OIL IN THE SPLENDID SIXTIES
A GAP of less than a century intervenes be tween the trackless wastes of our far north and the trackless forests and swamps of the old “Western District.” In the early years of the last century, Lambton county was even more a terra incognita than the Mackenzie district is now.
It was a country without a history. The still recent war of 1812 had passed it by. A vague picture, conjured up from the fanciful stories of wandering Indians, lay in the background of men's minds, hazy and monstrous and ill-defined as the glimpses geologists give us of the world emerging from chaos into a mist-clothed order of vast seas, huge fern forests and earth-shaking saurians.
Mist-draped and traditionveiled lay the hardwood forests and stagnant swamps of Lambton county in the early thirties of the last century. But through the mists there trudged, often writh weary feet and aching, malaria-stricken limbs, the undaunted Irishman Donnelly.
W. H. Donnelly was a provincial land surveyor. It was his immediate task, in the great process of empire-building, to survey this isolated corner of Canada West for settlement;
and in so doing to penetrate the uncertain mists that hung over forest and swamp and stagnant creek.
Where Forests Once Stood
IT IS difficult to picture the country of that day—most difficult, indeed, after a summer drive through wheat fields and pasture-lands, past farm houses and grazing herds and flocks, past hamlets and towns and far stretching acres with their seemingly endless array of three-pole pumping derricks. All this development lay in the uncertain womb of time when Irish Donnelly and his surveying party fought their suffering, much exasperated way through almost impenetrable forest, dragging weary feet through soggy swamps, shaken by touches of malaria and parched for clear drinking water where all was stagnant and slimy. At night the wolves howled beyond the light of their campfires. Worse than the wolves, because more daring, slinking Pottawatomies hung close, watching a chance to steal.
• Food there was in plenty, with venison to be had for the killing; and now and then a bear might be glimpsed, lumbering away through the undergrowth.
So Irish Donnelly went his way, in the year of grace 1832, threatening or placating the Indians as the mood struck him, grumbling against his task and yet in rare moments thrilled by it, and doing his work well, which was the only way he knew. But one circumstance he encountered puzzled him hugely, and he had to leave the puzzle for a later age to solve.
A Riddle of the Wilderness XJOT far from Black Creek—on lots seventeen and -1-N eighteen in the Donnelly survey as finally completed— the surveyor discovered a curious substance, apparently exuding from or deposited on top of the soil. It was black, somewhat like tar in aspect, but without the characteristic tarry odor; harder too, and quite brittle. As nearly as he could determine the deposits covering several acres varied from three to six inches in thickness. On the surface of Black Creek floated softened fragments of the stuff. Later, on the surface of Bear Creek, seven miles further north, Donnelly found floating an oily substance whose smell reminded him of the “gum beds.” These gum-beds broke the monotony of the forest; they were a sight to puzzle, and even to awe, the uninitiated. Irish Donnelly was scientist enough to be curious, but not scientist enough to solve the problem of what they were or whence they came.
His mind returned to the practical side of his mission. “That stuff,” he mused, “spoils a couple of good acres of farmland.”
With which he doubtless dismissed the topic from his mind, and went on to the completion of his task.
Into the new country thrown open for settlement pioneers came reluctantly. It was the winter of '37—the same year that witnessed Mackenzie’s rebellion—that Old John Rows came to Black Creek. There, with his own unaided hands, he put up a log shanty, fourteen feet square. When spring came he planted corn and potatoes in his clearing, and raised hogs, which he had to guard sedulously against wandering Indians.
“Heap Big Medicine”
'T'O THE log cabin in the clearing one day came one of T these unwelcome savages. “Me Wapoose,” he said.
Wapoose assured the white man that his mission was friendly. He was merely hunting racoons. It seemed that among the scattered settlers and his own people he enjoyed some repute as a doctor. Finally—did the white man know where to find the black oil spring?
Rows had heard nothing of a black oil spring. He remembered, though, having noticed on warm nights a strange, disagreeable smell, which he attributed to skunk
That smell, explained Wapoose, came from black oil. Black oil was good medicine. With black oil, Wapoose cured liver troubles, likewise rheumatism.
Thus Wapoose, to the solitary settler, whose mind was little concerned with this search for black oil and inclined to regard it as a pretext; and who questioned to himself whether Wapoose hunted racoons by day in the woods or —by night—-hunted pigs in the white man’s clearing.
Wapoose, however, passed out of the misty picture, leaving the pigs untouched; and John Rows, with his crop ripening to the harvest, forgot the talk of black oil in the practical task of building a little grist mill, of which for some years he was sole patron. Doubtless he remembered the black oil in rare moments of sickness and skimmed it from the stagnant creek, with desperate misgivings as to its medicinal value.
Enter, the Man of Action
TWENTY years later J. H. Williams was in business in Hamilton. A steady, practical man, this Williams, alert for opportunities, he had watched with interest the development of the “lamp oil” industry which threatened the time-honored supremacy of the “farthing rushlight.” The Scottish shale oil industry had come into prorhinence in the last few years and in the eastern States shale retorting plants were operating, largely on shales from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Williams had visited Europe and seen the dug wells of Roumania from which oil was drawn in buckets. He was interested, if not financially at least sympathetically, in a venture near Collingwood, where oil shales had been found, and where crude and unsatisfactory retorts, fired by cheap cord wood, produced small quantities of lamp oil.
This lamp oil industry, decided practical Williams, might have a future. Hamilton, where he lived, might even buy enough of the oil to afford a man a fair living, or at least a fairly profitable side-line.
To Williams at Hamilton there drifted down, in the latter fifties, some echo of a tradition that had waited a quarter of a century for his coming. The tradition told of gum-beds that ruined good farm land, black gum deposit
that looked like tar and smelt horribly. Williams made enquiry, went up to Black Creek himself.
There were comings to and fro, and eventually the Hamilton man teamed in some equipment through the slashings to the banks of Black Creek, set up log buildings, and erected his primitive retorting plant. Here, he had decided, was a better quality of raw material for lamp oil than the shale deposits at Collingwood.
But the water that lay, green and stagnant, in every hollow and dragged its slow, slimy way through Black Creek was just as nauseously undrinkable as in the days of Irish Donnelly.
The First Oil Well VX/TLLIAMS halted his re’ ’ torting operations on the gum-beds in order to dig a water well.
He dug down sixty-five feet, building a crib-work of timbers to hold back the clay.
At sixty-five feet he struck, not water, but oil.
That was in 1857, two years before the Drake well was drilled in Pennsylvania. According to the best tradition, the Williams well was the first oil well put down on the American continent. Later Williams drilled deeper, using a primitive spring-pole outfit, operated by foot-power. He got more oil—and then began the inrush of fortune-mad men that fifty years later, when they had gone their devious ways, was to leave the Lambton landscape dotted with three-pole derricks.
All that mad mania seems to have left J. H. Williams’ native sanity unshaken. He was a careful man, simple in his tastes, retiring of disposition, practical to a degree and always dependable. Not a man to be swept from his moorings by any flood tide of wild enthusiasm, he was content with the day of small things, and lived to realize grea things. He never drilled a gusher or won or lost a spectacular fortune, but he won what was perhaps worth more to him—the honor of being the father of the Canadian petroleum industry, the right and privilege of serving his people in parliament, a modest competence that endured, and a serene old age.
Old men have told me that but one man left the first Oil Springs boom with money in pocket—and that man was J. H. Williams, who never drilled a gusher.
Adventurers Pour In
THE man who made Oil Springs known throughout two continents was of a different type, and his fate was far more tragic.
The story of Williams’ modest success spread abroad, and in response there came, filtering through the slashings in the otherwise trackless hardwood forests, a little stream of adventurers. They came riding buck-board, on horseback, or tramping afoot with their scant possessions slung over their shoulders. Oil in those days was a poor man’s
Such adventurers in the year 1861 found on the banks of Bear Creek, where Petrolia now stands, a huge frame boarding house, an incipient rthnery, a few scattered log houses and a faint smell of crude oil. Here and there in the flats a few surface wells were dug and a few gallons of oil pumped or bailed; and men with their resources all in their jeans and their fortunes still to make formed evanescent partnerships to test this or that acre.
One such partnership at work in the Petrolia flats that summer of 1861 included as its third and least popular member a man named John Shaw. He was a big, rawboned, good-natured, not overly brainy chap, who had grown up on a Lambton clearing. His partners wanted to get rid of him, and to accomplish that end they eventually persuaded him to take an acre of land at Oil Springs in exchange for his interests.
Shaw picked up or patched together a primitive springpole outfit, such as the Chinese had first contrived centuries before and had never improved on. With this he went to work on his new acre. For helpers he hired two young men, Hugh Smiley and Jack Coryell. It was the end of 1861 when they got to work, and a hard winter was setting in along Black Creek.
From the very outset things went bad. At sixty-five feet, where Williams’ dug well, just across lots, had got oil,
Shaw had nothing to show.
Men who knew the business advised him to quit, and try somewhere else.
Shaw and his helpers kept pegging away on the Oil Springs
Then Shaw’s money, such as he had, petered out. He had stinted himself, considerably ; but a man has to live. With nothing coming in and helpers to pay, the accumulated savings of a not-too-careful day laborer don’t last long.
Shaw bought on credit as long as he could. But when his well was away below one hundred feet with nothing to show, the Oil Springs tradesmen shook their heads, and the Petrolia merchants when appealed to were skeptical and unwilling to take further risks.
Shaw needed casing as the hole went deeper—in those days “Scotch casing” put together to order by the local tinsmith. The tinsmith was emphatic in his refusal to take chances.
Shaw went down to the well despondent, and told Smiley and Coryell that he couldn’t go any further. The young men had saved some money—not much—and they chipped in and bought the needed casing.
Shaw kept on.
At 155 feet there was still nothing to show. Even the helpers decided it was no use going further. Oh, well, they might as well stick to it another day.
That “other day” was February 19, 1862—the day the famous Shaw flowing well came in.
Oil Gushes from the Ground
A RUSH of gas flung the light tools high in the air.
Then a black column of oil, like a monstrous plume, shot upward against the gray winter sky, above the bare tops of the hardwoods. The roar of the oil as it leapt skyward was heard for miles.
For a week the Shaw well gushed unchecked, 3,000 barrels a day. It filled a natural basin covering several acres. It overflowed the banks of this basin, and deluged the ice of Black Creek. When springtime came the waters of Lake St. Clair were black with it.
Eventually a Pennsylvania adventurer who had worked at Titusville showed inexperienced Shaw how to check the flow. There was no market for oil in such huge quantities; but intermittent dippings from the huge basin kept Shaw in funds which he scattered with lavish, careless hand.
No such well had ever before been drilled in America. Beside the Shaw flowing well, the Pennsylvania discoveries seemed inconsiderable. Within twenty-four hours of the strike, newborn Petrolia was dead and forgotten. Within a few weeks adventurers were flocking in from Pennsylvania; within a few months the world at large was en route to Oil Springs. Canada’s first boom town sprang up on the banks of Black Creek. Saloons ran wide open, big frame boarding-houses accommodated the transients, shacks and tents were put up in the clearings, oil acres were divided and subdivided and snatched up by eager speculators for fabulous sums.
Canada’s Record Well
NEAR the east “gum beds” that had puzzled Irish Donnelly thirty years before, Black & Matheson of Sarnia drilled the greatest flowing well Canada ever saw, reputed for two months to have kept up a steady yield of 7,500 barrels a day. For weeks it gushed unchecked, defying men’s puny efforts to control it. It flooded the country around a foot deep, and men traversed the surrounding acres on jumping poles, skipping from log to log. New drilling outfits came in, and gusher followed gusher.
Those were the improvidently glorious days of Canadian oildom. In the spring and summer of 1862, five million barrels of oil floated away on the waters of Black Creek. Hundreds of teams hauled oil to Mandaumin, Sarnia or Wyoming. The bottomless mud of the slashing made freighting by wagon an impossible task; a single barrel was all a stout horse could team. Eventually a species of flatboat was improvised that dragged the barrels along mud canals, the drivers picking their way along the roadsides, dotted with stumps and strewn with fallen timber.
That summer, in the mushroom city his gusher had brought into existence, John Shaw was a resplendent, envied figure. The erstwhile day laborer beamed with pride in his achievement and his easy riches. In his loud-patterned suit, he was a center of attraction and—with his easy men-
tality—a ready victim for the schemers and sharpers who flocked to the oil metropolis. For four months his well yielded lavishly, making him momentarily rich. Then it quit, refusing even to pump; the short-lived era of the flowing wells ended, as it were, with a bang. The field that in 1862 had wasted millions of barrels of oil in the ensuing year produced only a few thousands.
Fortune Gives Shaw Raw Deal JOHN SHAW, divested by shrewd sharpers of his easy ^ money, drifted to the Pennsylvania fields in the vain hope of drilling a second gusher. He failed. In the late sixties or early seventies the Canadian oil country saw him again, this time as a photographer going from town to town in an itinerating car, eking out a precarious livelihood. In 1872 he died at Petrolia in abject poverty.
While John Shaw in his American exile at Titusville and Oil City was seeking vainly to retrieve his fortunes—as much bewildered by his inexplicable poverty as he had been by,his inexplicable riches—other men more expert in the ways of business were laying, in Petrolia, the foundations of an enduring oil industry. The failure of the Oil Springs flowing wells was an unrecognized blessing. They had done their work in advertising Canada’s potentialities, but they had poured forth their riches upon a world unprepared to assimilate them.
. The more gradual development of a lasting industry was to follow. But while this industry was finding its feet, in the decade following the year of the flowing wells, the oil game in Petrolia had its ups and downs, its fortunes
made and lost, and its daring speculations.
Into the Petrolia of the later sixties and early seventies came the men who were to learn by slow, painful and costly experience to understand and master the game that John Shaw had never understood. Americans like J. H. Fairbank, Britishers like Charles Jen-
kins, Irish-Canadians like John D. Noble—these were, in recent years, among the last survivors of the splendid sixties, and of a host of more eager and insistent adventurers whose names have passed from history or are carved on the forgotten gravestones of this and other oil towns. There were young bloods, noted ladies’ men, like Ralph Gillespie and good-hearted, generous Major Jack Van Tuyl; there were quiet, self-contained men to whom oil was a practical producing business; there were daring speculators always willing to take a chance; there were schemers, fakers and “con” men of whom the less said the better. A cosmopolite crowd thronged the big boarding-houses and hotels, took part in the jolly and sometimes riotous entertainments, and crowded the oil exchange where, with the fluctuations up and down of price and production, paper fortunes were won and lost overnight.
Out of the excitements and the strivings, the winnings and the losings, the triumphs and tragedies of these early days, one fact grew—the steady, sober, practical petroleum industry that to-day manages its declining oil fields so carefully and well.
To-day we discuss the world’s oil supply and oil needs in terms of millions. Then, a few thousand barrels more or less upset the market, to the immense perturbation of embryo Rockefellers.
‘Can we secure an export market for our surplus?” was the tremendous problem of the sixties. Men like J. L. Englehart and J. H. Williams sought to build up for Canada an export trade in oil in competition with the Pennsylvania fields that were daily producing the then tremendous output of 13,000 barrels a day, of which only
3.000 barrels a day found a market in the United States. Within a year or two the American output had leapt to
20.000 barrels a day; and the Petrolia men despaired when it came to conceiving a world that could absorb such huge quantities of oil and yet find consumers for the Canadian surplus.
Can’t Supply Home Demand
' I 'O-DAY Canada consumes every drop of oil her fields 1 produce. Her refineries import, daily, from the United States alone, upward of 20,000 barrels. The United States in 1920 produced 444,804,682 barrels of crude oil, and at that fell short of meeting a ravenous world demand. And one Canadian oil company in that same year spent millions trying to find oil in Canada, and in the effort to do so explored foothills, prairies and far northern wastes. Such is the change since the splendid sixties.
In the years just before Confederation the village of Wyoming on the Sarnia branch of the Great Western Railway was a great refinery center. Here were grouped a dozen or a score of the primitive refineries of that day, with their “cheese-box” stills; and through the forest slashing that had grown into a typical oil-country road, crude oil was teamed in barrels from Oil Springs and Petrolia. On foggy days especially, but more or less at all times, the atmosphere was heavy with the perfume of crude oil; the frame buildings, usually painted white, were hideously discolored with refinery fumes. Much of the W’yoming of that day has since vanished, swept away by fire: and with other vanished structures went the general store once kept by E. McGarvey & Son.
“Son” was young Billy MacGarvey. He had come with his parents from Huntingdon, Quebec, and in that country store in the early boom days began a career unparalleled for romance, achievement and ultimate tragedy among all the pioneers of petroleum.
How Oil King Started
JJILLY MACGARVEY was barely out of his J-* teens when he went to the boom town of Petrolia to open a store. Later he dabbled in oil; (Topped merchandising for oil production and refining; and got to be one of the big men of the bubbling, seething, speculating oil town. He held almost every municipal office in the gift of PeContinued on page 47
Continued from page 16
trolia and became its first mayor. West Lambton in those days was irredeemably Grit in provincial politics; but West Lambton, late in the ’70’s, came within a few votes of electing a Tory twenty years before W. J. Hanna. That Tory of the 70’s was W. H. MacGarvey. A year or two later MacGarvey, in 1880, headed a Dominion Government Survey of the mineral resources of the Canadian West.
At the age of thirty-eight the boy from the Eastern Townships had won a fortune in oil, done notable things in public life and crowded into twenty busy years a real life-time of achievement.
Yet these were small things compared with the still unfolded page of the next three decades. In the early ’80’s MacGarvey became associated with a German capitalist, J. S. Bergheim. Bergheim had an oil prospect in Hanover, that German principality the sedulous defence of which had, in the days of the Georges, cost so many thousands of British lives and so many millions of British pounds sterling. The Bergheim - MacGarvey partnership drilled for oil in Hanover, failed to get it, and then searched for new fields of adve -
The then Austrian province of Galicia had already been tested for oil by the Roumanian method of hand-dug wells, by the kicking-in process, and by light drilling outfits. MacGarvey, with discerning eye investigating the Carpathian foothills decided that the difficulty lay, not in the field, but in the drilling methods, and a ■good deal in the men who did the drilling. He introduced the Canadian pole-tool system that he had seen evolved to meet Canadian drilling difficulties; and brought to his assistance from Petrolia such A-l experts as Admiral Nelson Keith and genial J. P. Connolly, not to mention a 'host of lesser men.
MacGarvey Invades Europe
THE outcome justified his prescience.
For a quarter of a century, MacGarvey’s career was virtually a continuous triumph. His first modest enterprise, the Galizische-Karpathen Petroleum AktienGesellschaft, developed to enormous proportions. Galicia became one of the world’s great oil fields. New towns and villages arose on the foundation of the Canadian’s activities; refineries clustered about Marianpol; in a later day MacGarvey and his associates built at the Adriatic seaport of Trieste the largest refinery in Europe. For a quarter of a century MacGarvey was a Midas of the Golden Touch. Millions flowed into the coffers of his companies. The man who had been a storekeeper’s son in an obscure Canadian village, a corner merchant in a boom town, a Canadian oil operator and politician, was the recipient of high honors and decorations from Franz Josef, the apostolic successor of the Roman Caesars. Next to Sir Boverton Redwood, MacGarvey was counted the world’s greatest petroleum technologist; and it was largely on his expert advice that the British Admiralty adopted oil burners for its battleships.
Then came, like a lightning flash from a cloudless sky, the Great War.
Galicia was the earliest battle ground.
Tragic Exit of a Genius
THE man whose busy life work had created these things, under surveillance in a magnificent home in Vienna, after his long succession of triumphs, lived to see his native and his adopted country each at the other’s throat. His Canadian-born daughters, children of a Russian mother, were wedded to men fighting, the one for Germany, the other for Austria, against the allies of his native land. He died at Vienna the first autumn of the war. Fiction, after all, has few episodes to rival MacGarvey in his modest beginnings, his huge achievement, or his ultimate tragedy.
The early oil operators in Ontario confined their drilling ventures to the river courses. Indeed, the first generalization regarding oil-finding seems to have been that it was useless to look for oil except along the creeks and rivers. Thus it was that, a year or two before Confederation, an adventurer from the new American fields with a crude drilling outfit followed the upward course of the Thames from Thamesville to beyond Bothwell, studying surface indications and here and there halting with his primitive outfit to punch
I holes in the banks. The farmers thought I him crazy.
The American’s name was Lick. “Old Man Lick” the Bothwell tradition calls him. Who he was or had been, whence he came, is clouded in mystery that has not been penetrated in the stories of grayI haired men who then were boys.
Lick must have had personality; for he secured backing, even among the skeptical farmers. At one stage in his career he persuaded a group of them to come into a syndicate at $10 a share. Real money was scarce in those days, hut the men worked out their shares at $1 a day, helping Lick drill his well. A big tree projecting over the Thames was used as a Samson post, the walking beam attached, and the well drilled just at the water’s edge. In the early stages the well was “kicked down” by man power; but after it had reached some little depth, Lick secured, somewhere, a wheezy little engine. The discarded ash-rods from the poletool outfit were in keen demand among the village boys, who cut them in two to use as jumping poles.
One Bothwell man who worked out a $ 10 share in Lick’s syndicate sold it for $2 cash. A Scotchman named McRitchie stuck by Lick for three months, but eventually had to raise money. He wanted Lick to buy. “I can’t pay you cash,” said Lick, tragically. “I haven’t any money. But say, I can give you a note.” And such was the personality of the downand-out adventurer, McRitchie accepted the note.
The hole at the water’s edge proved worthless,and Lick moved hisdinky engine and decrepit outfit to higher ground, to what is to this day known as Lick’s ravine. His money was all spent; and now his credit dwindled and vanished. Even the Bothwell blacksmith refused to sharpen his tools. Old Man Lick improvised a forge and keptthe toolsin some sort of shape and pegged away at his well. How he contrived to live, no man to this day knows!
At Last, Oil—Bubbling Oil!
AND then, after weeks of tedious, hopeCT less drilling, the Lick flowing well came
In ten minutes Lick had all the credit he needed. He offered a dollar a day— high wages then—for helpers, and had a small army of men and boys blocking the ends of the ravine to make a sump as large as a dozen town lots, to hold the oil. Wooden tanks were rushed from Chatham. It took four days to cap the well; the sump was full; all the available tanks were full; people came with buckets and carried the oil away. How many thousand barrels the Lick gusher flowed in those four days, no man ever knew. Lick was offered half a million dollars cash for his well. He refused, point-blank. For a while, according to Bothwell tradition, it brough him $10,000 a day.
Almost overnight, the quiet hamlet of Bothwell grew into a city of 6,000 people. An oil exchange, huge frame hotels were thrown together, big enterprises were launched, shacks sprang up in all directions without waiting for streets to be laid out.
Saw His Dream Come True /"VLD MAN LICK saw realization beyond his dreams. He was to Bothwell what Shaw had been to Oil Springs and Drake to Titusville.
A curious incident illustrates what manner of man Lick was. James Park owned a couple of farms near Bothwell, but taught school in Chatham. He was at the Great Western station one morning buying his ticket when a big man who had been unloading some drilling machinery tapped him on the shoulder.
“You’re going to Chatham?” questioned the big man. “Will you do an errand for me?”
“My watch hasn’t been running for a month. Will you take it down and give it to some jeweler there and tell him to fix :t up and bring it back?” As he spoke, he pulled out a big, old-fashioned gold watch, worth probably a couple of hundred dollars, and, without troubling to detach the massive chain, handed it to the schoolteacher, whom he had never seen before and whose name he did not even trouble to ask. Such was open-hearted, simple, trustful Lick.
James Park a little later was himself engulfed in the swirl of the boom. On the strength of $15 oil and the certainty of a permanent field—for no boom-mad town can ever foresee the end of its prosperity—
the school teacher formed a partnership» with three other men named Henry, Etches and Alexander. Park put in $5,500, the sale price of his two farms, against the practical experience of the others as mechanics and iron moulders; and commenced the manufacture of engines and oil well supplies.
The factory did a thriving trade, selling engines, worth $1,000 each, for $100 down and the balance in long-time instalments. An engine they featured was called the “Great Powerful,” and considered a prodigy of achievement; it was designed to pump two wells simultaneously or to drill one and pump another. It would probably develop 10 to 12 horse-power. When the inevitable bubble burst the partnership' found itself with great quantities of material on hand, no market for the output. Bills fell due and could not be met. The outcome was a bankruptcy sale, at which Senator Northwood of Chatham bought the plant, outfit and materials for $1,100.
A Day of “Paper” Fortunes DAPER fortunes were made and lost 1 in that short-lived Bothwell boom. Leases commanded big figures; supposed but unproven oil lands sold at abnormal1 prices. The collapse of the boom resulted in some curious incidents.
A farmer named Reycraft had sold for $5,500, the oil operators holding back $50(1 of the purchase price till the patent of the farm could be verified. Reycraft bought a good farm in Middlesex for $3,500; and when the boom burst the operators, sooner than lose the remaining $500, let him havehis original farm.
A widow with ten children refused $25,000 for a small farm. She put up all sorts of pretexts to keep off the operatorswho were hounding her to sell, alleging among other things that she could not dispose of the property till the youngest child was of age. At last her friends persuaded her to accept, but—right then,*the boom, collapsed, and the John Rice company, which had made the’offer, wouldn’t touch the farm on any terms.
Poor Lo Makes Honest Dollar /"UIIEF “John Shebo” Jacobs was a '“4 noted figure among the Indians near Bothwell. He was then a very old man. As a boy he had seen the British fleeing before William Henry Harrison’s Kentucky riflemen at the Moraviantown fight, where Tecumseh was killed. The old chief never told much of his oil experiences, beyond a non-committal “Ugh!” but he is reputed to have sold a farm for $75,000 in instalments, though he never had to surrender possession because when the boom burst the last instalment was still unpaid. When thirty years later, the second Bothwell discovery laid the foundation of the present paying field, Jacobs was still living—he íived to be 110—and he is said to have received $25,000 for a lease of the same property. No oil was ever discovered on it.
Old Man Lick’s well made him rich, while it lasted. It petered out, after a few months, and his wealth vanished. But he could not quit the game. He drilled other wells. Some were producers, but the money refused to stick. Ten years later he was drilling near Thamesville, and put down thirty holes, all “dusters;” though oil was later struck within a few feet of one of them. Still later he went up and down the Thames buying fish for a London company which paid him a dollar a day.
A gray-haired man who told me the story some years ago was a boy then; and a young man when, one winter morning in the latter seventies, with a couple of other young fellows he drove into Bothwell. They dropped into a convenient bar to warm up, externally and internally, when in came old Doctor Pope, who had lived in Bothwell long before the boom days.
“Boys,” he announced, “our old friend, Lick, is dead. We don’t want to bury him in a pine box. We’re not asking anything elaborate or any fine fixings, but we want a decent coffin.”
The company present chipped in a quarter each, and the good-hearted doctor passed on to the next bar.
Old Man Lick, who refused half a million for his gusher well, lies buried in the Potter’s Field at Bothwell, within sound of the mournful “plonk! plonk!” of pumping wells that other adventurers discovered at a later day.
Such was the oil game, as it went in the splendid sixties.