W. M. Mills, Osawatomie, Kan.Among the great natural resources of Kansas that have contributed so largely towards its commercial supremacy and the building up of a great commonwealth are its oil and natural gas fields and in connection with their development no name is better known in Kansas than that of W. M. Mills. He is an Eastern man, having been born on a farm in Clarion county, Pennsylvania, in 1851, the son of Michael and Nancy (McClure) Mills, both of whom were natives of Pennsylvania. The father died there in 1892 and the mother then came to her son in Kansas and resided with him at Osawatomie until her death, July 4, 1911, at the advanced age of eighty-four.
Mr. Mills grew up in the midst of the oil fields of Pennsylvania. Actively entering the oil business at the age of eighteen he put for every effort to make his mark in that branch of industry and now can look backward upon a career that has been eminently successful. Energy and ambition have ever been marked characteristics of him. From the robust, out-of-door life of the farmer boy he developed a rugged physique which, with great nervous energy, a keen and shrewd business mind and the courage and ambition to do, have proved assets of inestimable value to him as a business man, and he has pursued his line of endeavor with a vim and energy that have made his record a remarkable one for accomplishment. His efforts were more or less successful in the oil fields of New York and Pennsylvania, where he operated until 1884, when the great decline of oil to fifty cents a barrel caused him to look for newer territory. Horace Greeley's advice, "Go west, young man, and grow up with the country," determined the course of his future as it did that of many another young man, and accompanied by his wife he came to Kansas. The first two years were spent in prospecting and during that time he carefully examined every nook and corner of this state, visiting nearly every county, his itinerary including Topeka, Abilene, Salina, Emporia, Hutchinson, Wichita, Coffeyville, Winfield, Independence, Cherryvale. Being favorably impressed with Cherryvale as a section offering indications of oil he had leases printed and was about to begin securing land in that section when by chance he picked up a Kansas City paper, in which appeared a graphic description of the discovery of a big gas flow on the Westfall farm east of Paola, Miami county. A visit to the scene substantiated the report and with characteristic promptness he abandoned for the time being the southern Kansas field and at once set about securing leases in Miami county. After devoting some time to this work he had shipped to him from Lima, Ohio, a standard rig and commenced to drill for gas at a point one mile east of Osawatomie. That was in the fall of 1886. Success crowned his efforts. Following the first gas well, an excellent one, many others were put down in succession and produced a liberal supply of gas. A franchise for the city of Osawatomie was secured, the town piped, and from that time to the present the city has been supplied from the local field with natural gas for all purposes. Mr. Mills has never lost faith in the possibilities of southern Kansas as an oil field and as that had been his quest in Kansas he returned to Wilson county, in 1891, and leased over 18,000 acres of land. In 1892 he put down the Norman well near the Verdigris river at Neodesha, which proved a good well, as did another put down near Fall River. These were the first oil wells found in Kansas and was the pioneer step in opening up the great oil fields of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, in connection with which Mr. Mills is aptly termed the "Colonel Drake of the West." That was a good beginning but all was not yet accomplished. He lacked the means necessary to develop the business and place it on a paying basis. He returned East to interest capital in the venture if possible and for that purpose made numerous trips to different points in Pennsylvania and New York, but he found it very difficult to inspire men of capital with any confidence in Kansas as an oil field. Finally, however, he succeeded in interesting a number of Pennsylvania oil men to the point of organizing a company to develop the Wilson county field, the company being composed of W. M. Mills, C. J. Leeper, W. L. Armstrong, T. C. Hulings, John A. McGee, Porter Haskell, A. J. Wallace, George Wagner, A. G. Corbett and J. M. Bartlett. The company was organized in 1892, but its usefulness began and ended with its organization, for it never gave any financial help. Undaunted with these discouragements and failures and with supreme faith in the ultimate result of his efforts he continued trying to interest financiers by personal interviews or by correspondence, among whom were such well known men as William Fee of Bradford, Pa.; W. J. Berlin of Elk City, Pa.; J. L. Anderson of Titusville, Pa.; W. P. Logan of Lima, Ohio; H. K. Clark of Clarion, Pa.; and B. E. Mitchell of Buffalo, N. Y., all experienced oil men with plenty of available capital. All efforts were fruitless, however, until he secured the attention of Guffey & Galey of Pittsburgh, Pa., whom he induced to come to Kansas with him and investigate the proposition. Being pleased with the outlook a partnership was formed under the name of Guffey, Galey & Mills and active operations to develop the Kansas oil fields were begun on a large scale. About twenty wells were drilled in the vicinity of Neodesha, and after a time Guffey & Galey purchased the interest held by Mr. Mills. He then leased 18,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Elk City, Montgomery county, where the drilling resulted in only dry holes. From there he returned to Miami county, which has been the field of his operations since that time. At Spring Hill gas in good quantities was found but drillings at Olathe, Johnson county, and at Lawrence, Douglas county, did not show gas, so the latter fields were abandoned. His identification with the development of these great natural resources in Kansas has now passed the quarter of a century mark and he has seen his judgment of the Kansas field fully verified, it now being a part of one of the largest oil producing sections of the world. He has drilled over 400 wells in the West and to him is due in no small measure the standing which Kansas has as an oil producing state, he being fittingly termed the pioneer oil man of Kansas.
In 1874 Mr. Mills wedded Miss Linnie S. Boyington. In 1906 he erected on First street, in Osawatomie, a fine residence of a style of architecture that is modern and imposing and with all the various appurtenances of a model home. It is one of the handsomest residences in the state and is often the scene of gracious hospitality extended by both host and hostess to their many friends. Fraternally Mr. Mills affiliates with the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Knights and Ladies of Security.Pages 1068-1070 from volume III, part 2 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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