Horace Greeley Johnston
Navarro County, Texas


Biography Index || Oil Industry


Horace Greeley Johnston was born in 1851 at the family farm near Canton, Ohio. He was the son of Alexander and Lavinia Johnston. His father was a successful and popular educator as well as a substantial agriculturist.  H. G. Johnston attended Canton, Ohio schools and Greensburg Seminary where he gained technical and practical instruction as a surveyor and civil engineer. At the age of 28, he was surveying and building railroads in the mid-west. Well drilling interested him too, and he began his career in this capacity in the Salina, Kan. salt fields using cable tools. There he met Charles Rittersbacher.  In 1891, H.G. Johnston came to Texas with his partners, Emil H. Aiken and Charles Rittersbacher (b. 1857 in Wilkes Barre, Pa d. 1919, Los Angeles, Calif.), to drill a water well in Marlin, Texas. In 1893, they came to Corsicana to complete a well that had been started for the state orphans home. Later the same year, this firm contracted to drill three water wells for Corsicana economic development purposes. While drilling the first well on South Twelfth, they discovered oil at 1,035 feet, to the worker's dismay, and water at 2,470 feet. It proved to be of commercial grade.

 Shortly after 1893, the development of the Corsicana shallow oil field was started and H. G. Johnston and his associates continued to contract to drill wells as the firm American Well and Prospecting Company. Johnston was company president. Aiken sold out to his partners. Soon they started a small machine repair shop for their own convenience. This grew into an oil machinery repair firm serving other drolleries.  Johnston began to study the rotary method of drilling. He bought patent rights to some rotary drilling devices from M. C. and C. E. Baker in 1900. American Well and Prospecting became the first firm to manufacture and distribute rotary drilling equipment. He was credited with being the foremost developer of rotary equipment in America. His machinery - "Gumbo Buster" - has been used in every oil field in the world. His company not only pioneered the development of the oil industry in Corsicana but also was actively identified with the development of other
fields in Kansas, Oklahoma, East Texas and the Los Angeles, Calif., area.  Rittersbacher moved to Bartlesville, OK. then Los Angeles, Calif., handling sales and distribution. During World War II, the firm became a war materiel plant making bomb casings, shells and anchors. The firm's stock was sold to Bethlehem Steel on 30 June 1944.

 H. G. Johnston was active in the development of Corsicana and had extensive real estate in and out of the city. At the time of his death in 1930, he was vice president, director, and a large stockholder of the old Corsicana National Bank, and was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Horace Greeley Johnston (b. 15 Apr 1851 d. 10 Dec 1930) married Mary Genevieve Chancey on 29 Dec 1898 in Navarro County. 

They had four children:

 * Anna Ellen Johnston (Bef. 1906) m. Lowell R. Estes (24 Jan 1904 d 26 Dec 1990) who was president of AW&P and then worked for Bethlehem Steel in Corsicana and Tulsa, Okla.

 * Eliot Alexander Johnston: graduate Corsicana schools, Oklahoma University; (b. 12 Oct 1906 d. Sep 1996) m. on 26 Jun 1928 in Corsicana, Texas, Laura McGee Fortson b. 7 Aug 1907 in Rice, Tex. 

* Horace Greeley Johnston Jr.  (b. bet 1907- 1913 d. 29 Apr 1940 in a house fire) m. Mary
 * Lewin Newton Johnston (b 7 Aug 1914 d. 22 Feb 1996) m. Opal A. Jordan (d16 Jun 1997) 14 Jan 1934  Genevieve Chancey (b. 21 Dec 1874 d. 31 Jul 1957) a native of Corsicana, was the granddaughter of J. Malcom Eliot (1826-1876), a surveyor, who came from Illinois to Texas in 1849. He married Susan Waterhouse (1834-1888) on 20 Jul 1852 in Navarro County. She had come to Texas from Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 1850.

One of their daughters, Ellen P. Eliot (1855-1937) was born in Navarro County in 1855. She married Thomas L. Chancey (1849-1884) on 29 Dec 1870 in Navarro County. They were the parents of Genevieve Chancey.  Genevieve Chancey was an active member of the Presbyterian Church and served on the Board of Directors for the First National Bank and the Twilight Home. 

By Laura Fortson Johnston, for Vol. 2 Navarro Co. History,  with some additions by Ann Fortson Marcy

Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox