Sidney Albert Umsted (1876–1925)
aka: Sid Umsted
Sidney (Sid) Albert Umsted, known as the “Father of the Smackover Oil Field,” drilled the first well in the Smackover (Union County) area, introducing Arkansas’s largest oil discovery. In 1925, the Smackover field produced over 77 million barrels of oil and was the largest oil field in the nation at that time.
Sid Umsted was born on November 22, 1876, in Houston County, Texas, to Caroline Pearson and Albert “Newt” Umsted, who had moved there from Chidester (Ouachita County). Umsted’s father abandoned the family while Sid was a child, and his mother moved back to Chidester to be near family members. When Umsted was eight, his mother married Harrison Bratton, and the family settled on a farm near Bernice, Louisiana.
Umsted left home in his early teens and worked in sawmills in northern Louisiana. By 1898, he owned and operated a portable mill near Homer, Louisiana, and he moved this operation to Junction City (Union County) three years later.
On December 31, 1902, he married Edna Sedalia Edwards, daughter of Albert Edwards and Mary Worthan Edwards of Junction City. By 1905, he had moved his successful and much larger mill operation to Smackover (Union County).
His mill served as the primary source of employment in an otherwise undeveloped economic area. He immediately purchased and leased several hundred acres of land north into Ouachita County, with the bulk of it situated in what is now recognized as the Standard-Umsted/Snow Hill locale.
In 1919, oil was discovered in northern Louisiana. Umsted was familiar with the area and recognized that his Arkansas land embodied surface characteristics similar to the acreage that spawned the prolific Homer oil field. By 1921, successful oil discoveries were made in the El Dorado (Union County) region only twelve miles south of Smackover. Umsted quickly organized an exploration venture that included four partners from Camden (Ouachita County): W. W. Brown, T. J. Gaughan, J. D. Reynolds, and J. C. Usery, who shared a half-interest with the V. K. F. Oil Company of Shreveport, Louisiana, which agreed to drill one well for a small share.
Umsted selected a drilling location one mile south of the Ouachita River on land leased from farmer Charlie Richardson. On July 29, the drill bit spun into the Nacatoch geologic formation 2,000 feet below. It was a gusher, and the Richardson No. 1 discovery created a frenzy of drilling activity.
Within a year, 1,000 producing wells had been completed in the field that covered sixty square miles. By this time, Umsted owned an estimated 3,000 acres of oil leases and an additional thousand acres outright.
Today’s Standard-Umsted area was originally the site of Umsted’s sawmill, which was purchased by Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in 1923. It became the location of the company’s field office and employee camp complex. Today, Standard-Umsted serves as a settlement for approximately 100 people.
In 1924, Umsted moved his family to Camden into an impressive brick, Mediterranean-style home, which is now the Umsted House Bed and Breakfast. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Homes.
On October 27, 1925, Umsted was returning from a business trip to Tupelo, Mississippi, when his train derailed near Victoria, Mississippi. He was seriously injured and died in a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, on November 3, 1925. Umsted was forty-nine. He is buried in Camden’s Oakland Cemetery.
For additional information:
Buckalew, A. R., and R. B. Buckalew. “The Discovery of Oil in South Arkansas, 1920-1924.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 33 (Autumn 1974): 195–238.
Fancher, George H., and Donald K. MacKay. Secondary Recovery of Petroleum in Arkansas: A Survey. El Dorado: Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, 1946
Franks, Kenny A., and Paul F. Lambert. Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901–1946. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982.
Lambert, Don. “Sid Umsted.” The Smackover Journal. January 18, 1990.
Oral History Archives. Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources Library, Smackover, Arkansas.
John G. Ragsdale
Little Rock, Arkansas
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