“I Was Born into a Red Land”

Everette Lee DeGolyer, photographed with his younger siblings Homer and Christine. Circa 1895.

Everette Lee DeGolyer was born October 9, 1886, in a sod house near Greensburg, Kansas. He was the first-born child of John and Narcissa (Huddle) DeGolyer. The couple had married April 17, 1883, at Iuka, Marion County, Illinois. John DeGolyer was a native of Indiana, born at Napoleonville, January 26, 1859. Narcissa Huddle was born in East Saint Louis, Illinois. A restless man, John DeGolyer was farming a homestead in Kansas in 1886, but his real interest was in prospecting for zinc and lead. Profitable discoveries, however, eluded him. A tornado struck the DeGolyer farm a few weeks after Everette was born, tearing the roof from the sod house but leaving untouched the part where mother and infant lay. Combined with an unrelenting drought, prospects in Kansas didn’t appear to be glowing, and by 1889 John DeGolyer decided to move back east, or at least as far as the neighborhood of Joplin, Missouri, renowned at the time for the mineral wealth in the area.

He traded his Kansas farm for a wagon and team, and headed for Missouri, stopping periodically along the way to unload the rocking chair so that Narcissa could rock the young Everette to sleep. John and Narcissa settled in Marionville, Missouri, where their second child, a daughter, Edith Christine, was born, August 29, 1890. Two years later, the family circle was complete with the birth of Homer Lewis DeGolyer, on November 13, 1892. By that time, the DeGolyers were living in Aurora, Missouri. At each stop along the way, John DeGolyer supplemented his income from prospecting by operating restaurants (wherein Everette learned to cook, a skill that would come in handy later while he was a field geologist for the USGS).

In 1901, John DeGolyer finally got his stake in the Oklahoma land lottery near the town of Hobart, and the DeGolyers moved again. But the family didn’t stay in Hobart long, moving to Oklahoma City for a time and finally to Norman in 1904, where Everette enrolled in the high school division of the University of Oklahoma. This was the most stable period of young Everette’s life, where he was able to pursue his much-interrupted education and think about his future. While his father never found wealth through mining, Everette was determined to be a miner himself. “I was born into a red land, and I will always love a red land best,” he wrote years later.

Source: Lon Tinkle, Mr. De: A Biography of Everette Lee DeGolyer (1970)