The Kansas petroleum industry began in 1892 with an oil discovery at Neodesha. Later discoveries near Wichita revealed the giant Mid-Continent field, but it took years for business sense to arrive, according to the editor of a 1910 History of Wichita and Sedgwick County, Kansas.
“Sedgwick county has run the gamut of the hot winds, the drought, the floods, the grasshoppers, the boom, the wild unreasoning era of speculation, the land grafters, the oil grafters, the sellers of bogus stocks, speculation, over-capitalization, and all of the attendant and kindred evils,” observed Editor-in-Chief Orsemus Bentley. He added that from all these scourges, Kansans had “emerged into the clear noon-day of reason, out of a fool’s paradise into business sense.”
Although Wichita and Sedgwick County’s economies would remain dependent on farming and ranching, the age of oil soon began. In 1915, the Wichita Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, drilled with a cable-tool rig on the John Stapleton farm northeast of town. The company’s Stapleton No. 1 exploratory well (at a site chosen using the emerging science of petroleum geology) struck oil and launched a true Kansas oil boom.
“Day after day the tools stomped their way into the solid earth until a depth of 670 feet oil was discovered,” explains a historian in neighboring Butler County. “Word spread like a wind-whipped prairie fire and the black gold rush was on.”
Wichita Oil & Gas Company
Just a few months after the Stapleton well, Wichita Oil & Gas Company began drilling its first exploratory well on January 8, 1916. The Wichita Eagle reported company capitalization to be $100,000 with stock for sale at par value of $1.10 a share, adding the company would be “ready to start work on a derrick next week.”
Wichita Oil & Gas’ drilling fortunes depended on a portable Star Drilling Machine, a cable-tool drilling technology. The company leased land south of Wichita – just southeast of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad station at Schulte, Kansas.
Despite claims of a “2,000 acre lease around the town,” all Wichita Oil & Gas drilling would take place within a 500-foot radius of a spot on the 319-acre Folkers farm. (The well site was in Section 17, Township 28 South, Range 1 East.) After many months of making hole, the company updated its investors in November 1916.
“Peter Schulte was up from the town Schulte today and reported the oil well near there progressing nicely. The drill is now down over 1,400 feet and far as can be judged at this stage, the drilling prospects for a strike are good.”
The company further assured investors, “The field is entirely new of course and no one can tell what may be discovered. If oil or gas found here it will put Wichita oil the map.”
For “poor boy” companies with limited capitalization like Wichita Oil & Gas, the costs of continued drilling were often financed through increased stock sales and hyperbole. Accurate newspaper accounts were rare. One Wichita Oil & Gas executive appealed to potential investors on Christmas Eve in 1916.
After declaring that the company stock had been selling for $10 per share, Secretary-Treasurer A.L. Tuttle predicted it would advance to $15 per share. “This is the company that has been drilling the well at Schulte,” he noted. “We are down 1,400 feet.”
But when its well failed to find oil, the company relocated the cable-tool rig and tried again nearby. This well, the Folkers No. A 1, was plugged and abandoned after reaching a depth of 1,404 feet. The search for investors and loans continued even as drilling reports from the company began to dwindle. A decline in stock sales and financing woes may help explain the intermittent reporting.
Ultimately, the Kansas Attorney General launched a suit against Wichita Oil & Gas Company.
The American Gas Engineering Journal of September 7, 1918, reported the state was seeking a receiver for Wichita Oil & Gas with action “brought against the company, the directors and against each director individually.” The suit also noted, “A Star Rig was used, and when the company ran short of finances the depth was approximately 1,400 ft.”
It was the end of Wichita Oil & Gas Company.
The Kansas Geological Survey notes the Folkers farm well site drew new drilling activity even after Wichita Oil & Gas had failed. On May 12, 1919, White Oil Corporation spudded a well not far from the last dry hole drilled by Wichita Oil & Gas, but it had no better luck even 3,400 feet deep.
Few newly formed oil exploration companies would succeed in the risky wildcatting of the Mid-Continent (see Otter Creek Oil & Gas Company, formed by three Wichita businessmen). Oil fever also reached southeastern Kansas, where Missouri investors saw opportunities in 1904 and organized the Cahege Oil & Gas Company. Two years later, the boom town of Caney made headlines – and attracted tourists with a Kansas gas well fire that at night could be seen for miles.
The stories of exploration and production companies trying to join petroleum booms (and avoid busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website. For membership information, contact email@example.com. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.