Biography of George Warren Barnes

George Warren Barnes, who is at the head of the Barnes Oil Company, oil producers of Muskogee, has been continuously engaged in that line of business since 1901, with the exception of the period of the World war, which he devoted to work as state director of National War Savings on a government salary of one dollar a year. His birth occurred at Honesdale, Pennsylvania, on the 29th of October, 1880, his parents being George W. and Alice (Young) Barnes. John D. Benedict of Muskogee has written the following most interesting history of the life of George W. Barnes, the father

“He was born in Syracuse, New York, September 11, 1849, and died at Nice, France, in January, 1911. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Barnes. He obtained his education at Syracuse, New York, and was the boon companion of his uncle, Jeremiah Barnes, and David Noyes Wescott, who was the author of David Harem. When he was about twenty-one years of age, he struck out for the oil country and hit Pennsylvania a full-grown boy during the first excitement. He got a taste of the oil business and followed that pursuit until his death.

“In 1872 or 1873 he accompanied a party of men who traveled by covered wagon through the Indian Territory and the early records show the first wells drilled in the Indian Territory (I think a series of five) were then drilled by George W. Barnes and his associates. They drilled five dry holes, beginning at the Kansas line and ending somewhere south of the present city of McAlester. This broke him and he went back east and started again in the oil country.

“It was about this time that he married Cornelia Alice Young, a daughter of Coe-F. Young of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, one of the pioneer railroad builders in the United States, who was at that time the coal baron ,of Pennsylvania, having completed the first gravity railroad in the United States through the heart of the Mollie McGuire district. He induced his father-in-law and father to stake him to do further development work in Pennsylvania and at that time was more or less successful. I have -in my files a copy of a barrel of oil which he sold for export, Pennsylvania crude, for sixty-three dollars and twenty-five cents, which is the highest price we have any record of his ever having received for crude oil.

“Again adversity overtook him and he came west to Colorado, where he engaged in the sheep business in Las Animas county. He -accumulated several bands of sheep, a general merchandise store, sawmills, etc., but I have often heard him say he drilled all the dry in one night when a snowstorm overtook his sheep in the mountains and they were all frozen.

He faced adversity again, but with a brave heart, in the year 1880, he went back east and again started in the oil producing business. At that time good fortune smiled on him; he sold his properties and in 1885 or 1887 someone discovered a well near Lima and again George W. Barnes was the pioneer. He went to Ohio and developed the Lima Manhattan, Oil Company, which is now a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company. During the year 1885 crude oil was worth only fifteen cents per barrel in Ohio and it may be said at that time he started one of the first independent refineries that ever existed. The plant was located at Welker, Ohio ; it was necessary to have tank cars, therefore Barnes conceived the idea of putting wooden tanks on flat cars, which eventually worked out to the present steel tank car of today.

“After a very marked degree of success in the Lima fields, he moved to Toledo, Ohio, where with his associates he organized a supply business known as the Union Supply & Hardware Company, one of the first oil well supply houses in that country other than the National Supply Company.

He continued this along with producing oil in Indiana and Ohio until the year 1893. They did not know how to finance producers in those days as they do now, but if an oil producer’s word was good he need not issue a financial statement but was given all the credit he wanted. In 1893 or 1894 the Oil Well Supply Company, National Supply and the Union Supply & Hardware Companies were put into the hands of a receiver, the result of which was that the Union Supply & Hardware Company was absorbed by the National Supply Company.

“In the year 1900 there was some oil discovered in and about Independence, Kansas. Barnes and his associates immediately went out there and developed that field. Then it was he remembered his experiences in the Indian Territory and about that time the first well at Bartlesville had been drilled in and Barnes went down to look it over. It resulted in his moving to Muskogee in 1905 and taking the presidency of the Commercial National Bank, which he proceeded to make an oil bank. His developments in Oklahoma were very successful and during the year 1905 he started what is known as the Glenpool field and drilled, possibly, the greatest number of oil wells credited to any single producer, being one hundred and seventy-three wells without a dry hole.

“On account of the panic in 1907, the oil market went to thirty cents per barrel. Adverse conditions always seemed to spur him on and when panics overtook him and adverse conditions arose, he seemed to fight harder. It can be truly said he was one of the old guard pioneer oil men in Oklahoma, or then the Indian Territory. It was always his desire to help big companies, and while he was never employed by the Standard Oil Company, he always enjoyed the fullest confidence of the executives, many of whom are now dead. He assisted in every way in getting pipe lines and many of the eminent producers today owe their all to his counsel, advice and financial assistance. He was beloved and respected in the entire oil country, for he knew `many an honest heart beat beneath a dirty dicky.’

“He pioneered in Tulsa, drilling many wells in what is the heart of the city today. He was practically the pioneer of Glenpool, although Galbraith discovered the first well. Barnes joined him and created the Barnes Oil Company, which is a familiar name in Oklahoma today. As a result of his experiences m the oil business, he had a few remarks which may be well for anyone to digest and practice. Among the truisms was the expression,

`Adversity makes men.’ Another was, `It is not wealth nor rank nor state, but get up and get, that makes men great.’

“A better father or husband never lived. He was a model man in every way and was known for years as the David Harem of the oil country. He never knew what it was to show the white feather and had the nerve of a lion. His mining experiences in Alaska and Mexico proved this. He was always associated with the best producers and always enjoyed their confidence. It might also be interesting to know that he took the first Departmental oil and gas lease in the Indian Territory and developed it.

“He was a builder of men. One of his great habits was to push young men ahead. He had the happy faculty of being able to see what material they were made of and seemed to be able to bring the best out in them; as a result, many producers today reverence his name.

“George W. Barnes was a builder. He assisted many railroad projects in Oklahoma and was really the father of the telephone and telegraph business of Oklahoma today. He was directly responsible for the long distance line connecting Texas with Kansas, building it through Oklahoma, north, south, east and west, and assisted in the direction of the organization which is now known as the Pioneer Telephone & Telegraph Company.

“George W. Barnes was a great believer in live stock; he imported many carloads of high-grade Percheron horses from Belgium into the Indian Territory and formed the nucleus of one of the greatest herds of Hereford cattle now in the state of Oklahoma. He was always helping the other fellow help himself and loved the open frontier and the firing line. If he ever had an enemy, it was not known. He had many peculiarities, as men of his caliber do, one of which is worthy of mention-that of charity.

In order that no one might know how much money he gave away or for what purpose, he had an account on his books, `With the Lord,’ and many checks were issued on this account and no questions were ever asked. Not until long after his death was it known to even his family the many kindly acts for which he was responsible. I think it can be truly said that he was the author of the slogan, `A man may be down, but he is never out.’

“As a monument to his memory, after his death in 1911, his children erected an office building in Muskogee, Oklahoma, which now stands and possibly will for many years.

“As a wildcatter he had no fear. He drilled the original polecat well on Oil Creek in Pennsylvania; he drilled the original Klondike well in East Toledo, Ohio, opened up the Wood county fields in Ohio and many fields in Oklahoma. He would never start a well on Friday. He built the first casing head gasoline plant ever erected in Oklahoma. He brought the first steel derrick to Oklahoma. and sold the first barrel of oil to independent refineries in Oklahoma. He was taken in conference largely by the powers that were at the time Oklahoma became a state and decided many of its laws.

“During the panic of 1907 he was the originator of the idea of issuing scrip, which was done in Muskogee by the Commercial National Bank and was the foundation of the National Reserve Act. At that time Barnes was president of the Commercial National Bank, Robert L. Owen, now United States senator, was president of the First National Bank. With their combined efforts they allowed no financial stringency at any time during that panic.”

George Warren Barnes, whose name introduces this review, attended a preparatory school at Andover, Massachusetts, and then matriculated in the University of Michigan. The year 1901 witnessed his arrival in the Indian Territory and he assisted in organizing the Pioneer Telephone & Telegraph Company, now the Southwest Bell Telephone Company. He was among the first to open the famous Glen Oil Pool and has been continuously identified with the oil business since 1901, with the exception of the time when he devoted himself exclusively to war work, being appointed state director, of National War Savings. His record in that position was a most commendable one, proving his loyalty and patriotism in no uncertain manner. Since the signing of the armistice he has resumed his important duties as head of the Barnes Oil Company of Muskogee, an enterprise of vast proportions, which has continued to prosper under his able direction.

In 1908 Mr. Barnes was united in marriage to Miss Madge Mitchell, a daughter of E. B. Mitchell of Lima, Ohio. They have become parents of a son and a daughter, George W. (III) and Mary C. The family residence is at No. 227 South Sixth street.

Mr. Barnes is a thirty-second degree Mason, belongs to Bedouin Temple, A. A. O. N. M. S., and is likewise a member of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks. He is also identified with the Chamber of Commerce, belongs to the Rotary Club, the Muskogee Town and Country Club and the Sigma Phi, a Greek letter fraternity. His religious faith is that of the Presbyterian church and at all times his career has been a most creditable one in harmony with that of an honored and distinguished sire.



Benedict, John Downing. Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma: including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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