Archive for April, 2009

From Crude to Refined: Standard Oil Comes to Baton Rouge

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Stanocola Refinery Band

Stanocola Refinery Band

Exhibition features photographs from 1909

On display through August 15, 2009

In 1909, Standard Oil executive John Adam Bechtold was one of a team sent by Standard Oil to establish operations in Baton Rouge.  On April 13, 1909, Standard Oil filed a charter in Baton Rouge. An excerpt from that document outlines the magnitude of activities planned by the company:

To prospect and bore for, mine, market and sell petroleum and gas; to purchase, transport, sell, produce, refine and export petroleum and its products, and to manufacture the by-products therefrom arising; to buy and sell naval stores; to lease or construct, maintain and operate pipe lines, with proper pumping stations and storage tanks for the distribution and storage of petroleum or gas, and in connection therewith, to erect, maintain and operate a telegraph or telephone line or lines; to charter, own and operate ships, tugs, barges and other vessels for the transportation of petroleum and its products, and to lease or own or operate wharves and docks, tanks, cars and other equipment necessary for the transportation of petroleum and its byproducts by land or water, and generally to have, hold and exercise all such incidental powers and privileges as relate to the objects herewith above set forth.

Fortunately for us, Bechtold was an amateur photographer, who was fascinated by the great adventure of building a refinery.  He focused his lens on the construction, catching mule teams as they graded earth to build the refinery, men as they wait to be paid, the destruction caused by the 1909 hurricane, and the arrival of the first trainload of crude from Muskogee, Oklahoma.  He also photographed family and friends, giving us a glimpse of Baton Rouge at a time when horses and mules still provided much of the transportation in town and the Stanocola Band provided entertainment at civic events. 

The exhibition includes more than 30 images reproduced from an album the Bechtold family put together, which has been preserved and passed down to Mrs. Marna Shortess, J.A. Bechtold’s granddaughter.  More than a dozen images in the original album are also on display, as well as materials from the Libraries’ Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, which show the importance of Standard Oil and its successor companies in the history of Baton Rouge. 

LSU Acquires Claiborne Archive

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Engraving of William C. C. Claiborne by John B. Longacre.

The LSU Libraries Special Collections recently acquired a small but important William C. C. Claiborne archive that contains very useful sources on the territorial post at Natchitoches, relations with the Creole French and Spanish and Native Americans in the Natchitoches area, and efforts to establish American rule and governmental structure in territorial Louisiana. The bulk of the eighteen item collection dates from 1805, but documents from 1805 to 1812 are included. It is comprised primarily of letters to Claiborne from and affidavits taken by Dr. John Sibley, Justice of the Peace at Natchitoches and U.S. Indian Agent.

Sibley’s letters are newsy and descriptive, and they provide both a sense of the danger and uncertainty on the ambiguous border between Spanish Texas and Louisiana and local attitudes toward the new American government, so recently established in New Orleans. For example, two affidavits forwarded by Sibley describe instances of “Spanish depredations” against citizens in which they took horses and goods. Additional affidavits record Natchitoches residents’ experiences living at and knowledge of the location of “ancient” French posts and Caddo settlements, apparently in an attempt to identify lands useful for further settlement. In a letter of 3 March 1805, Sibley relates efforts to equip the local Native Americans for farming and to win their allegiance over the Spanish, as well as the organization of the Caddo nation and fighting and alliances among its members– “the nearly thirty tribes in what I sepose to be Louisiana south of the Arkansas River.” Further, Sibley addresses topics from the need to regulate weights and measures to disputes about how to handle runaway slaves, how national politics are playing out locally, and the sense of those in the “Interior of the Territory” that they are being neglected in favor of New Orleans. He writes, “I hope they [the Legislature] will not give us reason to draw unfavorable inferences relative to their industry or capacity or reason. I think that they sepose the object of their creation was only to regulate New Orleans. We wish them to understand that we consider ourselves much neglected.”

In addition to the Sibley letters, the collection includes miscellaneous documents related to Claiborne’s family, a letter from Claiborne to his father recommending Gen. James Wilkinson (whom he describes as having served his country with fidelity), and two letters from Captain Edward Turner, Civil Commandant of the District of Natchitoches. Turner’s letters further illustrate the uneasy relations between the Creoles and the Americans. He reports the Creoles’ “wait and see” attitude about embracing the Americans, with them apparently hoping for the territory to be taken by the Spanish, and the role religion played in the mingling (or not) of the two populations. He writes, “They [Creoles] proposed to discountenance all persons settling within the district but true Romans, and they were to bind themselves to each other, to throw stumbling blocks in the way of any settler of different religious tenets- and to permit no person but a Roman Catholic to enter Church.”

This brief description gives only a hint of the rich sources in this collection. Though the documents are few in number, their writers were articulate, politically savvy, and, luckily for us, eager and able to convey a sense of the challenges of their duties and of the place in which they found themselves.

For additional information on this acquisition, contact Curator of Manuscripts Tara Laver,

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