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Nov 14

Tragedy in the Oil Fields

Like a few other young farm men from the Midwest, two of my great-uncles went out west to work in the oil fields in the early 1900s. There was an oil boom in the western states at that time and young men were seeking adventure and a way to make their fortune. Jobs were plentiful for young men willing to work in the oil fields.

Jacob Miller Jr and his older half brother Christian Miller were two of those men. Sadly, neither returned to the family farm in Mercer County. Chris died of typhoid fever in Wichita Falls, Texas, on 24 October 1911. Less than two years later Jacob Jr was killed by a falling oil derrick. Both are buried in Zion Lutheran Cemetery in Chatt.

In 1900 both Chris and Jacob Jr lived and helped on the Miller farm in Black Creek Township. Chris was 19 and Jacob Jr was 14. [1]

Chris was the son of immigrant Jacob Miller and his second wife Margaretha Strabel, while Jacob Jr was the son of Jacob Miller and his third wife Christina Rueck.

I do not know exactly when the two brothers went out west. Or if they went separately or together. One account indicates Jacob Jr went out west with Christ Brier.

At one time the brothers were in Denver together, as shown on the postcard below.

Chris & Jacob Miller Jr, Denver Omnibus & Cab Co, unknown date.

Chris & Jacob Miller Jr, Denver Omnibus & Cab Co, unknown date.

They were both in California at one time or another, but I do not know if they were there at the same time. Chris is in the photo below, taken on a tour of the Cliff House in San Francisco.

Chris Miller, standing on the right in back. Pacific Sightseeing Co, San Francisco, unknown date.

Chris Miller, standing on the right in back. Pacific Sightseeing Co, San Francisco, unknown date.

In 1910 Jacob Jr was living in a boarding house run by Orr Whitehill in Kern, California. He gave his occupation as a tool dresser in the oil fields. [2] A tool dresser helped the driller, who was in charge of a two-man cable-tool drilling rig.

Oil workers flocked to the oil drilling areas. As a result, many oil-boom towns sprung up in the early twentieth century. Some towns survived while others were abandoned when the wells ran dry. Small cabins were hastily built to serve as living quarters for the oil men.

Chris Miller, in the oil fields out west, unknown date.

Chris Miller, in the oil fields out west, unknown date or place.

Jacob Miller Jr in the oil fields out west, unknown date.

Jacob Miller Jr in the oil fields out west, unknown date or place.

The above two photos may have been taken at the same oil-boom town. The cabins look similar and it looks like the same dog in both photos. I would not be surprised if Chris and Jacob Jr worked together in the oil fields at one time or another. Perhaps these photos were taken in California since the two brothers were both there at one time.

Oil workers. Chris Miller, back, second from end. Unknown date or place.

Oil workers. Chris Miller, back, second from end, unknown date or place.

Oil-field workers had a tough reputation. They were primarily single men working for contractors. “…They were the ones who came in, drilled the wells, hauled the supplies, laid the pipelines, and then moved on to the next boom. They lived in rooming houses or some sort of temporary structure…Many of these hands, fresh from their rural homes, had grown up with very little money, and their recreation had consisted of an occasional Saturday night in the local town. Oil-field jobs brought good wages and turned every night into a Saturday night on the town…and their reckless activities became the hallmark of the oil-field worker…” [3]

Jacob Jr died in an oil well accident on 10 April 1913, but local newspaper accounts conflict as to just where the incident occurred.

Young Man Killed in Oil Field
The body of Jacob Miller Jr, who was killed in the Oklahoma oil fields, was brought back to the home of his parents, who live south of town. The corpse came in over the Clover Leaf Sunday and was met by undertaker H. B. Cowan who removed the body to the parents’ home preparatory to the services which were held Monday afternoon.

The young man was about 25 years old, well known and respected here. The nature of the accident which caused his death has not been reported. The accident causing the young man’s death was that of a falling oil derrick which, though he was at some distance, struck him killing him instantly. [4]

Explosion of Shale Gas Brought Death to Young Man of this County who was Working in Oil Fields in California.
The body of Jacob Miller Jr, who was killed by falling timber following an explosion of shale gas, was brought to Willshire Sunday and removed to the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Miller near Chattanooga. Young Miller was drilling in the oil fields in California when he met his untimely death. He was a young man of twenty-eight years and has been in the west for three years.

Funeral services were held Monday morning at the Lutheran church at Chattanooga, followed by interment at that place. Accompanying the body of Mr. Miller was Christ Brier, who had gone west with the young man. [5]

That made me wonder where Jacob Miller Jr really did die. Until recently, when I found two other newspaper accounts that give the exact location.

Tool Dresser Killed
Drumright, Okla., April 17—(Special.)—
An oil derrick toppled over upon Jacob Miller, a tool dresser, while he was working at a well about one mile north of here and he was instantly killed. [6]

Workman is Killed
Special to the News

Cushington, Ok., April 20—Jacob Miller Jr., aged 27, of Wellshire, Ohio, [sic] a tool dresser in the Cushing oil field, was accidentally killed when a big wheel used in pulling casing from the ground broke and caused the derrick to fall. It struck Miller. He had arrived from the California oil fields six days before. [7]

The members of Zion would see another oil accident almost 10 years later, when Edward Kuehm drowned in a tank of oil at Yale, Oklahoma, in 1922. He was walking across the tank deck when it gave away.

Yes, working in the oil fields was a very dangerous job.

So now I know. Jacob Miller Jr died near Drumright, Oklahoma, where he had just moved from California about six days before. How tragic.

And how sad for the family that buried two sons who died so far from home.

For more information about the oil boom in Drumright, Oklahoma, see Wikipedia, http://www.cityofdrumright.org/history.html

 

[1] 1900 U.S. Census, Black Creek, Mercer County, Ohio, ED 74, p.10A, dwelling 206, family 206, Jacob Miller; digital image by subscription, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 November 2014); from FHL microfilm 1241303, from NARA microfilm T623, roll 1303.

[2] 1910 U.S. Census, Township 6, Kern, California, ED 30 p.16 B, family 239, line 77, Jacob Miller; digital image by subscription, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 November 2014); from FHL microfilm 1374091, from NARA microfilm T624, roll 78.

[3] Oil-Field Culture, The Oklahoma Historical Society, http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/O/OI003.html

[4] The Willshire Herald, 17 April 1913, p.1.

[5] The Daily Standard, 18 April 1913, p.7.

[6] Tulsa World, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Friday, April 18, 1913, Volume VIII, Issue 184, p.2; digital images by subscription, Genealogy Bank.com , (www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapersdoc : accessed 15 October 2014).

[7] Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas, Monday, 21 April 1913, p.14; digital images by subscription, Genealogy Bank.com , (www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapersdoc : accessed 15 October 2014).

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