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Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, September 11, 1972

Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Assistant Secretary of the Interior, 1933-46; Under Secretary of the Interior, 1946-49; Secretary of the Interior, 1949-53.

Washington, DC
September 11, 1972
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Chapman Oral History Transcripts]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened 1980
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Washington, DC
September 11, 1972
Jerry N. Hess



HESS: All right, Mr. Chapman, to begin this morning, lets discuss tidelands oil and I'll read just a few excerpts from the book, The Tidelands Oil Controversy by Ernest R. Bartley. And on page 139 he has this paragraph:

So far, the Ickes-Pauley feud had no outward bearing on the question at issue. Ickes saw fit, however, to appear twice before the Senate Naval Affairs Committee in February, 1946, and there gave testimony to the effect that Pauley was unfit to be confirmed to the post to which he had been nominated by President Truman. It was the contention of Ickes that on 6 September 1944 he had had a conversation with Pauley concerning the difficulty of raising campaign funds for the 1944 presidential campaign. At this meeting, Ickes alleged, Pauley promised to raise three hundred thousand dollars for a Democratic war chest if in turn Ickes would see that the federal government no longer pushed its claims to the submerged lands. Ickes now fought Pauley’s nomination with every means at his disposal. He traced the background of Pauley's operations in California oil. He aired the dirty linen of the Navy in regards to methods used in the naval reserves at Elk Hills, showing the incompetence of the Navy and insinuating that the Navy was unable to take care of those reserves over which it already had control.


What do you recall about the tidelands oil matter and the Ickes-Pauley disagreement?

CHAPMAN: At first I was not in all of the conferences between Mr. Pauley and Secretary Ickes. I was in some and participated in some discussion of it, and there were quite a few memoranda that were written in the Department for the Secretary, giving factual information about matters that we were enhancing in relation to the tidelands oil.

Remember the tidelands oil issue had been brewing for many years; it wasn't something that came up just new overnight. It had been discussed back and forth by two different groups of people throughout the country. Let me say your intellectuals, and educated people, your educators, pretty generally understood the problem involved, the principle involved, in the tidelands issue, and then there were some very good articles written by one or two men that were very helpful in clarifying that issue. This is not an easy issue to clarify in


any one conference because that issue was of such a long standing. That fight had been going on so long that it would take a person considerable time to clarify and really do a research job on that specific subject. It would take time because there were so many people who had worked on that.

HESS: Wasn't it understood for a long time that the state did have ownership rights to the mineral contents of the submerged land from low tide to three miles out?

CHAPMAN: Well, generally it was done with the Government people. The State Department, in dealing with another country, would generally use the language of a three mile limit, but actually that had never been officially established one way or another. It had been used, and had been accepted as one of the principles in the discussion of this, that the state had at one time had some jurisdiction, but they had never obtained any


affirmative rights to the minerals under the sea. They had never established it. Texas was the only state that had a real sound legal base for justifying their claim to their right to their own lands under the whole state, because when they came into the Union, there was a condition in the legislation that they kept all their public land; they kept all of their land. They didn't give any to the Federal Government; they kept it all.

HESS: That's right, there are no public lands in Texas.

CHAPMAN: In Texas, no, never has been. It never has been...

HESS: Didn't they join the rest of the states by treaty?

CHAPMAN: Yes, they came into the Union really through a treaty arrangement. That was the process that they used to come in and at their request, and then at our consent, they were taken into the


Union by negotiations. Many points like this one were clarified in that, and that's something that should be read to see the basis for that clarification--to see why they were concerned about it. By they, I mean the oil operators who were operating on the coast line, and they were having to use very expensive materials to get these wells drilled and produced under the water. They discovered it was obviously a more expensive operation than just straight dry land drilling up on high land. And that was an expensive problem that developed into this submerged water land, and when the cost of it was discovered, that slowed down the pressure for a while, of many people wanting to get these leases, because they didn't think they could afford to finance them in most cases. But then pretty soon the major companies worked out the problems. The engineering problems especially were so expensive, but they worked that out pretty soon and got that straight.


Now you come back to the question. Mr. Pauley was one of many who had applications for leases on the submerged lands that he had filed with the states. He also held what is known as land script. We used to refer to them, and we do now in the language of the bill and the language of all the memos and so on that went into this, as "land script." That was land that had been given to some individual, or to some corporations in a few cases, because of contributions that they had made. It gave certain individuals a lease to that land because of some great contribution he had made in the Civil War.

HESS: That's right; a good deal of land script was given out to survivors of the Civil War.

CHAPMAN: That's right, and you see a lot of people who made contributions to the war effort on the Federal side, who got a lot of land script leases. He'd be given 50,000 acres on


such and such a coast line, and be identified that way and he'd be given so many acres--and it was free; it didn't cost him anything. It was a free gift, outright, and they began to sell that script to different individuals. They began to trade it sort of like they would stock on the market.

HESS: Mr. Bartley mentions on page 245 of his book that one of the people who did this was Mr. E. L. Cord. He identifies him as the "onetime manufacturer of the fabulous front-wheel drive Cord automobile." He and ten associates managed to find and buy a goodly amount of script reportedly exceeding one million dollars in the process. So Cord was one of the men who did this too. Now this was down...

CHAPMAN: Now he was one of the men that was taking a leading part in buying up all the script he could buy from different private citizens who had some grants given to them, and they'd sell that script


to Cord or his group; they'd buy it for a little of nothing as a rule.

HESS: Bartley said that Cord’s group filed applications in the Gulf of Mexico and California offshore lands in the extent of 4,138 acres. So, when the Government gave the land script they thought it was to be used for land out West, but Cord and his associates were taking it and trying to obtain offshore submerged oil leases, right?

CHAPMAN: That was principally what they got off on. They wanted the submerged land to drill under when they discovered that it was so perfected in certain places, and those wells are rather productive when they do hit them.

HESS: You get your money back, don't you?

CHAPMAN: You do, and you can get it back and you get it back rather fast; and with this write-off that they have on their tax situation, they get that written off very fast. Of course, remember in


most cases they bought those leases for very little or nothing. Cord bought up for himself and this group; he bought up a lot of land I've forgotten how many acres it was, but it was a very large amount.

HESS: Well, it says here 4,138.

CHAPMAN: Well, that's about right; that's about what my memory is, that...

HESS: They went down to the Gulf of Mexico and positioned themselves around where he thought oil might be found; 1,932 acres he filed applications on, of submerged lands in the Gulf of Mexico. Bartley said that he tried to bunch some of the script in one acre parcels around 34 producing wells. So, he would go out where there was a producing well and then lay claim to submerged lands around it.

CHAPMAN: That's right.

HESS: It says on November the 21st of 1951, you refused


to exchange the land for the land script on the grounds that the tracts were not public lands.

CHAPMAN: That's right.

I stuck to the principle that those lands were really not public lands, that the Federal Government had not made a final decision on that point. The court had never determined the issuing of th