by Jim Foreman
John Polk was always searching for an easy way to make money and the discovery of oil in the Panhandle attracted him like honey attracts ants. He realized that he would never be able to accumulate enough money to drill his own well, so he began to look around for ways to cash in on other people's fortunes.
Polk discovered that he could occasionally pick up a dormant lease for a few dollars and then sell it at a profit to some oil company willing to take a risk on it. This required a lot of time to search through the lease records in the court house and then match them back against drilling reports, but time was the one commodity of which Polk had more than ample amounts. In his searching through the records, he found that the entire Faith Ranch had been leased for drilling but after three dry holes, the owners of the lease had simply picked up stakes and left the country. The lease had been filed under the obscure name of the Wildcat Drilling Company but since the firm had disbanded without ever recording the necessary papers to show ownership of the company, there were no records of whom, if anyone, really owned the Wildcat Drilling Company and the lease.
This was that one rare opportunity that John Polk had been searching for. He had a lawyer draw up papers showing himself as the sole owner of the Wildcat Drilling Company and recorded a notice of intent to drill on the lease. The lawyer's charges plus the filing fee came to nearly a hundred dollars, which was just about every cent Polk had to his name. He might still be as broke as usual, but he was now the owner of an oil drilling company and a lease covering more than twenty thousand acres. It would probably never amount to anything worthwhile, at least it was something that he could brag about in bars.
The geologist's reports on the land weren't all that bad and indicated a very good possibility of oil. The only fly in the ointment was that record of those three dusters which had been drilled right in the middle of the most promising area.
Polk set out to see if he could find a buyer for his lease and the drilling rights. He began with the larger oil companies like Texaco, Phillips and Gulf, but as soon as their geologists saw those dry holes, they dropped the thing like a hot potato. Those companies didn't get as big as they were by buying highly speculative leases. Polk moved to the smaller companies like City Service, Skelly and Shamrock, but met with the same results. He was finally down to hounding people who were much like himself, always looking for a birdnest on the ground but without money to do anything about one if they found it.
One day, Polk had a great idea. He would find people who had lots of money and were willing to share a risk with someone else. He would sell shares in his lease and when he had enough money, would simply walk away. He thought for a while about selling stock in the lease for a dollar a share, but that would take several thousand small sales in order raise much money. The answer was to find one person with lots of money and sell him just under half of it. A minority stockholder would never raise a stink if he thought that someone else was losing more than he did.
The first person to come to mind was Joe Armitage. After all, he had come to the Panhandle and bought land on the blind faith that a city would be built on it. He had all kinds of money and might be willing to risk a few thousand dollars on an oil lease. Besides, Joe Armitage had cheated him out of everything that he ever had and running a good scam on him would bring him the greatest pleasure.
Joe was always being approached by people with various schemes, wanting him to invest in them. Every one of these offers was supposed to be a sure thing which would make him lots more money. Joe could see right through most of these deals and turned them down on the spot. Considering how much John Polk hated him, it came as somewhat of a surprise when he came in asking him to invest in his oil lease. Perhaps Polk thought he could recover some of the money that he thought Joe had cheated him out of. He decided to listen to Polk's offer, because who knows, even a blind sow will find an acorn now and then.
Polk told him that he owned the lease and drilling rights to a huge ranch over on the north side of the Canadian River but didn't have the money to drill a well on it. He offered to sell Joe a forty-nine percent interest in the lease for fifty thousand dollars. With the fifty thousand dollars he could afford to drill a well which was bound to come in as a gusher and make them both rich.
No matter how far fetched an offer might be, Joe made it a point to never reject an idea without careful research and consideration. He found the same information which all of the oil companies had used in their evaluation, but he went a bit further. He found that there were producing wells just to the east of that lease and two exploratory wells to the north had produced natural gas which indicated the presence of oil. He also found that a well would have to be started within three months or the drilling permit on the lease would expire.
Joe decided that what the heck, he would put a few dollars into the venture and see what came out of it but he wasn't about to pop for Polk's first offer of fifty grand. People like John Polk aren't usually smart enough to be crafty, but sometimes they are just blind lucky.
"I'll tell you what I'll do," he told Polk at their next meeting. "I'll give you five thousand dollars for fifty-one percent of your company and the lease and then I'll drill a well on it. That way, you won't have to risk any of your money but will still make nearly the same return when the well comes in."
"A paltry five thousand dollars for more than half of my oil company," shouted Polk. "I'll let the lease run out before I give it away."
"Your oil company, as you call it, consists of nothing more than a piece of paper which isn't worth two cents unless someone drills a well and finds the oil for you," replied Joe. "I feel that I am offering you far more than what the whole deal is worth, much less half of it."
"This is just like the time when you stole that twenty acres from me," said Polk. "You gave me less than four hundred bucks for my land when you knew that you would make a million off it."
"This deal is the same as that one was," replied Joe. "It's your choice, take it or leave it."
"I'll have to think about it for a while," said Polk.
"You should be able to do all the thinking possible in three days, so you have that long to take my up on my deal or it dies," said Joe.
John Polk was already convinced that the lease was worthless, but he wanted to milk it for all that he could. The next person who he went to see was Warren Brewster. He had heard that he was known to invest in a various oil deals from time to time and might go for this one.
Warren happened to be in town so Polk took the geologists reports, less those which reported the two dry holes, to him. He made the same basic offer as he had to Joe, thinking that he would take whatever became the best offer.
Warren mulled the offer for a few minutes and replied, "I'll give you eight thousand dollars for fifty-one percent and you drill the well."
"I've already turned down a better offer than that," replied Polk.
"Then, I suggest that you see if you can save that offer, because I am offering you more than what I feel that the whole lease is worth," replied Warren.
"I have always known that Joe Armitage was a better businessman than you," said Polk as he rose to leave the room.
"You mean that the other offer was from Armitage," said Warren.
"Sure was, replied Polk. "He is willing to give me ten thousand dollars for forty-nine percent and he will drill the well."
"I make it a firm rule that I will never put a cent into any venture unless I can own the controlling interest in it," said Warren. "I'll sweeten the deal a little. I'll give you ten thousand, five hundred for fifty-one percent, and not a penny more."
"Well, as bad as I hate to let control of my oil company go for so little money, you have yourself a deal," said Polk. "How soon can I have my money?"
"I have to leave for Austin on the Two O'Clock train, so you be here tomorrow at noon to sign the papers and you can have your check at that time," replied Warren.
One thing which could always be said for John Polk was that his greed far exceeded his intelligence and he began to think about both of the offers that he had on the lease. "I could come out of this with more than fifteen thousand dollars in my pocket if I sold out to both of them. That lease is never going to be worth a dime, so what if each one owns fifty-one percent. Fifty- one percent of nothing is still nothing and neither of them will ever be the wiser." The following day, he signed over a fifty-one percent shares of the lease to Warren, got his check and then signed over fifty-one percent to Joe.
A week later, as soon as both of the deeds were filed, Joe realized what had happened. He called Warren, who was back in Austin, and told him of the deceit.
"Shall we have the little bastard arrested and sent back to the pen?" asked Warren.
"What good would that do?" asked Joe. "We have been outsmarted by that little weasel and are stuck with the deal so might as well make the best of it. So what if we each bought fifty-one percent, it is still half and half."
"Whatever you say, Joe," replied Warren. "How about drilling a well? Do you want to go ahead with that?"
"Might as well, but we may be sending good money after bad," answered Joe.
"I'm willing to go half on one well if you are," replied Warren. "I don't believe in giving up without at least trying."
The Armitage-Brewster No. 1 blew in with the howl of a thousand train whistles. It sent a jet of natural gas shooting five hundred feet into the Panhandle sky and took five days to bring under control.
"That one well can produce more natural gas than all the rest of the wells in the Panhandle combined," said Joe when he called Warren to report the find. "It is twenty miles closer to Amarillo than any of the other wells, which now makes it more economical for the city to buy from us."
An exclusive agreement was reached with the City of Amarillo to buy the entire natural gas production of the field. The city would buy all of the natural gas that it needed from Joe and Warren, and in return, they agreed not to sell gas to any other customer.
When the State Mental Hospital in Wichita Falls got John Polk dried out from the six-month drunk he began on the day he got the money for the lease, he returned to Amarillo. It was only then that he learned what had happened out on the Faith Ranch. He also realized that he had blown nearly every cent of his money.
"I had a million dollars in my hand and Joe Armitage and Warren Brewster ganged up and cheated me out of it," he ranted, never being able to accept the fact that his own greed was what had cost him the fortune.
Polk had been back in Amarillo only a couple days when Roger Bates stopped him on the street, "I've been looking high and low for you. Where have you been?"
"I was in the hospital down in Wichita Falls," replied Polk. "I had a nervous breakdown. Why are you looking for me?"
"I have a customer who is interested in buying that half section of land that you have out east of town," Bates answered.
"Who wants to buy it?" he asked.
"Howard Irving said that he might be interested if the price is right."
"A couple years ago, Irving wasn't interested. How come he wants it now?"
"He said that he has the money now and would like to buy it just in case he ever wants to expand his airport. He asked me to see if you were interested in selling now."
"Tell him that the price is twenty bucks an acre now," replied Polk.
"Why don't I just set up a meeting and you can tell him personally," suggested Roger.
"Twenty bucks an acre is a lot more than land is worth these days," replied Irving. "Land is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it, and right now with the depression going on, it seems that no one is willing to pay anything for land. I'd sell the half section I own just west of the Municipal Airport for four dollars an acre if I could get cash for it."
"What would you give?" asked Polk, who was now becoming desperate.
"Tell you what I'll do," said Irving. "Just to help you out, I will give you five dollars an acre but it will have to be in payments."
"What kind of payments did you have in mind?" asked Polk.
"Fifty cents an acre when we close the deal and a fifty cents an acre each year till it's paid off."
Polk thought about the fact that he would have to wait a whole year between payments and made a counter offer. "Give me a flat thousand bucks for the 320 acres and it's yours."
The deal was made and two weeks later Polk picked up the local newspaper and read the headlines, "ARMY BUYS LAND FOR TRAINING BASE. The US Army just paid $50,000 for 320 acres of land on the east side of Irving Airfield as a location for their new Air Corps training base."
"They are all cut from the same bolt of cloth; Armitage, Brewster, Irving. They are all a bunch of thieving bastards and Bates is just as bad because he sets me up for them," Polk yelled. "They cheat a man out of every cent he has and then come back for more. Every time I turn my back, one of them sticks a knife into it. They have cheated me out of everything that I have ever owned. I ought to get a gun and kill every damn one of them!" screamed Polk.