An erupted crater, a diamond-bearing pipe, 78.5 million tons of bling-filled rock to sort through, a few small-town citizens going head to head with large mining companies, over 70,000 particles of the most valuable and hardest mineral known to man found and kept by visitors since 1906, and gems so amazing that they are placed in the Smithsonian Museum and in the possession of government leaders.
The Crater of Diamonds, the only public diamond mine and the eighth largest diamond mine in the world.
Working on his hog farm, specks of sparkling dirt catches the eye of John Huddleston. Expecting gold, a not-disappointed-at-all John discovers a three-carat rock and another weighing 1.5 carat. It’s a grand thing that he didn’t take advantage of the fifty-cent-for-both-stones offer. Word got around to people all over the country and immediately "Diamond Fever" hit the itty bitty town of Murfreesboro, Arkansas. People pour in to the area in hopes of finding their own treasure. John Huddleston and his diamonds grow to celebrity status as this area is the only place in the USA where diamonds can be found beside Cherokee, California.
Diamond hunter, John Huddleston.
In 1906 he sold the bling-producing portion of the farm for $36,000.00.
Enter the early mining companies. With their equipment and manufacturing procedures, the mine is pillaged. At first several mining companies are successful in finding many diamonds but their methods are crude and plenty of thievery and lawsuits keep them from continuing. Then on Friday the 13th, in the early 1900s, the mines caught on fire. No one is sure of how these fires started.
Quality family time unlike any other.
In 1972 the mine became a state park, but in the late 1990s, the later mining companies came in with big trucks and equipment. Night and day miners and machines go at it hard, crushing tons of rock, hauling away dump truck loads of dirt, and sifting through it all offsite. However, these mining companies claim that they rarely found any diamonds. The residents of Murfreesboro watch in disgrace and sadness as their land is being destroyed and diamonds are being robbed from the public as the Crater of Diamonds mine is the only “finders keepers” one in the world. A small crowd of locals with their screens and buckets discover diamonds of every size. They find it unbelievable that companies with large machines and staff aren’t unveiling gems a-plenty.
Enter Shirley Strawn-Wagner, a resident of Murfreesboro, AR. Her great-great grandfather Lee Wagner was John Huddleston’s brother-in-law and worked in the mine for many years. Shirley listened to her grandmother’s tales of the family’s connection with the mine and their many diamond finds but she didn’t really quite understand until she decided to continue the legacy. Her grandmother had always told her, “It’s your turn. There is a diamond out there for you. There is one special one that you will find and it is in this area.” Her grandmother pointed to an area that she felt someday Shirley would find the “big” one.
James Archer taught his "grand daughter" Shirley the diamond hunting ropes.
Being the first to arrive and the last to leave the mine every day, Shirley dug and dug and dug, seven days per week for months. As she consistently looked for diamonds, she discovers her “inherited” calling. However, with many unsuccessful attempts, she became frustrated and the famous James Archer, known for his many amazing diamond finds, took her under his wing and taught her all he knew. Like the Karate Kid being trained every day by Mr. Miaggi, each day she would show up with bucket and screen in hand, James would yell, “Here comes that grandchild” and off she went to learn another lesson from the best of the best.
When you find a diamond,
you KNOW it's a diamond.
Shirley, James, and many others continued to draw up diamonds while the mining companies continued to haul off chunks of the mine to do their sifting offsite. A three-judge panel battle heats up between the mining companies as Shirley forms a small local organization called, “Friends of the Crater”. The companies report that they cannot find any diamonds and yet with their handheld buckets, shovels, and screens her tiny group found many jewels. Shirley alone found a total of thirteen carats in one month!
Jewels from Shirley's personal collection.
“Friends of the Crater” put heart and soul into fighting “the bad guys”, as they call the mining companies. Shirley carried the rules and regulations of the mine in her backpack and along with devoted residents, filmed and documented each heartbreaking move of the mining companies.
The battle took over 12 years. During this time frame Shirley had been digging every single day for 18 months. She finds a stunning yellow canary diamond. At this point, most people would stop looking and move on to basking in the glory of their discovery, but Shirley continued digging as she believed it is unlucky to quit now. At this point, the hole she has been working on was 14 feet deep. About two hours after finding the yellow diamond, she instantly knows that she has just found THE diamond, the one that her grandmother told her she would find in the exact area that she had pointed out to Shirley. Stumbling through mud to quickly get to her mentor James, Shirley reveals the diamond with her heart nearly pounding out of her chest.
Old-fashioned way of diamond digging.
Due to the heated battle, Shirley keeps her “little” secret hidden for eight years. The mining companies eventually pull out of the area because they had reached their limit of the number of trenches they could dig. They had no choice but to leave as “Friends of the Crater” were successful in getting the government to set guidelines and regulations on the commercial mining.
Finally, finally, on the day that the mining companies left, she makes the call to have the 3.03 carat diamond that she had found in the 14 foot deep pit examined by Bill Underwood, who was inducted into the National Jeweler Hall of Fame in New York City; only the seventh jeweler in the nation to be inducted. Mr. Underwood tells Shirley that he thinks she may have the ideal diamond. The 3.03 carat jewel takes a trip for New York City to Lazare Kaplan International, the premiere diamond-cutting company on the planet, and six months later it is cut into a 1.09 carat flawless diamond and given the “Triple Zero” certification. Shirley’s diamond is so perfect that there are no blemishes, no carbons, and no beauty marks. It is like looking into at a drop of water. Nature formed this stone and man faceted it into a D-flawless gem. Shirley named it “The Strawn-Wagner Diamond”. (Strawn is for her grandfather and Wagner is Shirley’s name.) This perfect diamond is so rare that most gemologists and jewelers never ever get to see one.
The world's only perfect diamond
was found right here.
“One in a Billion!” screams National Geographic, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and the rest of the media. The diamond that she found is certified as a flawless 0-0-0 diamond. In other words, the gem rated absolutely perfect in every aspect of cut, color, and clarity. A diamond this perfect is estimated to occur less than once in a billion. All this hoopla about Shirley's diamond didn't sink in. It was explained to her again,
“For this one-in-a-billion diamond to happen, the perfect combination of heat, pressure, and speed had to happen to get this diamond to form in this perfect condition.”
Many high-priced offers spread and yet Shirley desires to keep the diamond at its birthplace, the Crater of Diamonds. She sells her flawless diamond to the state of Arkansas for a small amount where it is displayed under glass at the main entrance of the park. Many feel that she simply gave the diamond away and shake their heads in pity but Shirley is proud of her decision; citizens of Murfreesboro, the state, and everyone else who visit the mine can enjoy the exquisite gem.
As we are standing on the greenish dirt (a sign of diamond-producing silt), Shirley points to the many children who are happily digging away, “This is the reason I am here, this is the reason for this mine, so that these children and their families can come here and learn about the area, their world, and maybe bring home something that they found. This mine belongs to the people. This is where my heart is…with these people and generations to come.”
Hard rock pit miner.
I get the privilege of learning the ins and outs of diamond mining with Shirley after having done everything wrong. After a day of digging a six-foot hole in pure clay, nearly losing my left leg to what I call “quickly sinking quick sand”, and many false alarms of hiding what I thought to be the BIG one as I make a mad dash to the office only for the park’s staff to shake their heads, “Nope, not diamonds”.
Shirley and other locals show me their collections of diamonds and other semi-precious stones and I have never had so many jewels pass my hands before. Each gem holds a story, a history; I am in awe of the locals’ passion and intensity for their mine, their town, their finds, and for each other. There is so much more to tell about the mine, Shirley, and the area yet that will take a complete book. Perhaps someday, hmmm . . .
As for now, Shirley’s goal is to find a diamond for her dad Junior Wright. Maybe there is just one more out there that is so perfect that she will find one worthy enough of naming it after him.
The fee to go mining all day is only $6.50 for adults, $3.50 for children ages 6-12, and free for children under six. Find out how you can go mining for your very own diamond at http://www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com
Prayers were answered when a group of locals with hammers and tool belts manually built Diamond John’s Riverside Retreat in just one short month.
Hand-built Diamond John's Resort.
John said that only God could do such a miraculous thing. His heart is filled with praises as he composes poetry of the miracles. Praises of thanksgiving and the joys of his heart all come out in poems. Weaving words into stories is my life’s work but I stood in awe as I listened to John. He recites some unbelievable poems to me from memory. He recites them with such intensity and passion that I am brought to tears. I’m amaed how he can recall them word by word and he replies, “They came from here (and points to his heart) so I pull them out from here.”
John and his family continue to share their gratefulness and blessings with others by providing a very memorable and unique camping experience. The authentic log cabins and teepees are built next to a sparkling river five minutes from the diamond mine, unless you get sidetracked by all the nature trails and tiny shops that sell Arkansas rocks and gems of all shapes and colors.
Modern comfy cabins with
the feel of Jed Clampett.
Canoes and paddle boats wait patiently to show guests what nature and the river has in store for them — a true back-to-nature camping experience. Each cabin is handmade and very unique.
Diamond John proudly shows me how he has built the Tree Cabin (yes, a cabin built up high in the trees!) to make the most of the glorious sunrises and sunsets. The windows are strategically positioned so that sunlight bathes the cabin perfectly so that guests can savor the amazing changes of the sun.
Hand-split logs create the look and feel of a cabin built in the 1800s. A sliding glass door gives guests the opportunity to let in the Ozark air and enjoy a glass of iced tea while sitting on the deck. Whimsical faces are carved into a tree as well as other touches that make each cabin unique.
Diamond John’s Riverside Retreat has four cabins — The Montana, Hunter’s Cabin, Specialty Cabin, and Tree Cabin — each sleeps four comfortably. All cabins have a/c and incredible views of the river and natural surroundings. Each cabin is clothed with lovely quilts to complete the experience. Towels and toiletries are provided.
Life-sized teepees with interiors designed by Earthwork Tipi Interiors leave guest with the most unbelievable camping experience imaginable! Each can sleep four comfortably and the Grandmaster of the teepees sleeps up to ten people! All have heating and a/c and are fully furnished. Don’t be surprised if you happen to see guests in Indian costumes running around, or you may even find Diamond John dressed as the Chief. The day before I left, I was goat-roped into wearing the “authentic” feather headdress of the Indian tribe and navigate the kayak on the mighty river. John performed an almighty wrestling act with an alligator.
Earthwork Teepees are
designed by Mother Nature.
These cabins and teepees provide the perfect balance between truly “roughing it” and staying in a hotel and missing all the fun. With 200 channels on satellite television, refrigerators, microwaves, and heating and a/c, one can hardly call this “roughing it”. However, guests have the choice of shutting off the technology by using the firewood and grills that are provided (B.Y.O.C.—Bring Your Own Charcoal) and cooking under the stars. Geese and ducks of all ages and sizes, horses, kitties, along with children scattering with their flashlights to look for semi-precious gems which John has “hidden” for their discovering can be your source of entertainment. Children love this place and I caught John leading a line of kids in some games and lessons.
Geese, ducks, horses, & butterflies
are neighbors in the landscape.
Fishing poles are provided and guests can catch bass, crappie, sunfish, catfish, gar, and trout from shore, canoe, or paddle boat. Along with picnic benches, grills, and firewood, a soothing hot tub is provided for additional outdoor fun.
Whether solo time is your choice of retreat or traveling with a large group, Diamond John’s Riverside Retreat can accommodate one and all. For more information including a video of the campground, photos of the cabins and teepees, check out http://diamondjohns.com . You can also give Diamond John and his family a call at 870/285-4027 or 323/640-6496. They are located at 81 Roy Road, Murfreesboro, Arkansas 71958.
I came to Murfreesboro, AR in hopes of finding some diamonds. Instead, what I discovered is even more precious and valuable. I found a group of incredible people who love their small town, their mine, and who have a heart for sharing what they have with others. To open the 8th largest diamond mine in the world is truly a rare find. If only I could fit all these wonderful people and experiences into a little gem bag and take them home with me!
— Feature and photos by Lena Hunt, Jetsetters Magazine Florida Correspondent.