Dec 23, 2007 | Posted in Essays, People

It was the wandering, prospecting nature of both James Guffey and John Galey that compelled them to always be on the move, searching and probing possibilities in the early oil and gas fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They then traveled west to the Mid Continent Field in Kansas and Oklahoma and the early Gulf Coast and Corsicana Fields in Texas. Based in Pittsburgh, the partnership took the lead in nearly every region of the country but California. Both men in the early 1870’s worked as agents for the Titusville oil country supply firm of Gibbs & Sterrett. Guffey in 1872 was based in St. Petersburg and represented the firm in the Clarion County Field in Pennsylvania. Galey at that time was associated with James McKinney and based in Parker, Armstrong County. Both men listened to the intelligence from the field while doing business with producers and were able to purchase a number of productive leases for both oil and gas in Clarion, Armstrong and Butler counties. They were among the earliest producers in the Kinzua region near Warren in the early 1880’s. Both men left Warren County in 1883 for Pittsburgh.

In 1891, Guffey and Galey were two of four partners in a well called the Matthews drilled near McDonald southwest of Pittsburgh. Drillers in the area were looking for natural gas more so than oil. In the Spring, the Matthews was drilled into the Gordon Sand and began producing at 10 to 20 barrels a day, nothing to get excited about. In the middle of July, the Matthews penetrated the McDonald Field’s fifth sand and began producing at 40 to 50 barrels an hour. The production of this well just continued to increase. At its peak, the well produced over 10,000 barrels a day. Guffey and Galey’s other McDonald properties added to this daily production so that for a time this partnership was involved in producing 30,000 of the field’s 80,000 barrels a day. Though this great production crushed the price of crude, this immense output of Appalachian crude provided the partners with ample working capital for other ventures they might choose to pursue.

William Mills, a Pennsylvania man, had some success in 1892 near Neodesha, Kansas in testing for oil. The drilling results were small but promising. Looking for capital to develop his Kansas leases, Mills returned to the east where he made a proposal to Guffey and Galey in Pittsburgh. Galey suggested a partnership which Mills agreed to. Later Mills sold his one fourth interest to the partners for $4,000. Kansas and Indian territory leases were cheap and easy to obtain. Writers of the time claim Guffey and Galey leased as many as a million acres. John J. McLaurin writing at the end of the nineteenth century claimed the partners drilled a hundred and forty wells and found either oil or gas in half of them. A gathering pipeline system was built as well as iron tank storage. In 1895, another eastern firm, Forest Oil, situated in Pittsburgh and owned by Standard Oil was acquiring leases in Kansas and the territories. After several years of operations in the early Mid-Continent Field, Guffey and Galey sold their leases to Forest Oil in 1895. Historical references to Forest Oil repeatedly claim Forest Oil acquired 700,000 acres. Guffey and Galey were prospectors, wildcatters, not administrators. Paperwork was of little interest to them, and when Forest’s manager in Kansas arrived, he found leases stored helter-skelter and beyond. Obviously lease records were lost! Forest Oil bought the partner’s Mid-Continent properties for $225,000. Thomas Galey, John Galey’s nephew, claimed this sale was a half million dollar loss.

The spectacular Spindletop success near Beaumont, Texas in the second week of January 1901 is a piece of oil history well known by North Americans with only a casual knowledge of oil history. The first well drilled with cable tools at Spindletop was a failure. A second attempt with a rotary drill was successful. This second attempt was made possible by the financial backing of Guffey and Galey. Guffey and Galey formed a partnership, J.M. Guffey Co., with Anthony Lucas to develop this mammoth property. Guffey bought out the interests of both Lucas and Galey in May 1901 for $766,000 and formed the J.M. Guffey Petroleum Company. The financing for this purchase came by selling 50.000 shares of the J.M. Guffey Petroleum Co. to Andrew and Richard Mellon and associates. In January 1907, the assets of the J. M. Guffey Petroleum Co. were merged with the Gulf Refining Co. to form the new Gulf Oil Corporation. Never impressed with his business management skills, the Mellons sent Guffey on yet another journey, out the door.

Yes, but what a career for both men! No one in the history of the North American oil industry had the nose or instinct to find the big plays like Guffey and Galey!

By Neil McElwee, 2007