The Old Gold Well–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

Checking with the copyright catalogue, I find copyright was made in 1963 by J. P. Moore but was never renewed, which means the book has entered the public domain. The author is long since deceased.

1880 – 1910

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The Old Gold Well

[pages 55-60]

There is yet in Old Pedro, now west Liberal, a relic of the past that in its time was a focal point of much interest, both in Pedro and in Liberal–the “Old Gold Well.” This old well is on a patch of ground of about one acre, and in triangular shape, so formed by the crossing of the Frisco and the Missouri Pacific railroads.

Searching into the history of the old well for the finding of positive facts has been a difficult task. Its origin was so long ago, and its abandonment for any use has been for so many years that the reason for its having been dug, the exact date, and by whom, are details more or less dim in the memory of the oldest citizens. The most that is remembered is what it has always been known as the “Old Gold Well;” and that there once was much excitement, because it was reported and believed that gold ore had been struck in the digging.

Because of vagueness it has been difficult to separate the facts from the fiction.

The shaft is 8 x 16 feet, and the depth is said to be about 172 feet, with a drill hole of uncertain depth in the bottom.

One story is that it was put down in about 1885 by the two railroads to obtain water for their steam engines, but that for some reason the project was abandoned and the roads went elsewhere for their water supply. But the shape of the shaft–rectangular–it seems, would discount this as a reason. It is known, however, that in the summer of 1901, remembered by old-timers as the “dry year,” the Frisco railroad did install a pumping unit, and water engines there during that summer and the following winter. This fact may have been the origin of the thought that the well was dug by the railroads.

The lapse of time sometimes breeds confusion. At the date of this writing it has been sixty-two years since the terrible “dry year.” It is well remembered by this writer. From about the 5th of May until the first week in September there was not a drop of rain, and not a cloud in the sky much larger than a man’s pocket handkerchief. All crops were deadened. The summer heat was extreme.

What seems to be the more likely reason for the old well is taht the shaft was dug with the expectation of its being used in a deep coal mining operation. The shape of the shaft would indicate such a purpose–about right for a double deep mine cage. It is known there is a deep vein of coal there; and it is believed it was adjudged that either the vein was not thick enough or the roof was not good enough to mine the coal safely and profitably.

It is dimly in the memory of some that the shaft may have been put down by a Mr. George Fuller, a coal mining promoter and operator, who subsequently founded the coal mining camp of Fuller, Kansas, about nine miles southwest of Liberal. Years later Mr. Fuller returned here and did do some further prospecting for deep coal in this vicinity.

It seems certain that some mineral besides coal was encountered in the digging of the well. This writer makes no attempt at a geological treatise, but there are local persons who seem to know, who say this region through here is a part of the same geological uplift as the Joplin and Webb City lead and zinc field; and that in diggings of depth here, rich shines of the same ore are found. Also they believe that there are pockets here that if located might be mined profitably.

This same source of information says there is a plentiful rock formation here that assays about eighty cents worth of gold to the ton.

The reader will recall that in the story of Denison, or Pedro, it is noted the Goodspeed history, published in 1889, states: “A mineral has been discovered in Denison; which upon assay, proves to contain large quantities of gold and silver ore.”

In 1892, two local men, George X. Mellor and Jake Betz, prominent citizens of Liberal in the long ago, picked up from the gob pile of the diggings from the old well a piece of ore they thought to be very rich in gold. They sent it to Samuel Mellor, sr., a brother of the local man, at Central City, Colorado, a gold and silver mining town, for the latter’s judgment. Upon assay the metal proved to be zinc.

On the strength of this, Samuel Mellor shortly moved his family to Liberal, in the thought that a lead and zinc mining field might be opened here. If any special prospecting was done at the time, there is now no record of such.

A Pedro merchant, R. J. Morris, son-in-law of R. C. Goss, founder of South Denison, came into ownership of the ground with the old well, but he did nothing at the time towards any mining development. Instead, he put a fence around the well and left, moving to Denver, Colorado. He may have owned the land when the well was dug.

In about 1912, or 1913, Mr. Morris returned to Liberal accompanied by Senator Iles of Colorado and a nephew, Robert Morris, a civil engineer.

The purpose of the Morris party was supposedly to develop any mineral potentialities of the old well. But to all appearances the intention was, in part at least, promotional. A small building of the mining shack type was put up in the vicinity of the well. This to serve as an assay office and a land office. On a long board put up across the front of the shack, and in large letters were the words, “GOLDFIELD, MISSOURI.” This was in plain sight of passing trains. Maybe, some passengers might see and become interested, and maybe spread the word.

The office was well stocked with specimens of ore–gold, lead and zinc. If there was any pretense that these specimens were all taken from the old well is not known.

To obtain an accurate log, a drill hole was put down adjacent to the old well. The log of the drillings was kept secret, and the public could learn nothing of the findings. After a time the well was fenced up again and Mr. Morris and his associates departed. There was a rumor that the last core taken from the drill hole was pure lead. How accurate this rumor was is now impossible to learn without the drilling of another hole of equal depth. However, other attempts, on a lesser scale, have been undertaken by others to explore the old well, both for minerals and in attempts to mine coal. Some of the prospectors reported finding the hole drilled by Mr. Morris had been plugged with something thought to be a length of railroad steel dropped to the bottom.

Z. J. Worthington, a relative at the time, by marriage, of Robert Morris, tells this writer that Robert Morris told him, without any suggestion of secrecy, that near the 155-foot level, the drill cores showed two veins of coal, one 18-inch vein and one 30-inch vein, separated only by about a six-inch strata of slate. Nothing was said as to the quality of the coal or the roof.

In the early 1920’s, Fred Mellor, former Liberal resident, and a son of Samuel Mellor, sr., did some prospecting and exploring of the old well, and did some drilling in search of lead or zinc. With the hope of success, he took some ground leases in the vicinity. His findings were not disclosed, but it is assumed he concluded further operation was not worth while.

There was always a suspicion among the less gullible that the old well was salted for gold. There is an old story that such really was the case, and that it was done in a most unique manner, or way. The story is that Mr. Fuller loaded a shotgun with gold filings and fired a blast down the well, peppering the lower side-walls and the bottom with the gold particles.

The supposition is that Mr. Fuller hoped to profit in some way–probably by selling his lease-hold at a good price. It is not now known if he profited in any way. But the act did start a “gold-strike” rumor and succeeded in giving the old “Gold Well” its name–a name that sticks to this day.

The story sounds somewhat fantastic, but such procedure is entirely within the range of possibility. There is no one left to confirm or deny, of their own knowledge.

So, while the history of the old well has come near to being lost in the passage of time, and even word of its existence may be news to some present day residents of Liberal, through the years there have been those who never lost interest. These have clung to the thought that some day wealth may come to this region, because of the information learned from the old well–maybe not gold, but maybe lead and zinc, or possibly coal. Who knows for sure?

Following the death of Mr. Morris, some years ago, the property passed to the ownership of others. The ground roundabout is now being used for farming, and the “Old Gold Well” today remains dormant. But some day its glamour may be revived. Again, who knows?

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