WALTERS, COLONEL ELLSWORTH (1865-1946)
Colonel (his real name) Ellsworth Walters was known as "the official auctioneer of the Osage Nation" for his role in the petroleum industry in the early twentieth century. Born at Adrian, Illinois, on August 21, 1865, he was named in honor of Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, the first publicized Union casualty of the Civil War. Walters moved with his parents to the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, in 1866, and grew up near present Chouteau, Oklahoma, where his father worked among the Cherokee.
Walters became a deputy U.S. marshal at age nineteen, but he gained distinction as an auctioneer. Self-styled as "the world's champion auctioneer," he reportedly sold livestock, real estate, and mineral leases in some twenty states. In 1916 he was hired by Osage Indian agent J. George Wright to auction mineral leases within the Osage oil fields.
Walters conducted the public sales at Pawhuska beneath the Million Dollar Elm and inside the Constantine and Kiheka theaters. The auctions often lasted ten hours or more and were attended by such notable oilmen as Ernest W. Marland, Frank Phillips, L. E. (Lee Eldas) Phillips, and William G. Skelly. On March 18, 1924, Walters secured a bid of $1,995,000 from Josh Cosden, at that time the highest-paid price for a 160-acre tract. By 1928 Walters had earned around $157 million for the Osage tribe. He presided over the lease auctions throughout the 1930s.
The Osage expressed their appreciation for Walters by giving him a diamond-studded badge and a diamond ring. He repaid their kindness in 1926 by commissioning the Bond of Friendship, a life-size statue of Walters and Osage Chief Bacon Rind shaking hands. The monument is located in Walters's hometown, Skedee, Oklahoma. He died February 15, 1946, and was buried at Fairfax, Oklahoma.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bill Burchardt, "Osage Oil," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 41 (Autumn 1963). Robert Gregory, Oil in Oklahoma (Muskogee, Okla.: Leake Industries, 1976). Colonel E. Walters interview, Indian-Pioneer History, Vol. 48, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Terry P. Wilson, The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985).
Jon D. May
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