Finders, keepers … for diamonds! At Crater of Diamonds State Park.
The Crater of Diamonds State Park contains the world's only diamond mine that is open to the public.
John Wesley Huddleston, a farmer and sometime prospector, first found diamonds on the site in 1906. The most well-known iteration of the story starts in 1906: Huddleston, an illiterate, middle-aged farmer, was working the soil of his turnip field on his 243-acre farm when he uncovered two strange, shiny yellow and clear stones. Not knowing what they were, Huddleston tested them on his grinding wheel, which he was told could shape anything but diamonds. As he worked the stones against the wheel, he saw that they left impressions in the wheel, and sent them off to be appraised by a jeweler in Little Rock. The two diamonds were appraised by the jeweler, who determined that the diamonds weighed 2-⅝ carats and 1-⅜ carats. Originally purchasing the land for $1,000 and a mule, Huddleston made a nice profit when he sold his farm for $36,000 to Little Rock investors who turned the area into a commercial diamond mining site.
Huddleston's discovery sparked a diamond rush in the County. Diamond-bearing soil was also found on Millard M. Mauney's property that was adjacent to Huddleston's. Prospectors and fortune hunters rushed to the area, and soon the town of Kimberly developed to accommodate the influx of people.
Within a few years of the discovery, all the land on top of Prairie Creek Pipe was in the hands of two rival companies, Arkansas Diamond Company and Ozark Diamond Mines Corporation. The two companies maintained mining operations sporadically over the next forty years but operated under constant financial strain, poor management, lawsuits, and sabotage.
In 1924, a 40.23-carat diamond was found by Wesley Oley Basham, a workman for the Arkansas Diamond Company. The diamond was dubbed with Basham's nickname, and the "Uncle Sam," as it is called, still holds the record as the largest diamond ever found in the United States.
The owners of the rival companies formed a partnership in 1952 and opened the property to the public as a tourist attraction called the Crater of Diamonds. For a nominal fee, visitors were allowed to search for diamonds and keep what they found. The venture was a modest success from the start. Well-known diamonds found during this time included the 15.33-carat Star of Arkansas (1956), the 6.42-carat Gary Moore diamond (1960), and the 34.25-carat Star of Murfreesboro (1964).
The Crater of Diamonds was purchased by the state of Arkansas in 1972 and established as Crater of Diamonds State Park. The park is the remnant of a series of dramatic geologic shifts and vicious volcanic activity dating back 3 billion years ago. High temperatures and pressures between 60 and 100 miles below the Earth's crust crystallize carbon into diamonds. Then an explosion of gas and fragments during the formation of the volcanic vent known as the Prairie Creek diatreme brought these rocks and minerals up from deep in the earth. The 83-acre funneled crater was left behind where the airborne material settled, preserving precious diamond stones in the soil.
Each year, the park hosts thousands of visitors and averages two diamonds found daily. Crater diamonds are usually less than a carat in size and come in all colors, with white, yellow, and brown being the most common. They are usually smooth and rounded in appearance and have an almost metallic luster. In addition to diamonds, the search field also yields agate, jasper, quartz, and amethyst. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 18, 1973.
Arguably, the most well-known diamond found since the area became a state park is the Strawn-Wagner. Shirley Strawn of Murfreesboro found a 3.03-carat diamond in 1990. It was cut to a 1.09-carat brilliant shape and certified as a perfect D flawless diamond, with perfect symmetry, polish, and proportions, the highest quality diamond ever graded by the American Gemological Society. Most recently, the park was the site where the 8.53-carat Esperanza diamond was found in June 2015. After it was cut into a 4.6-carat triolette shape, the Esperanza was valued at approximately $500,000.
Visitors to the park can pay a $10 admission fee, grab a shovel and try their hand at diamond prospecting. Diamonds come in all colors of the rainbow. The three colors found at the park are white, brown, and yellow, in that order. Park staff at the Diamond Discovery Center provide free identification and certification of diamonds found. The rule is "finders keepers." The 800-acre park holds out the hope, however slim, that just about anyone can strike it rich. Unfortunately, the park may also hold out a temptation for mineralogical mischief!