Stella Dysart spent decades fruitlessly searching for oil in New Mexico. In 1955, a radioactive uranium sample from one of her dry holes made her very rich.

uranium

Life magazine featured Stella Dysart in front of a drilling rig in 1955, soon after making a fortune from uranium after three decades as of failure in petroleum drilling ventures.

In the end, it was the uranium – not petroleum – that made Dysart a wealthy woman. 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  found that 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, notes John Masters in his 2004 book, Secret Riches: Adventures of an Unreformed Oilman.

Masters describes her 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 when she met uranium prospector Louis Lothman.

In 1955, Lothman examined cuttings from a Dysart dry hole in McKinley County – and got impressive Geiger counter readings. He drilled more test wells, which confirmed the result.

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, her fraudulent petroleum deals in the past, Dysart died in 1966 in Albuquerque at age 88. Secret Riches author John Masters explains that “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 state’s massive Hobbs oil field of the late 1920s in New Mexico Oil Discovery.
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