Berry Petroleum Company History
More than 100 years ago a man with determination and not much else set out on a journey to find riches that would lead from the gold claims of the Klondike to the oil fields of central California. One lasting result is Berry Petroleum. Browse our Company's journey over the past 100 years in the booklet to the left and read the remarkable story below. Click here to view the booklet.
From the farm... to the oil patch.. and the gold in between!
There were many luminaries of the gold rush days - wild, fantastic, flamboyant characters whose names are still remembered - names like Soapy Smith, Diamond tooth Lil, Swiftwater Bill Gates and the "King of the Klondike," Alex McDonald.
They were center stage in the razzle-dazzle that was the big stampede, that great unraveling at century's end, and their escapades light up the imagination like a firecracker.
Clarence J. Berry wasn't one of them.
He was too sober, loyal, hardworking, home-loving and, yes, straight-laced to light up anybody's imagination. And yet he was a big man, a robust man, a man's man who could hold his own in any crowd.
Clarence and his wife, Ethel, who made their first million long before most people even reached the Klondike, were not part of the Dawson fast track. When they did allow themselves an occasional fling, it was of a simple nature. For example, Ethel had the only Jersey cow on Eldorado Creek; it lived in a sawdust padded barn and was fed hay costing $400 a ton.
Clarence, general all-around good guy that he was, got his kicks in another way. He filled a coal oil can with gold and put it in his front yard along with a bottle of whiskey and a sign that read "Help yourself." And people did.
Sad to say that most of the high flying personalities of the gold rush died penniless.
Clarence Berry was not one of them.
He was unique in the annals of gold rush lore. Not only was he honest, industrious and self-disciplined, but he struck it rich, not once, not twice, but four times. First in the Klondike; second at Ester Creek; third at Circle; and fourth near Taft, California. Oil, of course.
The fortune Clarence amassed developed into a corporate dynasty that thrives today in Taft, California and is known as Berry Petroleum Company. It is now traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Not bad for a poor fruit farmer from Fresno who landed in Alaska with $3.60 in his pocket.
North To Alaska
Some men are born under a lucky star and Berry was certainly one of them, although he didn't think so during his youth in Fresno County. He grew up resenting the hard life on the farm and what poverty had done to his parents.
Clarence was a man of vision and daring. He was always out front of the pack, and sensed opportunity long before it hit the front page of the newspaper. In 1894 he borrowed money from family, friends and strangers to finance a trip to Alaska - two years before the Klondike discovery.
He stayed 18 months in Alaska and when he returned he married Ethel Bush who had promised to wait for him. Ethel and her four sisters and brother lived on a farm near the Berry family. After she and Clarence were married on March 10, 1896, in her mother's front parlor, Ethel set out on a honeymoon to Alaska. There were no silks and satins in her trousseau. Under Clarence's direction she packed long underwear, woolen stockings, rubber boots and flannel dresses.
The newlyweds almost missed the boat in Seattle when C.J. came down with the mumps, but he recovered in time to travel the Inside Passage to Skagway. They were accompanied by his younger brother, Fred.
They crossed the Chilkoot Pass, a difficult feat for a man, but a strenuous and hazardous venture for a young woman from the sunny fields of California. They walked miles and miles over the frozen lakes, stopping at night to pitch a tent and sleep on spruce boughs in the snow.
Ethel stood up well under the ordeal. It was six months before the folks back home heard from them. Ethel reported that they were well and happy and having a wonderful adventure. By that time they were at Fortymile where Clarence tended bar at Bill McPhee's saloon to earn enough money for food.
One day the Fortymile camp was in a spin when news of a strike upriver whipped through the camp like a brush fire. Clarence and Fred were frantic to go; this was the break they had been waiting for, and now that it had come, they had no money, no grub, no dogs.
Clarence went to McPhee for help. "Sure, Clarence," he said. "Here is the key to the cache. Help yourself". Ten years later when McPhee's saloon was destroyed in the Fairbanks fire of 1906, a telegram came from Clarence in San Francisco telling him to rebuild, restock and draw on him for all the money he needed. Berry also provided McPhee with a life-long pension.
Meanwhile, back on the Yukon, the Berry boys broke camp. Ethel was posted on the riverbank to flag down a boat going upriver. The two men grabbed bedding, tent, tools and food. Everything else was left behind.
The Berry's were among the first in line and staked claims on Bonanza. In an act of generosity and friendship, Clarence grubstaked fellow miner Antone Stander who then traded some of his claims on Eldorado for some of Berry's on Bonanza. In that way Berry got a piece of the richest placer creek in the world.