Hold Your Horses

I have a daughter that has always wanted a horse for Christmas. I made her a deal; I would buy the horse if she would buy the feed. She still doesn’t understand why the feed is the problem and therefore she doesn’t have a horse.

Horses have always been a crucial part of Butler County history. Whether your talking about horse-power in oil field and farm equipment or literal horses. Horses have been the driving force of progress and industry.

In fact, the first white settler in El Dorado to “stick it out” was William Hildebrande. He arrived in May of 1857 and helped with the organization and establishment of El Dorado. However, Hildebrande’s neighbors also believed his home was a rendezvous for those who partook in the act of horse thievery. In 1859, a party of neighbors surrounded his home, flogged him and gave him 24 hours to leave the county. He didn’t stick around for a second notice.

In 1870, Butler County, especially around the Douglass area, was notorious for harboring horse thieves. In late May of that year, thieves killed two young men on the trail from El Dorado to Wichita for their team of horses. To cover their tracks, they hung the two men’s bodies with notes pinned to them accusing the victims of being horse thieves. Soon the ruse was discovered. The lack of law enforcement in the county finally forced settlers to take the law into their own hands.

On November 8th, a band of mounted men visited the settlement of Douglass. Discovering where Lewis Booth and James Smith resided, they ambushed their houses. The day the band of vigilantes visited Douglas, Smith had just returned from Wichita, where he and Jack Corbin had picked up a stolen army horse. Smith attempted to flee the party and was shot midstream crossing the Little Walnut.

Jack Corbin wasn't so lucky. The vigilantes made to lynch Corbin. They lifted him by the neck several times to persuade him to give up the names of the rest of the gang. Apparently, he did so before he was lifted off the ground one last time and left hanging in the tree as an ornament to discourage other thieves during the holiday season. In all, four thieves were killed. Corbin’s confession led the vigilantes to put the town under martial law for the rest of November. It also led to the discovery of four other horse thieves.

On December 1, 1870, four men implicated by Jack Corbin were taken into custody by the vigilantes. The prisoners were taken to a place about a mile south of Douglass and hanged. This action seemed to satisfy the vigilantes and Douglass began to return to normal. John “Pony” Donovan also took this as his cue and left Butler County. He was believed to be the ringleader of the thieves and with his departure things settled down.

One thing is clear, the people of Butler County take their horses seriously. Over time the vigilante groups organized into more law abiding associations known as Kansas Anti-Horse Thief Societies. What seems like a radical response today was in fact a desperate effort to protect the very existence of the people of Butler County.

While I cannot advocate hangings and vigilante groups, there is a lesson to be learned from this era of Butler County history for organizations and non-profits. Volunteers provide the horsepower that makes these organizations work. We must do a better job protecting and caring for those who add so much value and enable our very existence. We need to do a better job holding our horses!

I want to invite you to join us for “Hold Your Horses” at 6:00 pm on December 21, 2016. A meal will be provided, seating is limited and tickets are available at the museum. This event will include a special presentation by John Burchill on the “Kansas Anti-Horse Thief Societies”. It will also be a special time of honoring the volunteers of the Kansas Oil Museum. They truly make all the difference in the world.

We hope you will join us for this presentation. Contact the museum for more details. During this holiday season, don’t forget to thank those who provide the horsepower to accomplish the causes for which you care so much. Volunteers are truly worth our honor and respect.

© 2015 Warren Martin. All Rights Reserved.

An Unsuspecting Hero: It could be you!

One of the most successful Marine Corsair aces and “one of the deadliest fighter pilots the Corps ever produced” (according to aviation author Barrett Tillman) was First Lieutenant Wilbur J. Thomas. Credited with 18.5 kills, plus 4 other probable hits and 113 enemy ships; Thomas was the 7th best flying ace in the Marine Corps for both World War II and the Korean War. However, growing up in El Dorado, Jack was a very unsuspecting future hero. His life is an example of how the right person with the right skills and training at the right time can accomplish greatness.


Wilbur Jackson (“Jack”) Thomas was born 29 October 29 1920 in El Dorado to Edgar J. and Mabel Thomas. He grew up in El Dorado and was in the first class to graduate from the new high school located in the 500 block of West Central in 1938. He attended El Dorado Junior College housed in the same building, graduating in 1941.

Jack was known to be soft-spoken, forthright and dependable. At the same time he had a seriousness about him that spoke of his determination to succeed. Smaller in stature than the average male of the time, he didn’t excel in athletics. But his physique was ideal for manning the controls of a modern fighter plane. In fact, Jack always had a passion for airplanes and was known to hang out at the airport on a regular basis.

There is much in Jack’s life that speaks to his determination to succeed. During college, Jack joined and became an integral part of DeMolay. This was an organization dedicated to preparing young men for successful and productive lives. It focused on the development of civic awareness, personal responsibility and leadership skills. Walt Disney, John Wayne and Walter Cronkite are just a few of the notable DeMolay alumni and Jack was notable in his own right. He was cited for the organizations highest award, the DeMolay Legion of Honor.

After joining the military during World War II, Jack was originally stationed at the rear area of New Hebrides. He was finally transferred to the combat zone and flew his first missions in June and July 1943.

During his first mission 30 June 1943, Jack would score four Zeros. That day fifteen Zeros attacked his squadron. Jack got separated from the group and was pursued by seven Zeros. He turned into the Japanese and shot down four of them. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions that day.

His combat career is remarkable because he scored most of his kills in a one-month period during the hotly contested landings on Rendova and Vangunu islands in mid-1944. However, Jack wasn’t always on the giving end. On occasion, he was on the receiving end of the fire fight.

On September 23, after shooting down three Zeros and splitting a fourth with his wingman, Jack’s plane had taken hits that severed his oil lines. He glided his plane down to 3,000 feet before bailing out into the ocean. He made it to the safety of his rubber raft, paddled out of the enemies grasp and waited for ten hours for a flying boat to set down and pick him up.

In total, Jack crashed planes four times during the war. Twice he crashed on land and twice over the Pacific. He survived each. However, like many young aces who managed to survive the war, now-Captain Thomas would die in a routine mission state-side flying a plane to the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California in January of 1947.

Jack’s story is that of a hero. However, he was a very unsuspecting hero. In him, you see a man that was determined. You also see the importance of aligning your gifts and abilities with what needs to be accomplished. You see what happens when the right person, with the right abilities applies themselves at the right time to accomplish greatness.

There is a great lesson to be learned in Jack’s story, especially for non-profits and organizations. You can’t plug everyone into every position and expect greatness. Jack found his niche and became a hero. We must spend time developing and growing as individuals to advance our unique skills. We must look for the unique skills and abilities others bring to the table. Then, we must be willing to change how we function to make sure that each team member is positioned to have the opportunity to accomplish something great.

The Kansas Oil Museum is dedicated to building a team of staff, volunteers and partnerships to accomplish something extraordinary. This requires making sure each person is uniquely positioned according to their gifts and abilities. We are currently building our team in order to make a greater investment in the lives of others and we invite you to join us in this effort. If you would like to find out more about joining our team, please come by the museum for more information.

© 2015 Warren Martin. All Rights Reserved.

How Do You Say Thanks?

For what are you truly thankful?

Most people will consider this question to a greater or lesser degree this holiday weekend. Believe it or not, a big part of the mission of the Kansas Oil Museum is to help people answer that very question. However, it maybe more beneficial to consider it from a slightly different perspective; how do you say thank you?

This is really the only time of the year where we consider the plight of the pilgrims and how they overcame the odds (with help from Native Americans) to establish a New World. They are the practical beginning of this great nation. Every year we bring out the pilgrim hats, carve up the turkey, and say “thank you” to the pilgrims.

Now you might question whether or not we actually say thank you to the pilgrims. After all, when families go around the table stating what they are thankful for, I doubt very seriously that pilgrims come up very often. However, we do say thank you in a real and meaningful way; we remember them!

I believe the greatest way you can say thank you is to remember someone. Remember who they are, what they did, and how they impacted the lives of others. Aren’t we saying we are thankful for our spouse when we remember an anniversary, birthday, or Valentine’s Day!

We say thank you to the pilgrims by remembering them. We say thank you to our veterans by remembering them. We especially say thank you when we take steps to preserve and protect their memory. When we become torchbearers of another person’s legacy, we are saying THANK YOU!

The Kansas Oil Museum is dedicated to being a diligent torchbearer of the legacy of the people of Butler County and the Kansas oil and gas industry. We preserve and promote the people, artifacts and information that established the community and made it what it is today. We are also actively engaged in the community to record for future generations the history that is being made every single day.

Part of that engagement is our partnerships with other entities and especially public schools. We just finished the first semester of our on campus pilot program with El Dorado Middle School and Oil Hill Elementary School. This pilot program has involved taking artifacts and activities into the classrooms to teach history. We also just completed a partnership with El Dorado High School where senior history class students led all of the El Dorado 3rd grade students on a bus tour to 15 historic stops throughout the community.

These programs and others are how we say thank you. Thank you to the pioneers who opened this land. Thank you to the founding fathers of this community. Thank you to the movers and shakers who made this community great. And thank you to the citizens of today who are striving to make El Dorado, Butler County and Kansas even greater!

This Thanksgiving don’t forget to say thanks by remembering those people who have given you the opportunities you have today! This is the mission of the Kansas Oil Museum and we invite you to join us this holiday season.

© 2015 Warren Martin. All Rights Reserved.