Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Local gusher in the oil and gas patch

Though the price of oil has come down a bit in the last few weeks, every time I fill up, I long for the old days of 35-cent-per-gallon gas while at the same time, wishing I opted for a petro-based career as a young buck. It brings to mind our local “gusher” in this area, and our own local “oil and gas patch.”
“The first whispers of oil in old Colorado City were heard in the 1880s and were ephemeral and delicate but insistent,” wrote Inez Hunt in the first Occasional Papers produced by the Pikes Peak Posse in 1979. “The oil wealth which nature poured out in Florence, Colorado, encouraged dreamers to try their luck. Along Oil Creek, near Canon City, there were the occasionally small holes which seeped a smelly but tantalizing black trickle of crude oil into the stream.”
Perhaps being fanned by a hopeful newspaper editor in old Colorado City, the flames of oil passion spread like a gasoline fire as The Iris newspaper in that town reported that 48 prominent citizens had already purchased stock, leases had been signed, and drilling was set to start immediately.
“The year of 1894 seemed to be one of destiny to the oil promoters. Operations of the first well began officially on March 18. The well was named the Iris Well No. 1, to honor one of the most loyal supporters of the project, W.P. Epperson. Epperson was an impprtant civic leader, editor and owner of the Iris, a well-educated man from Illinois. He held the position of police judge and also took a special interest in the fire department. As the owner and editor of The Iris, he was able to see that the city kept informed of the front-page action at the drilling site. He was soon appointed manager of the project. He was a born promoter,” wrote Hunt.
Epperson even had his own house plumbed to use natural gas produced in the Iris Well No. 1 and Iris Well No. 2.
“Prosperity was in sight for the city. The belief was strong that property owners, stock owners – everyone would profit. Premature predictions that gas would be sold to future mining mills to roast their Cripple Creek ores were conjured up again. Also, there was talk of a railroad between Cripple Creek and Colorado City by way of Bear Creek. The oil company no longer begged for buyers of stock. It planned to sell only enough to pay for maintenance; the profits would be divided by fewer people.”
Though Epperson was able to produce enough natural gas to run his own home heating and cooking needs, investors eventually became disinterested when no oil was produced.
“Hard luck dogged Epperson. He tried to persuade the investors to allow him to drill farther up nearer the Trenton limestone strata. The investors were growing tired of feeding money into the seemingly endless maws of wells which produced only pretty paper certificates,” Hunt papers says.
Epperson never completely gave up on the possibility of striking it rich in the oil business but eventually pursued other interests including mining projects, a trunk and harness store and other ventures. His final comment in The Iris before he moved on to Utah in 1909 was, “There is a million dollars still in there.”

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