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Rural Missouri Magazine

Mo's rock
Missouri’s state rock still fascinates the amateur geologists of the Mozarkite Society of Lincoln

by Bob McEowen

Marvin Johnson of Windsor, one of the newest members of the Mozarkite Society of Lincoln, examines a rock collected from Linville Harm’s mozarkite mine after chipping the edge of the stone with a carpenter’s hammer. Club members gathered at the mine recently to collect mozarkite for a society fundraiser. Mozarkite, a type of chert native to the Benton County area, is Missouri’s official state rock.

The temperature drops steadily and the sky is heavy with the threat of rain, but all eyes are fixed firmly on the ground as a group of amateur geologists spread out across a bare field northeast of Lincoln.

Each of the rockhounds wields a hammer as they pick up loose stones or pry softball-size nodules from the clay. The oldest member of the group, 83-year-old Linville Harms, displays the most practiced technique, deftly chipping the edge of each rock he examines.

Linville is the patriarch of the Mozarkite Society of Lincoln, a geology club that exists to promote awareness and appreciation for Missouri’s official state rock. On this cold November day, a half-dozen club members, along with friends and guests, scour the Harms Family Mozarkite Mine in search of worthy samples of the colorful stone. While the more experienced collectors confidently fill five-gallon buckets with rocks, others turn to Linville for advice.

With his practiced eye, he quickly discerns whether a specimen is a “keeper” or a piece of “leavarite” — as in “leave it right there.”

“I tend to go to the reds and blues and blacks,” he says. “I like the brighter colors. But if I can find a pastel or lighter color stone that’s got a good mixture of colors in there, I’d just as soon have that as a bright one.”

Amateur geologists chip the edge of rocks they find at the Harms Family Mozarkite Mine near Lincoln to reveal colors and patterns hidden inside.

Color is one of the most desirable characteristics of mozarkite, a variety of cryptocrystalline quartz, or chalcedony, found in Benton County and few other places in Missouri.

“Scientifically, it’s a piece of chert, but it certainly does have characteristics that make it unique,” says Joe Gillman, Missouri’s state geologist.

“It has some specific attributes that make it not only beautiful in color variation, but also being able to take a high polish, which makes it attractive to lapidaries,” says Gillman, director of the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Geology and Land Survey.

Truthfully, mozarkite is not much different than any number of other agates, jaspers or quartz — the kind of stones sold in little sacks and priced by the pound at tourist sites and gift shops. But for the dedicated enthusiasts of the Mozarkite Society, Missouri’s native chert stands above the rest.

“Probably what separates mozarkite from the others is three things, really,” Linville says. “Number 1, it’s a little bit harder. Number 2, it will probably have more color or shades of color in a given stone than the others and, number 3, it will probably polish better.”

Although it is classified as semi-precious stone, mozarkite is not expensive. Linville charges prospectors $1.50 a pound for rough stones collected at the mine. A 2-inch polished stone might bring $3 to $5 at a gift shop. Despite the relatively modest cost of the stones, club members pore over the day’s take as if they were examining treasure, comparing colors and patterns in the samples they’ve collected.

Mozarkite, Missouri’s state rock, displays varied patterns and colors when polished.

“I just love the discovery process,” says Jean Eckstein, a charter member of the Mozarkite Society, which formed in 2000. “It’s like Christmas, opening a present, because you don’t know, once you crack that open, what you’re going to see. Each piece is different.”

The most-prized pieces, club members say, reveal an image of a recognizable object or scene. At the club’s monthly meetings, members show off prized cabochons — polished ovals of stone — that they say bear the likeness of a pink poodle, an elephant, a desert scene or a mountain cabin, among other perceived natural artwork.

Robin Kimber, another original member, is a lapadary — he cuts and polishes Mozarkite to make jewelry. He says he enjoys the thrill of seeing what nature has hidden inside a piece of mozarkite.

“What fascinates me is that you take a rock and it just looks like a plain old ordinary rock, but when you cut into it, you’re the very first person to see the inside of that rock,” he says. “That is so cool.”

Missouri rockhounds have been fascinated with mozarkite since the late 1950s, when concentrated deposits were discovered in Benton County. One of the most notable finds occurred in 1958, when Harold and Dee McCain began excavation for a 20-acre lake near Lincoln.

Linville Harms has been collecting mozarkite for nearly 50 years. Today, he is the patriarch of the Mozarite Society of Lincoln and maintains a 20-acre plot of ground as Missouri’s only mozarkite mine.

“They woke up one morning and there was a bunch of people out there scurrying around the dam,” recalls the couple’s son, Doug, now a Lincoln real estate agent. “They investigated and found out they were getting this Missouri rock.”

A year later, the McCains opened the Timberline Lake Rock and Gem Shop, which supplied mozarkite — then known simply as Missouri agate — to rockhounds nationwide. An early and frequent customer at the shop was Phillip Widel, an amateur geologist from Blackwater. Doug McCain wrote about Widel’s appreciation for the unususal native stone in “Mozarkite: Gemstone of the Ozarks,” a booklet recalling the history of the Missouri state rock.

“I’ve hunted crystals in the diamond mine in Arkansas, jade in Wyoming, turquoise in Arizona and agate in Montana. I’ve hunted rocks in all of the Western states and in Old Mexico and Canada,” Doug quotes Widel as saying. “But none of my other finds fascinates me as much as the mozarkite at Lincoln.”

Another earlier fancier of Missouri agate was Linville Harms, who worked as the rock shop’s production manager. Together, he and Widel are credited with coining the name mozarkite, which literally means Missouri Ozarks rock.

The pecularity of this Missouri stone was enough to make the Lincoln Rock Swap, which began in 1962, an annual pilgrimage for rockhounds throughout Missouri and the Midwest. In 1967, rock clubs from Kansas City and St. Louis petitioned the Missouri General Assembly to officially recognize mozarkite as the state rock. Although a competing faction lobbied for lace agate, another Missouri semi-precious stone, the mozarkite contingent held sway. In what may have represented a geologic compromise, the legislature named galena the state mineral on the same day.

Robin Kimber of Sedalia polishes a piece of mozarkite on a sanding wheel. Missouri’s official state rock, mozarkite is popular with lapadaries, who make jewelry from stones.

Over the years, interest in mozarkite has waxed and waned as area rockhounds took up the hobby or lost interest. The Timberline Rock and Gem Shop closed long ago and attendence at the annual swap declined. Throughout the decades, a few diehard enthusiasts carried on, though, most notably Linville. For years, he and his late wife, Hilda, traveled the Midwest selling rock samples, polished stones and mozarkite jewelry at geology swap meets and craft shows.

In 2000, the Mozarkite Society of Lincoln was formed, in part because Doug McCain wanted to promote the town of Lincoln itself.

“Lincoln has always kind of been the hub for mozarkite,” he says. “Of course, little old Lincoln doesn’t have anything to hang its hat on, so we just decided that since mozarkite is the official state rock, that’s what we’d use as a banner.”

Thanks to the efforts of the club, the rock swap has rebounded and a new generation of rockhounds is discovering the beauty of mozarkite. The recent field trip to the Harms mine included several children, and one club member is currently studying geology at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.

Mozarkite enthusiasts often perceive faces, animals and scenes in the stones. The owner of this sample sees an erupting volcano.

The renewed interest pleases Missouri’s state geologist, who says that many Earth scientists get their start as rockhounds. And mozarkite, which occupies an honored spot in the state mineral museum in Rolla, is certainly worthy of attention.

“The uniqueness of the rock itself, and the name of the rock, brings interest,” Gillman says. “It’s a way that Missouri’s natural resources can be highlighted.”

For others, it’s simply enough that people enjoy Missouri’s state stone. Robin Kimber laments the fact that marginal, or even mislabeled specimens once appeared on the lapidary market and sullied the reputation of mozarkite among some rockhounds. He says the better examples that he and other club members are polishing and making available today establish mozarkite as one of the most beautiful semi-precious stones available.

“It deserves to be up there with some of the finest jaspers, but it hasn’t got its name out there good enough,” he says. “It’s prettier than what most people realize, even in the rock world.”

Just as important, it is — by definition and name — Missouri’s rock.

“You can’t find it anywhere else in the world,” Robin says.

For more information about the Mozarkite Society of Lincoln, log onto www.mozarkite.com; or call Jean Eckstein at 660-668-2752 or Robin Kimber at 660-827-2538.

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