Saturday, June 16, 2012

Part 6: Barnsdall

Joshua S. Cosden
  Joshua S. Cosden was a farmer’s son from rural Maryland. When he was older he worked as a streetcar motorman in Baltimore, Maryland. Hearing about the oil boom in Kansas and Oklahoma, Cosden took his small amount of funds along with some capital from his Baltimore backers and set out for Kansas with one of his friends that had a process of making a turpentine substitute from crude oil. When his experiments failed in Kansas, Cosden felt there were products that could be extracted from crude oil. He left Kansas for Oklahoma and ended up in Bigheart, Oklahoma where most of the crude oil exploration and extraction was taking place. It took a while for Cosden to contact his backers in Baltimore and get approval, but he proceeded to get enough funds to buy 6 acres of land and begin building a skimming plant designed to remove the lighter constituents of crude oil such as kerosene and gasoline. On October 5, 1908 James Bigheart dies. He was buried on a shady hill beside Bird Creek that flows through the old homestead.

 By 1910, Cosden had finished building his skimming plant in Bigheart and named it the Southwestern Refining Company. Cosden and his wife operated all aspects of the facility while living in a tent on the property. Other larger oil barons would call his small facility a “teapot refinery” due to its small size.

Train cars of oil north of Bigheart
 By early 1911, the Southwest Refining Company was beginning see a profit with crude oil being transported in by rail car and his skimming plant making progress on its attempt to remove the lighter aspects of crude oil. April 12, 1911 changed Cosdens course and many others in Bigheart. Around 5 pm a tornado cut through the refinery from the southwest and proceeded northward into Bigheart destroying most of the town. After the tornado, Cosden went back to Baltimore and laid his case before his backers and tried again. He returned to Oklahoma intent on building back the refinery and making a profit.
Main Street, Bigheart Oklahoma, April 12, 1911
 The tornado that hit Bigheart started on its southwest side near where one hundred camping Indians were. It was reported that several had been killed. The tornado proceeded through the refinery, razing it to the ground and then moved towards the town where it demolished most everything in the central business area before moving into part of the residential area on the north side of the town. Nine people were known to have been killed, William Morrow, Mrs. William Morrow, John Kerns, Fred Hammond,  T.S. Hann, a person named Brown and one unknown
Bigheart school after tornado hit on April 12 1911
  J.S. Harris, superintendent of the Midland Valley Railroad was traveling in his private coach car near Bigheart when the tornado struck. He organized a relief train to be dispatched from Pawhuska with physicians and nurses. Afterwards, Harris took his train to Avant to organize a work detail to remove the dead and wounded to a Tulsa hospital. Close to one thousand people were homeless and the rescue efforts went into the night being carried out by lantern light. Some bodies were carried beyond the scene of destruction and were being searched for in the fields. Timbers from demolished buildings were said to be found half a mile away. A train of empty boxcars was sent to Bigheart for the homeless people to sleep in. Mr. Harris wired to the general office of the Midland Valley road that the new brick depot, the stone schoolhouse and the oil refinery were totally destroyed by the tornado.  The wires are down and only meager details could be secured. It was feared the Midland Valley station agent and telegraph operator were killed.  The depot building and section house were blown away.
Midland Valley Station at Bigheart Oklahoma
after the tornado
  A Midland Valley passenger train had passed Big Heart just ten minutes before the tornado came.  The dipping plant and stock pens were wiped out and all the horses used by the cattlemen in dipping train loads of Texas cattle were killed.  A passenger coach was sent to Bigheart the next day to be used as a depot. The valuable oil field surrounding the town was a complete ruin, every derrick and rig having been leveled to the ground.  The property loss in the town of Big Heart is place at half million dollars and the loss in the oil field is almost equally as great.

 Early on June 4, 1913 a fire destroyed the boiler house and stills of the Southwestern Refining Company in Bigheart. The loss was totaled at $16,000. Only a small portion was covered by insurance. The cause of the fire was unknown. Cosden rebuilt the boiler house and stills. He borrowed $1000 on his life insurance and paid it down on an option for an abandoned refinery in west Tulsa.

City oil well #1, Bigheart Oklahoma
 On March 16 1914, the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company strikes oil at 1771 feet into the Bartlesville sand formation on the edge of Bigheart, Oklahoma. Later the well will become famous in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not as the worlds only Main Street oil well.

 Not much is known about the flood that happened in 1915 but its been told that the waters from Bird Creek reached up to where 6th Street and Main Street are today.

 The Barnsdall Oil Company discovers the Bigheart (later known as the Barnsdall Oil Field) oil field.

 Joshua Cosden sells the Southwestern Refining Company refinery in Bigheart Oklahoma to Stone and Webster of Boston, Mass. which owns nearby oil production around Bigheart. The sale changes the name of the refinery to the Bigheart Oil and Refining Company. The price was said to be $650,000, which Cosden took to help his west Tulsa refinery. With the sale of the Bigheart refinery is a rumor that the Standard Oil Company has obtained control or is seeking to get control of stock ownership of the west Tulsa refinery. T. N. Barnsdall was a close associate with the Standard Oil Company and some of its operators, giving in to the conclusion that Barnsdall and the Standard Oil Company were trying to buy in on the Cosden refinery. Theodore N. Barnsdall dies on February 27 1917 at his home in Pennsylvania, he was 67 years old.

 A wagon loaded with high explosives for use in the nearby oil fields struck a rut in the street as it was being driven through the residence section of Bigheart, Oklahoma, as a result nine people are dead, and a score of others were injured. The residence of Lath Harris, in front of which the explosion occurred, was leveled to the ground. Harris and his wife were fatally wounded and their three-year-old baby boy was killed. The explosion rocked the entire town. Eight houses were demolished and some of the dead were killed by the falling debris. Not a building in town escaped damage. A hole big enough to bury a half dozen wagons, was torn in the street. Telephone wires were torn down and except for a single railroad wire, the town was cut off from communication. The wagon was driven by W. R. English, an experienced man in the handling of explosives and a rider, Bob Kinda. No trace of their bodies, wagon or the horses had been found. Only two quarts of nitroglycerin were in the wagon. This explosion was said to have taken place at the present intersection of Second Street and Cedar Street.

William "Bill" Gable and his son Clark 
 By the summer of 1920, William Gable sold his farm in Ohio and moved to an oilfield near Tulsa. By August, Gable was prospecting and working in the Bigheart oil fields and living in Bigheart, Oklahoma. He contacted his son Clark to come join him in Oklahoma. William even went as far as to tell Clark there was a drama group in Bigheart willing to take him on. When Clark arrived in Bigheart he found there was no group and his father had boozed away most of the money from the sale of the farm. Clark worked as a bit sharpener and for a while and as an accountant at a haberdashery. He even worked at the local refinery cleaning stills. Cark spent some of his time singing with a quartet in Bigheart. By January 1922, Clark received an inheritance from his grandfather and left Barnsdall (formerly Bigheart). Clark Gable later becomes a leading movie actor in Hollywood.

 Early in 1921 The Barnsdall Oil Company acquires the Bigheart Producing and Refining Company in Bigheart Oklahoma. By order of the post office department on November 21, 1921 the town of Bigheart, Oklahoma was changed to Barnsdall. Located in Barnsdall is the refinery of the Barnsdall Refining Company and also the machine shops and boiler works of the Barnsdall Oil Company. The town had great growth over its last four years due to its activities of the Barnsdall Companies. The people of the community desired to perpetuate the oil baron and filed a petition at Pawhuska, Oklahoma asking the county commissioners to change the name to Barnsdall. This petition was unanimously granted and afterwards all papers were sent to Washington requesting the post office department to change the name.
Bigheart Main Street around 1915

Barnsdall Main Street around 1922
An interesting story as to how a town named Barnsdall rose from the grass and woodlands of a land built by many people and backgrounds.

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled on this post with great pleasure. I'm currently writing a book about Big Spring, Texas, where Josh Cosden made his second fortune during the 1920s. This is the best information on his early life that I've found. I'm wondering if it came from local newspapers, or a local historical society? I'd love to be able to cite a source, and give a nod to your wonderful rendering of the material. I can be reached at Many thanks.