaign to build pride and gain respect was in full swing.  It was no time for the leading venture in the diamond fields to declare failure.[1] 

    Around Murfreesboro, the seat of government in Pike County, the continuing surface production had convinced many that Reyburn’s dwindling operation was no natural outcome of testing, but instead manifested either mere inefficiency or a deliberate conspiracy to discredit the diamond pipe.  The charge of conspiracy issued largely from the most frustrated diamond hunters of the era:  Austin and Howard Millar and Walter Mauney.[2]

    In 1925, the local three-man Township Board of Assessors decided the diamond properties near Murfreesboro were indeed valuable commercial prospects that had been greatly under-taxed.  Their brewing confrontation with the ADC was first evident in the Courier’s brief report in April:  of all the large businesses in Pike County, the “Arkansas Diamond Mining Company” paid the lowest taxes, $1,097.40 annually.[3]  When the Board revaluated county taxes in early June, it raised the Company’s assessment from less than $23,000 to slightly over $484,000.  Reyburn’s operation was required to pay for a supposedly lucrative holding whether it yielded a profit or not.[4]

    The ADC’s appeal to County Court produced a lot of testimony from Sam Reyburn and associates, but it was all mere formality.  The assistant district attorney, J. C. Pinnix, scarcely bothered to present any evidence for the State, feeling the ADC’s mismanagement of the mine (its “inefficiency”) was well known.  As expected, the Court upheld the Board.  Then the ADC appealed to the Circuit Court and prevailed, in November 1925.  The Board had to roll back assessments reasonably close to the previous levels.[5]


    By the end of that affair, the ever-hopeful Pike County Courier had almost lost its idealism.  “Although the mines have been operated for years,” it said, “the owners say that the cost of the recovery of the stones is too great to make the mining profitable.  Operations are practically suspended now although it is rumored that the ‘sluicewashing’ or ‘placer mining’ is to be resumed soon.  This method of mining requires the services of only a few employees and is said to have been profitable.”  But Sam Reyburn’s field operation in Pike County had effectively ended in June, with the onset of that final unpleasant experience.[6]



[1] Although there were many proud Arkansans before 1906, efforts to counteract the stereotypes of outsiders scarcely existed.  The Pike County diamond fields, along with the discoveries of other valuable resources soon afterward, gave community and state leaders the substance for a remarkable campaign.  It had roots in initiatives such as the shipment of a train-car load of Pike County “diamond dirt” to Chicago in May 1910 for the Arkansas Day exhibit at the National Land Congress, where John Peay displayed gems from America’s only “diamond mines” (“Carload of Diamond Dirt to Chicago,” Nashville News, November 5, 1909, p. 1; “A Great Showing–Made at Chicago,” ibid., November 30, 1910, p. 3 [“The crowds marvel at the display and not one in a hundred has ever hear that diamonds are mined in this country”]).  The new state flag, adopted in 1913, marked a significant point, as did the Arkansas Gazette’s thin but potent eulogy to outstanding Arkansans and resources:  The Book of Arkansas (Little Rock:  The Arkansas Gazette, 1913), overshadowed later by David Y. Thomas, ed., Arkansas and Its People, 4 vols. (New York: American Historical Society, 1930).

    For the broader campaign, see the news releases appearing prominently in state publications by the early 1920s.  E.g., “Arkansas Diamond,” Nashville News, November 5, 1921, pp. 1, 3; “Would Advertise Wonder State,” ibid., November 9, 1921, p. 3; “Tells Bankers of the Wonders of Arkansas,” ibid., October 1, 1924, p. 1 (about Arkansas Governor Charles H. Brough’s address at the meeting of the  American Bankers’ Association in Chicago, which he “opened with a tribute to the greatest of Arkansas in refutation of the slanders and scurrilous attacks made upon the state by writers who are ignorant or maliciously deceptive . . .”); “Pike Diamond is Prize Offered,” ibid., January 31, 1925, p. 1.

    The “Wonder State” slogan took hold in late 1921 with a bill introduced in Congress “permitting the use in all presidential post offices of Arkansas a special cancellation stamp bearing the words Arkansas, The Wonder State.”  The Arkansas Advancement Association had proposed the legislation (e.g,, special release from Little Rock, published as “Would Advertise Wonder State,” Nashville News, supra).  By the early 1930s, there also were references to Arkansas as the “Diamond State” (e.g., Pike County Courier, April 29, 1932, p. 1).

    The campaign had three goals:  combating outside stereotypes, instilling pride in Arkansans, and encouraging industrious citizens from other parts of the country to consider Arkansas as the place to be.  “Advertising” was a key word, as in the eventual preamble to State guidelines for the Department of Parks and Tourism:  “. . . that due to the failure of proper advertising of the State’s resources to other sections of the country, wrong impressions concerning the State are abroad . . .” (Ar. Code, Title 15, Ch. 11-101, “Publicity and Tourism”).

     The value of the diamond field as a tourist destination, something M. M. Mauney had promoted earlier, was still understood; and although a very minor ingredient at the time, it contributed to the emerging sense of pride (for example, “Party of 200 to Visit Murfreesboro–Will Visit the Diamond Mines and the Big Peach Orchard,” Courier, July 15, 1927, p. 1.  Similarly, the diamond field’s role as a laboratory and training ground for geologists entered into the mix (“Geologists [Thirty] Visit Mines,” ibid., June 22, 1923, p. 4).  That pattern had continued since the early years.


[2] For context see “Northeast Slope,” Millars and Mauneys, especially sections covering 1919 on.  Walter Mauney’s accusations in 1925 were reported in the only publication in Arkansas reckless enough to champion the conspiratorial school and defame Sam Reyburn—the El Dorado Daily News.  Although the paper drew from the Millars as well, it refrained from identifying them as sources.  The publisher, a critic of Reyburn’s operation, allowed the use of rumors and innuendo in order to magnify local suspicions and make it appear the case against Reyburn had been proved during court action in late 1925 (infra).  For basic items, see the Daily News:  “Murfreesboro Diamond Mine Hearing Today,” October 15, 1925, p. 1; “Diamond Operators ‘Inefficient,’ Avers State, Resting Case,” October 16, 1925, pp. 1-2; “Arkansas Diamonds Staked in World-Wide Deal, Belief,” October 18, 1925, pp. 1-2; “Judge Upholds Diamond Taxes,” October 20, 1925, p. 1.  Microfilm images of the paper in the Research Room of the Arkansas History Commission, Little Rock, are mostly faint and somewhat difficult to read.


[3] Pike County Courier, April 24, 1925, p. 1.


[4] For details see the two related court cases, In the Matter of Arkansas Diamond Company Assessment for Taxes in the Year 1925:  “Appeal from the Township Board Assessment, to the County Court,” August 17, 1925,  Civil No. 460½, file drawer 64, Pike County Court House (third-floor depository); “Appeal from County Court,” October 30, 1925, ibid; also Pike, Circuit Court, Civil, Book D, 208, same title, November 23, 1925 (cf. ibid., 532, Arkansas Diamond Corporation vs. Pike County, March 28, 1935, a similar case), and Pike, Real Estate Tax Book, 1925, p. 180 (credits given “by order of Circuit Court”).

    “Land Values Raised by Board in Thompson Township,” Courier, June 12, 1925, p. 1, summarized basic details.  As the article said, some increases in the Township clearly were justified; but the board used the opportunity to make a statement about the ADC in particular and diamond mining in general.  The Millars’ assessment increased from $3,625 to $50,000; the Mauney diamond mine, $1,250 to $10,000.  Reyburn’s successful appeal in Circuit Court benefited those two as well.


[5] Sources supra.  According to the El Dorado Daily News, County Judge Q. H. Lewis “telephoned The News a few minutes after announcing his decision” (“Judge Upholds Diamond Taxes,” October 20, 1925, p. 1).  Also, “Special Session of Circuit Court,” Courier, November 27, 1925, p. 1.  The Courier listed those giving testimony, but court records included no transcripts.  The El Dorado Daily News  reported at length on Reyburn’s extensive testimony, trying to twist it into an admission that the test was intended to fail (“Diamonds Staked in World-Wide Deal”).  J. C. Pinnix reportedly described the ADC’s operation as “a magnificent gesture of inefficiency,” seemingly implying that while the testing had been staged as a serious project, it was designed to fail (“Judge Upholds Taxes,” ibid.).  


[6] “Special Session of Circuit Court,” Courier  (quote).  Notice that John Fuller, who remained close to the operation and attended the County Court hearing, used June 1925 as the cutoff date in his later comprehensive report on the ADC’s property (“Estimate of Unit Value—2. Tests of Diamond Contents in Arkansas Mines,” in “Reports and Information,” 36; also the composite mining map, “Prairie Creek Peridotite Occurrence”).


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