ON a golden summer day in 1916, not yet recovered from the nervous ‘letdown’ familiar to every teacher at the close of a school year, I was strolling down the street of a small Western city when I met an acquaintance of former days, a man older than I, who was at first glance almost unrecognizable in his habiliments of affluence. He did not give me an opportunity to be tactful in satisfying my curiosity, but announced that he was in the oil game, and would I partake of food? The prandial hour (Western usage) was at hand, and I would.
This luncheon marked the beginning of my activity as an oil promoter. My acquaintance was an intense person on the subject of oil. He talked well and ate with hearty unobtrusiveness at the same time, telling me of the oil business in general and of his proposition (an oil promoter’s venture is always a ‘proposition’) in particular. He was getting rich and named other old acquaintances who were prospering in the oil game. Both he and his investors were going to make money, and lots of it. Getting out his pencil and blueprint, he proved it with figures. Why, any fool could see they could not fail. The proposition was ‘proved up’ on three sides. They were going to drill so many wells, and, at an absurd minimum of production and an average market, there would be an income of — ‘Here, figure it yourself!’ Figures do not lie — nor do liars figure, when your prospect takes the pencil. (Incidentally it is good salesmanship if you can get him to do the figuring. Once started, I never have known one to stop until he had written numerals on a check after having covered the menu and tablecloth.) The promoter believed in his proposition. I believed in it. Did I not have the figures — my own — before me? There is one outstanding characteristic of oil promoters as a class, regardless of the general view to the contrary, and that is their belief in their propositions.
‘Why don’t you get into the game?’ my companion asked, as he gestured for the luncheon bill.
‘Me? Why, I know nothing about it,’ I replied. ‘I have had no business experience. I have no capital. Moreover, people never forgive a teacher or a preacher for making money.’
‘Don’t need any,’ referring to experience and capital and ignoring my philosophizing. ‘Now listen. You have n’t got anything to do for a while—it’s vacation. Here—’ He wrote a name on a card. ‘You take a trip down to the oil country and see this party. I’ll write him to show you around. He’s A-l, and will see that you get started.’
In the hectic years that followed I ran across this man’s trail many, many times. I never saw him again until I met him in a Federal penitentiary.
It was an afternoon of gold and azure when I walked out over the foothills. I went out there to think. But I did not permit myself to indulge in the intellectual dishonesty of seeking reasons for a decision which I knew I had made already. It would have simplified my cogitations, as well as my narrative, if greed alone had dictated my decision. True, I should have liked a lot of money, but not well enough to forswear, all of a sudden, a profession into which I had put so much of my life and run off after strange and dubious gods. If greed was pushing me toward the maelstrom, adventure was beckoning, and I ever have been more responsive to a beckon than a shove. Although the absurdity of my entering, without funds or experience, a vast, highly technical, and altogether precarious business was not lost upon me, I wrote out my resignation from my teaching.
I arrived at the little oil town about 2 A.M. As the train pulled away I stood in the darkness beside the track, facing the central section of the town and a portion of the far-flung oil fields.
The night was hot and windless. There were noises abroad — strange, ominous, meaningless to me then, but later a language of manifold significance, a kind of dreadful poetry. Drilling was going on for miles around. The grumble and clang of rugged machinery, the growl of gigantic gears, the rumble of great rotaries, the roar of big trucks on rough roads, the clatter of hoisting drill-stems, the metronomic punctuation of drop tools, the whine of winding cables, the menacing sibilance of escaping steam — all combined into a kind of prean of plunder and rapine, with an undertone like that of our great cities. I knew it for the voice of Progress, the articulation of what we are so unctuously pleased to call our Civilization. Gas flares gave off a lurid and menacing light. The thick, pungent odor of crude oil rode the air and had in it something of the vital, primeval tang that one notes in breezes from forests, or in winds from the sea.
I met Mr. X, to whom I had the card of introduction, and found him a kindly and fatherly man, but shrewd withal. He owned a considerable amount of land not near enough to the proven territory to be tempting to the big operators. He wanted his holdings developed.
Did I think of getting into the oil business? I did. Did I — ahem — did I have any capital to invest? I did not; I thought of selling something for somebody, stocks or leases, until I had learned the business. Was I well acquainted with many people who had the means to make investments? Yes. Well, suppose we took a ride out through the field.
During the ride with Mr. X, I learned a great deal. I saw at close hand wells being spudded in, wells drilling, wells on the pump; learned the difference between drop tools and rotaries, anticlines and synclines; learned the prices of oil lands; stood over a tank and saw oil flowing in from a near-by well at the rate of three hundred barrels a day at $1.90 a barrel; heard tales of sudden riches and saw men riding in fine cars who not long before had been clerking in stores or slaving on farms. This first trip into an oil field thrilled me. So did my last. To me an oil field is romance. It is epic!
We stopped on a tract of land belonging to Mr. X and he showed me how the trend of development was approaching. He felt sure we stood over oil. So did I. How should I like to have twenty acres for a lot proposition? I should like it mightily, but could not consider it until I had accumulated some money. Mr. X smiled. I did not then know that capital was so little necessary to promotion. The matter might be arranged, Mr. X thought; the principal essentials for successful promotion were intelligence, square-dealing, salesmanship, nerve.
He thought I should be successful. In response to his request I gave him some references. Well, would I look around a few days and then call and see him? Yes, thanks, I would.
The public is pretty generally familiar with the various forms of oil promotion and the technique of the promoters; but the lot proposition did not have so long or wide an exploitation as did stock-selling. If I may be indulged in a brief exposition, it will throw light on how it was possible for a person to become an oil promoter without either capital or experience.
A small tract of land — say twenty acres — was platted into lots twenty by twenty feet each. Each acre included one or more larger lots, usually forty by forty feet, reserved by the company and upon which it agreed to drill, each lot owner participating in the net proceeds of the oil from these company wells according to the number of lots — or participating rights in case he had disposed of his lots — owned by him. The promoter set aside a company drilling fund from the sale of lots. If he lacked capital, as I did, he got a contract of sale from the owner, which was placed in escrow and which provided that deeds should be issued to purchasers as needed and paid for.
Thus, we should have a lot selling, say, for $60. From this amount $10 went to the salesman, $10 to the drilling fund, and $10 to the original owner of the land, leaving $30 for the promoter. If one has a penchant for figures he may calculate quickly the profit on the sale of twenty acres. The only money necessary to start a company of this sort was for surveying, blueprinting, attorney’s fees for drawing papers, and printing. The plan is a very plausible one to present and there are many convincing arguments in its support, the strongest being that the investor, in addition to receiving a pro rata share of the net profits on company wells, as in a stock company, got a warranty deed to his bit of land, so that he could lease it, sell it, — retaining his stock interest, — or even drill a well on it for himself. In time I found myself president of such an oil company.
Many scores, possibly hundreds, of these lot propositions were promoted during the decade 1910-1920. I have not known more than a dozen lot promoters who sold land which they knew to be unproductive, or who did not try sincerely to make money for their investors; and I have known not more than a half-dozen such companies to succeed, from the point of view of the investor. Granting only a reasonable productivity of the land, and — if it is not too great a tax on the reader’s credulity — the honesty and sincerity of the promoter, the faults of this form of promotion and the reasons militating against success are apparent to those only who have had a considerable experience in the oil business.
In the first place, the promoter is very rarely an efficient field man, and successful oil development (field operations) is a highly specialized business. Also, there is but a limited amount of oil ‘under’ a given acre of land; nevertheless, in order to make the promotion attractive, company drill sites are placed close together, so that, if oil is found, practically all the income from production must be used in paying for the operation and maintenance of superflous wells. Again, from the lot owner’s point of view, the tracts are too small for individual development: if there is no oil, there is room enough, but, if good production is found at a shallow depth, every lot owner wants a well of his own and the result is — as I have seen — derricks so close that a horse cannot be ridden among them, and the sand sucked dry before drilling costs can be recovered. I discovered these things only after bitter experience — which was shared by my investors. My lot company was not a great success. There were charges of mismanagement, then fraud. But fraud is largely a matter of intent, and in all my operations I never have intended loss to any man.
‘You never have an oil well until you get it.’ To an experienced oilman this vapid axiom is pregnant with meaning. Almost anything can occur to delay, or even ruin, a drilling oil well. Almost everything does. I drilled my first well on a proven location and to a depth of about one thousand feet. It was a producer, but between the spudding in and the turning of the oil into the tank there were accident, delay, and such anxiety as I never experienced in later years crowded with many vicissitudes of fortune. I drilled two additional wells, both of which were fair and steady producers. I now had a steady income, was learning the game, and with my own production I was an ‘oilman.’
I do not know of any other human activity where one step commits one so irrevocably to taking another and longer stride. Like walking, the oil business is a constant process of preventing a fall. My lot proposition worried me. A test showed that the oil sand ‘pinched out’ on this tract. I wanted then, and in all my later operations, to make money for my investors. To this end I deeded my first well to my lot owners gratis, and planned to do the same with my second and third wells as soon as conditions would permit. This action was purely gratuitous. I thought it would make them appreciative. It only made them howl for more.
Thus far I had been playing safe in my drilling operations — that is, paying a high price for a proven location and being reasonably sure of production. But this plan has its limitations. There comes a time in the oil business when an operator must take a chance. It is a gambling business, and he who cannot hazard should be working for a wage.
I saw that I should have to risk much in order to gain much. I secured a likely-looking piece of acreage in the trend of production, apparently, but far enough away to enable me to get it at a fair cost. The plan in such an operation was to prove up the tract by drilling, then to sell off enough acreage at the greatly increased value to pay for the original cost and drilling, leaving the remainder ‘velvet.’ My first well on this tract was dry. I skidded the rig over to another location and got another duster at the same depth. I played for a deeper sand and kept going down until my money was all gone. Financially I was precisely where I was when I started. I was ‘broke.’ However, as I took stock, I appreciated the fact that there remained the asset of experience, more valuable in getting a new start than capital if one cannot have both. Nothing succeeds like failure.
I was perched on a pile of casing contemplating my latest dry hole in the earth when an acquaintance drove up, got out of his car, and joined me. No need for questions; the signs of dryness were all about. But just to make conversation: —
‘Better get over to town,’ my friend suddenly exclaimed. ‘Hell’s broke loose. Gusher right at the edge of the burg. Only seventeen hundred feet. Everybody hog-wild. Well, got to be goin’.’
Two days passed before I went over to Gushertown. In the meantime the excitement had increased. There were many and varied reports concerning the discovery well. It was a fluke, and operators were keeping it under cover in order to sell acreage. It was a real gusher and they dared not turn it loose until ample storage had been provided. It was salt water. It was a high-grade light oil. People were leasing their residence lots, their yards, for thousands of dollars. A dozen additional wells had been started in the town site. And so on.
I approached the town from a side where a hill cut off the view, and as I topped this hill I jammed the brakes on my car as the scene unfolded before me in the glare of the summer sun. The roads leading into the town from every direction were delineated for miles and miles by billows of dust from hurrying hoofs and wheels. I could see new, bright-timbered derricks being built and I could hear faintly the clang of machinery and the staccato of frantic hammers.
I found difficulty in getting a parking place in the town. With every road leading into it jammed with traffic, one can imagine the congestion of the narrow streets. The excitement was contagious. I found myself hastening in the direction of the discovery well, ankle-deep in dust. Arriving, I found that the well had been capped after spewing oil to the height of the derrick and after the precious stuff had run in streams for hundreds of yards down the cotton rows. Storage tanks of large capacity were being hastily, frantically, constructed. One of the drillers, whom I knew, was chewing a quid of tobacco with a violence not habitual. ‘What have you got here, Jim?’ I asked, knowing him to be a truthful fellow. ‘Orders not to talk,’ he replied. ‘But lease and buy everything you can get your hands on.’
I joined the back eddy of humanity moving toward the centre of the town. Along the way derricks were being built in yards, trees felled, porches torn away to make room. Men were trading, leasing, buying, and selling as they hurried along. I was moving in a group some of whom I knew. A corner residence lot changed hands as we passed it by. It looked good and I offered four thousand dollars for the lease. My offer was accepted. Before reaching the business section, where an assignment could be drawn, I had sold my lease for seven thousand five hundred and my buyer had resold it for ten thousand dollars.
This was petty trading compared with later developments, but it taught me something. I had nothing to lose and a fortune to gain. I began leasing and buying everything I could get hold of. How could one do this without funds? When a price for a lease, option, or land in fee simple was agreed upon, it was the practice to draw up a contract of sale which provided, usually, for the payment of the purchase price in three days, which interim was allowed for the examination of abstract of title. This contract of sale and a check for a nominal sum as forfeit money — not certified in those early days if one were known — were placed in escrow. This procedure gave one time in which to resell, in which event the new purchaser assumed the deal for an additional cash consideration in hand paid. At the end of a few days I had some twenty thousand dollars in cash and several choice, well-scattered drilling sites, and had had foresight enough to purchase a controlling interest in a rotary drilling outfit. The first well in the town proper was going down rapidly and, of course, was being watched with intense interest, since its success would indicate the existence of a field instead of a pocket. I decided to await its completion and in the meantime to have a look round.
By this time promotion was in full swing. A word about this. You obtained a contract of sale for a lease on a drilling location — someone’s front yard, likely — under the above plan without laying out a dollar. As soon as it was in escrow, and frequently not waiting for the deal’s consummation, you drew up a typewritten statement under the heading, BIG BOOM OIL COMPANY, stating the names of the officers, location of proposed well, amount of capitalization, and par value of stock. You closed the statement with the following: ‘I, the undersigned, hereby subscribe to stock in the above company subject to the provisions of Declaration of Trust to be made of record.’ Beneath this you ruled spaces for name, address, and number of shares, and you were ready for business. It was assumed that stock certificates would be printed and delivered when you got round to it. In many cases even receipts were not given. Many times I heard promoters wax indignant when investors asked for something to show that they had purchased stock when the payment had been made in cash. Dozens of such companies at capitalizations of from thirty to seventy-five thousand dollars were sold out in a few days, some in a few hours. Your company promoted, you went to the bank and paid the purchase price for your drilling location, deposited fifteen thousand dollars for drilling your well, and the remainder was your own. These were the early rules you found in operation. You did not make them — you merely played the game as you found it. Later the rules were tightened: you had an office, had your title verified before starting stock sales, put your commonlaw declaration on record, and delivered stock certificates when they were paid for.
A million dollars was invested in these small companies in this small town during the first ten days after the gusher sand was discovered.
The fever of investment promotion became a kind of psychosis. Merchants exhibited their propositions in store windows and sold oil stock over their counters; physicians prescribed oil certificates along with their MgSO4; the iceman could tip you off to something good; bankers over a wide section of the country surreptitiously, then openly, then insistently, suggested certain oil ‘securities’ as being very promising. One bank president in particular amassed a large fortune by lending his name to the directorate of new promotions, for a cash consideration, and then resigning as soon as the stock was sold, thus having ‘clean hands’ when and if the company failed of success.
This frenzy was not confined to the territory immediately adjacent to the oil fields. The virus was working practically everywhere. Pools were made up in towns a thousand miles away and some man, or group, was sent to Gusherland to invest the money. Usually these persons asked for and received a salesman’s commission of fifteen per cent, which they pocketed; often they organized a company themselves, ostensibly for the benefit of the folk back home. We oil promoters have been driven to cover, maligned, imprisoned. No doubt we deserved a deal of such treatment. Yet, if it be treasonable to turn an inquisitive eye upon the oil investors (that is, the public) who made our operations possible — well, then, it is treason. I wish I could distinguish between the two classes, promoters and investors — call one black, the other white. But I cannot. All of us were caught up like leaves in a great wind, the victims of primal passions and forces which we had not the time, inclination, or intelligence to question or understand. All, practically, were actuated by the same desires. I think the principal differences were of nerve and ability. We — promoters and investors — came from everywhere. Men came to invest and remained to promote. Men left their homes, businesses, ships, cabbages, and wives; the farmer left his mule, the clerk his ribbons, the lawyer his briefs, the preacher his chancel, the doctor his pills. So they came from everywhere by hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands. And, as flies are drawn to exposed sweets, came gamblers, loafers, thieves, men about town, philanderers, bootleggers, and harlots.
The second gusher came in; the third; then a fourth, in a new territory on another side of town. Before the heat of summer was past, the great oil field was well established, running out into neighboring farms and ranches, and the most spectacular and sensational oil boom in history was in full swing. The war was forgotten; citizenship was neglected; there was no visible evidence of law except that most primal law: get what you can and hold it if you are strong enough.
The days were obscene. The sidewalks would accommodate but a small part of the crowds, and thousands filled the streets, milled and struggled in a sweltering, sweating, cursing mêlée of greed, ankle-deep in dust, or, if there had been rain, in mud and filth. Through the ubiquitous mass teamsters and truck drivers cursed open their passages; automobiles went honking and bawling their snail’s pace; or, maybe, a lone, bronzed horseman, wearing sombrero and chaps in from the range, rode poised and unconcerned. The corners of the streets were occupied by oil exchanges and selling booths where various stocks were listed and hawked and new companies launched. Around each of these exchanges was a separate eddy, perspiring, gesticulating, shouting — faces drawn and seamed with the continuous tension of avarice, eyes gleaming with the fever of gain. Looking at the mass from an upper window, one saw it as a huge malodorous thing, squirming, twisting, and heaving in a kind of horrible lust.
If the days were obscene, the nights were even more hideous. There was hardly any diminution of the crowds on the streets, but as darkness came, then midnight, dissipation of one sort or another succeeded the excitement of the day. Gambling flourished in shacks and tents, whole streets of it; liquor flowed everywhere; the open countryside was a gigantic brothel. If I described this American scene in detail, no reputable magazine would publish my words and no self-respecting reader would read them.
The second stage of oil promotion made itself evident about the time the World War came to an end, and it was well defined. The war needs kept the price of oil high. We got from $2.00 to $3.75 a barrel for our crude. Verily it was liquid gold. Money was coming into the growing field from all over this country and from Europe in hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions, from banks and syndicates. There had been a cessation of small promotions — stock selling — in the section of the country adjacent to the oil fields, and promoters who had survived and prospered now turned their attention to the syndication and exploitation of lease and production groups. Money in any amount was plentifully available by telegraph from a distance or by personal solicitation at home for any venture that held a promise of success, provided it was big enough. Many of the first small companies had paid large dividends. The failures were slower to signalize themselves. This situation, of course, facilitated the advent of larger enterprises. Everyone had money.
One night, after the coming in of a gusher in wildcat territory, I saw a quarter of a million dollars in cash and checks stuffed in wastebaskets behind a desk in a corner of a hotel lobby where frantic crowds were literally fighting for a chance to buy leases from the fortunate promoters. (To illustrate the plentifulness of money, I frequently misplaced large bundles of Liberty bonds in the feverish night-and-day activity of the times — once late at night taking twelve thousand dollars’ worth from my pocket, placing them in a bookcase, not missing them, and not finding them until long afterward. This sort of carelessness was common.) Many local promoters secured large holdings of acreage, threw in some nondescript production, and made connections in the East, where professional brokers handled the incorporation and stock issue. Most of such connections were in New York, and most of our local magnates came to grief in such alliances. I never knew a home product ‘with New York connections’ who was not properly, promptly, and expertly ‘cleaned’ by his Eastern brethren. This is eulogy, not aspersion.
My operations had been fairly successful. One at least of my companies was paying dividends. My holdings had expanded until I was interested in oil properties in several States. The building in which I had offices was to be torn down to make room for a skyscraper and no other quarters were available. I went forth and purchased a building. I acquired a fine ranch of several thousand acres. An income of hundreds of dollars a day formed a basis for financing almost any new venture which appealed to me. I was rated as being worth about three hundred thousand dollars. I had no ambition to be rich and decided to get out of the game when I had reached the half-million mark, although others who started with me and without capital were millionaires. I would be reasonable about it, I thought. To make short work of reaching my goal I decided to rush through a drilling campaign and two or three promotions at the same time. Money through stock sales was not so easily available, but stock still could be sold by mail with the use of mailing lists and skillful circularization. I knew that the period of inflation and easy money could not last; but despite evidence of coming deflation I felt I could rush the work through to success.
I paid fifty thousand dollars cash for five acres adjoining big production and spent an additional twenty thousand for drilling a well. It was dry. To retrieve this loss I purchased a drilling site, completely surrounded by big wells, for ten thousand, expended another twenty thousand for drilling, and got a fine well, which flowed about a thousand barrels a day for a few days; then, after showing me just how a real well should behave, it repented its gallantry and caught fire, and I did not have even an opportunity of seeing the scenic grandeur of its destruction! After being shut down while new equipment was installed, it came staggering back to my door like a trusted and honored servantman who had been out for a week on a terrific spree, and produced, under sputtering protest, fifteen barrels a day. In a few weeks it gasped and died and took its place in the gigantic mausoleum of dead wells. My promotions at the same time began to drag despite all the experience and energy I could bring to bear on them. They suffered from a kind of infantile paralysis. I applied every stimulant known to the profession, and some not known, but to no avail. To succor these youngsters I began disposing of all my liquid assets — not libational — and nursed them by day and walked the floor with them by night. They only howled. I could not leave them on someone’s doorstep — that was not being done. I was playing the game according to the rules, and one of the rules was to father your infant as long as there was a crust in the cupboard. I thought to concentrate on one of these companies in the hope that as it grew stronger it would lend aid and encouragement to its brothers. The plan was good; but the well I drilled went from oil to salt water, and salt water does not find a ready and profitable market. This well was my last. I made a trip to a distant city in an effort to raise capital. There was none to raise. When I reached home the line squall of deflation had struck. There was no money. Banks were calling loans. People whom one owed were calling names. At last Hades was to pave, and there was no hot pitch.
I do not know how many millions or hundreds of millions of dollars — one authority says a billion! — were invested in oil ventures, or what percentage of the sum total was loss to the investors. I am not a statistician; nor am I an economist. But I am curious about the dicta of these people. What do they mean by ‘loss?’ I do not know.
If one considers the situation as an epic action on a colossal stage directed by tremendous forces in the economic world and by imperious passions and desires in human nature, participated in by practically a whole people acting in many and often interchangeable rôles, where has loss occurred? And how? The dollars which were paid for worthless oil stock in 1918 still are buying bread, gasoline, face paint, stocks and bonds, orange blossoms, widows’ weeds, votes, coffins, layettes, and free verse; they still are paying for health, lust, fame, sermons, and rum. I do not know who got them. I know that the oil promoters, as a class, do not have them. We but touched them in their journey. And as most investors were essentially — at least potentially — promoters, so promoters were investors. We invested in turn the gold that was invested with us — invested it on a larger scale and with the identical kinds of trustfulness, hope, motive, and purpose, and with the same results! Greed moved us, too, in our investments — the same desire to get much for little. To get rich quick impelled us to invest in wells and leases just as the same desire impelled the school-teacher in New England, the clerk in Oregon, the planter in Georgia, the miner in Minnesota to invest in oil stock. Is it not so?
But, to use the conventional classification, ‘investors’ and ‘promoters,’ which is graphic though hazy, my sympathy lay with the investors, because, while just as avaricious, they were as a class less intelligent; and while their losses, individually, were trifling as compared with those of the promoters, they should have had the protection and guidance which ignorance has the right to expect of intelligence. The pity of it all is that a great and priceless natural resource could have been exploited by any class or group, call them what you will. Therein is shame.
I was in a sanitarium in another state, without funds and broken in health, when I learned that I, together with dozens of other promoters, had been indicted by the Federal Government on a charge of using the mails to defraud. My immediate sensation on hearing the news was relief. Initiative had been taken from me and it was no longer possible to continue the losing struggle to retrieve my losses and those of my investors against the inexorable forces that had operated to effect my ruin. I had done something ‘against the peace and dignity of the United States’ and should have to pay the penalty. Very well. I would pay without whimpering. I had sat in on the game and played according to the rules as I found them, and I had lost. I knew, of course, that I should have to go to prison, and I had no more liking for the prospect than the reader would have had. True, some of the fraternity, I learned as time passed, were fined only; but I had no money for paying a large fine.
I decided that I would not demand trial, but that, when my health permitted, I would plead guilty to the indictment.
Several reasons prompted this decision. I have ever tried to be honest with myself, and, while I could not plead guilty to that part of the indictment which declared fraudulent intent, yet I knew that I was guilty of something for which I should pay. Betrayal of trust? Yes, a betrayal of the trust of my heritage. I had the feeling of a prodigal who has been with swine for many, many days and who has eaten of the husks of life for a long time. I had marketed my ideals and my talents as a prostitute markets her body. That is the plain truth of how I felt. I wanted to go back home — back to the home of my building of other years.
As for the infamy of being shut up in a prison, it is not infamy in itself to be shut up in a prison. No man or group of men acting in the name of government can brand us with infamy. With the hot irons of our passions and our deeds we do brand ourselves with infamy.
I had ample time to consider my estate while rebuilding my broken body to a degree of strength which would enable me to stand the physical stress of imprisonment. This period was in itself more trying and fraught with adventure than the preceding one of business success and failure, or the following one of jails and prison. The months when I was making a lone fight for health, without funds or friends, practically, or the stimulating contact of enemies, with periods of amnesia coming over my consciousness like swift fog banks racing before the sun, during which times I was another entity, ‘coming to’ on ships, in hospitals, in streets of strange cities, in jails for vagrancy or investigation — these are another story.
I was in the East when at last I turned my face toward home. I wanted very much to make my own way back to the Federal district where I was indicted, so I worked my way south, thinking to take ship west from one of the southeastern ports. The stress of circumstances, however, compelled me to surrender myself to the Federal authorities in the far South and ask to be returned to the scene of my high crimes and misdemeanors that I might plead to my indictment and receive my legal punishment.
I wish to point no morals. But I cannot refrain from emphasizing what seems to me to be the principal significance of my narrative. I must have made it clear that I am bent on neither palliation nor defense; yet there is something analogous, I insist, between what has happened to me and what has happened, or is happening, to us as a people. The play goes on; the scene but changes. The period of oil promotions has gone, but other media take its place. The gods of greed and materialism will have their tribute. Yesterday it was oil. To-day it is real estate. To-morrow — what?