“Mr. McKinney, there is a Dr. Samuel Busey here to see you.
“A doctor? I don’t need to see a doctor. Ask him what he wants and send it to one of the vice presidents if he wants a loan.
“Uh, Dr Busey, Mr. McKinney is a busy man, and if I can help you or one of our VPs could help you …”
“Young man, please tell Mr. McKinney that I have important news about an upcoming windfall in El Dorado that I must let him know about.” It’s an emergency! God is about to anoint this community with great riches.
A look of shock crossed the man’s face and he walked over to Mr. McKinney’s office.
“Yes, sir, I’ll be right back. “
Recently from Smackover, Dr. Samuel Busey, who claimed to be a doctor and geologist – he was neither – had just made his first appearance in El Dorado. Dr. Busey, as he preferred to be called, was an oil well developer, who frequently quoted the scriptures when talking to investors about buying into his oil well drilling businesses. He had traveled from the oil booms from Texas to northern Louisiana. It was then that he heard of a wild well called the # 1 Constantine, which had been drilled in southern Arkansas. The well had spat out natural gas and salt water with an oil scum. Oil gas and scum caught his interest because most oil companies knew that natural gas was generally associated with oil deposits.
His interest grew even more when he heard of a second well being drilled. It was located just north of Constantine Well # 1. Over the days, Dr Busey paid close attention to drilling the well, and when the operator of the well went bankrupt and suspended operations before reaching the Nacatoch sand – the sand that had produced natural gas with an oil scum in the Constantine well – Dr Busey decided to take over the bankrupt drilling operation. He was in El Dorado to raise money to drill the well deeper. Dr Busey was well acquainted with the adage of the oil promoter, “Drill with other people’s money”.
The meeting with Mr. McKinney was one of the first that Dr. Busey had with the businessmen of El Dorado. After leaving Mr McKinney’s office, he walked down Main Street to present to various store owners what he called a great opportunity to claim the riches of his proposed oil discovery. Its impressive geological map, which showed El Dorado sitting atop a huge oil basin, was a solid selling point. Of course, he had constructed the map, which showed a giant oil field just begging to be discovered. He made numerous sales of vested interests in the business, and by mid-December had raised enough money to resume drilling the abandoned well called No. 1 Armstrong. He only had to drill five hundred feet to get to the Nacatoch Sand, which was the sand that had blown into the Constantine Well.
The borehole reached the potential oil sands on January 9, 1921. After drilling through the top of the sand and examining the sand samples that were coming to the surface and smelling of oil, Dr. Busey ordered the pipe to be cemented in the hole. The method of completing wells in the 1920s was to cement an oil well casing to the top of the sand, then drill a few more feet into the sand. An operator would then refloat the drilling mud, which was trapping anything in the sand, and the pressure in the formation would allow oil, gas or salt water to flow to the surface. Witnesses reported that Dr Busey, after smelling the smell of oil in the sand samples, walked through town telling everyone the well would come the next day. Shortly after 4 p.m. on January 10, 1921, after clearing the water and mud from the pipe, the well roared, spitting oil from the top of the wooden derrick. It was a gush!
At that moment, El Dorado was forever changed. The oil boom of the 1920s was a cataclysmic event for this small village in southern Arkansas. Dr Busey held a press conference in the courthouse lobby that evening, and the press later telegraphed this headline across the country. “It is estimated that Busey delivers 30,000 barrels of oil per day! It was a huge exaggeration, but the next morning five charter trains with crowded cars arrived with white flags fluttering in front of their engines, and the fabulous oil boom was underway.
A farmer’s land, which made up the Busey well, was leased the next day for $ 1,000 an acre. The Armstrong lease where the Busey well was drilled was purchased for 2 cents / acre. The Busey well lasted only 59 days, but it drilled 120 wells in the county that year, some of which found significant oil deposits. The boom kicked into high gear two years later when giant Smackover Field was discovered. Some of its wells poured oil into earthen pits at up to 50,000 barrels a day. Oil was selling for $ 1.25 a barrel, but with these volumes, millionaires were earned overnight. During the first five years of the oil boom, the value of oil produced exceeded the estimated total value of state assets, and El Dorado’s population grew from 3,800 to around 40,000.
Law enforcement officials have been overwhelmed and parts of southern Arkansas have become completely lawless. Barrels lined South Washington Street, known as Hamburger Row, where open saloons, gambling, and prostitution flourished. The unsanitary conditions, where mules drowned in the dirt streets and the misery of the open sewers flowed in these streets, are factual and, yes, prostitutes rode on the platforms to serve the streets. crews. The hundreds of murders committed by hijackers, as oil workers called them, are well documented. Jake’s Place was a real barrel and men like Smiling Jack, Lucky Bob, Weasel, Silvertop and Big Ed were all real characters who were part of the lawless mob that flooded the community. HL Hunt, who was once the richest man in the world, got his start at a gambling den on Hamburger Row.
El Dorado recognized and commemorated the oil boom with Oil Heritage Park, where bronze plaques mounted on granite plinths tell the story of the oil boom.
The boom produced substantial fortunes for several families in El Dorado. The Murphy-Nolan-Alderson, Mahony, Garrett, Trimble, McKinney and Barton families were among the many families who over the 1920s and 1930s changed downtown El Dorado. The old pre-boom wood-frame buildings were razed to the ground and replaced with new brick buildings, along with the state’s first courthouse and college football stadium. It is difficult to overstate the contributions made to the community by these families as they have contributed so much and continue to give.
A hundred years ago, church bells rang, the sawmill whistle rang, and people danced in the streets as Arkansas’ first oil well roared.
Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, past chair of the Department of Environmental Quality Council of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and union columnist. E-mail [email protected]