The passing of Charles Alexander Mentry, who died in Los Angeles on Thursday, the fourth day of October, 1900, in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and the influence and bearing his life and works have exerted on one of the great industries of the state, calls for more than a mere notice of his death, or the ordinary conventional eulogy.
Mr. Mentry was a native of France, came to the United States when only seven years of age, and afterwards, settling in Pennsylvania in the early period of petroleum oil development, he soon mastered all the details of the producing business and became an active operator and contractor. Coming to California in 1875, he became a resident of Los Angeles County and lived there continuously until his death.
As an oil operator and manager of large producing interests, expert in every grade of his profession, he has been an acknowledged leader. While wells had been drilled for oil in California as early as 1865, no satisfactory results had been obtained, and it was not until he had completed the first producing well in Pico Cañon, near Newhall in Los Angeles County, that the petroleum oil business could be said to have attained its start in this state.
This well was drilled under great difficulties, and the obstacles that were encountered and overcome would have discouraged a less resourceful man. The railroad had not then been completed; there was no road into the cañon; water was almost unattainable; and there were no adequate tools or machinery to be had. In fact, almost everything that was used at this early stage of development was the creation of Mentry's hands and genius.
Supplies of every kind had to be hauled in and packed over the mountains, tools had to be improvised from the scant material available, but his indomitable will surmounted every obstacle, and he had the satisfaction of being the first to demonstrate the existence of petroleum in paying quantities.
His success led to the investment of capital, the purchase of large tracts of land, the exploitation and development of the oil measures, the construction of pipe lines and refineries, and, pointing out the way for others to follow, his efforts have enabled California to take front rank with the other great oil producing states.
He was for over twenty years the superintendent of the Pacific Coast Oil Company, and constructed the first pipe line for the transportation of oil within the state. This line was laid from Pico Cañon to Newhall, was afterwards extended to Placerita and Elsmere Cañons, and from Mentryville to the ocean at Ventura. From this line he also superintended the loading of the first steel tank steamer ever built and employed on the Pacific Coast.
He was a born mechanic, and no mechanism seemed too intricate for his deft hands and active brain to solve. He was equally at home with the delicate works of the finest watch, or the parts of the ponderous locomotive.
He believed in the dignity of labor and exemplified that belief in his works. He used his hands as well as his head, and, while controlling and directing a small army of men, he never hesitated, when occasion demanded, when some more difficult tool had to be fashioned to meet an emergency, to take his place at the forge and swing the hammer and the sledge. Under his dexterous touch, the conscious iron seemed to know the master's hand and rapidly took the form and shape his subtle brain had planned.
During periods of threatened disaster, when the great properties he managed were menaced by both fire and flood, he never lost his nerve but calmly did his best to meet the worst, to minimize the loss, and to protect both life and works.
He was essentially a self made man, in all the higher meaning of the term. Deprived of the early advantages of a higher education, he learned by observation and hard work and overcame all difficulties by the sheer force of application and of will. He kept in touch with progress and was always quick to see and to adopt new methods to attain desired ends.
In his treatment of men he combined justice and firmness with kindliness and sympathy. He never allowed his judgment to be swayed by prejudice or passion. His relations to those employed under him were almost patriarchal. He was not only recognized as their chief, but was looked up to as their counselor and friend.
At Mentryville, the little settlement of employees named in his honor, there has grown up an ideal community of modest homes. Under his wise and kindly rule, content has reigned; no strikes have taken place; families have been reared and friendships formed; school houses built, and a social hall; and sons, to manhood's growth attained, are working by their fathers' sides.
He was the friend of all young men and did his best to help them on in life. Ability was quickly noted and rewarded by advancement, and many of the best well-drillers in the state are proud to say that, under his watchful eye and fostering care, they learned their trade.
Not bound by any narrow creeds or superstitions, he lived the upright, manly life from principle alone. His life and achievements are illustrations to all young men that no royal road is needed to insure success; that honesty of purpose, earnest application, and fidelity to fixed principles will win their way, and that merit will succeed.
Mr. Mentry died in the fullness of life and his career, and was not permitted to realize the promotion and new honors that awaited him.
In all the realizations of life, he stood pre-eminent. The devoted husband and father, the trusted official, the loyal, faithful friend, and the kindly gentleman, his death has caused a pang to many sorrowing hearts that time alone can heal, and a loss that seems almost irreparable.
When all had gathered at the last sad office for the dead, the tears that stalwart men by scores were not ashamed to shed, were the tribute to departed worth, more eloquent, by far, than pen can trace or lips can utter.
Let us not think of our dear friend as simply dead, but as one gone to "Join the choir invisible / Of those immortal dead who live again / In minds made better by their presence."
This eulogy comes to us from Carol Lagasse; we published it in the September 1997 edition of the Old Town Nehall Gazette. Demetrius G. Scofield, the author of this tribute, was the financial genius who, beginning in the 1870s, parleyed the Santa Clarita Valley's infant oil concerns into an empire. Scofield remained as president after John D. Rockefeller bought him out and built the Standard Oil Company of California. After 1977 the company was known as Chevron USA. Click here to visit the Friends of Mentryville.