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Tempest in a Teapot Dome Cowpokes and oilmen: Booms, busts, scandal and rebirth
Cowpokes and oilmen: Booms, busts, scandal and rebirth at this famous Wyoming oil field. By Ken Perrotte

 A 1928 political cartoon in the Denver Post lampoons the jury verdict that exonerated oil magnate Harry Sinclair of conspiracy to defraud the government charges. The caricature depicts former Interior Secretary Albert Fall, alleged beneficiary of nearly a half-million dollars from the oil leases, laughing to the rest of the country. The cartoon is among thousands of documents and artifacts in the Salt Creek Museum.
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Date published: 12/17/2005

Special to Town and County

CASPER, WYO.--More than 40 years before Watergate, there was Teapot Dome.

Both terms, in their day, became synonymous with governmental corruption and helped define presidential administrations before being relegated to the history books.

The Warren G. Harding administration's 1920s Teapot Dome oil- field scandal came to represent the way many always believed money bought political influence and further lined insiders' pockets.

Sky-high oil prices and record profits in the wake of wars, natural disasters and a burgeoning global economy largely fueled by petroleum products remain big news today.

Oct. 25 was the 82nd anniversary of the date when the U.S. Senate began investigating shady deals related to Teapot Dome, but research going on in the storied oil field today, as well as innovation in trying to encourage more black gold from the earth in its neighboring Salt Creek, may ultimately help relieve some of America's dependence on foreign oil.

The historical perspective

Wyoming has been one of the United States' leading oil producers since the first days when people learned how to drill for the stuff.

The terrain in the country high above and north of Casper is rugged and sparse with greenery. Rock formations have undergone chiseling from millennia of strong winds. Sagebrush-choked draws and washes carry sparse rainwater and spring runoff from snow to creeks.

It can be difficult to imagine a country once teeming with tropical flora and fauna, and ample, rich seas. Yet, judging by the vast fossil beds and regular discoveries of ancient reptiles, Wyoming was a major stomping ground of dinosaurs. The triceratops is the "state dinosaur."

Across eons, this ancient carbon-based life was buried. Geological pressures and other phenomena best understood by rock hounds eventually transformed it into underground reservoirs of oil.

In some areas, the oil was close to the surface, bubbling up like spring water in some places such as Jackass Creek (so named by relative newcomers to the area). Indigenous peoples used it for numerous purposes, including medicinal. In other locations, it lay extremely deep in the earth's crust.

Salt Creek bonanza

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