Drilling for Oil at Shelton

Solomon D. Butcher photographed the Morris oil derrick at Shelton, Buffalo County, in 1910. NSHS RG2608-2413 (right).

Nebraska’s first producing oil well was drilled in Richardson County in 1940, but prior to that date some drilling had been done in other parts of the state. One such project was at Shelton in Buffalo County. The Kearney Daily Hub reported on June 23, 1910: “The Shelton Oil Well company is pushing work as fast as men and material will allow. There is now on the ground four carloads of material, two cars of oil well machinery, the heaviest and best that has ever been shipped into the state, including a powerful engine and all necessary tubing and drills. The large tower is now up to seventy feet in height and will be completed in a few days. Then the balance of the work of placing the engine and other machinery will be pushed and boring will be begun some time in July.” Local farmers and businessmen were said to be supporting the project liberally.

Work on the well progressed and by October 26, the Hub reported that backers were elated over the prospects for success. Dirt taken from the excavation contained crude oil and when thrown into water, a thin film formed on the surface. Local expectation was that striking oil would “make” not only Shelton, but every town in central Nebraska. Solomon D. Butcher photographed the Morris oil derrick at Shelton in 1910.

Bird’s eye view of Shelton in 1910. NSHS RG2608-2420 (left).


However, all didn’t go as planned. Newspaper coverage during the next five years reveals that the drillers worked on through various mechanical and financial setbacks to sink several wells but never struck it rich. A drill was first sunk to a depth of about 1,300 feet before it became stuck and work was abandoned. In 1911 drilling was resumed but later stopped due to lack of funds. In 1912 more financial backing was obtained and work was again commenced, only to be abandoned and a receiver appointed for the defunct project.

The Hub reported on December 11, 1915, that after five years and the expenditure of more than $20,000, “the Shelton oil well prospect has gone glimmering. The original company . . . has been defunct for some time and all that remains of the original project is a hole in the ground choked with a diamond drill and a dilapidated collection of shafting and machinery.” The property was later sold to pay the outstanding indebtedness. A Tulsa firm removed the machinery and equipment to Oklahoma.

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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