North Dakota Geological Survey

Sheldon's Outlaw Well

[Note: This article is included in The Sheldon ND Centennial (1981) Book, and is titled "Sheldon Community History." The book was a community-wide effort to record the history of Sheldon, chaired by Alice Marie Krueger. The author of the article is not known - JPB].

From the Sheldon Enterprise, Friday, September 23, 1892. The following is talk about town:

"Some time ago an effort was made to induce the town to put in an artesian well but as there was only a few agitators the idea was given up and nothing has been said about it since. The other day while in conversation with Mr. Fitzgerald he informed us the Sheldon Roller Mill (Sorenson's) will give a $1000 a year for six years if the town will put down a well that will give 110 pounds of pressure and allow them to use the power to run the mill. This seems like a liberal offer as the well, with favorable circumstances, could be completed to a depth of 1,500 for less than $3000. Why not look thoroughly into the matter and give the liberal offer due consideration. If the town will not take the enterprise in hand it seems like some individual capitalist could make quite a handsome sum if he has the nerve to invest a few thousand. There is not a citizen in town that would not contribute liberally toward such an undertaking."

Years later an account of the drilling of an artesian well is recounted in the following personal recording by Harlan Buss with the reference to the first Artesian well drilled in Sheldon in April, 1906.

"I will attempt to outline the facts regarding the drilling of the famous "Outlaw Well" located near the Sheldon swimming pool (northwest edge of Sheldon). I had an opportunity to visit with John Dahm, a house painter in the Sheldon area during my younger years, who related to me a very interesting story. After my visit with him on that wintry day in 1953 in Tommy Pierce's Allis Chalmers Agency in Enderlin, ND, it occurred to me that he might, in fact have witnessed the drilling of this said well. When I questioned him about this possibility, he immediately said "yes" and the following are, to the best of my knowledge, his remarks:

This well was drilled with the old-fashioned artesian well-drilling equipment available at that time - way before the existence of the rotary drill. The well driller used a large rope which ran from his hand, went over a huge pulley, attached to the drill line, and in this manner the drill rig used the "stomping" action.

After the first days drilling, going down approximately 40 feet using a five-inch drill bit, the drill line struck a rock. Since it was proposed that the casing would be sunk 80 to 100 feet down, and knowing it had to be imbedded into a solid foundation, no rock was anticipated at this higher level.

After several days of trying to break though this rock and twice replacing worn out bits, they were finally successful in drilling a hole through the forty-foot level rock. They continued on down with the five-inch bit to an area which consisted of rock they felt would be solid enough to form a base for the casing, and in this manner force the water to come up inside the casing.

The drill line was raised and installation of the casing began. However, on the day the casing began to be lowered, the drill foreman was not at the well site. Apparently after the drill line had been raised, unbeknownst to the well driller, the rock had shifted enough so that when the casing was lowered to the forty foot level, it did not meet with the hole that had been previously drilled to allow it to go beyond.

The assistant foreman was undecided as to the next move to be taken and consequently, went into town searching for the drill foremen, who was reported to be involved in a large poker game at the livery stable, which was across from the now existing Farmers Elevator. When he got to the livery stable, the drill foreman, being very much involved in his poker game, quickly instructed the assistant to take a chance, to leave the casing at the forty-foot level hoping it would hold, to attach a smaller drill bit in order to locate the hole in the rock, and then go down and get the water. These instructions were followed, and after several days of drilling the smaller bit, they reached the third artesian vein and elected to "take-' er -all" since water was needed for the entire town.

As you know, the primary principle of the five-inch bit was to go down to hard rock and then drive in the casing. However, since the drill foreman didn't have his "heart" at the well, and elected to discontinue getting the casing any deeper than this forty-foot level, when the well came in, an unbelievable amount of water came up form the outside of the casing. John Dahm was at the well site when the well came in. John stated that the water shot 150 to 200 feet into the air and mushroomed out. He said that you could work around the well and actually stay perfectly dry since the water formed an umbrella-type effect. Since they were unable to force most of the water up through the drill pipe, it was then decided to force the next larger size casing. It was imperative that the water be forced through the drill pipe, knowing that this huge excess amount of water coming up from around the outside of the casing had to be stopped or it would wash away the entire well site in a short period of time. The drilling company made two more attempts with larger pipe coming in via the railroad to force this water inside. It finally had to be abandoned. At this time, a ditch was dug measuring approximately 13 feet wide by 4 to 5 feet deep, from the well site to the Maple River, taking advantage of the existing low-lying areas on the way to the river. The ditch was necessary so the water would be drained from the area.

After the well site was abandoned, there was great concern amongst the townspeople as to whether this hole would continue expanding underground causing concern for the safety of the town itself. However, after a fire in the town around 1948, a considerable amount of water was drawn from the hole; and according to Loval Good, a resident of Sheldon, it was discovered that the hole tapered inward rather than branching out, consequently, eliminated any danger of the surrounding area collapsing. The well is still running today from an open hole!"

The May 8, 1908, Sheldon Progress reports the following lawsuit: "The suit against the Village of Sheldon instituted by a number of the neighboring farmers north of town claiming damages owing to the overflowing of their land due to the artesian well, will be amicably settled at the present term of court. A conference was held last week between the plaintiffs and the Village Board at which an agreement was reached as to the amount of damages to be paid. So all that is now required is to have the court pass upon it in a formal way."