Romantic Story of the American Pearl
(Copyright, 1903, by H. B. Warner.)
ViVERAL weeks ao a New York
pearl dealer sold a lot of domeatlo
pearls to a Frenchman In Paris.
The 'Parisian did not even take
the trouble to ship them on to
l..Jia, but after drill njr them in the French
capital Invoiced them to a firm of American
jewelers as Oriental prarli. When th man
who had sold, them to the Frenchman re
turned to New York a few days ag j ha
found tha gemo on exhibition in a New
York showcase. He recognised thorn im
mediately as the ones he had cold to his
French customer and for the fun of tha
thing he thought he would Inquire about
the price. ,
"We are asking $75,009 for thm." replied
the Jeweler. "They are, genuine Orientals
and we ought to get a 'little more, s.-elns;
that the price' of pearls Is going up."
'Wait a minute," sat J the export, "ri aie
turn that ' pearl over. Now look. Just at
the edge of the hole where the gem is
drilled you will And a dark colored spot.
Bee It? Look as if . the skin had been
bruised and had healed.". ...
The Jeweler looked, screwing bis "loup"
up to hls'eye and taking a careful squint.
' That's right," he said finally.' Then ha
snatched away hlH "loup" and gazed at
the dealer. "Say," he asked, looking at tha
expert sharply and hugging the pearl tight,
"who are you?" '
"Tell you later; let's talk about those
pcar'.s. They are interesting to me. I used
to own them once. 1 bought them out In
Ni-wpott, Arkansas, when they hadn't been
out of the water more than fifteen minutes.
They cost me l'ss than $10,0(0. I sold them
In Paris for $;5.000. They cost you about
$50,000. 1 could have, fold them to you for
$13.0ii0. Now, here's my name; here are
some pearls, domestic ones like yours.
Want to buy?"
The Jeweler almost fell over at the first .
rewlation, but the second rallied him.
"No," he said rigidly, "we don't want to
handle :iny domes-tic pearl. It will spoil
our trade and reputation."
It is doubtful whether this or any other
Jeweler will be able much longer to handle
domestic pearls as Oriental Jewels and
thereby secure big profits, for the simple
rosson that the pear'-bearing clams are
disappearing from the bottom of the Mis
sissippi river and it tributaries at a rate
that threatens total extinction of the spe
cies In a very short time. Many of tha
nuut productive rivers of the pearling sec
tions have been swept clean of the pearl
makers and unless something is done soon
a business that Is worth hundreds of thou
sands of dollars annually to the people of
o 'i i
those sections will pass away as quickly
as It came. And in' this conjunction It Is
Interesting to note that the pearl oysters of
Ceylon are now so scarce that the govern
ment Is soon to put In force a law which
'will prohibit all pearl fishing for a period
of five years.
Within the past three years more than
$3,000,000 worth of pearls have been taken
from the waters of the Mississippi valley.
At least three-fourths of the pearls have
come from' the Black and . White rivers of
Arkansas. In 1901 about $1,500,000 worth of
the gems were taken from the Black river
alone, most of which came from a section
not twenty miles long, with Newport as Its
center, Iast year less than $1,000,000 worth
were taken and this season the output has
fallen oh more than aO per cent. The BlacR
river has been entirely cleaned out and the
swarms of fortune hunters has gone over
to the White river, a few ml'es distant,
and that, too, has given up nearly all its
When this river has been depleted the
largest pearling region in the middle west
will become what it originally was sn un
populated wilderness. Already thousands
of people have left and Newport and other
towns which sprang up In a night are rap
Idly dwindling. In Newport more business
houses and dwel'lngs are vacant than are
occupied; Its population has fallen within
a little more than a year from 15,000 to
The other Important domestic pearl cen
ter la on the MisaiSHlptil itself, around
Prairie Du Chien. Wis., but it does not
compare with the southern beds aiJ fish
ing for pearls there Is more of a side line
to the Industry of obtaining shells for' the
numerous pearl button tactor'.eti along the
river in this vicinity. The pearl button, oil
and fertilizing industries have been as
largely renponsib'e for the decimation of
the pearl-bearing ciam beds as the pearl
hunters and both have decorated the shores
of the Mississippi from La Crosse, Wis., to
New Orleans with evidences of their rav
ages. The pearling fever started in the summer
of 1900. An old sunburnt fisherman was tne
caute of it. lie was fishing from a skiff
anchored In the middle of the Black river;
his bait ran out find he wanted some more.
The easiest way to get it was to rake up a
clam from the bottom of the stream, about
eight feet below the surface of the water.
The bivalve that he brought up was an in-
A TYPICAL. PEARL BUTTON FACTORY.
nocent-looklng specimen, and there was
nothing In Its appearance that fore
shadowed the great excitement to come.
The fisherman, whistling a little tune. In
serted his knife blade between the shells
and pried them apart. As he did so a beau
tiful, round, ' lustrous pearl dropped out on
the thwart of the skiff and rolled to the
bottom of the craft, where it lay glistening
In the forenoon sun.
The fisherman sat blinking at it for a full
minute, then made a dive for it, and worked
harder than he ever hud before In his life
to get to shore on the double quick. He
sold the pearl to a local Jeweler for $100 and
retired to private life. His retirement,
however, lasted less than a week, for the
' f I
tt if- "
' T I
IN A PK A RISERS' CAMP.
report of the rind spread fur. and wide, and
the inhabitants of that section, , including
the fisherman, rushed ut the sand beds at
the bottom of the Black river with all kinds
of Implements, ' from pitchforks to scow
dredges, and piled the river banks with
clums for miles up and down the stream.
The Jeweler who had purchased the pearl
from the fisherman sold It In New York for
$2,000. which win more than he had made
in his little store In three years.
The excitement was Intense In Arkansas,
and In a comparatively short time every In
habitant In the vicinity of the Black river,
both old and young, male and female, were
delving for clams and pearls. Laborers loft
the farms, clerks and business men turned
fortune seekers, and even society women
went down to the shores of the stream and
waded Into the water, searching for pearl
An old negro by the name of Nelse Parks
found a clam which netted him something
over- 310. With the proceed Nelse pur
chased a fine buggy. Before he could buy
a horse a circus came to town, and when
It left, the balance of Nelse's bank ac
count went with It, so that he wan com
pelled to sell his buggy without taking a
ride in It.
A farmer who was driving home with
a wagon load of clams was attacked by a
dog. He threw a couple of bivalves at the
dog. The owner of the dog picked up the
shells opened them, and in one of them
PKARL DREDGES AND DREDdERa.
?;(5 r; i I i-:v !vn
, : .J . .. - .. .. ,
found a poirl .vhlch made him as much
of a capitalist as the man who bought the
A family of negroes that lived In a hut,
and went partially unclothed all the year
round, became wealthy, built a palace of
a home, and hired white men for sorvanta.
Not one in the family could read or write,
yet they bought automobiles, steam
launches and horses.
Boys to whom 60 cents was wealth,
enough for a week of national holidays,
started bank accounts and amassed com
fortable fortunes, and many a poor youth
In a few weeks got enough pearls to se
cure to him the college education he had
bicn forced to forego.
The excitement spread from the land to
the river steamboats. Their crews de
serted them, and sometimes their captains,
and the Black river was the scene of the
wildest excitement. New towns were built
and old ones were Increased to the siae
of cities. Streets were laid out, banks and
mercantile establishments were started,
mortgage wore lifted, money was plenty
and times were prosperous. The section
sprang Into prominence, both financially
and socially, in the state, and New York
pearl dealers flocked there in great num
bers, and soon the pearl market centers
of the United States and Europe were
flooded with American pearls.' This was at
a time when oriental pearls were scarce,
and when the demand for them was con
stantly on the Jump. European pearl deal
ers began to open their eyes to the beauty,
size and quan'ity of the domestic gems.
The excitement In the pearling section
continued throughout the summers of 1900
and 1901, and only subsided when the
S'uck river was cleaned of pearls. Then
the fortune s?ekers swarmed out to the
Mississippi river and explored the streams,
creeks and bayous of Arkansas. No rich
fishing wa3 struck, however, until White
river was reached. Here the scenes on
the Black river were enacted.
The Mississippi has always been lasy
in the matter of dispensing pearls, and
although they have teen found there for
the past half a century, hardly ever has
there been any great pearling excitement.
Willi the new Impetus, however, given
thut Industry by the pearl fisheries of Ar
kan a, more Mississippi gems were
brought to light. Because of Its alse, tlfe
(Continued on Page Fifteen.)
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