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The Birth Of A Boom Town

July 2024
4min read

The day of July 16, 1926, began as an average day for the residents of Seminole, but it was destined to be far different and one that they would long remember. It was a very hot day, and the people of this small farming town in Oklahoma went about their daily business not knowing that in a very few hours the course of their lives would be changed completely. The few hundred residents had no idea that in a few weeks’ time their town would be running over with thousands of people.

Business went on as usual that day. The men went to their jobs; the women did their regular household chores. In the stores men gathered to talk. One of their recent topics of conversation had been oil. This was an interesting subject to talk about, but no one suspected that it would shortly play such an important part in their lives.

For one man in particular on that hot day in July, fate was about to step in and change his future. That man was Robert Garland. This young man had entered the oil business at the age of twenty-two and had advanced from a roustabout to a driller. He came to Seminole, operating for the Independent Oil and Gas Company. He had drilled quite a few dry holes, but his philosophy about oil was “Fill the earth with enough holes and you’ll find it sometime.” But in the summer of 1926, things were not looking very good. Garland had already drilled three dry holes around Seminole, and he still owned some leases. He decided that the wise thing to do would be to sell them before the bottom fell out. He was drilling on the Fixico No. 1, and the reports had not been very favorable. The Fixico looked as if it were going to be dry, so Garland tried every way that he knew to get rid of his leases, but as fate had it, no one would take them. So on that hot day of July, Robert Garland, along with the other people of Seminole, had no idea of what was about to happen.

Late in the afternoon the stores started closing, the men began going home to supper, and things started settling down for the night. But the men who were drilling the Fixico No. 1 were still working. They decided to bring the bit up and bail the cuttings out of the hole. When the bit came up, it was dripping with oil. At last Robert Garland struck oil, and instead of being left holding the bag, he was a rich man. By July 27, the Fixico was running over 5,000 barrels a day. As the sun set on that hot July day, it took with it the small town of Seminole, and the next morning it shone on a bustling boom town.

Overnight Seminole became a town of 35,000 people. People from all walks of life and many states came to Seminole. Young college graduates from the East, hardworking drillers, roustabouts, engineers—all were brought to Seminole by the magic word, oil. But along with the hard-working people, there came people such as bootleggers, gamblers, and dance hall operators. They made Seminole just as colorful as any of the frontier towns of the Old West.

The people were amazed by such a sudden change in their town. After they had time to realize what was happening, they began to adjust their lives for living in a boom town. They tried to meet the problems of their new city.

The town built to accommodate a thousand people was trying its best to take care of 35,000. The shortage of water was one big problem. It was very hard to get water for drinking and cooking purposes, but it was even harder to get water for other uses.

Another big problem that faced the people that came to Seminole was finding places to live. Tents and shacks could be seen everywhere. The prices were outrageous for a room, but a person considered himself lucky just to have a bed to sleep in. Beds were even rented out in shifts to two men every eight hours, making six men sleep in one bed every twenty-four hours. There were cot houses filled with cots that could be rented day or night. Barns, garages, and every other available space was put to use.

These crowded living conditions created a health hazard. One disease was smallpox, and in one day seventeen hundred people crowded the Rock Island Depot, trying to leave the city as a result of a smallpox scare.

During this time, the rain seemed to flow as freely from the clouds as the oil did under the earth. The continual fall of rain made Seminole’s streets literally rivers of mud. The wagon and mule teams which pulled the heavy oil equipment kept the mud ever present. A person could nearly always expect the mud to be knee-deep in the streets and sometimes deeper. Cars were always getting stuck in the mud and sometimes had to be left for days. It took will power back in 1927 for a lady to venture out into that sticky mud. The mud was not only a nuisance, but it was a danger. It was reported at one time that on Main Street a team of mules fell in a mud hole, and one was drowned before they could be rescued.

Even though the mud was slowing down the cars, it was not slowing down the growth of Seminole. The old residents had never dreamed that their town could reach such heights. Where at one time a person could walk right up to the post office and get waited on the right away, now he had to stand in line for hours to get his mail. Some people hired boys or girls to stand in line for them.

In the first quarter of 1927, the post office set a world record for money orders with $258,927, only to pass that mark in the second quarter with $361,308. The Rock Island Railroad of Seminole was also setting records. It became the second station in volume on the Rock Island by handling more than a million dollars of freight charges a month, exceeded only by Chicago. One month Seminole did exceed Chicago by reaching a high of $606,900. This small farming community had become, in a very short period of time, the industrial capital of the oil industry.

Money was flowing freely in Seminole. The oil field payroll in June 1928 was over $600,000 a week and was expected to reach the million dollar mark before the end of the year.

As always when there is so much money around, there were people waiting to take it from the working men. The north end of Seminole became the center of the dance halls and saloons. One of the most notorious criminals associated with the north end Bishop Alley District was “Pretty Boy” Floyd. There were many other shady characters, both men and women, that came to Seminole’s Bishop Alley.

Women and children of the town were afraid to go out after dark. Even some of the men walked in the middle of the streets to keep from being hijacked going around the corners. Eventually the respectable element outnumbered the rough and shady side. Churches and schools were built, and life began to settle down to a more normal existence.

And so the Seminole Boom became a legend in the oil industry. It belongs to the past and can never happen again. Out of it came a settled, thriving city of twelve thousand people which is the Seminole of today.

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