Biography of S. G. Isett, Col.

Col. S. G. Isett. In the history of the oil industry in Kansas there is no better known figure than Col. S. G. Isett, the man who made Chanute famous. He had been connected with the production and handling of oil since 1902, and had been identified with some of the most famous wells the country had known.

Colonel Iselt had had an interesting and spectacular career, featured by incidents and experiences any one of which would have satisfied the ordinary individual’s desire for adventure; but while he bears bodily scars as mementos of the thrilling times through which he had passed, his mental capacity remains unimpaired, and today, with faculties sharpened and fully developed, he maintains his position as a leading business man of Chanute, in the midst of the stern competition of the younger generation growing up about him.

Colonel Isett is descended from Green ancestors who operated as merchants on the high seas, and who drifted into England, France and Germany, from which last-named country they came to America prior to the Revolution, first settling in Connecticut, later going to Virginia, then to Pennsylvania. In the Old Dominion State, in 1814, was born James K. Isett, the father of the Colonel. He was reared in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, from whence he went to Huntingdon County, in the same state, and was there married. As a successful farmer, he was the owner of a large property, and also owned and operated an iron furnace. It is a peculiar fact that he should have died as a result of the Civil war, although not a participant, while his son, who fought in many battles, should have passed safely through. While visiting the battlefield of Gettysburg, he contracted blood-poisoning, from which he died at Marklesburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863. He was a republican. Mr. Isett married Elizabeth Garner, who was born in 1815 at Antietam, Maryland, and on whose grandfather’s farm was fought the great battle of Autietam during the Civil war. She died at Marklesburg, Pennsylvania, in 1887. There were eleven children in the family, as follows: John, who died in infancy; Matthew G., who fought as a soldier of the Fifty-third Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and was killed at the battle of Gettysburg; Mary, who died in 1895, at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, as the wife of the late John Stedman, a mine superintendent; George W., who was a retired merchant and died at Marklesburg, Pennsylvania, in 1914, from the effects of an incurable wound received at the battle of Gettysburg, while fighting in the same regiment as his brother Matthew G.; J. M., who is a hardware merchant at Athol, Kansas; Luther, who died in infancy; S. G., of this notice, born in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, February 15, 1849; John A., who is a retired farmer of Marklesburg, Pennsylvania; B. F., who for many years was with the Pennsylvania Central Railroad as superintendent of the car shops and is now living retired at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania; H. H., who is in the employ of the United States Mint at Denver, Colorado; and Jennie, who died at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, as the wife of J. M. Lynn, who at the time of his death was a retired merchant and life insurance agent.

S. G. Isett attended the public schools of Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, but the war came to interrupt his studies, and to take its toll from his youth. He was but fifteen years and twelve days old when he managed to induce the recruiting officer to accept him as a soldier of the Union, and November 27, 1863, he became a private in the Twenty-second Pennsylvania Cavalry, with which he served until October 27, 1865. With this organization he participated in a number of great engagements, including those at Winchester and Cedar Creek, and fought under such able commanders as Siegel, Hayes and Sheridan, being frequently on staff duty. He was seriously wounded at Fisher’s Hill, where a piece of exploded shell struck his left ankle, disabling him for several months; again, at Winchester, September 19, 1864, he was wounded, receiving a sabre out across the head and at Front Royal he was shot through the left wrist.

At the close of the war the brave young soldier returned to his Huntingdon county home, and was made superintendent and paymaster for R. J. Langdon, at Coal Run, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, positions which he held for two years. He was then transferred to Dunbar, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, and acted in the same capacities for that firm for one year, when he was made general manager for the Logan Coal Company, at Osceola, Pennsylvania. He was acting in this capacity during the period of the notorious Molly Maguires, a secret society which had been formed in 1877 in the mining districts of Pennsylvania, the members of which sought to effect their purpose by intimidation, carried in some cases to murder. Colonel Isett, always utterly fearless and courageous in face of all threats, seemed to have attracted the animosity of this order, and on one occasion ninety-three buckshot were fired through the window of the room in which he was sleeping, while on another occasion, while riding in a buggy with the president of the company, he was shot at twice. Several members of the Molly Maguires were later arrested, tried and executed, and the organization was broken up and scattered.

On March 21, 1879, Colonel Isett came to Kansas and at Humboldt entered the employ of Curdy & Heed, a firm with which he was connected for four years. In 1883 he located at Chanute, where he opened up a dry goods, shoe and clothing business, and conducted this for two years. Following this, in 1886 he was appointed assistant land commissioner, an appointment which carried with it a salary of $4,000 per annum, but this he declined, and took in preference a position with Huiskamp Brothers Company, shoe manufacturers of Keokuk, Iowa, for which firm he traveled until January 1, 1902. At that time he began to be an active factor in the oil business at Chanute and drilled the first independent oil well on the famous “Isett Eighty.” Subsequently he negotiated a market with the Prairie Oil and Gas Company and put the first barrel of oil in the Standard’s pipe line in the Mid-Continent field. Later he opened the famous Isett and Erwin Gas pool, 6½ miles west of Chanute, in which were some of the largest wells ever discovered, running as high as 42,000,000 cubic feet per day. Colonel Isett also opened up the shallow oil pool at Longton and drilled one of the most remarkable freak wells ever opened in an oil field. Having taken up a large block of leases in 1914, he associated himself with Guffy & Gailey, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the first well drilled, at 1,500 feet struck the most remarkable oil well in history. This would flow a solid column of oil and sand from 250 to 300 feet through a 5/8 casing, and these flows would last from twenty minutes to one hour. It would sand up for a distance of eighty feet and then have to be drilled out, and would immediately begin to flow again until sanded up again, and this condition prevailed for thirty days, when the owners inserted a 5 3/16 perforated liner. After flowing for nine hours the well backed in behind the liner, closed the perforation and the well was lost. The company had drilled five other holes surrounding this one and all have come in dry.

Colonel Isett had been widely known in democratic politics. In 1886 he was the democratic candidate for lieutenant-governor, associated with Col. Tom Moonlight, candidate for governor, they being the first two candidates of the democratic party to make a campaign through the state. For three months they proclaimed a baptism “for a repentance of republican sins,” but both were defeated. In 1890 Colonel Isett was democratic candidate for secretary of state, with ex-Governor Robinson and the Honored Dave Overmyer on the ticket. In 1890 he was appointed a colonel on the staff of Governor Leedy. Colonel Isett is a charter member of Vicksburg Post No. 72, Grand Army of the Republic, of Humboldt, Kansas. He owned much property in the surrounding territory adjoining Chanute, had his residence in the city, at No. 402 Forest Avenue, and had large oil interests at Longton, Kansas.

Colonel Isett was married in 1873, at Marklesburg, Pennsylvania to Miss Ellen C. Heilig, daughter of the late Rev. J. S. Heilig a minister of the Lutheran Church, and of their children, the following are living: Hal, who is general agent for the Farmers and Bankers Life Insurance Company of Wichita, Kansas, with headquarters at Parsons; Bessie, who resided with her parents; and Frank E., who resided at Longton, Kansas, and is associated with his father in various ventures in the oil business.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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