Shriners to honor legacy of oil town

When Butler County Shriners honor the legacy of Midian this week, they will do so with a barbecue and the hopes the town that once boasted 4,000 residents will again be celebrated.

Now a ghost town, Midian was one of nearly 20 oilfield lease communities that sprung up in Butler County after oil was discovered in 1915.

Underneath and surrounding Midian were the fields that proved to be a major source of oil for the Allied effort during World War I and was the reason men with names such as Derby, Vickers and Sinclair became powerful.

The Shriners are celebrating the town with a cookout at 5 p.m. Oct. 21.

Drive down K-254 today and little evidence remains of the town that once stood near Shumway Road, about three miles east of Towanda.

"It was kind of an up-and coming place for a while," said Teresa Bachman, executive director of the Butler County History Center and Kansas Oil Museum. "There was a time it had a ton of wells. It was like a forest between there and Towanda — just a ton of derricks."

Reportedly, in 1916, 11 men — all Shriners — formed a company to drill for oil. They were all involved in trapshooting as a hobby.

They called themselves the "Trapshooter Oil Co." and on May 15, 1917, when a gusher came roaring in, they called it "Trapshooter No. 1."

That first well produced more than 400 barrels a day, said John Stewart, president of the Butler County Shrine Club.

But it was Trapshooter 2 and Trapshooter 3 that proved to be legendary in the oil field business. Trapshooter 2 reportedly produced 12,000 barrels a day and 3 came in at 20,000 a day.

"It was one of the most productive areas in oil history — anywhere," Stewart said.

The town soon boasted a two-story red brick school and basement, along with a dormitory for teachers. Shotgun-style bungalow houses sprung up almost overnight.

And then, almost as quickly as it was created, it was over.

Midian's heyday was from 1918 to 1940.

By the mid 1990s, all that remained of the town was an old iron arch that marked the entrance to a cemetery that had been long ago relocated.

The celebration of the town's legacy is being held this year because "no one has ever done it before," Stewart said.

"Among our 2,300 members, few had heard of the town," he said. "We are commemorating the fact that it existed and was named after us."