Drilling for Oil at Shelton

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 “to make this test the most complete ever attempted in the state.”

Work on the well progressed and by October 26, the Hub reported that backers were elated over the prospects for success: “Every indication of oil has made its appearance. The dirt that is now thrown out is tainted with crude oil and when thrown into the river a coat of oil immediately forms on the surface of the water.” Local expectation was that striking oil would “make” not only Shelton, but every town in central Nebraska.

Newspaper coverage during the next five years reveals that the drillers worked on through various mechanical and financial problems to sink several wells but never achieved their goal. The Hub reported on December 11, 1915: “After a five-year lease of life and the expenditure of over $20,000 the Shelton Oil well prospect has gone glimmering. The original company which ‘shot a well’ in the village of Shelton 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 Hub then summarized the history of the ill-fated project: “The Shelton Oil and Gas company was organized in 1910 and about 200 Shelton men took stock in the company. They spent $20,000 and managed to sink a drill to the depth of 1300 feet when it became fast and work was abandoned. In 1911 the well was sunk to an additional depth of about 1000 feet and then the work was stopped on account of a lack of funds. In 1912 another money raising campaign was successful and drilling was again commenced, only to be abandoned and a receiver appointed for the defunct concern. The property was sold to pay the outstanding indebtedness. A suit was filed to recover $3,435 with interest which still remains unpaid. Later the stockholders were assessed $10 per share and the indebtedness paid and the balance pro rated among the members of the company.”

The remaining company holdings were finally sold in 1915 for $750 to a Tulsa firm, which removed the machinery and equipment to Oklahoma.

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

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

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