Nearby Crater of Diamonds State Park champions itself as the only place in the world where the public can dig for diamonds. But that famous attraction may have never existed if it hadn’t been for a man named Millard M. Mauney.
In the early 1900s, Murfreesboro, Arkansas, resident John Wesley Huddleston discovered diamonds on his property. Experts were brought to the area and confirmed the land near Murfreesboro was indeed rich with the precious gems. Huddleston’s neighbor Mauney, who owned 40 acres of diamond-bearing soil nearby, saw a money-making opportunity in the discovery.
With a newly installed train running to Murfreesboro from Nashville, Tennessee, Mauney gambled on the belief tourists and miners might be willing to travel to Arkansas for the chance to hunt for diamonds. Mauney and his sons cleared their field, plowing and harrowing it to help bring diamonds to the surface. They charged visitors $.50 for the chance to sift through the dirt, with the promise visitors could keep anything they found. Within the first month of business, visitors were finding diamonds, including one 8.1 carat gem. Guests used one of Mauney’s houses, a log cabin built in the 1830s, as a gathering place while visiting the mine.
However, the mine was short-lived. Huddleston’s finds, which had occurred many years earlier, had garnered the interest of investors, but those investors had already moved on by the time Mauney opened his mine. Subsequently, the infrastructure needed to bring more visitors to the area was never put into place and tourism to the area largely dried up. One year after opening the mine, Mauney closed up shop and sold shares of the property and leased his remaining land to corporations.
Since then, the land went through a series of owners before finally winding up in the hands of the State of Arkansas, along with the land once owned by Huddleston. Today, tourists flock to what is now Crater of Diamonds State Park and do what Mauney initially envisioned—pay a small fee to sift through the dirt in the hopes of finding a diamond they can call their own.