Hunting Oil in Oklahoma


A GOOD deal is known of gambling with oil wells. But just what the ‘business and pleasure’ of the oil fields is, just what the fields look like, how oil is prospected for, is foreign matter to most of us.

One usually enters the oil fields through Tulsa. Though there are many minor centres, Tulsa is decidedly the centre of the oil life. And it is there that one gets first impressions of the people of the fields. They are that strange conglomeration that is characteristic of any ‘boom’ country. As a group, the geologists are the most distinctive and picturesque. They are men who necessarily have spent much of their lives in the field; and even though they may now be cooped in an office in Tulsa, they have that direct bearing which is given to men of the open the world over. Also into these offices comes the romance of the field. There is a great deal of visiting back and forth between the men of the offices — the work requires it. Also the field man, on arriving in town, will drop around to gossip and — well — make up a bit for the time that he has been exiled from society. Field men come in from everywhere.

‘Where’s Scotty now?’

‘Oh, he’s with the Gypsy. I saw him last in Dallas, Texas.’

‘Donnelly’s working out of New York — just got back from Trinidad.’

The next man wants to know about the oil possibilities of the Spanish Riff country — one of his men just got back from Spain and saw a chance to get concessions in Northern Africa. Eckes blew in. I use the word advisedly. Wanted a geologist for Venezuela — was going back himself. Must be a man that could handle himself in the Tropics, able to keep reasonably sober, preferably one born west of the Mississippi, and competent to knock down any of his porters if they got insolent.

But most of the talk is of Oklahoma. They speak of the oil districts as ‘The Osage,’ ‘The Creek Country,’ ‘The Red Beds,’ ‘The Glen Pool.’ They know each well, as they know men; and in referring to them, have a whole separate terminology which is foreign to the layman. ‘The Kitty Harney No. 2 of the Northwest of the Northeast of the Southwest of 18-5 struck a sand at 1658. Went through it for 50 feet, them came in at 1700 and went over the derrick with a flush production of 50 barrels. Then they put the soup in her, and in two days she had gone to water. So they plugged her. That stuff down there is all on the edge of structure. Most of the holes are dusters.’

This merely means that the second well on Kitty Harney’s farm — she may be an old Indian who cannot write her name — gave forth 50 barrels of oil in a day’s flow, and at first the oil shot up higher than the derrick. Then, hoping for more oil, they exploded nitroglycerin in the bottom of the hole, and the shock, instead of opening up fractures, closed such as were there, and the salt water included in the rock had crept up. So they pulled the pipecasing, as most of the wells drilled there had proved to be dry holes anyway. The region was merely on the edge of an oil pool.

Another distinctive class is that of the operators. Many of these men are indigenous — farmers, or bankers, who have drilled and succeeded, and hope to succeed again. Many of them are, of course, outsiders. Every town in Oklahoma has its men who have become rich through drilling; but Tulsa leads; it is their Mecca. They are an interesting class. Their reddened faces speak of a life in the open. Now they have retired to expensive homes in Tulsa, representing their various conceptions of opulence (and some of these are strange to behold), where they may sit on the front porch, collarless, in their stocking-feet, while their wives have donned boudoir-caps and rolled to town behind six cylinders, to buy whatever hits their fancy.

There are also the young men, whose fathers in the East, having invested well in oil, send their sons out to learn the game from the bottom. The training is a severe one, and may mean five to ten years actually in the fields. Much of it is grimy and hard, and under coarse living conditions. Such a man is, at first, merely a roustabout—a greasy laborer about the wellhead on a twelve-hour shift. Then he becomes a tool-dresser. These tools weigh hundreds of pounds, and must be constantly sharpened and tempered, that constituting the ‘dressing.’ Then our fortune-seeker becomes a driller, the boss of the rig. There are two such crews to a well, and day and night for months the work goes on — at night by the weird flare of a gas flame burning freely from the end of a pipe. He then passes through the stages of scout, who keeps the company constantly posted on drilling activities, to ‘leasehound,’ and, perhaps, vice-president.

There are many college people in Tulsa, — fortune-seekers, — each living with the exhilarating expectation that his invested nest-egg will bring forth fabulous returns. It is a wistful community, and it is not unusual for a man to drive in two hundred miles from the field, for a bath and a Sunday evening of civilization.


I doubt if your reading ever sank so low as to include A Slow Train Through Arkansas. It was one of those continuous monologues of a traveling man’s observations and jokes, as he passed (he day in such a train as I took from Tulsa to the oil fields. All trains on the Midland Valley Railway stop a half hour at Tulsa, out of deference to so great a city. The day-coach that I entered was about half the length of a modern car, and was enscrolled in the best North-German-Lloyd designing of the eighteen-seventies.

The types of people in an Oklahoma day-coach are far more varied than in the East. There is a scattering of men dressed as men in the East would be dressed; but most people look and act after a species far different. Many of the men wear the huge, high hat of the plainsman, buff-colored. They are of a clean-shaved, brown-faced, rather handsome type. The oilmen usually affect the black slouch felt hat. But it has come to a point where it is difficult, to distinguish between a plainsman and an oilman, for many of the drillers are local products.

The woman who sat next to me on my journey was a fat squaw, who sidled with an embarrassed air into the seat, never did fully lean back; and who fixed her eyes on a point on the aisle floor and never looked up until she reached Bixby, her destination. There were many other women in the car, most of them of the usual farm types; but a number were dressed in a babydoll, theatrical manner.

On leaving the town, we crossed the Arkansas River in flood. It is hundreds of feet wide, and yet one could almost ford it. Occasional brown streaks of crude oil and what is known always as B. S. (bituminous sediment) marked the surface. The river smelled so of oil that one had the throat sensation of just having eaten vaseline.

Then we went between miles — literally miles — of tanks. A tank farm is an unhappy sight. Tanks of the size of city gas tanks are set in rows through the fields. Each has a great embankment about it, sometimes twelve feet high. These are in case the tank is struck by lightning; for then a small cannon is rushed up, holes are shot in the side of the tank, and the oil is allowed to run out within the limits of the circular dam. Thus it burns evenly, instead of boiling up and exploding. Finally, as my journey proceeded, the tanks gave way to land from which the tanks had been removed — where cows feed over the unnatural surface of druid-like rings.

In the midst of the tanks there was a town — Jenks. It is difficult to describe the gaunt and haggard landscape where these monster-like tanks arise. The work on and in the tanks — they are in constant need of repair and cleaning — is terrific under the summer sun; for each becomes like a huge boiler. There is everywhere an odor, and often the smoke and stench of the burning of the B. S. after the tank is emptied. Water is also separated from the oil while standing here in storage, and this makes the stream bottoms nauseating. At Jenks the rain was pouring down, as it can pour only on these southwestern plains. A man thinly clad and entirely drenched was standing in a dray. An old man got off the train and stood looking at him. Then he looked up at the sky in face of the downpour. ‘Think it’ll rain?' The man in the dray considered the matter. ‘Don’t know, Jim, don’t know — maybe.’ The humor is as grim as the landscape.

The town which was my destination was characteristic, a farming town with oil production all about. A grain elevator, the towers of certain cotton gins, and the inevitable cooling-tower of the ice plant mark the town from a distance. My first night was passed in the better of the two hotels — the one having running water and a moral reputation. It was a barren series of rooms above some stores, and was built entirely of concrete. The rooms had dirty walls, though the lack of woodwork and paper gave one a sense of protection from bugs. My bed was reasonably clean, but I was not the first who had slept between the sheets since they had last been washed. My window had lost its screen, and from sunrise on I periodically drove, with the aid of the sheet, swarms of flies out of the room.

The town is one-third negro, and the hotel was on the edge of the shanty town that formed the negro quarters. That day our negroes had defeated the negroes of another town in baseball, and the mechanical piano in the café was kept going until late. About midnight there was a fight. Men and women took part. People fell downstairs, fell through glass, hurled glass at each other, and ran about like alarmed ants. They swarmed over the town, seemingly bent on murder; but the next morning all was even and happy-go-lucky again — it was merely part of the celebration.

But one should not think of Oklahoma as lawless. The plainsman — not the oilman, far from it — takes his religion seriously. At the first clash of the cymbals and boom of the drum, the Salvation Army has a throng.

The favorite minister in one of the largest cities is known as the Jazz Parson. It is he who serves cooling drinks during the services, to moisten the lips of the devout. Besides the ‘ Army,’there are many smaller ‘ orders,’—farmers who, of a Saturday night, dress in uniform, strap a bass drum to the running-board of the Ford, and drive to the towns to harangue the Saturday-night loafer. ‘For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Let me tell you, brothers, the Judgment Day is coming. Oh, I used to smoke and swear and chew and go about with women. But I saw the Light, brethren, the glorious light. Hallelujah.’ And then, before they get to the point of telling what the Kingdom of Heaven is, or give us a Vision of the Light, they break into a hymn, the families standing in a half-circle behind the speaker,

the older ones singing with fervor, but the children singing mechanically and often sleepily. Men come out of the crowd to shake the speaker’s hand. So the mavericks are corralled, some branded and then — turned loose on the range. First, however, money is collected for a ’tablernickle.’

I once saw an elderly preacher walk up from the railway station and deposit his suitcase on the curb, shouting, preaching, and singing meanwhile. As he talked, he removed his coat and hat, and donned a yellow-linen automobile dust-coat — the sacerdotal robe. People followed him to his stopping-place, and soon the crowd was dense about him.

From my room in one town I was able to hear the church choir practising. They were executing a rather difficult cantata. Considering the temperature of the evening, their devotion was great. At the end of the evening, the singing became rather faint-hearted. Someone, however, started up, —

’When the Roll is Called up Yonder,
When the Roll is Called up Yonder,
When the Roll is Called up Yonder,
I ’ll be There.’

The half-hearted singing swelled into an uproar. We were back to the primitive again. It was like a Christianized savage breaking into a Voodoo chant.


Life is all new out there. It was but a few years (as in the Cushing country) since the settlers were gathered about the borders of the Territory, awaiting the zero hour, when the soldiers should allow the mad dash for the staking-out of farms. Men rushed in, in all sorls of vehicles, to race to some chosen spot to ‘squat,’ and defend it with a gun until their claim was made good by the government. Hence the towns have but one or two paved streets, and these are covered with the prairie dust and the dirt of living. They are seldom cleaned, — the town organization has not gone far yet, — and when they are cleaned, it is by the winds of the world, and houses suffer accordingly. Because of the novelty of town problems, the water systems are inadequate; and I have been in towns, where to bathe would have left one red with mud. The sanitation is a long way from good.

Many townships are of farms, all of which bear the marks of being but a few years old. You know the history of a normal farm — first a shack or cabin,

hen a shelter for the stock and the hay. Then the shelter is replaced by a large fine barn that dwarfs the house; and later on comes the new farmhouse and more decent living conditions. The first two stages are about as far as much of Oklahoma has progressed.

For a while I was in what is known as the Creek Country — the land allotted to the Creek Nation. After the Civil War it was broken up into farms of 160 acres, and given out to each person of the nation on his coming of age. I was in the region given over mostly to the slaves of the Creeks, and hence the farmers were mostly negroes. The Indians and the negroes to-day intermarry frequently. Most of the negroes have some white blood, and indeed the white men marry squaws and their 160 acres so frequently, that the term ‘squaw man’ is not one of special disrepute. Besides the black negroes, there are ‘white niggers’ and ‘Indian niggers.’ The negro is a fair farmer, though his fences are often in bad repair, and his house is apt to be a mere shack. This is not always so.

We ate lunch one day on a ridge in a large pasture. All about, the lands were wonderfully rich. The wheat was standing in the fields in heavy shocks, the uncut hay was thick and long. The several-hundred-acre pasture in which we were resting fed two hundred rangy cattle. The owner rode up to our machine in a muddy surrey, behind an excellent pair of mares. This was Jake Simons, negro. His mother was, I believe, a Creek, and it is said that he is one-quarter white. Jake is a slim elderly man, of fine features and wellbred dignity. He owns 1100 acres of the fine land that lay before us. Jake’s house leaves nothing to be wished for.

The Indians have some of the best land of the region. Indians are poor farmers. They, too, often plant an excellent crop, but with the first indication of heat, retire to their porches. I think of one farm that was characteristic of many. It was an excellent piece of land — but rather than labor himself, the Indian let portions of it out to renters, who, of course, did not do the land justice. The Indian had a fine new farmhouse, which was equipped with the best of beds and all sorts of comforts. But, characteristically, there was merely a three-sided shelter for his ponies, and a large Packard lay out in the yard, exposed night and day to the elements.

I remember one Indian girl, who came to call on a white woman on whose porch I was resting at noon. She was a large girl, in her twenties, dressed in a white middy costume, with white stockings and shoes, the latter having very high French heels — but the whole outfit carried all the dirt it had collected since the day it was purchased .

The old white woman was, after the custom of the poorer white women, barefooted. Her age ‘rated’ her a pipe to smoke. The porch floor was covered with flies. They fairly blackened the ankles of the women.

This call was a formal occasion — one could easily see that. There were long silences between remarks — many diplomatic feints before the real purport of the call was made clear. Finally — would she come and chop cotton on the morrow? Long silences, broken by mere generalities on the weather. Both seemed rather sorry that the real subject had been aired so frankly. Then — she would come. Finally, even the time and the price were arranged.

A haze came before my eyes, and I saw, as if by the immortal Remington, a picture of the council about the fire — the white man and the Indian — the long silences — and the reticence which was the Indian’s symbol of wisdom.

The girl took her leave, her high heels turning under her fat ankles as she went down the road. A detachment of flies left with her. These were augmented by a swarm from the cattle standing near the fence.


One of the most interesting sets of people in Oklahoma is the drifters. These are the people who are to be seen along any of the main highways, in rickety prairie schooners, traveling — God knows where. Their outfit consists of the tottering wagon, with a home-made box and a cloth stretched over bent sticks, much askew. The horses that pull it are slight and ill fed. Even diminutive donkeys are used. A long-legged foal may be running beside the mare. Household goods project from the wagon, in every direction. A disheartened man and woman sit on the front seat. There are usually some children, packed in with the household goods. They camp by the wayside — ‘down in the hollar by the crick.’ It is difficult to find out where they are going. They do not know themselves. Almost equally difficult is it to learn from whence they came, for they have come from so many places and known each so short a time. They are looking for greener pastures — literally. Someone has told them of better conditions elsewhere, better grass or more work. One sees them trekking off into the dust, or struggling through seas of mud, going a weary road to a mirage. They stop and raise crops as tenants — a poor affair for themselves and the landlord.

The drifter takes over a cabin left in squalor by the previous tenant, and with little or no effort to improve the place, he unloads his disordered belongings from the shambled wagon. Here he lives for a year, in a cabin through which the winter winds howl uninterruptedly. The water is too often taken from a six-inch hole in the ground, which has been sunk just low enough to catch the ground water that drains from the vicinity of the house and barn. Occasionally there is a spring, but this is seldom fenced off from the cattle. A spring that I was forced to use at times I shared with a mare and its ungainly mule-colt. Indeed, often a single fence encloses house and barn, so that the stock released from the stalls wander about the house, and are entertained to watch through the open door the family at meals, as in the picture of our childhood, The Uninvited Guest. The hardest thing is to see the children, — poor, little beings, — undernourished mentally and physically, their mouths drawn in the hard, firm lines that tell a terrible story.

The negro is never a drifter. He remains on the land, though he may or may not own it, and he accumulates some belongings. This is partly to his credit. But, also, he is not of the breed that has pushed from the thirteen colonies, forever westward. Indeed, it takes certain initiative to be a drifter — one must know how to make one’s way and to be independent of friends and surroundings. The negro is preöminently social.


It was my habit to start my work a little before dawn. That means that one has done a day’s work before the heat of the day. Oil prospecting is accomplished by two men — the geologist and his instrument-man. We would leave town just as the sun rose. There are three times when the prairies are at their best — at dawn, at sunset, and when a storm gathers great cumulus clouds into thunderheads, and the prairies are blue and green and purple like the sea.

A clear dawn — anywhere, at any time —— is an experience. And each dawn is a new experience — like the coming of life. The birds are not fully awake when we pass out of town. The cattle are still lying in the fields. But before we have arrived at the fields in which we are to work, the birds are singing. The cattle have aroused themselves, and the horses from the barns have cantered to the high point of the pasture, to nicker at the fresh morning breeze. As to birds — Oklahoma is a state of birds and of flowers. Nowhere, except in high mountain meadows, have I seen grass more gayly decorated. Nowhere have I heard more birds, more kinds of birds, singing at once, than in the hayfields here in full sun. Everywhere is the meadow lark. One hears its shrill note from the Pullman above the roar of the train, the first morning in the plains. The quail and the doves are all about the road — barely giving way to the car. Also, in the morning, all the baby rabbits are sitting in the road, afraid to get their feet wet in the cold dew, and loath to retreat until the last moment.

The town out of which one works is usually an agricultural centre, and may be surrounded by rich farms. Agricultural prosperity has a charm all its own. There is a succession of crops to watch — a wonder unfolding, that occurs each year, while we city people hardly know that the seasons are passing. The green grain grows yellow, and is cleanly cut by the binder. Then it stands for a time in rows of shocks. The cotton fields are then filled with whole families ‘choppin’ cotton’ that is, hoeing the weeds. Then the smoke of the threshing machines is to be marked all about. I have seen the smoke of five from one position. About the time that the field corn grows tall and the ears begin to fatten, the cotton blossoms, first white and then red. A field of even-topped cotton in blossom is ‘sure a pretty sight.’ Alfalfa is always beautiful, and, freshly mown, has an odor as of haying-time in Elysian fields. Then the low kaffir corn begins to ‘head’ — that is, to shoot up tall sprouts, on the end of which comes the grain. Almost within the same week everyone starts cutting hay, and the countryside is sweet with the drying grass. Soon there are huge, rectangular piles of hay bales in the fields, and in place of the farm wagons hauling the wheat to town, bulky loads of bales crowd us off the road.

It is shortly after dawn, that work begins for the farmer, and for some geologists alike. And it is not long after that, that the heat of the day begins. Following the first fierce blast of the sun, there is a breeze, the saving grace of the prairies, that springs up with the stirring of the convection currents. This breeze soon becomes the steady prevailing southwesterly wind — a wind so constant as to rule the lives of the people. Houses are built on the windward side of the dusty roads. The sleeping-quarters are properly on the south and west exposures, and rents for sleeping-rooms vary accordingly. Barns are, or should be, built to the nort heast of the houses, and the horses’ stalls with their windows in the direction of the wind.

All towns and some cities are naturally built about crossroads. The east-west street will invariably have its better building on the north side of the street, so that the windows will face the breeze. If you are driving a bundle wagon for a threshing machine, see to it that you are assigned to drive up on the southwest side of the thresher, or you will have the chaff of your bundles thrown back on you all day long.

But it is not in the farming country, but in the wooded hills, that most of the geology is worked out: one drives through this farm country to where rocks are better exposed.

In the close stands of rather stunted hardwoods, little that resembles a breeze penetrates. The woods seem to have a musty, dusty, odor about them, and the heat is deadening. Where the sandstone makes a cliff, or forms a talus slope, the sun bears directly on the rock, and is thrown back like heat radiating from an engine on a summer day. Along the creeks are willows and cottons and sycamores, and here the shade is cool and moist, and the lines of the trees more gracious. But in hollows or on hills, the woods are infested with bugs — myriads of bugs. One farmer, riding out on his horse to plough, stopped to warn me. ’Yes, sir, in them woods is misquiters and musquiters and mosquiters and galleynippers and hell-clippers. And up in the hills is red wasps and black wasps and travelers and hornets and yellow jackets and sweat flies and bluebottle flies and green heads, and FLIES.’

I asked him if he knew of any ledges of limerock in these hills,as I was searching for them. This is the vernacular for ‘outcrop of limestone.’

‘Ledges of limerock is about as hard to find in these parts as a quart of whiskey.’

I ‘allowed’ that it was possible to have an interest in both.

‘ Wal, by Jimminy, I know where you can get the quart of whiskey’ — eying me as a possible customer.

Whiskey is easier to find than oil in those parts. I know of several farms in the backwoods where the number of fat hogs is all out of proportion to the tiny acreage of corn: a study in ‘still life.’ I asked one farmer how much his corn would yield an acre. He eyed me for a moment, and then drawled, ‘Do ye mean, quarts or bushels?' In one town with which I have acquaintance, there is a pale-faced man who sits on the sidewalk all day, occasionally rising to meet a man who drifts into his office with studied casualness. At night these men go on long pleasure-drives to distant — shall I say?—filling stations. Our friend is the recognized local wholesale whiskey commissioner.


The way that a geologist goes about to discover oil prospects is this. He is sent into the field with an instrumentman and a car — the machine always to be distinguished by the folded surveyor’s rod, painted in cryptic symbols, which is folded and strapped to the running-board. The ‘rod’ is a threeinch board which, when unfolded, is fifteen feet long. This the geologist carries when tramping about the fields or woods. He endeavors to follow a rock formation about the countryside. When he locates an outcropping of the rock, he raises the rod, and the instrument-man, who is equipped with a surveying instrument known as an alidade, which stands upon a plane table, sights the rod from his position on some prominence. He then marks the position of the rod accurately upon the map on the plane table, and also computes the elevation of the outcrop.

Oil lies where there is a doming in the structure of the rocks. Thus, if the rocks of the countryside happen to be dipping south, each station on a certain formation, as the geologist works northward, should be higher and higher. If however, the elevations suddenly begin dropping as he goes north, he has a reverse dip and the prospect of oil.

Oil lies under the dome for several reasons. The oil ‘sand ’ of to-day was once nothing more or less than the bottom of a sea of geologic antiquity. The life matter of that ancient ocean was converted by one of several methods into that particularly nasty, but precious slime, known as petroleum. Oil, being lighter than water, of course rises to the top of the sandstone, passing through the pores in the rock. The gaseous products of disintegration rise above the oil. In an oil sand there is everywhere a film of this oil at the top of the water; but where the rocks are domed, there the oil collects, as it were, in an inverted bowl. If the surface rocks are domed, the underlying rocks also are domed, more or less.

There are a score of reasons, however, why even a correct diagnosis of the surface conditions — and that is not always easy to make — will fail. The rocks may have been domed, but the dome covered up with rocks of an age later than the doming. Hence the surface will show a bewildering horizontality. Or the subsurface dome may play out before reaching the surface. Again, the surface dome may play out before reaching down to the oil-bearing formation. For these and other reasons, the geologist’s report is not infallible. But what the geologist does do is to reduce significantly the element of gamble, and make the matter of drilling more a business venture.

After the discovery, there is the matter of leasing the land. Once the decision is made to drill, a rig gang can erect a 72-foot derrick in a few hours. A huge bit is then dropped from the top of the derrick. Like an arrow, it sticks in the ground, and the well is ‘spudded in.’ Then begins the pounding through hundreds and thousands of feet of rock. These huge tools, the bits, are lifted and dropped, lifted and dropped. Influx of water, caving-in of the walls of the hole, losing the tools in the hole, cause a variety of troubles, which are overcome with the most ingenious methods. Repairing damages done at the bottom of a two-thousandfoot hole is no mean task, and a variety of tools, known as reamers, underreamers, fishing-tools, swabs, and whatnot, are employed. Finally, when the oil sand is struck, the detritus is swabbed out and, if there is the proper ‘showing of oil,’ ‘the soup,’ that is the nitroglycerin, is exploded in the hole to shatter the rock. If the gods are good, the oil shoots up over the derrick, and one hastens to cap the pipecasing which lines the hole, and then prepares to pipe the fluid to the nearest refinery.

Oil once discovered in a region, the derricks spring up as if by magic — the fields become forested. But, in addition to these geologically favorable structures, there are innumerable areas, which are ‘wild-catted,’ drilled without any more indication than a ‘hunch’ and a hope. There is hardly a landscape in eastern Oklahoma without its derricks. And for each derrick there are ten to twenty wells from which the derrick has been removed. These may be dry holes, — ‘dusters,’ — or producing wells to which a pump is attached; for the free flow of oil marks only the beginning stage of the more successful wells. A number of these wells are pumped by a single pump, which is placed in their midst and connected to the wellheads by long rods or cables, which pull and release, pull and release, the pump plungers.

These engines work by gasoline; that last word is the motif and the last word in Oklahoma organization. The people ride in gasoline cars —indeed, not infrequently in airplanes. There are large plants everywhere for extracting gasoline from the gas wells, and these are operated by huge batteries of gasoline engines. The smaller industries are run by gasoline. There is a variety of domestic engines about the farm. The ‘chug-chug’ is heard everywhere throughout the land, and is the keynote of the region.


In an oil field, when drilling is active, the nearest town takes on a boom character. Flocks of men arrive. Every room is filled. The streets of the town are crowded at all hours of the day with the men off shift. If the field is large, towns may spring up, — as, for example, Shamrock in the CushingDrumright Pool, — to accommodate the men nearer the derricks. As I saw this town, it was a dirty collection of one-storied shanties, with all the vice and disorder of a mushroom city.

All night long the traffic passes along the road. I would wake up at night, to hear and see processions of wagon frames, each frame twenty feet long and loaded with iron casing, and drawn by four to six horses, go clanking through the town. It was reminiscent of the nights when I heard the caisson trains file past my billet in France. Trucks, which are gradually taking the place of the teams, are formidable in their size. And they are never-ending when a boom is on. I have driven out at dawn, over a road which had been drenched at midnight by a downpour. Already the road was worn in smooth, deep ruts by the continuous traffic.

Oil has a distinctive effect upon the farms of the vicinity. All farmers who are anywhere near production lease their lands. This brings them ordinarily from fifty cents to ten dollars an acre. Where there is production, a lease may run to $500,000 for a quartersection. One eighth of all the oil discovered on the land belongs to the farmer. Every farmer lives in hope of oil. It adds a zest to his life and lifts him above the weariness of the drudgery. Though many have improved their farms with the lease money, I should say that it had done about as much damage to the countryside as it has good.

The leasing game is one almost aside from the legitimate oil game. Many leases are bought up as a speculation, with no intention of drilling. As soon as you can persuade someone else that it is a better bet than the unknowing public suspects, you can sell it to him for a handsome profit, and you are the richer, without knowing even what petroleum looks like. There are many tricks to the game, in which it is well for the layman to be educated before he ventures too far into the wolves’ den. For example, a wild-cat was drilled in some years ago, and brought in a fine flow of oil. Before the fact was generally known, the operators bought out or bribed out the wires leading to Tulsa. They hired every sort of rig and automobile, and allowed none of them to be used. The news of oil could not get to Tulsa, and those scouts who happened to be on the ground were unable to get authority from their headquarters to buy up leases. Then, before the farmers were aware of the proximity of production, the operators bought up all the leases for miles around, only to resell them a few days later, to enthusiasts, at a huge profit.

The oil business has many crooked sides. Thus, a syndicate may lease 10,000 acres of land, and, after an apparent survey, decide to drill in some portion. Just before the drilling gets down to the level of the alleged oil sand, they begin selling leases on properties adjoining the acreage on which the rig stands, at prices that are sufficiently high, not only to pay for the drilling of the well, but to put the men on ’easy street’ for a long time to come. Friends are let in on the ‘ground floor.’ Then, suddenly, imaginary difficulty is developed in the drilling of the hole, and it is abandoned. The ‘suckers’ then come to the realization that the hole was drilled merely to lead them on, and that from the first there had been no hope of oil in the country.

There are opportunities for the geologist to be crooked, also. He may easily word his report so as to mislead, and yet avoid legal difficulties. The promoter pays him a bonus for this, and then shows the prospectus of the drilling company, to which is appended the report, to certain gullible persons in Fostoria, Ohio, or Bath, Maine, who for their hard-earned money are left with merely a hope — a forlorn hope — for the future. Or the geologist may work for a company, and conduct the exploration at their expense, only to resell the information to a second party. Indeed, though perfectly honest, he has to be very guarded in his conversation. There are always men ready to pump him. The best plan while in the field is to avoid conversations with those to whom the information would be valuable, and thus avoid giving away trade secrets. I have had a strange oilman come up to me in the field and ask me point-blank where I should drill. I studied my surveying instrument for a time and then said, ‘Stranger, I have no idea. I’m surveying for a railway.’


The end of the summer usually means a drive into Tulsa, to turn in the equipment and make the report. I remember one such drive through the most famous of American fields — the Cushing field. Derricks were everywhere. Long pump rods ran from the pump houses to unseen wellheads. Little shanty communities among the scrub oak were passed almost before one was aware of their presence. And wells were everywhere — even in the graveyards.

Another such trip took me through Stone Bluff. To get through Stone Bluff in a car calls for all the tricks that a car driver has in his bag. Stone Bluff is a nest of worthless sand hills lying along the bank of the Arkansas, but situated over an important oil pool. How astonished must have been the farmer who lived there attempting to scratch a living from the soil! Derricks tower above the trees on all sides. Great casing-head gasoline plants puff and chug with their batteries of engines. Pumping engines, boosting engines, other engines, snort and back-fire, as they pull and release the pump rods, or drive the oil destined for Tulsa or, perhaps, Whiting, Indiana, or Bayonne, New Jersey. The little creek bottoms are filled with horrid ‘crude,’or are encrusted with salt from the salt water of the seas of millions of years ago.

The area around most of the wells is a scene of destruction done during the period of drilling —the black oily pump, the old timbers, the dead trees, the rusty remnants of the cable. Often the picturesque ‘bull wheel’ is left, looking like a pair of wheels for some giant’s cart; for the wooden wheels stand some twelve feet high, and are connected by an axle a foot in diameter.

All about, in rows, are the cottages of the workers. This life on the leases is another sort of nomadism. A lease is important for from one to ten years. Moving about from lease to lease, these people have few belongings. Often settled in a wilderness of rock hills, — it is there that the geologists have the best opportunity to inquire into the possibility of oil, — they are isolated from the farming towns, and the road out is one not lightly undertaken. But these people are not to be compared to the drifter. The men are skilled workers, drawing good pay. The counties provide schools for the children. Life is orderly and progressive, if isolated.

Notice the names. After driving through Stone Bluff, I went over the Turkey Mountain road to Red Wing. Later I made Broken Arrow, Coweta, and Choska Bottoms. Coming up over Turkey Mountain, one could see Tulsa on the plains, rising with its skyscrapers like some Babylonian temple in the wilderness.

The great dirt highway east from Tulsa is an experience. Coming out of Tulsa, you rise up over a hogback which gives you a glorious view of the plains in all their verdant richness. Then follow miles and miles of dirt highway. When the ‘hot winds’ are blowing, it is as if some powerful fan were propelling the air from a hot stove upon your face. Miles and more miles of road, until, in the glare of the sun, you become road-blind and the highway appears a smooth ribbon before you — except that the car is lurching about in the ruts. You meet other machines, and from their wheels the dust parts and sprays like water at the bow of a cruiser. You dash past them into a cloud of dust, through which you cannot see, and through which you drive safely only by the grace of God. Even a single horseman raises a cloud of dust that can be seen for miles. Great trucks pass you, laden with long pipe, whose ends are supported by bouncing trailers, the whole veiled in a cloud.

Also, there is something incongruous about the automobile being driven about the country by men who, but a few years ago, were accustomed to spend all of their waking hours in the saddle, and who pillowed their heads on their saddles after the day’s drive was over. There are still men in these towns who were noted for their riding, for the way they handled the rope, and for their quickness with the gun. With a bearing that bespeaks pride in their ranch-day traditions, they may still ride their horses into town of a Saturday afternoon, wearing the elaborate high-heeled boots and jingling spurs. The long shed out in the pasture was once for the sick ‘doggies,’ when the cattle roamed free on the range.

But those days are going. Oklahoma is fenced in. There are four farmhouses to the square mile, and four times as many fields. When Anderson, who was the first in town to do so, purchased an automobile and started it down the hill, he was unable to rein it in, no matter how hard he pulled on the steeringwheel, and the town still remembers his shouting, ‘Whoa, whoa, darn ye!’

Mrs. Grayson could break any pony that her husband ever corralled. But the first machine was her undoing. Left alone with it, she threw herself into the front saddle and put spurs to it. The machine started round the house with her. The Grayson house is on a high hill. Like Anderson, she did not know how to stop it. As she was alone, there was nothing to do but to drive round and round the house until the gasoline gave out. At least, she was not thrown.

My friend Cantrell is a cattleman of the old school. His spark plug got wet one day, and he left his ‘Whoopy,’ as he called his Ford, out along the roadside. ‘If I’d only had my saddle and a pair of spurs,’ he said, ‘ I’d ’a’ brought her home sure.’

Though the fields are now fenced, the same free wind that swept the open range still blows across the country.