Six years before Oklahoma statehood, the 1901 Red Fork oil discovery near Tulsa will help the town start its journey to becoming “Oil Capital of the World.”

red fork oil

Dedicated during the 2007 Oklahoma centennial, a circa 1950s 154-foot derrick commemorates the June 21, 1901, discovery well that helped make Tulsa famous. Photo courtesy Route 66 Historic Village.

Attracted to Indian Territory following an 1897 discovery at Bartlesville – read First Oklahoma Oil Well – two experienced drillers from the Pennsylvania fields found oil in the Creek Indian Nation on June 25, 1901.

They drilled with steam boilers powering cable tools, a technology still evolving from when the U.S. petroleum industry began in 1859 along Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

John Wick and Jesse Heydrick “spudded” their well near the village of Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa.

Although the Sue A. Bland No. 1 well announced its arrival by erupting into the air, the discovery soon settled into a 10-barrel-a-day producer at 537 feet. It still brought Tulsa a lot of attention from other drillers and oil companies.

Sue Bland, a Creek citizen, was the wife of Dr. John C. W. Bland, owner of the homestead where the well was drilled. He and fellow doctor Fred S. Clinton funded the risky enterprise.

Within a week, Red Fork – once a quiet town of 75 people – was overrun by people clamoring for leases.

The Tulsa Democrat newspaper exclaimed, “Geyser of Oil Spouts at Red Fork” and “Oil Well Gusher Fifteen Feet High.”

Many of the newcomers settled in Tulsa, which in 1904 constructed its first bridge across the Arkansas River to accommodate wagon loads of oil field workers and equipment.

red fork oil

Tulsa, Oklahoma, begins its journey to becoming the “Oil Capital of the World” when the Sue A. Bland No. 1 well erupted in 1901.

“The Red Fork discovery never produced a great amount of oil, with most of the wells being in the fifty-barrel-per-day range, but it did produce excitement and drilling activity,” explains Bobby Weaver of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

He notes that the activity attracted petroleum companies, brought them to Tulsa and, “started that community on the road to becoming the predominant oil city in Oklahoma.”

The city’s petroleum industry future is assured in 1905 when a well is drilled below the Red Fork production sands and reveals a massive oilfield; the Glenn Pool production will far exceed Tulsa County’s earlier Red Fork discovery.

Learn more in Making Tulsa the Oil Capital.

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