Rock Hounding In Newton County
There is no shortage of rocks in Newton County. Massive sandstone and limestone bluffs have been formed by the erosive powers of the numerous streams that transect the county. The early pioneers that settled in this rugged mountain area built a tapestry of stone fences. The mineralized water has worked its magic beneath the surface, also. There are more than 150 mapped caves in the county and many hundreds more that may never be found. Some of the travertine formations found in these caves are truly spectacular.
The early Indians (commencing 10,000 - 12,000 years ago) and the first white settlers lived in bluff shelters that can be found throughout Newton County. Countless flint and stone artifacts used by the Indians have been found in these shelters.
Several geological faults have been mapped, (Figure 1) mostly in the northern part of the county. Considerable mineralization (Figure 2) has occurred along these faults. Early prospectors found significant amounts of lead and zinc in these mineralized areas.
Mining in Newton County has been recorded since the mid 1800ís and was mostly on a small scale, using rather primitive methods (Figure 3). In 1876 and 1877 the Boston Mining and Smelting Company, an organization that originated in Illinois, was extracting galena (lead) from the Bald Hill mine located on Cave Creek at the mouth of Haw Hollow. The ore was reduced in a little smelter and hauled by ox-teams over the mountains, a distance of about 70 miles, to Russellville for shipment to Pennsylvania.
Minerals of economic importance found in Newton County, include halloysite (clay), limestone, sandstone, sand, gravel, zinc, and lead. Coal and iron occurrences are of minor economic interest. For the mineral collector, some of the many old mines scattered throughout the county, provide prime mineral collecting sites. The Turkey Fat mine for example produced about 40 tons of zinc carbonate, a large part of which has the appearance of and is known as turkey fat (Smithsonite) (Figure 4). Some very nice galena cubes have been taken from the mines in the Ponca-Boxley district. During the peak period of mining, the population of Ponca grew to about 3700 people. There were hotels, shops, saloons, and all that develops around a mining town during its heyday. (Figure 5) Today, the town has a population of about 50 people and serves as a hub for the million or so canoers that come to float the fabulous Buffalo River.
The Panther Creek mine (Figure 6), located near Diamond Cave, produced rosin jack, ruby jack (sphalerite - zinc ore minerals), and carbonate ore. The associated minerals are pink spar, calcite, and jasperoid chert.
The ore minerals at the Confederate mine are mainly galena, smithsonite, and rosin jack (sphalerite). The Confederate forces mined lead here in 1864.
The Arkansas geological survey keeps a record of most mining activity in Newton County. Their records show that there were more than 25 small mining operations all with the intent of making a large zinc and/or lead strike. All the old prospectors are mostly gone now and there has been no lead and zinc mining in Newton County for many years. However, if you can find them, (check for locations shown in Figure 7) these old mine sites are good places to search for a variety of Ozark minerals. The most common minerals to search for are: sphalerite (zinc), galena (lead), quartz, dolomite, chalcopyrite, smithsonite, and calcite. (Figure 8) See Bottom of Page
Most rock hounds are also interested in collecting fossils. Crinoids (Figure 9) are plentiful throughout the county and some marvelous specimens have been found. Other fossils to look for are: brachiopods, gastropods, pelecypods, cephalopods, vertebrates (shark teeth, saber-toothed cat teeth, etc), plants such as stromatolites (Figure 10), (algal mounds), lepidodendron (and other scale trees) and a most interesting group referred to as pseudo-fossils. These curious objects (Figure 11), include such things as: cone-in-cone structures, concretions, (developed through the concentration of such things as calcium carbonate in shale) and dendrite Ė a dendritic habit of manganese oxide.
If you are just visiting Newton County and donít have the time to do your own rockhounding, please check in with the folks at Ozark Rocks and Minerals. There you can find lots of rocks, gems, fossils and minerals and a lot of free information about rock-hounding in Newton County.
PLEASE NOTE: No collecting is allowed in the Buffalo River National Park! Also, Please respect private property and obtain permission before trespassing. Some of the old mines are very dangerous, SO PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION !