The Octopus Slayer: the story of H.H. Tucker
BY ANDY TAYLOR
Had H.H. Tucker, Jr., read the business headlines in the past several years, he would have hated to hear the news.
For nothing bothered Tucker more than hearing of corporate greed, big business bullying tactics, government officials in the hip pocket of Wall Street bigwigs, corrupt judges who blatantly tipped the scales of justice, and a tainted media out of control through its own aversion toward spin and lies.
However, those stories that made Tucker red faced and spittin’ mad came from the mid-1900s in Montgomery County, Kansas — not the 24-hour news cycle of the modern mass media.
So, why did Tucker, a one-time Cherryvale newspaper publisher and an oil company promoter, get high blood pressure when he dealt with government and big business?
The story goes back to Tucker’s quest to make some quick cash in Montgomery County’s oil and gas boom of the early 1900s.
However, that journey to easy fortune was quickly halted by none other than John D. Rockefeller, who by 1905, was among the richest men in the world.
Rockefeller owned the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey — a monopolistic corporation that gradually influenced virtually every business aspect in the petroleum world.
And, Tucker owned a tiny refinery in Cherryvale called the Uncle Sam Oil Company — whose sole purpose was to lock horns with Rockefeller’s tentacles and cast the octopus into an eternal hell.
In Tucker’s world, Rockefeller and Standard Oil would lead to global ruination.
Rockefeller and Standard Oil saw Tucker nothing more than a rural Kansas nutcase who defrauded stockholders through a series of quick-rich schemes advertised in newspapers across the nation.
But, to muzzle the evangelical fervor coming from Tucker’s fiery tongue, Standard Oil would deploy every device to stop Henry Harrison Tucker, Jr., of Cherryvale, Kansas.
This would include using newspapers, judges, politicians, regulatory agencies, detectives and saboteurs to wreck Tucker’s fiery evangelism in the Kansas oil patch.
One way or another, Tucker was believed to be a quintessential hero for the Little Guy . . . or a professional crook who took advantage of prairie pocketbooks.
When the oil and gas boom began in Montgomery County in 1903, H.H. Tucker, Jr., gave up his job as a newspaper printer and publisher in Minneapolis, Kan., and made the journey to Cherryvale — the epicenter of the burgeoning petroleum industry.
He saw promises of wealth — fueled by speculation from wildcatters and oil barons alike that substantial wealth would come from under the crust of southeast Kansas.
So, Tucker invested in a lumber business in Cherryvale, believing that the oil and gas boom would require construction of new offices and homes.
But, he also learned that actual investment in oil properties could generate a faster return on his money compared to selling lumber, nails and screws to the masses.
Tucker, along with J.H. Ritchie, the publisher of the Cherryvale Republican newspaper, formed the Publishers’ Oil Company — a locally-grown company that attempted to solicit newspaper publishers as investors.
Enough money came to the company from the brethren of the Fourth Estate that Tucker and Ritchie actually drilled several oil wells in the Cherryvale area in 1904. Raw crude would be sucked from the ancient clay and transported by rail to Standard Oil’s small refinery in Neodesha.
Hundreds of other rookies to the oil and gas business did the same as Tucker and Ritchie. Oil flowed in eastern Kansas generously . . . perhaps too generously . . . as evident by Standard Oil’s decision to not buy any more crude oil from Kansas independent oil producers because the company, through its Kansas subsidiary called Prairie Oil and Gas Company, simply had no way of refining the surplus.
Even though Rockefeller was erecting new refineries in Sugar Creek, Mo., and Whitting, Ind., to handle the petroleum load, Rockefeller had few resources for storing or refining the existing crude oil supply in eastern Kansas.
As a result, the price of crude dropped faster than a nitroglycerine torpedo in a newly drilled oil well — leaving most independent producers like the Publishers’ Oil Company on the verge of starvation.
But, Standard Oil did more than leave the independents out in the cold. Rockefeller flexed his muscle by maintaining stiff railroad freight rates (made possible by key Standard Oil officers serving on the board of directors of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad) that made it practically impossible for independent producers to ship their oil.
At the same time, Rockefeller was quickly sniffing out the oil-rich ground of Indian Territory and Oklahoma, believing (correctly) that greater quantities of oil could be found south of Kansas.
As Rockefeller and his octopus of companies put Kansas independent oil producers in an economic vacuum, Standard Oil continued to grow. The company that had originally started in the oil patch in Pennsylvania and Ohio now had properties in all of the oil-producing states and was quickly becoming the biggest, baddest dog in the oil industry.
So miffed were the independent oilmen of Kansas that they appealed to the Kansas Legislature for relief in 1905. And, the Republican-controlled legislature took the extraordinary step of exiting the free market and imposing a series of regulatory laws designed to put the brakes on Standard Oil Company.
However, those radical attempts at quelling Standard Oil Company — which included a proposed state-owned, convict-operated oil refinery in Peru — could do little to bust Standard Oil’s trust on the petroleum industry.
Enter Henry Harrison Tucker, Jr., into the fray. Once an independent oil producer who sold his meager amounts of oil to Standard’s Neodesha refinery, Tucker took the trust-busting cause to a higher level. He scrapped the Publishers’ Oil Company and envisioned the construction of an oil company that would serve the interests of the midwestern oil producers while also appealing to the patriotic sentiments of Americans from coast to coast.
The name of the new company?
The Uncle Sam Refining Company.
The ultimate intent of the company?
To derail Rockefeller’s grip on the petroleum industry by offering Uncle Sam as a fierce competitor to Standard Oil Company.
And, so the company was born. Originally incorporated in the State of Arizona with headquarters in Cherryvale, the Uncle Sam Refining Company was established with ample fanfare, thanks to Tucker’s former interest in the newspaper business. As the Uncle Sam Refining Company was in its embryonic stage, Tucker immediately placed advertisements in most newspapers across the nation where he appealed for potential investors to invest in the company’s stock at the low price of 8 cents per share. The advertisements detailed Uncle Sam Refining Company’s dreams to build refineries in Cherryvale, Kan., Tulsa, Okla., and Atchison, Kan., with prospects of opening new markets along the East Coast, the Gulf Coast and even northern Europe.
And, on most every advertisement would be a depiction of the true Uncle Sam, holding scales that weighed the difference between Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company and the Uncle Sam Refining Company.
The Cherryvale refinery opened on July 4, 1905, with patriotic flavor. The commander of the Grand Army of the Republic issued the dedication address, and the refinery’s first rail cars — painted red, white and blue — rolled away with processed crude in their hulls.
Uncle Sam distribution stations were established across Kansas — both in big towns and small bergs. The Uncle Sam brand could be seen from Leavenworth to Liberal while Tucker continued to peddle his advertisements from Atlanta to Seattle.
Read one Uncle Sam advertisement in the Independence Daily Reporter in June 1905, “The Uncle Sam Company would rather have ten men go together and take one thousand shares each than to have a few men take a large amount of the stock. Better see your friends and raise a club and take ten, fifteen or twenty thousand shares right now.”
Did Americans respond to the newspaper advertisements emanating from Cherryvale?
They did — heavily.
After the first advertisements were placed in newspapers in 1905, Uncle Sam Refining Company had as many as 9,000 stockholders on the company books in as many as 20 different states. Higher dividends were promised to the stockholders while plans continued for future expansion continued to fill the columns of content in each advertisement.
Eventually, word of the Uncle Sam Refining Company reached the corporate board room of Standard Oil Company. Even though the tiny Uncle Sam Refining Company was just a blip on the Standard Oil Company’s radar, the company began to mount its defense.
Off came the gloves.
Standard Oil Company — through the newspaper Oil City Derrick of Oil City, Pa. — paid newspapers in Kansas to publish stories that charged Uncle Sam Refining Company as a fraud and a company bound for bankruptcy.
Tucker initially ignored the news stories, believing they were nothing more than propaganda from the Standard Oil Company machine.
However, all things changed in the April 1907 when a federal grand jury in Kansas City issued an indictment against Tucker for using the U.S. mail system to send misleading advertisements about the Uncle Sam Refining Company (the U.S. Postal Service at that time would bar the mailing of any materials that were deemed misleading or made untrue claims).
Compounding the severity of the federal indictment was the fact that several Uncle Sam Refining Company attorneys, who also were key members of the Republican Party, were issuing alarming letters to Uncle Sam stockholders unbeknownst to Tucker and other company officers. The letters made the impression that the Uncle Sam Refining Company, which, by 1907, had moved its headquarters from Cherryvale to Kansas City, was on the verge of insolvency. The letters asked whether the stockholders wished to reorganize the company with new officers in charge.
Whether the Uncle Sam Refining Company was hanging on bankruptcy’s cliff is unknown. However, it was discovered later that the Uncle Sam Refining Company attorneys in Topeka served as collectors for Standard Oil Company and the Prairie Oil and Gas Company of Kansas — meaning that the very company representing Tucker and the Uncle Sam company were also on Rockefeller’s payroll.
By the time the two-faced facet of the Uncle Sam Oil Company’s legal representatives was discovered, the damage had been done. The attorneys had successfully applied to have Uncle Sam Refining Company declared bankrupt and that a receiver be appointed to handle the company’s assets.
Tucker would learn those details upon his first court hearing in Kansas City on May 1907. But, a surprise would be in store for Tucker when he would enter the federal courthouse.
Judge John C. Pollock not only refused to hear any of Tucker’s motions but also declared Tucker was in contempt of court for seeking a new judge in the hearing. Why did Tucker want to remove Pollock from the bench? Tucker had various spies across the nation follow Pollock’s trail, noting that Pollock had been on a two-week vacation in Mexico with officers with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, which was influenced by Standard Oil Company, and other companies closely allied with Rockefeller.
Pollock was not amused at all and angrily threw Tucker, without a hearing or charge, into the Leavenworth County Jail for a period of 90 days while the bankruptcy proceeding took place in federal court.
Bail was set at an astronomical $15,000.
To top it off, the federal courts also enforced the U.S. Postal Service fraud order by declaring all mail addressed to “Uncle Sam Refining Company” be returned to the original addressee.
Among those letters were thousands of dollars of bank drafts and money orders from stockholders wishing to invest further into the company.
Another letter returned to the sender was a note from Tucker’s own mother telling her son of the death of his father.
Henry Harrison Tucker, Jr., did not go down without a fight. And, he used a resource that benefited his company from its inception: his writing pen.
While in jail, Tucker issued letters to newspapers across the midwest whereby he sought stockholders to provide money for his bail and to pay for any outstanding debts.
And, the pen proved mightier than the sword.
Tucker’s letters fully outlined his belief that Standard Oil Company was persecuting a tiny Kansas oil company, which, he said, only showed the brutality that Standard Oil was willing to inflict on American business. If Standard Oil was willing to spend thousands of dollars in propaganda and falsehoods to abuse H.H. Tucker, what else would the company do to rid itself of potential competitors, Tucker would ask in his letters.
Response to Tucker’s appeal letters was overwhelming, with thousands of residents sending more than $150,000 to Tucker directly (the mail fraud order only barred letters written to “Uncle Sam Refining Company”). The amount of contributed money would more than satisfy Tucker’s bail. It also would pay off all outstanding debts and reinvigorate the operating capital of the Uncle Sam Refining Company.
However, attempts to post the $15,000 bail would strangely slow to a crawl in court. Tucker would remain jailed for a total period of 90 days, during which time he put more words to use: he wrote a novel about his experiences dealing with Standard Oil Company.
“The Standard Against Uncle Sam: Machinery Of Injustice Lubricated By Standard Oil” was a 600-page, tell-all book that Tucker wrote in the same evangelical fashion that the Apostle Paul wrote in his many letters while also in jail. The book not only presented Tucker’s own version of his jailing and the charges against him by his own turncoat attorneys but also included letters from all Uncle Sam distribution station managers in Kansas and Oklahoma. The station managers’ letters — from places like Winfield, Beloit, Lindsborg, LaCrosse, Iola, El Dorado and Garden City — told about the bullying tactics they faced in their own towns from mysterious people who, the managers felt, were trying to stop Uncle Sam from doing business.
It was yet another attempt by Tucker to appeal to the consciousness and nerve of Americans, who, he believed, genuinely and instinctively favored honesty and fairness over big-time dollars.
Wrote Tucker in his prelude to the 600-page book, “I have written this book in defense of my own good name, which I prize more than riches; in defense of the Uncle Sam Oil Company, which is as dear to me as life itself, and to arouse the American people so that they will throw off the yoke of the most vicious, unscrupulous, greedy and tyrannical trust ever organized by man, and whip from place and power every henchman of the Standard Oil Company in the United States.”
To further strike the nerve of America, Tucker’s book also included biographical stories about his father, who was crippled during the Civil War and was denied a special pension by the U.S. military until late in life; his mother, who was born as a child of the prairie; and his wife, a Cherryvale native, who stood by her husband while she herself was interrogated by attorneys in federal court.
The book also includes letters from Tucker’s new attorney, Albert L. Wilson, a former Cherryvale lawyer who took on the huge task of representing Tucker while also fighting the mammoth muscle of John D. Rockefeller.
The book was designed to be a full-court press of defense on everything H.H. Tucker, Jr., believed in, stood for, and would fight for in his desire to rid the world of the giant octopus called Standard Oil Company.
“We are no ‘quitter’ and have tried to bear on like a soldier, and will go from the jail back to our office to continue hard work against the criminal trust, which we purpose to fight as long as we live, or until a square deal is secured for the large independent property interests we represent, jail or no jail, or come what may; and no one but cowards or aristocrats will think any the less of us for maintaining such a front, even though the persecutors have the arbitrary power to temporarily deprive us for our liberty; and even though they should accomplish further wrong against us, in time we will come out on top,” wrote Tucker in his final chapter of the book. “The truth is what hurts, and no official can keep the truth crushed to the earth, for it will rise again, as it always has, since the beginning of time.”
Next week’s story: Third time is a charm for H.H. Tucker, Jr.
Tag Cloud4-H Add new tag Amy Blagg armory budget Caney Caney City Council Caney Kansas Caney Mayfest Caney Valley Caney Valley Antique Power Association Caney Valley High School Caney Valley Historical Society Cherry Blossom Festival Cherryvale Cherryvale High School Cherryvale Kansas Coffeyville Coffeyville Community College fair FFA Field Kindley High School Fred Brown homecoming I Love Lucy Independence Independence Community College Kyler Blagg Larry McManus Mayfest Montgomery County Montgomery County Commission Montgomery County Rural Fire Department Montgomery County Rural Fire District #1 Randy Haymaker Riverside Park school South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad Tony Fowler USD 436 USD 447 veterans Vivian Vance Watco Wilbur Schwatken
- March 2013
- November 2012
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- February 2009
- January 2009
- December 2008
- November 2008
- October 2008
- September 2008
- August 2008
- July 2008
- June 2008