THE LaQUINTA SILVER STRIKE

This is the LaQuinta Motor Inn at the intersection of Fair Park Boulevard and Interstate 630. On Monday, August 23, 1982, construction workers excavating around water mains at this site were moving a fire hydrant when they found an 800-pound chunk of galena, a mineral that often contains silver as an impurity. Manuel Clark, the worker who found it, had previously been working in Colorado near silver mines and recognized the ore for what it was.

The sample was sent to the Arkansas Geological Commission where State Geologist Norman F. (Bill) Williams estimated the value of the ore at $2000.00 a ton. Want to see it? Here it is. That's Vivian, the lady at the front desk standing in the lobby beside the sealed glass case that contains a punkin-sized hunk of the original wheelbarrow-sized hunk of galena. At right is a closer look. The front of the specimen looks like a wad of silver cubes all melted together. Peek around at the back and you'll see the quartz matrix on which the lead sulfite crystals formed.

A couple of days after the original discovery a second hunk was found, and that was the end of it. Two freak occurrences of fairly rich silver ore. No vein was discovered even though State Geologist Williams said that this rock was of a quality that often occurred in veins.

Darned peculiar, wouldn't you say?

This site is just a few dozen feet from the Interstate 630 overpass, an excavation a hundred feet across and two hundred feet long. Nobody found any silver during that excavation even though state construction crews routinely include a member trained to recognize and identify commercially important minerals. Also, this neighborhood has been developed for decades, and no construction crews have reported finding veins of silver, although Vivian told me that she heard that occasionally people who grew up here would report that they as children had found small silvery crystalline minerals in yards and lots.

And what about Manuel Clark who so conveniently happened to have come from an area where galena was mined? Might he have brought some with him from Colorado? And wasn't the ore found on a Monday morning, after the construction site was left unattended all weekend? Plenty of time to bury even a huge piece of ore. Who had the most to gain from the "discovery" of silver? Follow the money! Follow the money!

Now that I've exercised my suspicious nature, let's get back to reality. First, silver ore is not all that uncommon in this area, although high quality silver ore is. In the mid-19th century silver was mined just across the river in North Little Rock. In the 1860's the family of Colonel Richard Newton, who owned the mines, named the town Argenta, latin for "silver." The name didn't make the silver mines any more prosperous, sad to say. Also, workers excavating for the Missourri Pacific Railway station in downtown Little Rock uncovered abandoned mine shafts, likely dug in hopes of picking silver from pockets in mother earth.

Second, this was 1982. The price of silver was tumbling from its high of over forty dollars an ounce some three years earlier when the Hunt brothers tried to corner the silver market. The timing for a salted silver mine scam would have been particularly ill-chosen. Nobody who had been paying attention to the business news of the past few years would have been interested in acquiring silver.

Third, the property lies right at the interstate highway exit between the suburbs and downtown, less than two miles from War Memorial Stadium, a stone's throw from the ball park and the zoo, walking distance to War Memorial Golf Course, not to mention convenient to shopping and a half-dozen hospitals. To make a mining operation on that lot more valuable than a motel you'd have to mine silver dollars, not silver ore.

Fourth, if you were going to plant some ore in an empty lot, would you plant two rocks totalling over half a ton? You don't just find that kind of mineral specimens by sifting through some Colorado mine tailings. And how much would it have cost ship those rocks a thousand miles? And if somebody had dug a hole that size to plant a couple of huge rocks, surely some of the other workmen would have noticed they were digging in recently excavated dirt. A fraud on that scale would have been fairly troublesome and fairly easy to spot. The added difficulty and risk would far outweigh any benefit the owners could have hoped to gain.

So okay, I believe your story about the silver.

The Gazette printed a couple of amusing sidebars regarding the strike. For a few days after the story first appeared, the foreman arriving early on the job site would have to chase away amateur prospectors. In another incident, somebody tried to acquire the ore which was being kept at the Geological Commission offices by posing as a LaQuinta representative and demanding to be given custody of his client's property.

P.S.--A plaque above this specimen in the LaQuinta lobby states that the motel does in fact sit on top of a vein of ore. I think the vein is assumed, although its presence might have been confirmed some time after the Gazette reports I read.

RTJ--2/1/98


In the neighborhood: The Little Rock


Arkansas Travelogue home page