Pages 56-58, transcribed by Carolyn Ward from History of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas: embellished with portraits of well known people of these counties, with biographies of our representative citizens, cuts of public buildings and a map of each county / Edited and Compiled by L. Wallace Duncan and Chas. F. Scott. Iola Registers, Printers and Binders, Iola, Kan.: 1901; 894 p., [36] leaves of plates: ill., ports.; includes index.


56 HISTORY OF ALLEN AND  

The Discovery and Development of Natural Gas

Natural gas has been known to exist in Kansas almost from the earliest white settlement of the State, small quantities of it having been found in wells drilled before the war in Wyandotte county in search of oil. As soon as the war was over prospecting for oil was continued in several of the counties of the eastern border, and in many of the wells thus drilled small quantities of gas were found.

Probably the most notable of these early gas wells was the one developed at Iola in 1873 by the Iola Mining Company, of which Nelson F. Acers was president. This company had been organized to prospect for coal, and so certain were they of finding it that they began at once sinking a large shaft. The work on this shaft attracted the attention of some of the officers of the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston railroad, (now the Southern Kansas division of the Santa Fe), and they offered to bring to Iola a diamond drill outfit with which the railroad company had been prospecting at different points along its line, and pay $500 of the expense of a deep well. The offer was gladly accepted, and the work was begun in the fall of 1872. At the depth of 190 feet a small flow of gas was struck. At the depth of 622 feet the drill suddenly dropped eighteen inches, and almost immediately the water which filled the space about the drill was thrown high into the air and a volume of gas followed which became lighted and did considerable damage before it could be subdued. The drilling was continued until a depth of 736 feet was reached. This was the limit of the apparatus in use, and the work was reluctantly abandoned. If this chapter were a speculation on what might have been and not a history of what has been, it would be interesting to try to conjecture what the past twenty-five years would have witnessed if that drill had gone a hundred feet deeper. But the work ceased and the drill was withdrawn. And then a singular spectacle was witnessed. Following the drill there came a great geyser of water, thrown many feet above the ground with a great gurgling and hissing noise. Presently the flow ceased and all was quiet for the space of a few seconds, and then the same phenomenon was repeated. And so for more than fourteen years at intervals of from fifteen to forty-five seconds it continued to be repeated, and it was a remarkable and very beautiful sight, particularly when the gas was set on fire and the spraying water looked like a fountain of liquid flame. The fame of it spread abroad, and as the waters were shown to have considerable medicinal virtue "The Acers Mineral Well," as it soon came to be known, attracted many visitors and became quite a resort. In 1885, however, the Neosho river overflowed its banks and the Acers well was filled with sur-

  WOODSON COUNTIES, KANSAS. 57

face water, the weight of which was too much for the gas to lift and so the flow ceased.

In 1886 the discovery of the great natural gas fields of Ohio and Indiana and the remarkable growth of the towns of that region resulting therefrom attracted general attention all over the West, and the people of Iola recalled the Acers Mineral Well, and the long years that the gas which issued from it had signalled to them of the riches below. And so a local company, known as the Iola Gas and Coal Company, of which J. W. Coutant was president, and H. L. Henderson secretary, was organized with a capital of $50,000, for the purpose of prospecting for gas. A franchise for supplying the city with gas for domestic and manufacturing purposes was secured, and with $2,500 raised by an assessment of two per cent on the capital stock, the work of drilling was begun. At the end of a year the money had been spent with nothing to show for it but one or two wells with a small flow of gas. Hope was still strong, however, and the local feeling that gas might be found was such that $3,000 of city bonds were easily voted to continue the prospecting. With this sum two or three more wells were drilled, each of which developed a small quantity of gas, but in all the wells together there was hardly a supply for fifty cook stoves. At this juncture Mr. Joseph Paullin, then as now a conductor on the Southern Kansas division of the Santa Fe railroad, and who had noted the prospecting with much interest, associating with himself Mr. W. S. Pryor, an experienced deep well driller, appeared before the Iola Coal and Gas Company and proposed to buy its plant and franchise and continue the work. The sale was made under the condition that the new firm should drill at least six wells unless a sufficient quantity of gas to supply the town with fuel and light was sooner found. The work continued, but very slowly, and it was nearly five years before the six wells called for by the contract had been sunk. And the gross product of all these wells barely sufficed to supply one hundred cook stoves. It looked discouraging. Messrs. Pryor and Paullin were so firm in their faith that there was a big supply of gas somewhere in the vicinity, however, that they determined to sink one more well and sink it deep. In all the wells up to this date the gas had been found at a depth of from 250 to 350 feet, and in no case had the drill gone deeper than 450 feet. It was determined that the next well should go down a thousand feet if necessary before the long search was finally abandoned. And this determination had its reward. On Christmas day, 1893, at a depth of 850 feet the drill entered the long sought for "sand" and the first natural gas well in Kansas of any real value was opened. And so although the existence of natural gas in the State had been known for nearly forty years, Christmas day, 1893, may be remembered as the date of the discovery of the Kansas natural gas field.

The fame of the new discovery spread rapidly, and in June, 1894, the Palmer Oil and Gas Company, of Cleveland, Ohio, sent representatives to Iola, leased several thousand acres of land and proceeded at once to sink a number of wells. In nearly all of these wells gas was found, the rock pressure in each varying but slightly from 320 pounds, the volume ranging

58 HISTORY OF ALLEN AND  

from 3,000,000 to 14,000,000 cubic feet daily, and the depth at which the "sand" was found varying from 810 to 996 feet. The success of the Palmer Company attracted other investors, and within four years from the date of the original discovery the field had been practically outlined in the form of a parallelogram extending from Iola eastward a distance of about eight miles, with a width of about four miles. Within these limits gas is regarded as a certainty, and the wells now drilled are supplying fuel for six large zinc smelters, three brick plants, one Portland Cement plant, and numerous smaller industries, be sides[sic] furnishing heat and light for perhaps three thousand private dwellings. Even with this enormous drain but an insignificant proportion of the gas which the field is capable of supplying is required. It is perhaps not the province of this chapter to speculate upon the life of the field; but it may not be without interest to state that a single well near Iola has supplied all the fuel that has been required for a large smelter for more than three years, and as yet shows no signs of exhaustion. At the rate at which it is now being used it is the opinion of experts that the field will not be exhausted during the life of this generation, and perhaps not for sixty or seventy years.

A number of wells have been drilled in the vicinity of Humboldt and gas enough has been found to supply the town with fuel and light for domestic purposes and for manufacturing to a limited extent. Nearly all the Humboldt wells have shown considerable oil and there seems good ground for the opinion that a profitable oil field may some day be developed there.

As this chapter is going through the press Mr. J. C. Noble is sinking the first prospect well in Salem township, where he has leased several hundred acres of land, and where he hopes to develop another paying gas field.

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Pages 56-58, transcribed by Carolyn Ward from History of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas: embellished with portraits of well known people of these counties, with biographies of our representative citizens, cuts of public buildings and a map of each county / Edited and Compiled by L. Wallace Duncan and Chas. F. Scott. Iola Registers, Printers and Binders, Iola, Kan.: 1901; 894 p., [36] leaves of plates: ill., ports.; includes index.


Tom & Carolyn Ward
Columbus, KS

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