One Big Rock

Bob Taylor tells of the 27-carat diamond found in Holly Springs


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 30, 2003

The area is not known for its diamonds, but a big one (27 carats) was found in the Holly Springs community in White County in 1929. The lucky finder was 11-year-old Alice Taylor, who was chopping cotton on her parents’ farm. She was hoeing near a big oak stump when she spotted what appeared to be a pretty rock. She didn’t know what she had found and thought it could be a marble. She also wondered if it was a stone that you could mark with.

          Her youngest brother, Robert (Bob) Taylor, was an infant in 1929, but when he got a little older, he saw the diamond often.

          “It was about as big as a quail egg,” he said recently. “It was round on the big end and gradually became smaller toward the other end. It was smoky white.”

          Alice’s mother, Tilda Taylor, kept the stone for Alice for a while. Three Taylor boys – Guy, Bill and Henry – were rumored to have played marbles with the diamond, but Bob Taylor doesn’t think they did. Alice was still in her teens when she married W.P. Howell in the 1930s. Within a few years, they had four little girls, including twins. During those years, Alice kept the stone in a soft leather bag that was about the size of a roll-your-own tobacco sack, Bob said. Her caution didn’t keep the little girls from playing with the stone. One day, one of them dropped it through a knothole in the floor.

          It was probably under the house for almost a year.  It might have stayed lost forever if the oldest girl, Nellave, had not enjoyed crawling under the house to look for hen eggs. She was about four when she found the stone. Fortunately for Alice’s peace of mind, she didn’t realize that the stone had been lost until after it was found. “She didn’t know that it was out of the bag,” Bob said.

          For a long time, Alice and other members of the family had been wondering about the stone’s value. She wondered even more after it was almost lost for good.

          Bob remembers two other things that aroused her curiosity. She tried to file off the smallest tip of the stone, and it cut the file, he said. It also scratched the stone and left a mark.

          In 1942, Alice took the stone to Noel Crook, who had a drugstore on the square in Searcy. She asked him if the stone was worth something. Crook wasn’t sure, but he sent it to the geology department at the University of Arkansas for Alice. The geology professors thought it was a precious stone and recommended that it be sent to the jewelers at Tiffany’s in New York for evaluation. Famous for its jewelry, silver, china and crystal, Tiffany’s wanted to buy the stone and sent Alice a written offer. She thught it was for $85, which was a lot of money in those days. She was also afraid the stone might be lost if she asked the store to mail it back to her.

          When Tiffany’s check arrived, it was for $8,500. “Alice went wild with excitement,” Bob Taylor said. “She got the four girls andwalked the two miles to Daddy’s house. He still owed about $300 on the farm, and she paid the debt off.” She used a lot of money to buy a home in Pontiac, Mich., where her husband was temporarily living in an apartment and working for General Motors. The family moved permanently to Pontiac in 1944.

          Bob Taylor was 13 in 1942 when Alice received the check from Tiffany’s. He was handling the farm almost by himself. His brothers were in the Army, and his father was working in Michigan.   He said that whenever he plowed close to the oak stump where the diamond was found he stopped to look for another one. His mother would look, too, when she was hoeing, he said. He joked that he looked so hard for diamonds that he almost put his eyes out and that led to his need for glasses. The only interesting stones he found were some with fossils that indicated that the area was once under water.

          No other diamond was found, though many people came to the farm to look. A 1950 article that appeared in Coronet, a national magazine, brought some diamond-seekers from a distance. A woman with a strong background in geology came from Illinois. She searched over much of the 240-acre farm without success. Bob remembers seeing her crawl down in a ditch that he said he wouldn’t have gone because it was a snaky place.

          In the late 1960s, an Australian geologist called from Little Rock to ask if he could take a look. Though Bob’s parents had sold the farm and moved to Clay in the early 1950s, Bob went with the man to the old Holly Springs farm. The Australian took a sledgehammer, smashed some rocks and concluded that there was no way Alice’s diamond could have been formed in the area.

          Where did the 27-carat diamond, said to be the third largest found in North America, come from? No one knows. Bob’s favorite guess is that an Indian brought it to what became the Holly Springs community. Others have suggested that a crow may have picked it up in the diamond mines around Murfreesboro and carried it to White County. A third theory is that volcanic action long ago may have produced the diamond where it was found.    That possibility has lost favor in recent years.

          Tiffany’s seems to have kept Alice’s diamond on display since 1942. Thirty or more years ago, an FBI agent stationed in Arkansas told Bob that he had seen it there.

          Dr. T.A. Formby, a retired physician who lives in Searcy and has a long-standing interest in the diamond story because the Taylors were some of his patients, has seen the diamond at Tiffany’s. He and his wife, Mary, visited the store in the early ‘90s and asked about the Arkansas diamond. “It was still there and has never been cut,” he said.

          Bob Taylor is the only family member living who was on hand when Alice fund the diamond in 1929. Their father died in 1955 and their mother in 1988. Alice and brothers Guy, Bill and Henry have all died in recent years.

          Bob was in the Army briefly during the Korean War. He farmed until 1965, when he moved to Searcy to become a policeman. He is a retiree now and the custodian of his family’s diamond story.  It’s a good one. vvv