Historic 1866 Texas well produced just 10 barrels of oil.
Lyne Taliaferro Barret completed the first Texas oil well on September 12, 1866, west of the Sabine River. His Nacogdoches County discovery well did not produce commercial quantities of oil; it lay dormant for nearly two decades until others returned to Barret’s oilfield.
In December 1859, less than four months after Edwin L. Drake’s first U.S. oil well drilled in Pennsylvania, a similarly determined petroleum explorer named Lyne (Lynis) Taliaferro Barret began searching in an East Texas area known as Oil Springs. The 1848 invention of “coal oil” — kerosene — had prompted demand for an illuminating fuel made from oil, inspiring speculation and drilling.
Lyne T. Barret leased land just east of Nacogdoches, an area known for its oil seeps. Detail from Texas & New Orleans Railroad map (1860) courtesy David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.
Native Americans had long known of the eastern Texas natural seeps. Early settlers used oil for its purported medicinal benefit for both themselves and their livestock. Barret’s interest in finding the newly prized resource was no doubt prompted by its lucrative $20 a barrel selling price. He joined the chase for petroleum riches, but prudently continued to operate his successful mercantile partnership in Melrose.
A 1876 Pico Canyon oil well brought pipelines, refineries, and helped make Chevron an industry giant.
Following an 1859 oil discovery in Pennsylvania, young U.S. oil exploration companies began reaching the West Coast, attracted by California’s natural oil seeps. Some made small but historic discoveries of “black gold” soon after the Civil War. The state’s first gusher arrived in 1876 – and launched an industry.
Pico Canyon produced limited amounts of crude oil as early as 1855, but there was no market for the oil, which was found near oil seeps about 35 miles north of Los Angeles. In northern California, an 1865 well near oil seeps in Humboldt County also could be considered the first California oil well. Drilled by Old Union Matolle Company after the Civil War, the well produced oil near Petrolia and attracted early oil companies to the oilfield. A state historical marker (no. 543) dedicated on November 10, 1955 declared:
California’s First Drilled Oil Wells – California’s first drilled oil wells producing crude to berefined and sold commercially were located on the north fork of the River approximately three miles east of here. The Old Union Mattole Oil Company made its first shipment of oil from here in June 1865 to a San Francisco refinery. Many old well heads remain today.
Although the “Old Union well” initially yielded about 30 barrels of high quality oil, “production soon slowed to one barrel per day and the prospect was abandoned,” explained K.R. Aalto, a geologist at Humboldt State University. The Humboldt County well in what became the oilfield, “attracted interest and investment among oilmen because of the abundance of oil and gas seeps throughout that region,” Aalto noted in his 2013 Oil-Industry History article.
The steam boiler and cable-tools, including the “walking beam,” of Pico Well No. 4 in 1877. Photo by Carleton Watkins courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.
Meanwhile in Pico Canyon, Charles Mentry of the California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells in 1875 and 1876 that showed promise. The first West Coast oil gusher arrived with his fourth well and helped established a major oil company.
Drilling with a steam-powered cable-tool rig in an area known for its many oil seeps, Mentry discovered the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. California’s first truly commercial oil well, the Pico Well No. 4 gusher of September 26, 1876, launched other industries, including constructing a pipeline and an oil refinery for producing kerosene. (more…)
Remembering contributions of all oilfield pioneers.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS), community museums, and professional associations have sought ways to preserve written histories of the men and women who have worked in the industry. Many museum have established oral (and video) history collections. In 2017, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) published Anomalies – Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology: 1917 to 2017.
This AOGHS website provides another resource for those wanting to share their career experiences in the petroleum industry. When contacted with family stories, the historical society tries to post some of the personal oilfield stories of women, including oilfield crew leader Tamara George. Helping add to this chronicle of oilfield women pioneers, a 2020 email from the son of Lynda Armstrong noted her working as a roustabout for Gulf Oil in 1974.
Lynda Armstrong: Gulf Oil Roustabout
Although Tamara George’s pioneering work as a roustabout foreman was notable, other determined women made similar pioneering oilfield achievements (see Women of the Offshore Petroleum Industry tell Their Stories). In August 2020, John Armstrong emailed the historical about his late mother’s accomplishments. He reported that In 1974, Lynda Armstrong worked in Goldsmith Texas, outside of Odessa, “as a roustabout for Gulf Oil before becoming the foreman for the water injection plant that is located on the Y.T .Ranch in Goldsmith.”
“I blazed a few trails in my days,” noted the late Lynn Armstrong about her oilfield career.
Armstrong would go on to teach corrosion technology at Odessa College and Eastern New Mexico University. “I blazed a few trails in my days,” she later explained about her oil patch career: “Gulf Oil, first woman to be hired in 1974 as roustabout; Arco lease operator; Enserch production supervisor; ENMU-R production technology instructor; Odessa College technology instructor.”
Tamara George: Roustabout Crew Leader
In early 1980s in Texas Panhandle oilfields, Tamara L. George led a skilled service company crew. Among the very first women to hold the dangerous, labor-intensive job, her oilfield journey began at D-J’s Roustabout and Well Services in Borger, Texas. “At the time two brothers owned the company, Jerry Nolan, who handled the office work, and Harold Nolan, who did everything outside the office, George explained in a December 2018 email to AOGHS.
“It was Harold Nolan who wanted to hire me, but Don Nolan was not keen on this idea thinking I would be problems that I could not handle the work, get along with the men,” she added. “Don did not know I had been an Industrial, commercial and residential electrician, apprentice iron welder, and an auto body technician.”
The Hutchinson County Historical Museum in Borger exhibits North Texas petroleum heritage with emphasis on the oilfield boom of the 1920-1930 era. Photo by Bruce Wells.
She said Nolans gave her a chance, and “within six months I moved to being a roustabout foreman running my own crew,” George explained in her note to the historical society. “I was the most requested crew in the Texas Panhandle oilfields.”
After leading her crews in the 1980s, George has proclaimed herself to be “only woman to ever hold such a position,” and even the “first woman to be a roustabout foreman in oilfield history!” Her personal oilfield record (which she is still researching) may extend to Canada, where she worked a few months as a roustabout foreman for Pangea Oil & Gas Company of Calgary, Alberta. And there’s still more to her career firsts. “When the oilfield shut down, I went into medicine,” she noted, adding that she returned to school to work on advanced degrees in radiology and gastroenterology. Then came a personal health crisis.
“I was around two years into obtaining my doctorates when a fatal tumor revealed itself,” George explained. “The tumor had caused a rather large aneurysm to which the doctors shook their heads in disbelief.” It was a mystery to her doctors how the roustabout foreman survived while doing such labor intensive work of the oil industry. In the years since her service company work, George, who today lives in Elk City, Oklahoma, has “not come across any women doing what I did” earlier in the oilfields.
Oil History of Borger, Texas
Thousands of people rushed to the Texas Panhandle in early 1926 after Dixon Creek Oil and Refining Company completed the Smith No. 1 well, which flowed at 10,000 barrels of oil a day in southern Hutchinson County. A.P. “Ace” Borger of Tulsa, Oklahoma, leased a 240-acre tract and by September his Borger oilfield had more than 800 producing wells, yielding 165,000 barrels a day Dedicated in 1977, the Hutchinson County Boom Town Museum in Borger today celebrates “Oil Boom Heritage” every March. Special exhibits, events and school tours occur throughout the Borger celebration, about 40 miles northeast of Amarillo.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Women Oilfield Roustabouts.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://www.aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/women-oilfield-roustabouts. Last Updated: September 6, 2020. Original Published Date: December 6, 2018.
Young geologist revealed giant Yazoo County oilfield in 1939.
The first major Mississippi oil well was drilled following a geological survey by a young geologist — who had sought a suitable Yazoo County clay to mold cereal bowls for children. “It all began quite independently of any search for oil,” noted a southern history journal decades later.
In February 1939, Frederic F. Mellen worked for the Works Progress Administration in Yazoo County during the Great Depression. The 28-year-old geologist supervised a clay and minerals survey project, “to locate a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls and other utensils for an underprivileged children’s nursery.”
Instead, Mellen launched Mississippi’s oil industry.
Frederic Mellen became president of the Mississippi Geological Survey in 1946. Images courtesy Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey.
At Perry Creek, about a mile southwest of Tinsley, Mellen’s survey found a strata of Mississippi’s known Jackson formation. But the seam was 250 feet above where it was supposed to be. It was a salt dome structure, well known since Texas’ spectacular Spindletop Hill discovery in January 1901.
Mellen urged more seismographic testing. Natural gas had been produced in Mississippi in the mid-1920s, and the Jackson formation was persuasive evidence that oil could be found along Perry Creek. Indications in the Yazoo Clay suggested an anticlinal structure, according to Edgar Wesley Owen in Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975).
“Although the favorable area had been leased by an oil company about 10 years earlier and relinquished after a seismic examination, the Survey issued a press release in April 1939 describing its findings and recommending that the structure be drilled,” Owen explained. When published in the State Geological Bulletin on April 12, 1939, Mellen’s startling survey results prompted renewed interest in finding Mississippi’s first commercial oil deposits after decades of searching and hundreds of dry holes.
The Tinsley formation included, “a northward contour closure of at least 135 feet – a structure so favorable for oil and gas accumulation as to warrant further geologic sturdy and seismographic exploration,” the Bulletin press release proclaimed, adding that it “especially should it be further explored for the reason that it lies less than 35 miles north-west of the Jackson Gas Field.”
“Mississippi’s prospects of finding oil in commercial quantities were heightened yesterday,” proclaimed the Vicksburg Evening Post in 1939.
Union Producing Company of Houston, Texas, leased much of the area. Company landmen quickly acquired mineral rights to about 2,500 acres around Tinsley. As others rushed to find their own leases, Union Producing Company began seismographic testing, 10 miles southwest of Yazoo City.
Seismic data prompted the company to choose a drill site on the Green Crowder Woodruff family farm on Perry Creek (S.W. Corner, N.W. Quarter, Section 13, Township 10 North, Range 3 West).
On September 5, 1939, after six weeks of drilling, Union Producing completed the G.C. Woodruff No. 1 well at a depth of 4,560 feet. The well, which had shown signs of oil at the end of August, flowed at 235 barrels of oil a day from a sandstone later named the Woodruff Sand. Within 35 days, drilling companies, investors, and speculators recorded more than $5 million in lease and purchase transactions.
Union Producing Company discovered the Tinsley oilfiled at a depth of 4,560 feet.
“Almost eighty years to the day after the discovery of the famous Drake well on Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, the first commercially important oil pool in the southeastern states was discovered,” declared John S. Ezell in The Journal of Southern History, (Vol.18, No. 3, August 1952).
“Hotels are over-flowing, restaurants are overtaxed, map companies are dizzy from the rush of new business,” reported Oil Weekly, adding that “farmers are trying to obtain drilling clauses with leases, geophysical crews are slipping through the woods, and in every hotel lobby John Doe will tell you he has a sure-shot lease – for sale at the right price.”
Three weeks after the Woodruff No. 1 well was completed, Union Producing exported to Louisiana the first barrel of Mississippi crude oil, sending four tank cars carrying 8,000 gallons of oil from Tinsley Station to the Standard Oil Refinery at Baton Rouge.
Following the discovery, the Commercial Appeal of Memphis explained the well’s completion with “a drilling crew sets a ‘Christmas tree’ (drilling apparatus) in place.”
The Southland Company in 1940 constructed a small oil refinery at Crupp, seven miles southeast of Yazoo City, near the Illinois Central railroad freight line. By June 1944, Mississippi had 388 wells in eight producing oilfields. Texas oilman Sid W. Richardson discovered the prolific Gwinville oilfield in August 1944.
Cumulative production from the Tinsley field would reach more than 224 million barrels of oil and 14.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas by 1997, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. “The discovery and development of the largest oil field in the southeastern States is an exciting part of Mississippi’s history,” proclaimed Mississippi State Geologist William H. Moore in 1974.
“The fact that this giant field was discovered through the application of basic geology, in an investigation not necessarily slated toward oil and gas exploration, is a tribute not only to the geologist making the discovery but to all geologists engaged in similar undertakings,” he added. The Office of the Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey, in 1974 published Moore’s Tinsley Field 1939-1974, A Commemorative Bulletin. A Yazoo City newspaper editor was among his sources regarding the historic well.
“When the Tinsley oil field was discovered in August of 1939 Mississippians, and Yazooans in particular, thought at last Mississippi would mushroom in development as did Oklahoma and parts of Texas and Louisiana,” noted Norman Mott Jr., editor of the Yazoo City Herald in 1974. “Yazoo City experienced a great deal of excitement and the chaos of the early days as the center of the beginning oil industry in the state,” Mott said. “Adding greatly to the dreams of an oil boom was the discovery in the spring of 1940 of the Pickens Field in eastern Yazoo County. However, Pickens was not another Tinsley.”
Frederic Mellen (1911-1989) was a founding member in 1939 of the Mississippi Geological Society. In 1985, the society sponsored a summer field trip led by Mellen, “to traverse the very hillsides of Yazoo County that he had mapped 47 years previously in his discovery of the large surface anticline that later became the giant Tinsley field,” reported Stanley King in A Brief History Of The Mississippi Geological Society.
As of 2017, with secondary recovery through carbon-dioxide injection, the Tensely oilfield was still producing more than 6,000 barrels of oil a day, about eight percent of Mississippi’s total oil production.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact email@example.com. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “First Mississippi Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-mississippi-oil-well. Last Updated: August 31, 2020. Original Published Date: September 3, 2018.
The petroleum industry was launched in 1859 to meet growing demand for “Coal Oil” – kerosene – to fuel lamps.
American oil history began in a valley along a creek in remote northwestern Pennsylvania. Today’s exploration and production industry was born on August 27, 1859, near Titusville when a well specifically drilled for oil found it.
Although crude oil had been found and bottled for medicine as early as 1814 in Ohio and in Kentucky in 1818, these had been drilled seeking brine. Drillers often used an ancient technology, the “spring pole” Sometimes the salt wells produced small amounts of oil, an unwanted byproduct.
Considered America’s first petroleum exploration company – the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York – incorporated in 1854. It reorganized as Seneca Oil Company of New Haven Connecticut in 1858.
The advent of cable-tool drilling introduced the wooden derrick into the changing American landscape. The technology applied same basic idea of chiseling a hole deeper into the earth. Using steam power, a variety of heavy bits, and clever mechanical engineering, cable-tool drillers continued to become more efficient. (Learn more Making Hole – Drilling Technology.) (more…)
Before a famous 1901 Texas gusher, experts considered self-taught geologist Pattillo Higgins, “something of a fool.”
Self-taught geologist Patillo Higgins became known as the “Prophet of Spindletop” a decade after founding his Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company in 1892. He was instrumental in discovering the world-famous Spindletop oilfield at Beaumont, Texas.
“Pattillo Higgins believed that oil lay beneath his feet at Spindletop,” reported the Gladys City Chronicles. “He had a feeling that drilling a well on top of this salt dome (and others like it) would produce oil, and lots of it.”
Pattillo Higgins formed the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company on August 24, 1892. He left the company prior to its famous gusher.
Higgins was convinced that an area known as “Big Hill” – Spindletop – four miles south of Beaumont, had oil, despite all conventional wisdom to the contrary. As petroleum geologists worldwide would soon learn, salt domes are surrounded by oil, and one of the largest was Spindletop Hill, south of Beaumont, notes a local museum. (more…)