Stranger Than Truth: Hillbillies Strike Oil, Move to Californee

Written by Frank Michaels

Saturday, 10 April 2010

image for Stranger Than Truth: Hillbillies Strike Oil, Move to Californee
Said, Californee is the place you ought-ta be

Nestled way off the beaten path in the middle of Arkansas, is the little community of Booster. It was here in the midst of the stunning Ozark Mountains that the Stranger Than Truth team was about to uncover one of the biggest secrets ever kept in Hollywood.

Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed?

No, not really. His name was Barkley T. Ledbetter and he often barely managed to keep his amalgamated family of four fed. But then one day in 1949 while he was out hunting for something to put on the dinner table, a 50-caliber bullet from his Civil War era rifle struck a particularly lucky patch of ground. And inside of a single year of finding oil on his land, he and his family went from paupers to princes and princesses.

Upon arriving in Booster, we met up with our contact, a local resident who chose to remain anonymous for this telling, and were taken straight out to the old homestead. "I bought the Ledbetter property at auction back in 1998 and have tried to keep the family's old home from falling in on itself several times."

Just a few hundred yards off of State Route 254 and down an overgrown path that doesn't look like it as seen much traffic anytime recently, stands an ancient two-room clapboard shack with a stone chimney and a rusting hand operated well pump in the back.

Said, Californee is the place you ought-ta be...

In the fall of 1950, Barkley Ledbetter, his daughter Reena, son Joshua and his niece Ruth, all loaded up on an old 1928 Graham Brothers truck and set out for California.

"The Mid Ozark Oil Company paid him just over $6 million for mineral rights to his land and then inked a deal that continued to pay him some nominal royalties on the oil itself." said our host and storyteller. "But the reserve pool was not all that large and the oil played out in these parts by the mid '70s. We ain't none of us seen a well drilled around here since '68."

By the early part of the 1950s, Ledbetter & family had already resettled and were living well in what was then a sparsely populated Hollywood Hills area near Runyan Canyon.

So, what happened to them?

Joshua is said to have returned to high school, gotten a diploma and then went on to earn several college degrees before later teaching at UC Berkeley. He is also rumored to have been the one who originally invented the 'bong' for smoking certain illegal substances. His whereabouts today are unknown.

Daughter Reena married a Hollywood executive and they still live today in the home that her father had built for them in 1954. For years, she was often seen wearing a piece of rope for a belt, and so is likely the one who supplied the idea for the TV series in the 1960s.

Niece Ruth was a problem, though, because she never really adapted to the new lifestyle. She often fled the west coast to return to the Ozarks and lived here in the old home, off-and-on, until she came down with pneumonia in 1979, and passed away at age 52.

As for Barkley Ledbetter, who one day struck oil and took his family away from the only life any of them had ever known?

Well, he came back here too, in 1971.

"The story goes that he loaded up his old rifle one day, headed out into the woods and was never seen again. But there is a rumor that he run up on some wild boars and they just got the better of him." says our local friend.

"If those wild hogs get a hold of you, there won't be nothing left to find."

The Stranger Than Truth team likes to think that Barkley Ledbetter is still out there somewhere, hunting and enjoying the life of a mountaineer.


The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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