Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rough Diamonds - Part Two

     While washing out my gravel one day, one man, a northerner new to the field, hung around, telling me how easy finding diamonds was. "I just walked around, looking, yesterday. I found ten diamonds, right on top of the ground"."Did you get them certified? Lots of things look like diamonds out here,"  I  said. "No, but I'm sure. I "certified" them myself on the internet." I wanted  to tell him, if he would bring any two of them to the visitor's center the next day, get a certification card on them at the Visitor's center, I would kiss his butt in the middle of the field, at high noon, and give him 30 minutes to draw a crowd. But, I only thought about it. He was a big guy.  
     I returned home after that first trip, washed all my fine gravel out well, and lay them out in the greenhouse to dry. Son Corey happened to walk by that drying gravel that afternoon, and said, "What 's this piece of glass doing in here?" Before he could throw it out, I grabbed his hand. A beautiful, yellow, one carat diamond. I had reached my goal, the rest was just gravy.
     I spent many, many nights going through all that gravel, three buckets full. One spoon full at a time, under bright lights. I found one more diamond, a white 7 point. 100 points equals a carat.
     My obsession didn't hit me really hard again until 30 years later, when I was semi-retired, and I was only a short drive away.
     My new equipment was better, aluminum where I once used wood, and I made an aluminum sled to haul it on. Powered equipment and wheels were forbidden. Things were different too.  Many hundreds of diamonds had been removed from that field in 30 years, and it was very difficult to find virgin soil. I was once digging a very deep hole, way back under a large tree, and the word was getting around that I was probably in new dirt, a very rare thing. Some of the full timers came by to look. I was getting excited, then I started washing out old nails. Ten feet deep under a large tree.
     A new tool had been added. The Seruca. It was a tool straight from the South African diamond mines. Shaped somewhat like a gold pan, but with stainless steel wire. A load of gravel, worked around properly under water, concentrated the heavy minerals, including diamonds, in the middle, on the bottom. Flipped over, this left the heavy minerals on top, right in the middle. Let this dry, and look that area over carefully, and there was no need to take all the gravel home to inspect. Or, just take that small handful in the middle, which I always did.
     A young man from Iowa started at about the time I did. We both went many days without finding a diamond. But once he did, he was totally hooked. He went back to Iowa, sold most of his stuff, and moved back to the mine, living in a tent outside. He hunted full time, and the hard way. I never knew how many he found  But every day I was there he was hard at it. I heard he later found some nice ones along the way. I fully expect  he will be one of those who leaves that field at last, as a totally broken down old man.
     Some got around  the "Fill up your hole at the end of the day" rule by hauling in a piece of plywood, hiding the entrance, cover it with dirt, and come back to that same spot the next day. I was busy washing away one day when one of those guys came up and told me I was working on his doorway, dumping my mud on it. He had a system of caves dug underneath that area.
     I saw two or three men set in and dig a new hole five feet across and they took turns and dug all day. They were able to get 12 or 14 feet deep, pulled out a diamond from the bottom, and still got it filled back up that day.
     I dug 30 days that winter, yet my total find was one diamond and a small amount of gold. I always told the other guys, "I am the best equipped, most knowledgable, and the hardest working of all the Non-Producers."And I think that was true. The park officials would not believe I found that gold there, asserting, "There is no gold in this park." But God and I both know I did.
     Though I proved to not be a productive diamond hunter that winter, I did find two diamonds, of another type, who totally outshown any type of mineral that might be found there.
     Henry and Lori Emison were mining away when I first met them. They were becoming regulars,  and everyone soon began to realize, they just worked a lot harder that anybody else. Henry was a total machine when he has a shovel in his hand. He could outwork anyone, five to one.
     Some Texas diamond hunters were digging one day, and hit the glory hole. It was a thin strip of fine creek gravel, and they found it very deep. An old creek bed from eons past. They quickly began to find many diamonds, but by then they were totally exhausted. Time was getting short. They had to leave for Texas that day.
     Henry was working across the creek from them, and they, like everyone else, soon realized he was a digging machine. They went over and made a deal. "We are in a very rich diamond bed. Dig with us and we will split the diamonds found." Henry went for the deal, and by the end of the day, Henry had 5 very nice diamonds.
     Henry called me that night and told me exactly where that glory hole was. Quite naturally, I was there ready to dig the next morning. But a full timer had already taken over that spot, and he dug there for days. He told me after he had washed it all out, many days later, that he found no diamonds. If he was telling me straight, it seems the glory hole was exhausted. Later, I was there on a day after a large rain, and the glory hole area was under four feet of water. I told some college guys of the twenty some odd diamonds found in that hole in one day. When I came back by later that day, they were sitting in that hole, reaching down under water, and gathering up that dirt, handful at a time. There are no lengths to which one bitten by the diamond bug will not go.
     My grandson Jordan came with me one day shortly after that. At the end of the day, he wisely informed me, "Papaw, anything that is fun can never be this hard." Great words of wisdom from a child. He was right. Every part of my body ached. My body was breaking down, and I was becoming one of those "broken down old men." After 30 days, I hung up my shovel and screens, and have never been back. But some day I will, and I have already planned out my approach when I do. I have a spoon attached to a long handle. I will wait until right after a very large rain. Then I will walk arould all over that field, look for tiny reflections from the sun, pick them all up and put them in a bucket. Then wash out only that. Many lucky people have found beautiful diamonds there, right on top of the ground. Maybe mother luck will shine upon me some day. Lord knows, I deserve it!
     Henry continued his obsession. He was still working full time, landscaping and construction, but he is a man among men, one who could come over after work and still do a day's work at the mines. Just naturally, he found many more diamonds. They rented a house from me in Gurdon, 16 miles from Arkadelphia. Partially because they loved that very old, six bedroom brick house, the oldest brick house in Gurdon. But, mostly, it was close to the diamond mines.
     Henry and Lori didn't just stand out in their ability to work. Henry preached, for free, at Nursing Homes. A young girl was desperate for a home. They adopted her, even though it greatly strained their budget. That kind of people.
     When they moved into my old house, I saw Lori just loved to fix it up, and they hoped to buy it some day. I made them a rock bottom price, but they didn't feel ready to take that on yet. I went down to the Hardware store in Gurdon, opened an account, and told Lori to charge anything she needed to improve that old house. She did, and she never abused my trust. It was quickly a far better house that it had been in many, many years.

     This is not the end of my Henry and Lori story. They will come back in later, in a very big way. Little did I know, they were destined to become my salvation, when an almost impossible task faced me. A job requiring absolute,  human working machines.
CONTINUED IN ONE WEEK.  Thanks for Reading

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rough Diamonds and Flashing Trophies

Rough Diamonds, Flashing Trophies, and a Baby

     All us Gillums took a trip one day. We went to the Crater of Diamonds State Park at Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The kids were still young, and were excited about digging around in that dirt ---for about ten minutes. We didn't find a diamond, but it did have a profound effect on me. I was hooked.
     That park is one of a kind. It's the only place in the world where you can go in, pay a modest fee, look for diamonds with a reasonable chance of finding one, and keep what you find.
     I knew, after that trip, that I could never rest until I found a rough diamond. Everyone has a cut diamond or two lying around, but who do you know that has a rough diamond, straight from the earth?
     I watched what appeared to me to be the most serious hunters. What they did, the tools they used. I filed it all away in my head.
     It was not long until I had my tools constructed, and had gathered up whatever else I would need. I headed out for a three day trip.
     Arriving at the diamond field, I studied rough diamonds that were on display, so I could recognize one. I then hauled all of my equipment to the far side of the field, where a hand pump and a water trough awaited.
     I found a likely spot, where the ground appeared to have been disturbed very little. Those places were scarce, even then, in the 70's. The place I chose was back in under a tree, and the chisel on a rod worked really well. I loaded up ten five gallon buckets with mud, carried them to the trough, and washed it all through a series of screens, the finest on the bottom. The larger gravel I laid out to dry, then examined it on the field. The smallest I carried home to go through more carefully.
      I was geared up like a pro now, and I played the part. If tourists tried to look over my drying gravel, I ran them off. "Can't feed a family here, with everybody looking through my gravel." They asked me if I made a good living at it. "Well, I don't get very rich." "Do you have a real diamond with you, so we can see what one looks like?"  "Nah. Can't be carrying all that weight around." 
     James Archer was an old man who hunted more than anybody in the old days. And he found more. He was a legend, and I was fortunate enough to get to work beside him and get to know him. I watched his methods, and tried to be just like James Archer. I failed.
     He told me that one day he had found a really nice diamond, just as a couple of rough men walked up. Afraid they might try to get it from him, he just dropped it in his sand bucket. He was never able to find it again. Made me wonder how many diamonds I might miss, going through my sand, if that could happen to a legend.
     Diamond fever is much like gold fever. It becomes a consuming obsession for some men. Over the years, I have seen far more broken down old men, their arms and legs shot, still chasing their dreams in that field, than I have seen diamonds.
In those days, men just went deeper and deeper, often for days. I have seen some holes that were 20 feet deep. But rules eventually were established. Dig a hole, fill it back up that same day.

     Fortunately for me, I still lived far away, and I was still very busy at home, so my trips there were scarce. One more three day trip, later, and scattered one day trips. After we lived at Arkadelphia, only a short drive away, I worked hard at it only one winter. So I finished up pretty well physically intact. But I did know a lot of men who finally left that field a broken down old man. None of these, to my knowledge, got rich at it. Digging diamonds, full time, the way the big boys do it, is a man killer.
     Diamonds can be had the easy way on that field. Approach many of the "professional" looking diggers, when you are alone, and ask if he has any diamonds for sale. He may glance around, confirm nobody is looking, and motion you to his backpack. He may pull out a brilliant display of rough diamonds, each with a certification card. If you have the bucks, you can get a rough diamond easily.
     It's not always easy to identify some diamonds. Some may be attached to other minerals, and if one does not look at all sides of the sample closely, the visible portion of the diamond may not show up well. The key discription is, look for a metallic lustre.  And, there are lots of shiny minerals on that field. I have a little display showing one diamond, and ten little gems that, to a novice, may look like a diamond. I have asked lots of tourists to identify the diamond, and few can do it the first time. Though I firmly believe I am by no means an identification expert. I think that may have been one of my problems. After being turned down, time after time, when I took a specimen up to the visitor's center for certification, I got a little hesitant to try. Since I stopped digging, I have seen many certified diamonds that I would have had doubts about, and probably have passed on.

     One of the legendary hunters was telling me a little story. Said he and a tourist were walking onto the field one morning. The tourist, obviously a rich man, asked him if he had a large diamond for sale, at least six carats. He had to tell him no, he didn't have one that size. After they went their seperate ways a few steps, he noticed something on the ground, picked it up. After looking it over good, he turned to the tourist, and hollered, "By the way, I do have one about eight carats. Are you interested?" He was. Now, take stories with a grain of salt. Diamond hunters are a lot like fishermen when it comes to stories. One big man, who got really famous on the field for finding so many diamonds one summer, and whose picture is still up in the visitor's center because  of it, told me he became so famous with the tourists, that three different women approached him on the field, and begged him into going into the woods with her.  It seems to me that's just too easy no matter how famous one is.  
CONTINUED IN ONE WEEK       Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nat Turner

I went through dozens upon dozens of books and documents in researching my book, Forever Cry.
On occasion, I ran across a story I thought you might enjoy. Warning: very violent.

     Nat was a precocious child. He so impressed those around him by his knowledge of things that happened before he was born, that many predicted he would be a prophet. Nat was taught to read by his parents. He was greatly influenced by his grandmother, who was very religious. He was taught that he was very unique, and that he had a great destiny. “My father and mother strengthened me……..saying, in my presence, I was intended for some great purpose.” Restless, inquisitive, and observant, Nat learned to read quickly, and was admitted to religious services in his master’s household. As a child, his ability to read impressed the slaves around him, so that if they planned any roguery, it was left for young Nat to plan it out. He was their leader, greatly looked up to.
     Nat strengthened his leadership over the slaves, as he grew into manhood, “by the austerity of my life and manners, which became the subject of remark by white and black-----Having soon discovered to be great, I must appear so, and therefore studiously avoided mixing in society, and wrapped myself in mystery, devoting my time to fasting and prayer.” Nat became convinced, through these activities, “That I was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty.” Several things confirmed this. Upon reaching manhood, he recalled vividly that both Whites and Blacks during childhood had often said, “that I had too much sense to be raised, and if I was, I would never be of any use to anybody as a slave.” Apparently Nat’s discontent with slavery was inspired by his father, who had managed to escape.
     When Nat was placed under a new overseer, he too ran away, and remained in the woods for thirty days. The slaves around him were dismayed at his voluntary return, saying that  “if I had his sense I would not serve any master in the world.” Shortly afterward, Nat had a vision where he saw “white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened----thunder rolled across the heavens, and blood flowed in streams----and I heard a voice saying,  ‘Such is your luck, such you are called to see. And let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bear it.’” Meditating on this and other revelations, seeking religious perfection,  Nat had decided in 1828 that he was destined to wreak the vengeance of the Lord on the planters. Choosing four trusted lieutenants, Nat communicated his desire for rebellion to them. It was finally decided to strike on July 4, 1831. But Nat had an anxiety attack, and the date was postponed.
     On August 20th, along with two new conspirators, Will and Jack, they barbecued a pig and drank a bottle of brandy. Nat queried Will, who told him, “my life is worth no more than others, and my liberty as dear to me.” “Will you attain that liberty?” “I will, or lose my life.”
     Now confident of his men, Nat decided to strike first at the home of his master, Joseph Travis, who “was to me a kind master, and placed the utmost confidence in me. In fact, I have no cause to complain of his treatment of me.”
     Nat entered the house of his sleeping master, then opened the door for the other rebels. Armed with a dull light sword, Nat failed in his first attempt to kill his master, who was then dispatched by Will. Hoping to gather a huge black army from the surrounding plantations before the alarm could be raised, it was decided by the conspirators that until they had taken sufficient arms from the whites, “neither age nor sex was to be spared.” This was adhered to.
     Moving silently through the night, Nat led his army, leaving a trail of ransacked plantations, decapitated bodies, and battered heads across Southampton. At the Whitehead plantation, Nat caught Margaret Whitehead, and “after repeated blows with a sword, I killed her with a blow on the head with a fence rail.” By midmorning the little band had grown to forty men, some of them mounted.  Determined to “carry terror and devastation” throughout the county, Nat led his army against plantations and prevented the escape of the whites.  Many white families had now been massacred and the rebels had increased to sixty men. Nat turned his army toward the little town of Jerusalem. By this time, however, the alarm had been spread, and the rebels were confronted by eighteen armed white men.
     Nat and his men immediately charged the small band of white men and chased them over a hill, where they were joined by a very large number of whites. Nat’s men panicked and ran. But Nat did not give up the struggle. Determined to raise additional forces, he was prevented  in doing this by the militia. Nat was sure his men would make it back to their old neighborhood, and raise more men. This did not happen. After hiding for two weeks, he was captured by a white man. Nat was lodged in jail and executed. More than forty blacks were killed in the aftermath. Feeling no remorse for the fifty five whites killed, Nat calmly contemplated his execution. A white lawyer gave the best characterization of Nat when he wrote:
He is a complete fanatic, or plays his part most admirably.
……….The calm, deliberate composure with which he spoke of his late deeds and intentions, the expression of his fiend like face…..when excited by enthusiasm, still bearing the stain of blood of helpless innocence about him; clothed in rags and covered with chains; yet daring to raise his manacled hands to Heaven, with a spirit soaring above the attributes of man; I looked on him, and my blood curdled in my veins.
     The black rebels “curdled” the blood of many Southern whites. Nat became the “bogey man” for young whites, “worry some property” for many a master, and a hero in the quarters. Many a white master now slept behind tightly locked doors, gun under the pillow. Does his slave quarters hold another Nat Turner?                          

Much Material for this post came from – Plantation Life in the Antebellum South-- by John W. Blassingame      New york  Oxford  University Press   1972