Years of futile oil drilling paid off unexpectedly for this wildcatter.
Stella Dysart spent decades searching for oil in New Mexico. In 1955, a radioactive uranium sample from one of her “dusters” made her a very wealthy woman.
In the end, it was the uranium — not petroleum — that made Dysart her fortune. The sometimes desperate promoter of New Mexico oil drilling ventures for more than 30 years, she once served time for fraud. But in 1955, Mrs. Dysart learned she owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore.
Born in 1878 in Slater, Missouri, Dysart moved to New Mexico, where she got into the petroleum and real estate business in 1923. She ultimately acquired a reported 150,000 acres in the remote Ambrosia Lake area 100 miles west of Albuquerque, on the southern edge of the oil-rich San Juan Basin.
Dysart established the New Mexico Oil Properties Association and the Dysart Oil Company. The ventures and other investment schemes would leave her broke, noted John Masters in his 2004 book, Secret Riches: Adventures of an Unreformed Oilman.
The author described Dysart as “a woman who drilled dry holes, peddled worthless parcels of land to thousands of dirt-poor investors, and went to jail for one of her crooked deals.”
Dysart subdivided her properties and subdivided again, selling one-eighth acre leases and oil royalties as small as one-six thousandth to investors. She drilled nothing but dry holes for years and years. Then it got worse.
A 1937 Workmen’s Compensation Act judgment against Dysart’s New Mexico Oil Properties Association bankrupted the company, compelling sale of its equipment, “sold as it now lies on the ground near Ambrosia Lake.”
Two years later, it got worse again. Dysart and five Dysart Oil Company co-defendants were charged with 60 counts of conspiracy, grand theft and violation of the corporate securities (act) in 1939. All were convicted, and all did time. Dysart served 15 months in the county jail before being released on probation in March 1941.
New Mexico Uranium
By 1952, 74-year-old Dysart was broke and $25,000 in debt. Then she met uranium prospector Louis Lothman. When Lothman in 1955 examined cuttings from a Dysart dry hole in McKinley County – he got impressive Geiger counter readings. Drilling several more test wells confirmed the results.
Dysart owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore. She was 78 years old when the December 10, 1955, Life magazine featured her picture captioned:
“Wealthy landowner, Mrs. Stella Dysart, stands before abandoned oil rig which she set up on her property in a long vain search for oil. Now uranium is being mined there and Mrs. Dysart, swathed in mink, gets a plump royalty.”
Praised for her success, and memories of fraudulent petroleum deals long forgotten, Dysart died in 1966 in Albuquerque at age 88. As Secret Riches author John Masters explained, “there must be a little more to her story, but as someone said of Truth – ‘it lies hidden in a crooked well.’”
More New Mexico petroleum history can be found in Farmington, including the exhibit “From Dinosaurs to Drill Bits” at the Farmington Museum.
Learn about the massive Hobbs oilfield of the late 1920s in New Mexico Oil Discovery.
Recommended Reading: Stella Dysart of Ambrosia Lake: Courage, Fortitude and Uranium in New Mexico (1959); Secret Riches: Adventures of an Unreformed Oilman (2004). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: Legend of “Mrs. Dysart’s Uranium Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/uranium. Last Updated: December 3, 2022. Original Published Date: April 29, 2013.