Reprieve:  The Great War, 1917-1918

    In April 1917 the United States intervened in the European war, and the demands of that great event, including requirements for materials and manpower, helped obscure the Kimberlite Company’s situation.  Howard Millar, facing the draft, finally volunteered for the navy and served at Pensacola, Florida. With the Mauney Mine effectively idle since the previous winter, his father kept the Ozark operation going at reduced levels.[1]  

    The distractions of war especially tended to mask the elder Millar’s growing problems with fundraising.  He had always depended heavily on the money and connections of a few close associates in Chicago and St. Louis—most notably W. L. Wilder of Chicago, a financial expert and general manager of the Kimberlite Company.[2]  But by late 1917 Millar and Wilder had strained their stockholder base and were exploring larger financial sources at home and abroad.  The goal was to find someone capable of either joining them in partnership or buying them out.  The problem was, they would settle for nothing less than an offer netting them much more than all their properties were worth.  A notable instance occurred in the fall of 1917, when the Millars and Wilder tried to deal with an unidentified “English friend.”  They wanted a new capitalization scheme amounting to $3,000,000, with the friend contributing 45% and leaving them in control.  They never explained how they would contribute their share.[3]


    By the spring of 1918, Millar’s operation was virtually broke.[4]  Company officials had tried to raise money from investors in the Midwest, especially by using eye-catching displays of “exhibition diamonds,” some of them brilliant cut stones.[5]  But their stock was not moving.  So finally, in May 1918, the company started seeking loans within its Chicago base.

    The largest infusion came from a director of the company, W. S. McCrea of Chicago, who borrowed about $8,000 to put into the venture.  Aware of the risk, McCrea took an assortment of forty exhibition diamonds as collateral.[6]  A later statement by company officials also revealed a bank loan of $2,000 and a “floating indebtedness” of $3,615 before the end of 1918.[7]  In addition, another deficit was accumulating:  a shortage of “several hundred dollars” in Austin Millar’s labor account.[8]  All of this lay atop any unreported obligations to officials or other shareholders of the Kimberlite Company.


    In November 1918, the German army collapsed on the western front, and soon the Paris Peace Conference commenced.  Before long, all the distractions would end and attention would focus again on conditions in the Pike County diamond field.  Promotional appeals could no longer cloud the deficiencies of the Mauney and Ozark Mines.



[1] The Millars’ correspondence in 1918 shows an effort to establish draft deferment because of age.  Howard’s memoir, Finders Keepers, said he returned to St. Louis to register for the draft, then volunteered in September 1917 and was assigned to the US Naval Engineers at Pensacola, Florida, where he worked as a draftsman under a naval architect (55).

    The dwindling activities at the Mauney and Ozark Mines receive attention infra.   


[2] Millar’s correspondence, Box I.A-O, constantly reflected Wilder’s role until his death in the late 1930s.


[3] Correspondence, I.K, covers the negotiations; Wilder to Austin Millar, September 29, 1917, is basic.  From the correspondence, it appears they were dealing with another deal-maker instead of a financial source.  This was often the case (infra, “Abandoning Promotional Restraint”).

    Later, after fires ended their field operations, the group settled on a more moderate figure than $3,000,000:  “We have all agreed that we would like to sell the Ozark Mine and we feel it should not be sold to net us less than say, $1,500,000” (WLW [Wilder] to Bennett C. Clark, St. Louis, August 17, 1926, copy in Millars’ correspondence, I.N).


[4] In addition to the evidence cited below, the Crater archive has the Millars’ financial records, including bank statements and checkbooks with stubs (“Checks and Deposit Slips,” II.I).  As trustees of the Kimberlite Company, they had, at various times, accounts at the Pike County Bank and the Farmers and Merchants Bank, Murfreesboro.  By late 1915, they were writing checks on an account with the Mississippi Valley Trust Company’s branch in St. Louis (the “Ozark balance” on January 26, 1916, was $1,000).  The company’s time books for crews reportedly used at the Mauney Mine, 1912-1917, 1919, are also helpful, although there is no way of knowing exactly how much of that work occurred on the Ozark property after early 1915 (“Time Books,” II.P, with no record for 1918).  Overall, the record after 1916 shows dwindling finances and declining activity.  With cheap labor available, Austin Millar managed to keep a crew on hand, including several Black Americans (segregated in time books as well as in photos).

    For the trend at the Mauney Mine, also see supra, “Mauneys–Battling in the Courts.”


[5] In early 1914, W. L. Wilder had urged the Millars to start using cut diamonds to impress financial sources:  “. . . if we had two or three cut stones to show it would greatly encourage them and would undoubtedly facilitate the sale of more stock.”  Wilder said he was “in a position to handle this matter very quietly” (Wilder, Chicago, to Howard Millar, March 7, 1914, I.H, Crater; Wilder’s underscoring).  At the time, the Mauney Mine was the group’s only operation.

    The Millars no doubt sold some diamonds as debts accumulated, but the evidence is not clear.  Their records include an undated one-page “Rough Diamond Sales by the Kimberlite Co. Recovered from Their Mines” (II.N, Crater).  The list specifies colors and sizes of thirty-five diamonds (20.808 carats total) sold for $1,337.68.  


[6] “Valuation of Twenty Packages of Arkansas rough diamonds, property of Austin Q. Millar, William L. Wilder and Howard A. Millar, Trustee, of Jewel Grade, loaned to W. S. McCrea, 1335 Peoples Gas Building, Chicago-for exhibition purposes May 12, 1918” (“Diamond Valuations,” II.M).  The valuation totaled $8,085.  The document simply stated the diamonds were sent “for exhibition purposes in promoting sales of shares,” and later the Millars reported McCrea “withheld” the diamonds after the fire.  But they clearly were collateral as well as a promotional tool.  McCrea appeared toward the end of the Kimberlite stockholder list; evidently he had not been one of the basic financial supporters previously (“Shareholders,” Kimberlite Company, I.W).


[7] Untitled report on Chicago conference of Kimberlite Company trustees and major shareholders on July 30, 1921, with updated reports covering the period to July 30, 1922, p. 2, V.B.9.


[8] Financing agreement of trustees and major shareholders, for Chicago conference of 1921, p. 3 (no title or date), V.B.9.


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