Fifty years ago the first continuously operating Landmen’s Association in the United States was formed. Men who were extreme business rivals became personal friends. Outfits that had been willing to acquire leases, just to cause problems to others, started making farmouts and farmins. Mississippi landowners, through annual rental~, had a new source of tax money, and companies could afford to buy leases without worrying that their rivals would not cooperate at drilling time. “Cooperate” really took on new meaning when the misreading of landmarks near the Mississippi River caused a location to be staked and drilled in the wrong section. All of the companies, but one, reexamined their geology, determined the dry hole as drilled, evaluated as sufficiently as the one proposed and paid their dry hole money. Yes, the one that did not pay the dry hole contribution even sued the ill fated promoter. They alleged the cost of drilling a well was the loss to them for not evaluating their leases.
Immediately after Union Producing Company brought in the G. C. Woodruff # 2 on August 29, 1939 the biggest lease and mineral play East of the Mississippi River commenced. Some learned professor had said there would be no commercial production East of the Mississippi River and South of Appalachia. Oil men are not supposed to be learned in grammar, so they thought a corollary to that statement would be everything East of the Mississippi River and South of Appalachia would produce.
1939 does not get one back to the dark ages by a long shot. As so ably detailed by Dudley J. Hughes in his book, “Oil in the Deep South”, Gulf had done extensive geologic mapping prior to 1930 – including what later became Heidelberg Field. Tom McGlothlin gave M. E. “Bud” Norman the credit for locating that field as Bud had mapped out the Yazoo clay Outcrop around Heidelberg. Creek-ology and Gut-ology had long since been replaced by more scientific tools. Magnetometer and gravity meters had pretty well covered the entire state at one time or another. Some maps were made by flying the instruments over a county trailing out behind the airplane. Amerada had pioneered reflective seismic, had mapped out Tinsley and Yazoo City prospects but had drilled the wrong one. Seismic was best summed up by an old gentleman one night by fire-light when he said “Them trucks can locate a bucket, but they can’t tell if it’s full or empty.” It would not have hurt so bad if I had not spent 30 minutes talking about reflections, echoes, time lapses, etc. I bet on a coon hunt that old gentlemen could holler up a hollow tree and tell from the echo just how tall the rotted out section was.
By 1944 oil personnel in Mississippi knew: Noah supposedly caulked his ark with goo from an oil seep; Drake had completed the Pennsylvania well on August 27, 1859 at the incredible depth of 69.5 feet; The discovery well of the Amory Gas Field blew out October 5, 1926 and produced 5 million feet/day; Fred Mellen had written the report that put the spur under Union’s blanket; and A lot of salt domes in Mississippi were under lease.
The state was large and the prospects were numerous so that each oil company and many independents had room to act on their own, but by 1944 they had begun to get in each other’s way.
Most of the major oil companies not only had offices in Jackson, Mississippi, they were also mostly in the Tower Building (now known as Standard Life Building). Standard Oil of New Jersey, under the name of Humble Oil Refining Co., still had their Shop in Hattiesburg. ‘The Gulf’ as they were wont to be called, had moved their offices from Laurel. The California Company or was it the California Oil Company, had moved their offices from Brookhaven. Don’t say there is no difference. One man got called in and fired on the spot for saying there was no difference between The California Company and the California Oil Company. His immediately previous boss told him they had spent thousands to keep those two names separate! Jackson, Mississippi was loaded splintered John D. Rockefeller companies, such as Standard Oil of Indiana, Standard Oil of Ohio and Standard Oil of New York. They did not have a parent company name, but except for Carter and Humble, most of the parent companies could be deciphered on the spot. Standard Oil of New York was SOCONY (StdOiICONewYork) with the addition of word Mobil. Standard Oil of Indiana was STANOLIND (STANdardOiLiNDiana). Standard Oil of Ohio.was SOHIO (StdOhio) and of course the California Oil Company was a subsidiary of Standard Oil of California.
Prior to the formation of MAPL there was an undercurrent feeling that oil men from different Rockefeller splintered companies shouldn’t be too friendly with one another. A series of Court Orders some 30 years before had separated them and a farmout or a farmin might be a violation of the Sherman Anti Trust Act -certainly in principal. It slowly evolved that they had been split up for marketing, not exploration, so that joint ventures were legal. If you needed a farmout from Sun, you no longer had to go to Pennsylvania. They too had an office in Jackson. Coggin got here pretty early, but not in 1944. Texaco had a branch here so calling New Orleans was not necessary. A block with multiple company lease owners could be put together by making trips on the Tower Building elevator. The land men needed to know one another and it was to their company’s advantage for them to know and trust one another.
The Mississippi Oil Scouts Association had been formed before Tinsley, but it increased from 10 members before Tinsley to 29 in 1944. Ray M. Stevens of Shell, and still residing in Jackson at age 84, was the first President of the Mississippi Oil Scouts Association. Each company generally had only one scout, but numerous geologists. Companies, as a rule, had several geologists (had geophysicists been invented?) for every landman they had. The Mississippi Geological Society had been formed in 1939 and had acquired over 100 members within the first year. The scouts were the only one of the three professions to routinely swap dope, but, they kept their own company data secret. Each scout had several counties to check. He’d go to his courthouses and “yellow tablet list” each Lessors Name, number of acres plus the affected Section, Township and Range of each lease filed since his last takeoff. The Mississippi Oil Scout’s Association had a secretary that then compiled and typed up all the yellow tablet takeoffs from each scout and mimeographed a copy of the compilation for each oil company that belonged to the association. Yes, I said mimeograph, as the guys who invented Xerox were still on their learning curve at Kodak. At least we had typewriters. You juveniles think I am ancient and can write the history from memory, but even I never turned in a handwritten lease – maybe a handwritten draft or two – but never a lease. I remember tearing up a proposed lease I was typing in the Bank of Coffeeville (whiteout had not been invented), when Virgil Michael said, “Look, you are typing a lease from a deed written in pencil on tablet paper, and you won’t accept a strikeover. Even you can’t make the world get perfect.” The point is, we not only turned in typed leases with clauses sufficiently drawn to pass all the scrutiny subsequent production can give such an instrument, we also left a trail of improved and! or cons9lidated descriptions. I wonder how many landmen had a briefcase that included Jack Ewing’s article entitled “Legal Descriptions in Mississippi” as copied from a Mississippi Law Journal. Every new Landman I got had to read it. As a Landman you can say you left the world better than you found it as we not only straightened out and cured a lot of titles, we influenced landowners all over the state to be more careful in having paper relating to land prepared. The scouts also had a network of country stores and filling stations to stop at for a chat each week to learn if a prospective Lessor within hearing distance had been contacted. Scudder McCoy’s filling station in Shubuta did not have a Norman Rockwell pot bellied stove, but it did have a coffee pot and every farmer, merchant, banker and landowner regularly took on a little coffee and left a little information that a scout could get from Scudder for a little exchange of information. You have to give if you are going to get. A broker always warned his notary public that it was against his Oath of Office to tell who had had something acknowledged and to tip him and ask him not to discuss “his business” with anybody that did not live in the lease area.
1944 was a good year. In addition to the birth of MAPL, five good fields were discovered:
Originally, MAPL was composed only of company land men. In addition to social connections it helped on farmouts and farm ins. Brokers fit in a different niche. I not only hesitated to join, I hesitated to attend a meeting after I joined. Most Oil Scouts carried a pad of drafts and had authority to buy a lease on any tract touching a tract any other company was buying. If another company had bought a lease he could “edge it” without even calling in. Most courthouses had an employee tipping off a local block buster. Pardon me “Crip” Craft. A Landman needed to be able to go into a courthouse and not be recognized as an “oil man.” I’ve slipped into a Tax Assessor’s Office many a time when I would have given an eye tooth for a peek at a deed record, but no way would I darken the door of the Chancery Clerk’s vault without a look out to warn me an enemy was present or when one was coming until all my leases had been notarized. Notarized really wasn’t sufficient. If the blockbuster was unscrupulous enough, he’d just take another lease and get his lease filed first. You are not naive enough to want a lawsuit against a local in his home court house, are you?
I do not know how the association expanded to include brokers, but my wife forced me in. There was another association, Black Gold, composed of wives of oil professionals. She played bridge with some of the group and in order for her to become a member of Black Gold, I think I had to be a member of either the geological or land or scout association. Now Black Gold was wonderful. Once a year Black Gold put on a dinner for their male counterparts. Catering had not been commercialized; so, one year my wife, Mimi Bradley, and Helen (Mrs. Virgil W.) Michael fixed the entire meal and served it at Costas Lake. That is right. The reservoir, Fowler’s Lodge and a few other places, had not been built.
Back to the atmosphere surrounding lease acquisition when MAPL was born. Men who wouldn’t steal a page off the front of a yellow tablet thought nothing of going through your briefcase if found in the courthouse during a lunch break or even if it was noticed in your unlocked car. They also tipped the maids in the motel to bring your wastebasket by their room, so they could scan your scrap paper. I still bring all my scrap paper back to Jackson. Now what is really unreal about the era around 1944 is that no one would have thought hard of you for surreptitiously copying someone’s outline but you could be read out of the industry if you bought a top lease! It just wasn’t done back then.
If I had another shot at a century on this planet, I’d take more pictures and keep a diary. The MAPL meetings have been so outstanding that the memory of the present members might be sufficient to replace the latter, but the untaken photographs are lost forever. The monthly meetings became a focal point to see friends and get current on industry news. A business question could not only be discussed, it might even get answered. If you had difficulty determining whether an old reservation was royalty or minerals, you could make a hypothetical question and ask it of several brokers, company men and attorneys at the next social hour. The after dinner speakers were equally advantageous. There was nowhere else to stay abreast of the Mississippi segment of the industry. New laws (whether passed by the legislature or as Lil’ Abner said, “the court is in session passing laws”) and new technology all the way from short normals to “hot spots” in seismic, were covered by after dinner speakers. In a few years it became apparent that the industry was generating more information than there were after dinner slots to cover it. Thus was born the seminar.
MAPL and The Mississippi Bar were fast friends from the start. Unless our landmen bought airplanes to fly grass or could not compute quarterly income tax estimates, they could keep us out of the penitentiary and defend our leases in court. We could, and did, generate enough orders for title opinions involving researchable legal questions to keep them employed. Funny though, how many crossed the fence both ways. Ron Wesner left The California Company to practice law in Kentucky and a governor’s son rode with me for a couple of weeks to decide whether to become a broker or join his father’s law firm (not “The Firm” in Memphis). The first joint land/law or law/land seminar that I attended lasted two or three days and contained a synopsis of the law in four states. The law discussions were divided between case law and statute law plus it even covered pending legislation, energy outlooks and exploration technology. This seminar became a triennial affair (look that one up in the dictionary). MAPL separated the “street talk from the street noise,” as is said on Wall Street. It is rumored the Oil & Gas lawyers section of the Mississippi Bar was originated over a cup of coffee by Roger Jones and Mike Peterson with early members including John Armstrong, Sr., Ed Brunini, Jack Ewing, Kenneth Franks, Martha Gerald, Ed Harper, Otis Johnson, Jr., Tommy Mallette, Dale McKibben and lem Smith. Mike earned his title of ‘The Beast” by striving for absolute perfection. He once required a lease to be ratified by 96 lessors even though their Power of Attorney contained “authority to lease for oil and gas,” but Mike took the position that “to lease”: is a double acting verb and the instrument was therefore ambiguous as it did not specify whether it authorized purchase or sale.
No, you do not need to acknowledge a lease in Georgia, but at a meeting you learned it must witnessed by two people, one of which is a notary. So just prepare a little jurat, that is similar to an acknowledgment, which includes both the names of the notary and the witness, then get the notary to put the seal on it and you will not lose a block like one of our majors did. A little knowledge is still a dangerous thing, but MAPL and its seminars expanded our “little knowledge” to “a lot of knowledge” and reduced our exposure to danger.
On and prior to September 27, 1980, the mamas and the papas and the brothers and sisters would inherit real property (excess of dower) to the exclusion of the spouse in Alabama. Okay, but you learned at a meeting this did not apply to a large landowner in Choctaw County. All of his land had been put in a sub chapter s corporation so that he could wheel and deal without the necessity of a wife’s signature. The Alabama Supreme Court said the widow got it all: even though the sole assets of the corporation were real property, the stock in the corporation was personal property and personal property descended to the widow. Now do you believe you cannot do indirectly what you cannot do directly? At a seminar you got a handout from W. Roger Jones and James M. Nix that put each era of Alabama inheritance laws on a separate page in “what if’ form that even a Probate Judge could understand. Get the exact date of death and go to the page that included that date.
Paying the 3 cents per acre when you file a lease exempts you from subsequent taxation. You learned at a meeting, however, that if you buy a lease in January, pay your stamps in February, have a lessor sell and reserve all minerals in March and pay his stamps in April, you both get wiped out at a September tax sale as the tax sale was “as of January 1.” Everything that had not been severed prior to January 1 was in the sale. You also learned that such could be prevented by a separate assessment of your lease coupled with a timely payment.
Louisiana may be the only state with a prescription statute on minerals, but at a MAPL meeting you learned that Florida almost has one and hasn’t even passed a law to effect it. Florida’s “Marketable Record Title” requirement of giving notice every thirty years by registered mail to each and every surface owner, coupled with the knowledge that from then on the severed minerals would be on the assessment roll each subsequent year at a valuation based partly on the surface value, may be reaching the same end. After all, law school is still a place that tells you the first day that you cannot do indirectly what you cannot do directly, and then spends three long years telling you how.
Some members enjoyed hearing legal speakers give a very comprehensive explanation of their expertise, and then watch Grover Stanford, Homer Lynn or some equally experienced lease buyer, ask them an unanswerable question. I did not, as I do not enjoy watching someone fall that has been set up, but I listened and learned a lot including not to profess to be an expert. If there is a mineral reservation “and so long thereafter as production is maintained on contiguous acreage,” will a well on Section 1 hold Section 11? If you attended your meetings, you may remember Craig Forshner saying 9 states said yes and 17 have said no. Now don’t you think it rude to ask that question of a visiting attorney from a state that has not yet had the benefit of their “learned” Supreme Court?
Our Association and our members were able to survive the attempts of several Mississippi Circuit Clerks’ interpretation of the statutes that a broker needed to purchase a real estate license in each county before negotiating a trade. At one time the Governor of Mississippi had to call the Governor of Alabama to keep Alabama from preventing “out of state” brokers from buying leases in Alabama (Virgil Michael, Monroeville, 1960). Florida’s jail term for anyone other than a Registered Florida Real Estate Broker buying a lease has been interpreted almost out of contention, but it was rough in the early seventies. All this has proved the Certified Professional Landman requirements worthwhile.
I have not yet determined who should be credited with having the 09803 Lease Form and the Tri-State Lease form printed and in stock by Hederman. Undoubtedly, either a member of our association or a member of the Oil & Gas Lawyers section of the Mississippi Bar had a lot to do with it. Without these and a few other printed forms, trading would have been such a hassle (has the word hassle been replaced by harassment?) that some of the big lease plays would have been impossible. Many local attorneys in our five state area were wise enough, kind enough, and wanted oil company money flowing into their county bad enough to accept the printed lease form. This saved the land man days discussing words and paragraphs. I think it took 9 hours plus 9 legal pages to reword the paragraphs to include the interlineations and type something similar to and based on the 09803 form after such changes had been negotiated. Every word in that lease form has a meaning and most have been interpreted by a court. I still have a 09803 and a Tri-State typed into my word processor just in case some lessor in the future really wants to go back to basics.
The oil business may be in a low spot in the United States at the moment, but not with the Legislature in Mississippi. Bills that got dropped into the 1994 hopper included:
Uniform Probate Code, that almost passed last year (May 1994) before the input from MAPL and The Mississippi Oil & Gas Lawyers Association. One draft in 1993 changed our descent and distribution to the laws of the state of death not the laws of the state where the land was located. What would this do to a “slave” title-like Hiltonhead, Georgia?
To change the filing date of a will from unlimited to a requirement that it be filed within five years of the death of the testator.
To repeal the 10 year Statute of Limitations to perfect title to land, including errors or omission in Foreclosure Sales.
To make the payment of ad valorem taxes a necessary element of adverse possession. On a fence line an assessment is generally to a forty line, not a fence?
To repeal the mineral stamp exemption and impose ad valorem taxes on Oil, Gas and Mineral Leases as well as on all severed minerals. If this act passed, a lease on severed minerals would necessitate a look at the Lessor’s tax receipts for each year since the effective date of the law.
Through the years, MAPL has been blessed with a pool of men and women who would and could render outstanding leadership. From W. Brantly Jackson to John Coalter. Jackson was not only our first President, he had been the first president of an association in Indiana and after MAPL he became the first president of the Shreveport Association. John Coalter has been both a company landman and an independent broker. Present members such as Toxey Puckett and David Miller who worked so tirelessly on this 50th anniversary celebration just cannot be sufficiently acknowledged. Neither you nor I have time to honor all the former officers; besides, men like Jim Wideman, who was elected president and transferred before serving would be left out. Somebody needs credit for the numerous company land men his company paid dues to this association for each year, even after their office left Mississippi- and it just might be him. Our former presidents that may be at the Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration of MAPL tonight include:
B. J. Johnson
Chester R. Force
J. A, Mayeaux
Jessie D. Puckett, Jr.
C. E. Harper
David A. Leach
Larry W. Wood
James K. Fairley
H. Don Noblitt
Ann Boland Frazier
Ronald T. Halfacre,
F. E. Ruffin
Joseph M. Gianola
Jack L. Ritter
MAPL gave AAPL their first president, George F. Brown. Later J. F. Hildebrand and Dick B. Mason, III served as Treasurers and lately J. A. Mayeaux as secretary.
Needless to say there are many former presidents who cannot be with us tonight, including:
B. F Gamble,
A. J. Viets,
W. S. Barrett,
George F. Brown,
J. J. Frazier
W. R. Marshall
W. A. Long, Jr.
C. M. Adair
J. F Hildebrand
C. G Niernberger
James A. Williams
John H. Bianchi
Herman B. Bridges
Edwin R. Jones
William L. Word
Vann C. Michael
All non birthed Mississippians are welcomed back for retirement, including those that have already arrived, to-wit:
Tatum R. Stacy
Wm. P. “Bill” VVooten
In later years, due to unswerving loyalty, coupled with lengthy service, many of our member’s names became synonymous with their company name:
The California Co.
W. E. “Bert” Moore
John Q. Adams
J. W. Eiserloh
Norman F. Hunter
The Ohio Oil Co.
At a recent meeting, Jerry Shelton explained Amoco vs. Frey. This is a very complicated case, bouncing back and forth between State District, Federal District, Appeals Court and the Louisiana Supreme Court. It is an example of why some of the public sector is for big oil and some hate big oil. Instead of your spending a day in a law library briefing the case, please read the attached parody (Scarlett vs. Rhett) and give me your answer as to whether Rhett or Scarlett should have won.
If you have read this far you need to get a copy of “Oil in the Deep South” by Dudley J. Hughes, as printed by the University Press of Mississippi in 1993.
You also need to read “Downtime”, as no account of MAPL can be complete without recounting some of the adventures of our members. “Downtime” is included in this publication.
I flew out to Houston to explain that Richard C. Bradley, Horace H. Hines, John T. “Tom” Moore, and Charles S. McClelland could go to Illinois, but the only thing they knew about coal was it got your hands dirty if you picked it up. The company land man said, “You all understand titles and you all understand people and there is nothing else in the world.” He was right. We went, we bought and it has now been mined. Now, with no major oil company offices in Mississippi, no extensive seismic program in the offing and only a few rigs in the state, our future does not look as bright as our past. But if you understand titles and you understand people, you know enough. Now start thinking about your MAPL’s and AAPL’s next 50 years.
Richard C. Bradley
Chairman – Historical Committee