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From Our Past - XIX
The Great Gurley Gas and Oil Strike of 1930

In 1930, the town of Gurley was ignited with excitement of new found wealth and prosperity. A team of geologists found signs of oil and natural gas in the Paint Rock Valley between Scottsboro and Gurley. The Huntsville Daily Times ran several articles and headlines proclaiming the success and prospects of oil and gas wells and helped to drive many land owners into a frenzy of becoming rich.

It must be remembered this oil strike came at time when the nation's economy was in the mist of The Great Depression. The farm depression of the 1920s was bad enough for the farmers but on October, 29, 1929, the stock market crashed and the nation was plunged into the worst economic depression in our history. It would remain this way until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. Is there any wonder why the folks in the Paint Rock Valley would get so excited over the oil and gas strike that would insure their economic future?

The Huntsville newspaper proclaimed: There is said to be every indication that it (oil and gas) abounds here".

A company called Tennessee Valley Oil and Gas Company was incorporated under the laws of Delaware with a capitalization of $2,500,000. The Daily Times further stated: "The Tennessee Valley Oil and Gas Company is making rapid progress with its drilling operations at and near Gurley, according to Hon. Frank S. Bennett, president of the corporation. Mr. Bennett was in the city (Huntsville) this afternoon and expressed himself as quite enthusiastic over the prospects of bringing large paying wells in his neighborhood." It is believed Frank Bennett was from or around Gurley.

"One well is now being drilled in Jackson County on the Todd H. Martin farm which is only about a mile and a half from Gurley where a gas well has been used for some years to light one of the street corners.

The Huntsville Daily Gas and Oil Headlines The Huntsville Daily Gas and Oil Headlines

With headlines like these, no wonder landowners became optimistic about oil and gas deposits on their land. In a time of serious economic depression, news like this was like finding a "golden egg" in the hen house.

One of the articles went on to say: "Declaring that there is every indication of gas and oil abounding in this section of the Tennessee Valley in paying quantities, and placing their stamp of approval on the development on the Tennessee Valley Oil and Gas Company at Gurley, three nationally known geologist left for their respective headquarters Saturday after a week end of study at Gurley."

The geologists are "Dr. George I. Adams of the University of Alabama, Jackson Young of the United Gas Company of Houston, and E. I. Barnes, geologist of The Royal Dutch Shell Company." These were impressive credentials to say the least.

"The three distinguished visitors not only inspected the properties and leases in the Gurley region but extended their studies to Hazel Green and several other localities in the county. They agreed that drilling two more wells at Gurley and one or two in the other localities will absolutely determine the structure in this region."

"Mr. Young publicly declared that high gravity oil will be struck in paying quantities at a depth ranging between 1,500 and 2,000 feet and with this in mind, officials of the company have begun preparations to drill to a depth of 2,500 feet if necessary."

This photo was printed in the Sunday morning, February 15, 1931 Huntsville Daily Times and depicts Well No. 2 in Gurley. This well boasts the latest type of oil drilling machinery. The caption also states "at lower left is a view of the street light in Gurley lit by well No. 1 brought in some time ago. Gas spurted at well No. 2 at the rate of such a gush that it caught fire." Oil Well N2 Gurley

Another article quoted: " Operations in the gas well of the Tennessee Valley Oil and Gas Company at Gurley are going rapidly forward during the daytime but there is no drilling at night because of the danger of accidental fire, according to Benjamin W. Bates, geologist and Chairmen of the Board of Directors. The well is now about 500 feet deep and will be drilled to a greater depth in the expectation of striking a high grade of oil. The company is planning on issuance of 200,000 more shares of stock which will be sold at par to give ample funds to meet the expenses of future operations in making a through test of the oil resources of the region."

The newspaper went on to say: "Officials are now confidant they find oil of high gravity at less than 1,500 feet. They are influenced in this belief by the showings obtained in wells drilled previously and laboratory tests of the samples show that the oil has a gravity of 72. It can be economically refined in an ordinary skimming plan as in its natural state it is almost pure gasoline."

"A supply of these samples has been sent to New York and demonstrated in several makes of automobiles. The results were as though it was pure gasoline. Plans of the company officials provide for up to 100 wells in the Gurley region and it is estimated that this number yielding but two barrels a day would pay 15 percent on $5,000,000 worth of stock" . The company went on to declare they were in sound financial shape and would not need to go outside for more financing. Their current financing was being supplied by their associates in New York and private subscriptions.

Tennessee Valley Oil and Gas Company With articles like this, who wouldn't want stock in the Tennessee Valley Oil and Gas Company?

"The formations here (Gurley) are being compared to and the same as the Rattlesnake Trail in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico continued Mr. Bates, where the Midwest Refining Company is getting the same kind and same gravity as we are getting here. Our drilling work is being done by the expert driller who brought in the first well in Pinkus, Texas, and he declares the formations at Gurley are checking almost exactly as in the Texas well. We get an enormous showing of black sulphur water prior to entering the oil sands. We have penetrated sulphur water and just before drilling into the gas, the drill passed through a stratum of black sulphur. Just beneath this stratum the gas burst forth. We expect to drill into another stratum of this sulphur formation just before reaching oil.

From late 1930 to late 1931, the folks around Gurley and surrounding towns all wanted some of the action. It is interesting to note that all of the publicity was directed at all the oil and gas these wells would produce at some time in the future. At no time can we find where The Tennessee Valley Oil and Gas Company actually made a major oil strike at any of the wells they talked about. It is probable that some natural gas was found around Gurley since sources indicate some of the street lamps burned on gas and gas had been brought into a few homes for cooking purposes.

This writer's grandfather William A, Walker had moved to Knoxville, Tennessee sometime in the mid-nineteen twenties and still owned farm land around Gurley. Like most land owners around the area, he considered investing in the gas and oil company and get in on all the money to be made. It was his hopes that he could get the company to drill for oil on his property.

drill for oil venture

On November 9, 1930, he wrote a letter to a lawyer named David A. Grayson of Huntsville inquiring about the oil venture and asking for more information. He had thought Mr. Grayson had been Secretary or Treasurer of the Tennessee Oil and Gas Company. Mr. Grayson's response of November 13, 1930, indicated that he had not held any of these offices but he had been a Legal Advisor for the company. He mentioned the fact that a man had been in his office from the Robinson bank of Demopolis and had been discussing the wells around Huntsville and Gurley. He indicated he had got the people in Gurley to subscribe about $600 and incorporate another oil company and acquire most of the leases that could be had around Gurley. He further suggested to W. A. Walker that he might go to Gurley, raise money from folks there, and drill a well himself on his own property. Walker was cautious and decided to wait a while longer until further proof could be delivered of big oil strikes in Gurley. After all, the oil had been there several million years and it was most likely to stay there a little while longer.

On December 9, 1931, William Walker received a letter from H. A. Michener, an apparent expert in the oil drilling business. Mr. Michener's assessment of the situation was very negative and raised doubts as to whether or not the whole scheme was perhaps a great big scam.

Letter from H. A. Michener

William A. Walker never invested any money in oil wells and never had any wells drilled on his property. I can remember as a kid, my father telling me about all that oil and gas sitting under our farm in Gurley. To this day some people still believe, that under the town of Gurley, a fortune exists in "Black Gold" just waiting to be brought up to the surface.

Eventually the whole scheme simply died out and was forgotten by all but those old timers who never got around to "getting in on the action and making their fortunes".

The Gurley website would welcome any more information or facts concerning the gas and oil strikes of 1930 and 1931.