If it had not been for the invention of oil, El Dorado probably could be a a lot smaller place nowadays. The oil increase of the 1920s modified every part right here. It produced larger-than-life figures comparable to Samuel Thompson Busey, T.H. Barton and Charles Haywood Murphy Jr.
We’ll spend the evening at El Dorado on the midpoint of a visit that may take us by means of the decrease a part of Arkansas from Mississippi to Texas on U.S. 82. With its concentrate on arts, tradition and leisure, El Dorado has change into one of many jewels of this a part of the nation. The historical past of the oil increase intrigues me, and downtown El Dorado has displays and interpretive signage to clarify that interval and its main gamers.
Busey was born in Illinois in 1867. He was skilled as a doctor however later grew to become a geologist. Coming from a household of adventurers, starting in 1890 he traveled to Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina. For a time, he lived in Mexico Metropolis and practiced medication there. Busey went to Texas in 1901 to take a look at the Spindletop oil effectively close to Beaumont.
“Afterward, he and a gaggle of traders tried to drill oil wells close to Vera Cruz with combined outcomes,” Kenneth Bridges and John Ragsdale wrote for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
“Because the Mexican Revolution erupted in 1910, Busey closed his medical follow and as soon as once more resumed touring. He finally made his approach to Bolivia, involving himself in quite a few enterprise actions. He organized the financing of the primary profitable rubber plantation in Bolivia and in 1915 efficiently accomplished an oil effectively in that nation. He returned to the USA, excited by his success in Bolivian oil. He lived for a time in New Jersey, Oklahoma and Louisiana within the late 1910s, persevering with to probe for oil.
“In 1920, a effectively east of El Dorado was drilled and confirmed a big pure gasoline movement. Busey was in Homer, La., about 40 miles away, and rode a horse to El Dorado to substantiate the effectively info the subsequent day. Unable to discover a room, Busey purchased the Arcade Resort for $2,500. By this time, the Mitchell-Bonham Drilling Co. had acquired drilling rights on the 80-acre David R. Armstrong farm southwest of El Dorado. It had drilled a effectively to a depth of about 1,700 toes, however operations have been suspended for monetary difficulties.
“On Nov. 15, 1920, Busey met with native traders and took 51 p.c possession of the corporate, together with rights to the effectively, all instruments and the 80-acre tract that was being drilled.”
Drilling resumed, however Busey needed to promote some shares of the corporate so as to meet drilling bills.
Bridges and Ragsdale defined what occurred subsequent: “On Jan. 10, 1921, at 4:30 p.m., the Busey No. 1 effectively, because it was then named, was drilled to a depth of two,233 toes and struck oil. Oil erupted to the floor, spraying the world for greater than a mile round. Busey’s wealthy discovery effectively produced an astounding 15 million to 35 million cubic toes of pure gasoline and between 3,000 and 10,000 barrels of oil and water every day. This led to the oil increase that started petroleum growth in Arkansas.
“A frenzy struck El Dorado as hundreds of speculators swarmed into the world in search of their fortunes, with Busey credited for all of it. He shortly offered the resort for $5,000 and was besieged by provides for the effectively. Individuals despatched cash from everywhere in the nation to Busey for him to put money into the brand new south Arkansas oil business. He declined the provides for the effectively and quietly returned the cash despatched to him. He started drilling in different areas of Union County.”
Busey later believed oil could be discovered close to Monticello. He predicted that Monticello could be “the subsequent El Dorado,” however no oil reserves have been discovered there. He operated oil leases within the El Dorado and Smackover space till 1928, when he offered his Arkansas properties. He later lived in Michigan, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and died in 1962 in Maryland.
Barton, whose identify lives on with Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, was born at Marlin, Texas, in 1881. He attended Texas A&M for a time, served within the U.S. Military from 1901-04 after which discovered his approach to Arkansas, the place he labored within the lumber and banking industries in Dallas County. He was within the U.S. Military Reserve from 1920-36, when he was discharged with the rank of colonel, and was extensively generally known as Col. Barton for the remainder of his life.
Barton arrived in El Dorado in January 1921, a couple of days after the Busey No. 1 struck oil. He organized the El Dorado Pure Gasoline Co. and expanded it into the Pure Gasoline & Gas Corp. three years later. He offered that firm to Cities Service Co. in 1929 after having change into the principal stockholder within the struggling Lion Oil Refining Co.
Barton had deliberate to decelerate and journey the nation together with his spouse, however these plans needed to be placed on maintain in 1929 when he agreed to function Lion’s president.
“Inside three months, Lion had bought producing leases within the Smackover Area, which was actually overflowing with a colossal output of petroleum,” Ragsdale and Don Lambert wrote. “The corporate continued to develop and, in 1935, found the third main producing geological zone within the Smackover Area.
“In 1937, Lion drilled the wildcat discovery effectively within the Shuler Area, 15 miles west of El Dorado. Barton leased 7,000 acres and initiated growth in a discipline that ranked second solely to the Smackover discovery. By 1955, the corporate employed 3,000 individuals. Lion merchandise have been offered by 2,000 service stations throughout the South.”
Barton grew to become a number one Arkansas philanthropist. He labored with the Arkansas Livestock Present Affiliation, which named Barton Coliseum for him when it was devoted in September 1952. He additionally was a serious donor to what’s now the College of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock together with establishments in El Dorado comparable to Warner-Brown Hospital, Barton Library and Memorial Stadium. He died in December 1960 at his house in El Dorado.
One other oil baron who remained in El Dorado was Murphy, who died in March 2002 at age 82. He was born in El Dorado in March 1920. His father had moved there in 1904 to function a financial institution. By 1907, the elder Murphy owned 13 banks in Arkansas and the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The elder Murphy additionally constructed a sawmill south of El Dorado.
In 1946, Charles Murphy Jr. and his three siblings pooled their enterprise pursuits into an enterprise generally known as C.H. Murphy & Co. That firm was integrated as Murphy Corp. in 1950 and Murphy Oil Corp. in 1964. Charles Murphy Jr. served as president till 1972 and as chairman till 1994.
Deltic Farm & Timber Co. was spun off from Murphy Oil Corp. in 1996 to kind Deltic Timber Corp. The corporate owned hundreds of acres of timberlands in Arkansas and Louisiana, together with mills at Waldo and Ola. In 2018, Deltic merged with the bigger Potlatch Corp. of Seattle–which had lengthy had operations in Arkansas–to kind the PotlatchDeltic Corp.
Murphy Oil’s retail gasoline gross sales elevated tremendously after an settlement with Walmart to function stations within the parking plenty of the corporate’s shops. The retail operations have been spun off in 2013 into Murphy USA. Murphy Oil, which now focuses on exploration and manufacturing quite than retail gross sales, introduced earlier this yr that it was transferring its headquarters from El Dorado to Houston. Murphy USA, which employs way more individuals in El Dorado than Murphy Oil, will preserve its headquarters in Arkansas.
The chemical business additionally stays robust in El Dorado, courting again partially to the Ozark Ordnance Works. The federal Conflict Division knowledgeable U.S. Rep. Oren Harris of El Dorado in October 1941 that it had accepted $23 million for an ammonia plant. Ozark Ordnance Works produced ammonia and ammonium nitrate utilized in manufacturing explosives and in filling bombs and shells. The plant was constructed and operated by Lion Oil.
In a 1947 interview Barton mentioned: “After we have been negotiating for this plant, the Conflict Division advised us flatly we could not produce ammonia from pure gasoline. They didn’t know us Southerners. It took a whole lot of speak and argument, however we lastly gained out.”
Lion employed 17 engineers and instantly despatched them to Canada for coaching. Manufacturing occurred from 1943 till the tip of World Conflict II in 1945. The constructing that housed the gasoline engines that produced electrical energy to energy the plant was the dimensions of two soccer fields. There have been virtually 700 workers throughout the battle.
After World Conflict II, Lion continued manufacturing for business functions. Monsanto merged with Lion’s chemical division in 1955 and operated the plant below the Monsanto identify till July 1983. It was offered to El Dorado Chemical Co. that yr.
We proceed the journey west on U.S. 82, leaving Union County and discovering ourselves in Columbia County, the one county within the state to not have a river. As in neighboring Union County, the oil and gasoline business was essential to the world financial system. The Magnolia Oil Area was found on March 5, 1938.
“Gushing oil topped the Barnett No. 1 derrick,” wrote Mike McNeill of the net information web site Magnolia Reporter. “This led virtually in a single day to the event of an oil and gasoline exploration business inside Columbia County that continues at the moment. Whereas the significance of oil and gasoline drilling declined steadily, a brand new pure assets business arrived within the mid-1960s as chemical firms found the excessive bromine content material of brine positioned hundreds of toes beneath the earth’s floor. Bromine is a component utilized in quite a few chemical and manufacturing processes.
“On Jan. 18, 1966, Dow Chemical Co. broke floor for a bromine plant 4 miles west of Magnolia. A second plant quickly adopted (a three way partnership of Ethyl Chemical Corp. and Nice Lakes Chemical). Each crops have been consolidated below the possession of Albemarle Corp., which owns dozens of brine wells and pipelines that crisscross Columbia and Union counties.”
Although the oil and gasoline business has declined in Columbia County, the timber business stays essential. The actual driver of the financial system within the county seat of Magnolia continues to be the presence of Southern Arkansas College.
“Greater schooling in Columbia County grew to become a actuality with an act of the 1909 Arkansas Common Meeting, which approved 4 agricultural excessive colleges within the state, combining coaching in agriculture with excessive school-level programs,” McNeill wrote. “County residents supplied the state an inducement of $50,000 plus 390 acres simply north of Magnolia for what grew to become generally known as the Third District Agricultural College. The primary courses have been held on Jan. 11, 1911.
“The Common Meeting approved the Third District Agricultural College to change into a junior faculty, and in 1925, the varsity was renamed Third District Agricultural & Mechanical Faculty. Highschool programs have been dropped in 1937, and in 1949, the varsity grew to become a four-year establishment. The identify was modified to Southern State Faculty in 1951. SSC was renamed Southern Arkansas College in 1976. SAU is finest recognized for its diploma applications in enterprise administration, agricultural schooling, elementary and secondary schooling and nursing.”
When the Third District Agricultural College was established, there have been three sister establishments that additionally have been born. These establishments would go on to change into Arkansas State College at Jonesboro, the College of Arkansas at Monticello and Arkansas Tech College at Russellville.
“The Farmers Instructional and Cooperative Union had campaigned vigorously in Arkansas and different states for these vocational excessive colleges, an schooling reform of the Progressive Period,” wrote James Willis, a former historical past professor at SAU who wrote a e-book in regards to the faculty. “Communities bid cash and land in efforts to change into websites for the Arkansas colleges.”
It is time to proceed the journey west. We’ll cross Lafayette and Miller counties, ending on the state line at Texarkana.