By Dr. Curtis Varnell
There were some disgusted oil drillers in 1904 when the well they were drilling suddenly exploded and threw thousands of gallons of water high into the air. Drilling on the John Anhalt place just south of the small town of Shoal Creek, the men had hoped to hit a gusher of oil, not the cold, clear liquid that was falling all around them.
Day after day went by and the water continued flowing. The oil company had drilled over 500 feet and had hit anything but a dry hole. Known as an artesian, the water confined between two layers of impenetrable rock has nowhere to go until an opening in the rock above allows it to shot upward. Under extreme pressure, the water shoots to the surface and continues to flow until the aquifer is emptied.
The artesian well is located on the Old Military Road, near the center of the small town once known as Shoal Creek. In 1900, the town had a population of around 100 individuals. The population consisted of a mixed population of early Methodist settlers and later German families who settled around the church and girls school known as St. Scholastica. Several stores, a sawmill, sorghum mill, a gin, and a saloon surrounded the well. Located on the main thoroughfare thru the area, it attracted some rough customers who liked to hang around the local saloon and partake of its products. Not long after the well was drilled, a group of these men robbed the store owned by Anton Anhalt. Stopping at the well, they blew the door off the iron safe, took what wealth was located within, and left the safe sitting. The safe was pulled beneath the outlet to the artesian well and has sat there for over one hundred years, catching the thousands of gallons of water that flows freely from beneath the earth.
The icy cold water overflows the safe, cuts a channel and runs into nearby Peedee creek. The free flowing stream soon became the favorite stopping place for thirsty travelers as well as for kids looking for a nice stream in which to splash and swim. Churches and family groups began having socials there, wagons arriving from miles around carrying congregations that loved to sing, visit, and share meals. Tables covered with ham, dressing, cakes and pies were scattered beneath the huge oak trees as people milled around the grounds. Many gallons of home-made ice cream were churned on the site, all providing respite to the hard-working farmers and families that eked out a living trying to raise food crops and cotton on the relatively poor soils of the area.
Highway 22 bypassed the area in the late 20’s and the town slowly declined. Fewer family gatherings occurred but the Lewis and Wise families continued hosting family reunions on site. As a teenager hauling hay for Joe Caldwell and other local farmers, we couldn’t wait till we could stop off there on the way from the field to the barn and partake of the water, splashing each other with the ice cold water. When out of state visitors came, we always visited the artesian and enjoyed their astonishment that water came forth with spigot, pump, or faucet.
On a recent afternoon, my children and I ride by on four-wheelers. One hundred fifteen years after being created by accident, the well still flows into the old bank safe. Both boys gulp down a pint or so of the iron-bearing liquid. “Dad, where does this water all come from, one asks? My answer is the same as my dad’s and grandads: Just a gift from God and roughnecks!!!