After more than three months of cable-tool drilling, the J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well at Ranger, Texas, roared in on October 17, 1917.

 

As war raged in Europe, a Texas oilfield was discovered halfway between Abilene and Dallas. The October 17, 1917, wildcat well in Eastland County made headlines worldwide. “Roaring Ranger” erupted in a geyser of oil – and revealed an oilfield that would help the Allies win World War I.

roaring ranger

A detail from an image of the “Roaring Ranger” oilfield discovery well of October 1917. The gusher created an oil boom across Eastland County, Texas.

As war raged in Europe, a Texas oilfield was discovered halfway between Abilene and Dallas. The October 17, 1917, wildcat well in Eastland County made headlines worldwide. “Roaring Ranger” erupted in a geyser of oil – and revealed an oilfield that would help the Allies win World War I.

Ranger’s town leaders and citizens had been eager to find oil, especially after newspaper accounts of a 1911 oilfield discovery at Electra to the north. A decade earlier in southeastern Texas, the famous “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill had launched the modern U.S. petroleum industry.

roaring ranger

Following the October 1917 oilfield discovery, the Texas & Pacific Railroad played an important part in getting people, equipment and oil in and out of Ranger. A circa 1920 postcard shows the depot, today home of the Roaring Ranger Museum.

As the county’s farmers struggled with severe drought, Ranger officials hoped to strike “black gold” with the help of William K. Gordon, vice president of the Texas and Pacific Coal Company in nearby Thurber. After one failed attempt with a shallow well, Gordon agreed to drill a second well up to 3,500 feet deep.

View of derricks in the Ranger oilfield in Ranger, Texas, circa 1920s.

“Almost over-night, you couldn’t even see the homes for the derricks,” says Ranger historian Jeane B. Pruett. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Using a cable-tool rig, Gordon and contractor Warren Wagner spudded their well on July 2, 1917, on the McCleskey farm about two miles south of Ranger. After more than three months of drilling, the J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well roared in from a depth of 3,432 feet. When completed, “Roaring Ranger” initially produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day of high gravity oil. Later oil gushers yielded up to 10,000 barrels of oil daily. Within 20 months, Texas and Pacific Coal Company stock jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share. The company reorganized as the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.

 The 2016 Roaring Ranger Day Parade.

The 2016 Roaring Ranger Day Parade took place on the 99th birthday of the gusher. Photo courtesy Metroplex.com. Photo courtesy Ranger Historical Preservation Society.

Eastland County oil discoveries brought economic booms to Ranger, Cisco, Desdemona (today a ghost town) and Eastland. The Abilene Reporter-News reported Ranger’s population swelled from less than 1,000 to more than 30,000 – mostly men. The drilling boom began as the petroleum industry rushed to Ranger to develop the giant oilfield, according to historian Damon Sasser.

The Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company by 1919 had 22 oil wells and eight refineries open or under construction, Sasser noted. More freight was unloaded in Ranger by the railroad than at any other place upon its line, including stations in Fort Worth, Dallas and New Orleans.

 Downtown Ranger, Texas, during 1920s oil boom.

The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 discovery well of October 1917 created an mammoth oil boom at Ranger and across Eastland County, Texas. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The flood of people also brought Texas Rangers to enforce laws. When jails in Ranger overflowed, the lawmen handcuffed prisoners to telephone poles. Texas Rangers earlier had led to the town’s establishment as a Ranger camp.

Independent and major oil companies soon opened other nearby oilfields, including the Parsons, Sinclair-Earnest and Lake Sand fields. Production from the Breckenridge oilfield in neighboring Stephens County was 10 million barrels of oil by 1919. It peaked at more than 31 million barrels of oil in 1921.

Ranger

Photographs courtesy Sarah Reveley and Barclay Gibson, who have photographed Texas Historical Commission markers and (along with a dedicated group of volunteers) helped locate hundreds of historic sites stretching from Louisiana to New Mexico.

“Roaring Ranger” and the region’s production had proved essential to the Allied victory in World War I. When the armistice was signed in 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declared, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.” Ranger’s boom ended in the early 1920s when excess oil production caused wells to fail, but the discoveries confirmed existence of a large petroleum-producing region, the Mid-Continent with hundreds of oilfields stretching from Texas into Oklahoma and Kansas.

The McCleskey No. 1 oil well gusher of 1917.

Eastland County oil discoveries, which began with the “Roaring Ranger” well of 1917, brought economic booms to Ranger, Cisco, and Desdemona. Photo courtesy Jeane B. Pruett and the family of W.K Gordon Jr.

Among the veterans visiting booming Eastland County after the war was a young Conrad Hilton, who visited Cisco intending to buy a bank. When he witnessed the long line of roughnecks waiting for a room at the Mobley Hotel, he decided to buy the hotel (learn more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel).

Established by the Ranger chamber of commerce in 1982, the “Roaring Ranger” Museum – inside the original Texas and Pacific Railway’s depot – exhibits drilling equipment, historic photos and a vintage cable-tool rig. Ranger residents annually celebrate their 1917 gusher with an oil festival and parade down Main Street, according to accomplished local historian Jeane B. Pruett.

When the parade crosses the historic train depot’s tracks, participants pass a small, gray granite marker dedicated to the “First Oil Well Drilled in Eastland County.”  The1936 Texas Centennial marker remains “a highly cherished monument that Ranger should be very proud of,” according to Eastland County resident Sarah Reveley, who has documented Texas Historical Commission sites, preserving the images at PictureTrail.com.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Roaring Ranger wins WWI.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/roaring-ranger-wins-wwi. Last Updated: October 11, 2020. Original Published Date: July 1, 2004.

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