Santa Rita taps Permian Basin

The 1920s West Texas petroleum discoveries that keep on giving.

 

West Texas petroleum history is made in 1923 when a well blessed by nuns reveals the size of the Permian Basin. A small Texas university owns the arid land deemed worthless by many experts.

The Permian Basin, once known as a “petroleum graveyard,” began to make U. S. petroleum history in 1920 with a discovery by W. H. Abrams in Mitchell County in West Texas. When completed, his well produced just 10 barrels of oil a day.  It would be another discovery well, the Santa Rita No. 1, that convinced wildcatters to explore the full 300-mile extent of the basin from most of West Texas into the southeastern corner of New Mexico.

west texas oil history walking beam of Santa Rita No. 1 well at University of Texas

In 1958, the University of Texas Board of Regents moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus. After the dedication, the student newspaper described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.” Photo by Bruce Wells.

Although many experts still considered West Texas barren of oil, the Santa Rita well will produce for seven decades after tapping into the vast commercial oil production of the Permian Basin. Near Big Lake, Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, Texon Oil and Land Company made its major oil strike May 28, 1923 – after 21 months of cable-tool drilling that averaged less than five feet a day. (more…)

First Nebraska Oil Well

Oilfield discovered in 1940 after 57 years of expensive “dry holes.”

 

Pawnee Royalty Company drilled the first Nebraska oil well on May 29, 1940, in Richardson County…after desperate state legislators offered a $15,000 bonus.

After more than a half century of dry holes, on May 29, 1940, Nebraska’s first commercial oil well was completed in the far southeastern corner of the state. The Pawnee Royalty Company made the discovery just west of Falls City in Richardson County.

first nebraska oil well counties map

Nebraska’s 2012 oil production was more than 2.51 million barrels of oil, about 6,900 barrels per day, according to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

 

first nebraska oil well

A 1940s postcard image depicts “pool of first oil from first Nebraska well at Falls City, Nebraska.”

“The first publicized report of oil in Nebraska had been an 1883 newspaper account of a ‘vein of petroleum’ discovered in the same county,” explains a Nebraska historical marker.

“Over the next 57 years the search for oil consumed thousands of dollars, and hundreds of wells were drilled throughout Nebraska,” adds the marker placed by the Nebraska Petroleum Council. “Traces of oil were reported at various locations across the state, but Nebraska did not have a producing well until 1940.”

State offers Oil Bounty

Eager to become an oil-producing state, the Nebraska legislature had offered a $15,000 bonus for the first oil well in Nebraska to produce 50 barrels daily for 60 consecutive days.

In 1939 and 1940 the Pawnee Royalty Company had two encouraging but unsuccessful drillings near Falls City. A third well, Bucholz No. 1, was begun near the marker on April 22, 1940. On May 29 the well began producing and averaged 169-1/2 barrels daily for the first 60 days.

The discovery easily qualified for the Nebraska Legislature’s $15,000 bonus. Richardson County enjoyed an oil boom for three years. The Bucholz No. 1 was located just five miles east of the “vein of petroleum” reported in 1883.

Western Nebraska Oil

Modern Nebraska petroleum production comes from the southwestern panhandle – where a  1949 discovery well produced 225 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 4,429 feet. This oil discovery ended 60 years of unsuccessful searching in western Nebraska, according to another roadside historical marker. Marathon Oil completed the well, the Mary Egging No. 1, five miles southeast of Gurley in Cheyenne County.

The marker, on U.S. 385 between Sidney and Gurley, reports that interest in oil in western Nebraska first occurred in 1889, near Crawford, in the northwest corner of the Panhandle.

first nebraska oil well oil production chart

Prior to 1950, Nebraska has no office to report production for record keeping. Oil production from 1939 to 1949 is estimated by the Geological Survey to have been almost six million barrels.

“The first recorded drilling operation there took place in 1903 near Chadron, also in the northern part of the Panhandle,” the marker explains. “In 1917, the first exploratory well to drill in the southwest Panhandle, near Harrisburg, failed,” it adds. “Oil searchers sunk many other dry test wells in western Nebraska until success came in 1949.”

By 1966, wells in the western Nebraska oilfields produced more than 216 million barrels of oil. “The pioneer efforts in this area have resulted in a major contribution to the economy of the state,” concludes the Nebraska State Historical Society.

New technologies, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, today bring renewed activity to the state. Independent oil and natural gas companies are testing the potential of the Niobrara Shale in Colorado, Wyoming – and southwestern Nebraska.

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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. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Nebraska Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL:https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-nebraska-oil-well. Last Updated: May 25, 2020. Original Published Date: May 26, 2013.

 

Cherry Grove Mystery Well

Pennsylvania drillers kept oil production from 1882 well a closely guarded secret.

 

Summer travelers interested in Pennsylvania petroleum history should not miss the annual celebration at Cherry Grove. Every June, this small community of oil historians has celebrated a dramatic 1882 oil discovery with the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day.

 

Oil prices plunged in 1882 when oil production from a single Pennsylvania well was revealed. The well’s true – and at that time massive – oil production had been a closely guarded secret in a small, Warren County township. Even the best oil scouts had been stymied at Cherry Grove.

 

A small Pennsylvania community annually celebrates “the great 1882 Oil Excitement in Cherry Grove” every June.

As the well’s owners quietly secured nearby leases, word finally spread about a secret May 17, 1882, discovery well that flowed with 1,000 barrels of oil per day. “The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explained historian Paul H. Giddens in his 1938 classic, The Birth of the Oil Industry.

The sudden news about the mystery well, operated by the Jamestown Oil Company, sent shock waves through early oil market centers. The nation’s first commercial oil well in Titusville was just 25 years old. “The excitement in the oil exchanges was indescribable,” notes the historical account by Giddens. “Over 4,500,000 barrels of oil were sold in one day on the exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford.”

According to Giddens, the Cherry Grove discovery demoralized the market and drove the price down to less than 50 cents per barrel. It brought an early financial crisis for the young U.S. petroleum industry.

Visitors annually tour the “mystery well” site in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania.

Despite the collapse of oil prices, hundreds of derricks appeared around Cherry Grove – and thousands of people moved there while the boom lasted.

Celebrating Cherry Grove

It was short lived, according to the dedicated modern volunteers of Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day Committee, which has hosted many special petroleum history events on the last Sunday of every June.

“Before the railroad could lay a new line to Cherry Grove, the boom went bust,” noted Walt Atwood, president of the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day, in 2012. “Thousands of people moved on. Those who remained kept the memory of the Oil Excitement alive with reunions that became known as Old Home Day.”

In 1982 and again in 2007, a group of Cherry Grove Old Home Day regulars rebuilt a replica of the 646 Mystery Well. The volunteers worked with the township supervisors to secure grants and bring in a work crew from the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps.

The Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day annual oil patch event is open to the public with no admission fee. “Anyone who is interested in oil field history, or the history of Cherry Grove, is encouraged to participate to keep the history alive,” Atwood proclaimed.

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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. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Cherry Grove Mystery Well.” Author: AOGHS.ORG Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/mystery-well-of-cherry-grove. Last Updated: May 11, 2020. Original Published Date: May 12, 2013.

 

Halliburton and the Healdton Oilfield

Shallow Oklahoma oilfield discovered in 1913 helped launch many petroleum careers.

 

 

Started in Oklahoma’s booming Healdton oilfield by a young inventor and his new method for cementing oil wells, Halliburton would become one of the largest oilfield service companies in the world.

In 2017 with a workforce of 80,000, the company has specialized in “locating hydrocarbons and managing geological data, to drilling and formation evaluation, well construction and completion, and optimizing production through the life of the field.”

It all began in 1919 when Erle Palmer Halliburton (1892-1957) arrived in Ardmore, Oklahoma, at the frenzied drilling in the Healdton oilfield, after working in another headline-making boom town in Burkburnett, Texas.

The Healdton field had been revealed by the Wirt Franklin No. 1 well in August 1913 about 20 miles northwest of Ardmore. The well revealed the Healdton field, which soon became known as the “poor man’s field,” because of its shallow depth and consequent low cost of drilling. The area attracted independent producers with limited financial backing – leaving out many major oil companies.

Pierce-Arrow exhibit at oil museum in Healdton

The Healdton Oil Museum includes IPAA founder Wirt Franklin’s Pierce-Arrow. The museum hosts annual oil history events.

“Within a 22-mile swath across Carter County, one of the nation’s greatest oil discoveries was made – the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Field,” noted historian Kenny Arthur Franks in his 1989 book, Ragtown: A History of the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Oil Field.

“Encompassing some of the richest oil-producing land in America, Healdton and Hewitt, discovered in 1913 and 1919 respectively, produced an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century,” he explained.

In addition to launching Halliburton’s petroleum career, it also helped independent producer Wirt Franklin became the first president of  the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) in 1929.

Among those who established themselves at Healdton were Lloyd Noble, Robert Hefner and former Governor Charles Haskell. The Healdton Oil Museum preserves their exploration heritage.

Thanks to the Healdton drilling boom and its many shallow wells, Halliburton established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in Duncan. He was soon experimenting with technologies to improve oil well production. Water intrusion hampered many wells, requiring time and expense for pumping out. Water, he noted in a 1920 patent application, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”

Awarded a U.S. patent the next year for his “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” the 28-year-old inventor was just beginning. The cementing innovation – at first resisted by some oilfield skeptics – isolated the various down-hole zones, guarded against collapse of the casing and permitted control of the well throughout its producing life.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

The city of Duncan, Oklahoma, dedicated a Halliburton statue in 1993.

Halliburton’s well cementing process revolutionized how oil and natural gas wells were completed. He went on to patent much of today’s cementing technology – including the jet mixer, the remixer and the float collar, guide shoe and plug system, bulk cementing, multiple-stage cementing, advanced pump technology and offshore cementing technology.

In 1938, Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company moved offshore with a barge-mounted unit cementing a well off the Louisiana coast.

In 1949, Halliburton and Stanolind Oil Company completed a well near Duncan, Oklahoma – the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing (also see Shooters – A “Fracking” History).

“Halliburton was ever the tinkerer. He owned nearly 50 patents,” notes William Pike, former editor-in-chief of E&P magazine. “Most are oilfield, and specifically cementing related, but the number includes patents for an airplane control, an opposed piston pump, a respirator, an airplane tire and a metallic suitcase.”

Pike adds that Halliburton’s only real service company competitor for decades was Carl Baker of Baker Oil Tools. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.

Another Oklahoma oilfield service company, the Reda Pump Company was founded by Armais Arutunoff, a close friend of Frank Phllips. By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artifical lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump. Learn more in Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump.

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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. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Halliburton and the Healdton Oilfield.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/halliburton-and-healdton-oilfield. Last Updated: May 8, 2020. Original Published Date: July 14, 2015.

 

Million Dollar Auctioneer

“Bond of Friendship” memorial dedicated in 1926 preserves Osage petroleum history.

 

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth (his real name) Walters was the most famous auctioneer in all of Oklahoma history. In 1912, the Osage Indians hired him to auction mineral rights from their petroleum-rich reservation. By 1920, they awarded  him a gold medal for his skilled auctioning of the Osage leases. 

 

million dollar auctioneer

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters, “auctioneer of the Osage Nation.”

Working for $10 a day, beneath a giant elm tree in Pawhuska, Ellsworth earned the tribe millions.

Born at Adrian, Illinois, in 1865, Walters was named in honor of Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteers, the first Union officer killed during the Civil War (shot while removing the Confederate flag from the roof of a Virginia hotel). Walters moved with his parents to the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, in 1866.

Although Walters became a deputy U.S. marshal at 19, he began gaining distinction as an auctioneer. He sold live stock, real estate and mineral leases in 2,250-square-mile Osage County. 

Walters held many of the auctions in Pawhuska while standing in the shade of what become known as the “Million Dollar Elm.”

Beginning in 1912 he sold Osage mineral leases in 160-acre blocks based on “headrights” from a 1906 tribal population count. In Pawhuska, between the Osage council house and the county courthouse, Walters called the auctions.

Osage auctioneer

Newspaper ad courtesy of Colonel Walters’ great-great-granddaughter Hope Litvinoff. Her grandmother in 1928 helped unveil a statue in Skedee, Oklahoma, honoring Walters and the chief of the Osage Nation.

The bidders for the leases were a who’s who of leading Oklahoma independent producers. E.W. Marland biographer John J. Mathews quotes one impressed onlooker: “You could stand on the edge of the crowd and see two or three of the biggest names in America squatting there on the grass, as common as an old shoe, and when they raised their hands it meant millions. That’s a fact!”

million dollar acutioneer

Born in 1865, Colonel  E.E. Walters wasn’t actually a Colonel. He was named in honor of the first Union officer killed in the Civil War, complete with rank. Currier and Ives engraving, 1861. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Another onlooker described hundreds of spectators and reporters who gathered to watch the bidding. Walters proved so effective at “extracting millions from the silk pockets of such newly minted oil barons as Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland, and William G. Skelly” that the Osages awarded him a medal.

“On February 3, 1920, before that day’s bidding began, the Osage tribe presented Walters with a medal to show their appreciation for all the wealth he’d drummed up for them in the shade of the Million Dollar Elm,” the witness reported.

By 1922, the National Petroleum News proclaimed that Walters had “Sold 10 Times As Much Property Under Hammer As Any Other Man” and his friends, the Osage, became “the richest people in the world.”

Beneath the Pawhuska elm on March 18, 1924, Walters secured a bid of $1,995,000 for one 160-acre tract. It was the highest price paid at that time, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Walters reportedly received more Osage gifts, including a diamond-studded badge and a diamond ring.

On April 22, 1926, hundreds gathered in his nearby hometown of Skedee for the dedication of a 25-foot “Bond of Friendship” monument. The unveiling revealed “painted bronze” statues of Walters and the chief of the Osage Nation shaking hands on a two-tiered sandstone and concrete base. 

million dollar auctioneer

Colonel E.E. Walters (above in striped shirt) on March 18, 1924, accepted a $2 million bid from Josh Cosden for a single 160-acre Osage lease.

The close friendship between Osage Chief (phonetically) Wah-she-hah and Walters was rare enough at the time to warrant an Oklahoma monolith. Wah-she-hah translates to Star-That-Travels in the Osage language – but history and visitors to the Skedee statue remember him as Chief Bacon Rind.

Still standing in Skedee, the 1928 sculpture depicts the Chief Bacon Rind wearing his traditional otter-skin cap and a cloak. Walters wears a suit with trousers tucked into his boots and holds his hat in left hand. By 1928, the famous “auctioneer of the Osage Nation” had sold $157 million in lease sales for his friends. But it wasn’t all good news.

Dark Side of “Headrights”

million dollar auctioneer

Osage Chief Bacon Rind and Colonel E.E. Walters in an undated photo.

Sudden great wealth for the Osage people brought a bloody criminal conspiracy of unsolved murders that left dozens of Osage men, women, and children dead – killed for the “headrights” to their land.

“Osage mineral leases earned royalties that were paid to the tribe as a whole, with each allottee receiving one equal share, or headright, of the payments, notes Oklahoma Historical Society historian Jon D. May in Osage Murders.

“A headright was hereditary and passed to a deceased allottee’s immediate legal heir,” May adds. “One did not have to be an Osage to inherit an Osage headright.”

Estimates vary, but approximately 24 Osage Indians died violent or suspicious deaths during the early 1920s, when con men, bootleggers and murderers began a “Reign of Terror.”

William K. Hale was one of the worst. He was accused of repeatedly orchestrating murders, tried four times, and finally convicted of a single killing.

The 2017 book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by journalist David Grann, investigated the disturbing and tragic stories.

million dollar auctioneer

On April 22, 1926, hundreds gathered in Skedee, Oklahoma, for the unveiling of the 25-foot “Bond of Friendship” monument honoring the chief of the Osage Nation and the state’s greatest auctioneer of mineral rights.

Sadly, Oklahoma news media ignored the reservation’s murders – and the murderers. Newspapers there and around the country instead featured scandalous stories of incredible Osage wealth squandered on Pierce-Arrows and gaudy fashion. As Osage Indians died, reporters mocked the tribe with sarcasm and caricatures.

million dollar auctioneer

Like the town, the “Bond of Friendship” of Skedee, Oklahoma, has deteriorated since 1926. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

In his 1994 book, Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Greed and Murder on the Osage Reservation, Washington Post journalist Dennis McAuliffe noted little wonder that, “this period in our history hardly dances with awareness.”

Today, after almost a century, the Skedee “Bond of Friendship” monument is showing its age. The legacy of the once famous friendship offers some slight merriment for one contributor to Roadside America:

million dollar auctioneer

Although a traditionalist in customs, Chief Bacon Rind’s leadership earned his people millions from oil and natural gas resources.

“The lesson imparted here is that white and red can be harmonious – if you just add a little green…Atop a blocky concrete pillar stands the Chief and the Colonel, facing each other, shaking hands. The work is primitive for such well-oiled honorees: the pillar is plastered cinder block around old oil pipes, while the Chief and the Colonel appear to be made of Play-Doh spray-painted silver. The distended lower half of the Chief, in particular, looks as if he’s carrying a space alien seed pod that is about to burst.”

According to more dependable sources, Chief Bacon Rind, “a statuesque man at six feet four inches,” perhaps the most photographed of all Native Americans.

The Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration noted the chief was frequently asked to pose for the prominent artists of the day “and created an image of the romantic ideal of the American Indian.”

Skedee’s population peaked in 1910. Today only about 50 residents call Skedee home. The aging monument draws few crowds. Chief Bacon Rind died in 1932 and Colonel Ephriam Ellsworth Walters followed in 1946.

Nonetheless, for those who choose to look deeper, the heart of Skedee can be found in the center of town. Walters, an amateur poet, had his hopes for the future carved into the monument’s base:

…I will build for them a landmark,
That the coming race may see,
All the beauties of the friendship,
That exists ‘tween them and me…
And explain it to grandchildren,
as they sit upon their knee.

Preserving Osage Lease Auctions Stories

book cover of Colonel E. Walters: Auctioneer for the Osage Lease Sales

Osage writer Anna Marie Jefferson published a book about the Colonel Walters in 2019.

In 2018, an Osage writer decided to look deeper into Walter’s life and times. Already an author of several books about Osage history, Anna Marie Jefferson a year later published her book: Colonel E. Walters: Auctioneer for the Osage Lease Sales During the early 20th-Century. Her research includes local newspaper accounts and rare images from his career.

Jefferson, who grew up in Osage County, remembered visiting the statue as a child in neighboring Pawnee County. “As an Osage (Sac and Fox/Pawnee as well) I was unaware of who Colonel E. Walters was, the man on top of the memorial.”

Familiar with Osage leader Bacon Rind, Jefferson began researching the life of Walters and his famed long career as a skilled auctioneer.

“When traveling the Osage, sometimes one needs to go just beyond the county lines to find early Osage Nation,” she explained in her book’s introduction. “Such is the case with the Bond of Friendship monument in the small town of Skedee, Oklahoma.”

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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. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Million Dollar Auctioneer.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/million-dollar-auctioneer. Last Updated: April 20, 2020. Original Published Date: March 27, 2015.

 

Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields

Natural oil seeps, vast oilfields, and the beginning of the California petroleum industry.

 

“Everyone thinks of Los Angeles as the ultimate car city, but the city’s relationship with petroleum products is far more significant than just consumption.”

los angeles oil fields hidden oi rigs in LA

Edward Doheny discovered the Los Angeles oilfield in 1892 when he drilled into tar seeps near present-day Dodger Stadium. Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Culver City, California.

When struggling prospector Edward L. Doheny and his mining partner Charles A. Canfield decided to dig a well in 1892, they wisely chose a site with “tar seeps” – where natural asphalt bubbled to the surface.

Local lore says Doheny was downtown when he noticed a cart with a black substance on its wheels. He asked the driver where he had come from. 

On April 20, 1892, they struck oil near present-day Dodger Stadium – and revealed the Los Angeles City oil field, which still produces tar seeps, notably at the La Brea “tar pits.”

los angeles oil

A tower moves on tracks, servicing 19 wells drilled at sharp angles under the adjacent neighborhood. Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

Actually comprised of asphalt, the animal-trapping pools were discovered in 1769 by a Spanish explorer, remain among the many onshore and offshore natural seeps of southern California.

See Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits.

The Los Angeles City oilfield discovery well, completed in 1893 between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue, set off California’s first oil boom by producing about 45 barrels a day.

Within a few years, hundreds of wells were producing oil that was being refined into lubricants and kerosene for lamps.

Los Angeles Oilfields Boom

(more…)