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His 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham” today remains on display in its original Texas oil patch community’s historic U.S. Postal Service building – now a museum.

Born in Memphis, Missouri, on February 22, 1898, Alexandre Hogue will become known for his paintings of southwestern scenes during the Great Depression – including murals of the 1930s petroleum industry. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Conrad Hilton visited Cisco, Texas, intending to buy a bank. When the deal fell through, he went from the train station across the street to a two-story red brick building called the Mobley Hotel. He noticed roughnecks from the booming Ranger oilfield waiting in line for a room.

On October 17, 1917, the McClesky No. 1 well hit an oil-bearing sand at 3,432 feet deep and launched the world-famous Ranger oilfield boom.

Thanks to “Roaring Ranger,” in just 20 months the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company – whose stock had skyrocketed from $30 to $1,250 a share – was drilling 22 wells in the area. Eight refineries were open or under construction, and the city’s four banks had $5 million in deposits.

The Ranger oilfield and other nearby North Texas discoveries gained international fame by eliminating critical oil shortages during World War I – allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.”

Investment capital and aspiring millionaires soon overwhelmed the little town of Ranger as well as nearby Cisco, where the Texas Central Railroad crossed the Texas & Pacific. The new oilfield gave birth to countless stories of fortunes made with gushers and good luck. But only one tale endures of a fortune made because oil was easier to find than a good place to sleep.

The McClesky No. 1 well struck oil in October 1917, reached a daily production of 1,700 barrels – and launched an economic boom.

Conrad Hilton learned the banking business from the ground up in his hometown of San Antonio, N.M. As a young man with only $2,900 capital, he founded the New Mexico State Bank of San Antonio. His tenacity in pursuit of investors and deposits paid off.

In two years, Hilton built his bank’s assets to $135,000. He believed he had found his life’s work. World War I interrupted his plans, prompting Hilton to sell his bank and serve his country.

Upon returning from France after the Armistice, Hilton began anew. He set out for Albuquerque, determined to start again in the banking business. But times had changed and banking opportunities had dried up. Despite Hilton’s best efforts, he couldn’t break back into the business.

A postcard provides a view of downtown Cisco, Texas, in the 1920s.

Then a longtime Albuquerque friend, Emmett Vaughey, suggested Texas, where the Ranger oilfield was making millionaires. Persuaded and confident, Hilton boarded the train bound for Wichita Falls.

But just as he had found in Albuquerque, there was no room for a “new guy” in the solidly locked up banking community of Wichita Falls. The same was true even further south, in Breckenridge.

Disappointed but determined, Hilton continued down the Texas Central Railroad to the Cisco railway station, just east of Ranger’s booming oilfield in Eastland County. He was 31 years old and determined to build a banking empire.

Conrad Hilton described his first hotel as “a cross between a flophouse and a gold mine.”

With $5,011 in his pockets, Hilton walked to the first bank he saw in Cisco and found to his delight that it was for sale – asking price – $75,000.

Accustomed to finding financial backers and undeterred by the $70,000 shortfall, he wired the absentee Kansas City owner to close the deal. Hilton was poised to build the banking empire he had long dreamed of when the seller came back by telegram, tersely raising the price to $80,000.

In his autobiography, Be My Guest, Conrad Hilton recalled telling the startled telegraph operator, “He can keep his bank!” Then I strode out of the station and across the street to a two-story red brick building boosting itself as the ‘Mobley Hotel.’

Henry Mobley, the hotel’s owner, was making the most he could off of the Ranger oilfield boom. His lobby was constantly packed with tired workers, maneuvering for space and impatiently awaiting their turn to rent a room. Mobley rented the hotel’s 40 beds in eight-hour blocks corresponding to oilfield shifts.

Hilton joined the crowd in line, suddenly alert to an unanticipated opportunity. He approached Henry Mobley, who was convinced that the real money was in oil, not in the “glorified boarding house” business. Before long, they closed a $40,000 deal and Conrad Hilton had his first hotel. He would never return to banking.

The first Hilton Hotel is a tourist attraction.

Later in the year, with profits earned from the Mobley Hotel, Hilton bought the Melba Hotel in Fort Worth, and the following year the Waldorf in Dallas. Then in 1921, production from the Ranger field collapsed, taking with it scores of businesses and a number of failed banks. Hilton’s hotel business continued to expand. By 1923 he owned five Texas hotels. By 1930, he was the largest hotel operator in the region.

The Depression and the years that followed brought Conrad Hilton challenges that were inevitably answered with tenacity and innovation. While memories of the Ranger oilfield boom gradually slipped into history, Conrad Hilton’s business grew to dominate the hotel marketplace.

The restored Mobley building is no longer a hotel, but serves as a landmark community center, museum and city park. Two of the original rooms were restored to show visitors.

The restored Mobley building is no longer a hotel, but serves as a landmark community center, museum and city park. Two of the original rooms were restored to show visitors.

According to a National Register of listed sites narrative about the Mobley Hotel, Hilton considered his purchase the “ideal hotel to practice on.”

Two principals now basic to all Hilton hotels were first tried in the Mobley: maximum reduction of wasted space and “esprit de corps” among the employees. Hilton is remembered not as a banker but as a preeminent hotelier…and an oilfield entrepreneur.

The restored and renovated Mobley Hotel, which Hilton once referred to as “a cross between a flophouse and a gold mine,” now hosts the Cisco chamber of commerce and serves as a community center, museum, and park. Hilton later regarded his oil boom town purchase as his “first love; a great lady.”

Read more about North Texas boom towns in “Pump Jack Capital of Texas.”

The Bad Santa of Cisco, Texas

Adding to the lore of Cisco, Texas – in addition to being near the 1917 “Roaring Ranger” oilfield and home of Hilton’s first hotel – on December 23, 1927, a man disguised as Santa Claus made an ill-fated attempt to rob a bank two days before Christmas.

Marshall Ratliff donned a Santa Claus disguise and tried to rob the First National Bank with three armed accomplices. A running gun battle with police and citizens ensued, leaving more than a dozen wounded or dead before Ratliff was captured.

“After the gun smoke cleared, six people were dead, eight others wounded, two little girls and a young man had been kidnapped, and two bloody gun battles had been fought, launching the largest manhunt in Texas history,” explains Damon C. Sasser in “The Bloody Cisco Santa Claus Christmas Caper.”

The mortal wounding of a guard during an escape attempt sealed bank-robbing Santa’s fate.

In November 1928, Ratliff attempted to escape from the Eastland County jail and mortally wounded a guard before being subdued. The next morning, enraged citizens dragged Ratliff from the jail and strung him up from a nearby utility pole.

When the first rope broke, they got a new one that did not.

Organized in 1992, the Eastland County Museum & Historical Society maintains an archive of period photographs and other memorabilia related to the county.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.

 

 Published in June 2013, Texas Oil and Gas, is part of Arcadia Publishing’s series of books featuring historic postcards. Using often rare postcards from the state's historic oilfields, author Jeff Spencer, a Houston geologist, conveys a lot of fascinating details through his carefully researched captions.

Published in 2013, Texas Oil and Gas, is part of Arcadia Publishing’s series of books featuring historic postcards. Using often rare postcards from the state’s historic oilfields, author Jeff Spencer, a Houston geologist, conveys a lot of fascinating details through his carefully researched captions.

For anyone interested in exploring petroleum history – or vintage postcards from Texas – one book combines both in an educational 128 pages.

The history of America’s oil and natural gas industry provides an important context for teaching young people the modern energy business. Arcadia Publishing’s Texas Oil and Gas by Jeff A. Spencer is a teaching resource that should be in many Texas high-school classrooms.

A geologist with Amromco Energy, Houston, Spencer has authored or co-authored more than 20 oilfield history papers. He has documented petroleum-related postcards from West Virginia, California, Ontario, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Texas.

A tenacious researcher and collector – the majority of the book’s more than 200 images are from the author’s private collection – Spencer acknowledges help received from Texas oil museums. Read the rest of this entry »

 

July 29, 1918 – Burkburnett becomes a North Texas Boom Town

“Burkburnett was a sleepy farm town that transformed into a ‘Boom Town’ as a result of the North Texas oil boom in 1918,” explains the Burkburnett Historical Society. A popular 1940 MGM movie results from an article in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A wildcat well comes in on S. L. Fowler’s farm near a small North Texas community on the Red River.

The subsequent drilling boom will make Burkburnett famous  – two decades before “Boom Town,” the 1940 motion picture it inspires. Future movie star Clark Gable is a teenage oilfield worker in Oklahoma.

The well is completed at the northeastern edge of Burkburnett, founded in 1907 – and named by President Theodore Roosevelt, who two years earlier hunted wolf along the Red River with rancher Burkburnett. Read the rest of this entry »

 

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s legacy extends beyond his popular wild west show. A Wyoming town and museum named for him preserve his Big Horn Basin heritage. Lesser known is his brief exploration into the oil business.

“Bill, the Oil King” stands by one of his cable-tool wells drilled near Cody, Wyoming, at the beginning of the 20th century. Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

In his day, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show made William F. Cody the world’s most famous man. His fantastic travelling presentations of wild Indian attacks on wagon trains, amazing marksmanship by Annie Oakley, and a host of other attractions thrilled audiences across America and Europe.

Buffalo Bill Cody was a tireless promoter of the frontier town he helped found in 1896 that bears his name. A Cody, Wyoming, newspaper he and a partner started in 1899 is still publishing today. The Cody Enterprise acknowledges W.F. Buffalo Bill Cody on its masthead.

As a partner in the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company, he enticed the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad to build an extension from Toluca, Montana, to Cody to ensure future growth and prosperity in the Big Horn Basin of north-central Wyoming.

Always a businessman, Buffalo Bill had earlier formed the W.F. Cody Hotel Company when the railroad reached Sheridan, about 150 miles east of Cody, in 1892. He will open the Irma Hotel (named after his daughter) in Cody in 1902. Historian Robert Bonner notes that the veteran showman promoted his enterprises endlessly with anyone who would listen.

“He saw great possibilities in every direction, and he had an unquestioned faith in his personal ability to achieve whatever he set out to do,” writes Bonner in William F. Cody’s Wyoming Empire: The Buffalo Bill Nobody Knows. “He was always willing to back up his words with his money.”

The Irma Hotel in Cody, shown here circa 1920, opened in 1902 and remains open today. It was named for the daughter of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Photo courtesy of Lynn Johnson Houze, WyoHistory.org.

The Irma Hotel in Cody, shown here circa 1920, opened in 1902 and remains open today. It was named for the daughter of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Photo courtesy of Lynn Johnson Houze, WyoHistory.org.

The Burlington and Quincy line opened in Cody, population about 300, on November 11, 1901. The train depot was on the north side of the Shoshone River, across from the town.

Meanwhile, an oil discovery ten months earlier in a small Texas town had launched America’s greatest drilling frenzy, one that would create the modern petroleum industry.

Perhaps inspired by the oil gusher on Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, which would lead to hundreds of new Texas oil companies, Buffalo Bill and associate George Beck began searching for oil near Cody.

The Search for Black Gold

The fledgling oilmen began by using the same “placer claim” Wyoming applied to gold and silver. State law required that at least $100 had to be spent annually on development of each 160-acre claim.

Buffalo Bill’s prior disappointments in mining did not hamper his energetic promotion of the venture and search for investors – including Wyoming congressman Rep. Frank Mondell, among others. He and his partners formed the Cody Oil Company in October 1902.

The founder of Cody, Wyoming - and Shoshone Oil Company - "Buffalo Bill" Cody, pictured in 1916.

“It would be hard to imagine the history of Wyoming around the turn of the twentieth century without Buffalo Bill,” notes one historian. Photo from 1916.

Cody Oil drilled its first well at an oil springs just two miles from the town Buffalo Bill founded.

By August 1903, the well had reached 500 feet and was progressing well enough to prompt spudding another. But water encroachment ruined both well boreholes – and dampened Buffalo Bill’s enthusiasm for the petroleum exploration.

Six years later, Buffalo Bill and his associates once again ventured into the oil business by forming the Shoshone Oil Company. Rep. Mondell, undeterred by the failure of the Cody Oil Company, invested in the new exploration venture.

At $1 per share, Cody bought 2,500 shares and his partner Beck bought 46,666 shares. In 1909 they filed 115 oil placer claims south of Cody. Buffalo Bill energetically promoted his “Bonanza Oil District” to potential investors.

Although Shoshone Oil Company failed to find oil, Buffalo Bill continued to promote new oil ventures. “Don’t you and some of your friends want to come in on the ground floor - and make a real clean up?” he asked one  acquaintance. Shoshone Oil Company today survives only as a collectible stock certificate.

Although Shoshone Oil Company failed to find oil, Buffalo Bill continued to promote new oil ventures. “Don’t you and some of your friends want to come in on the ground floor – and make a real clean up?” he asked one acquaintance. Shoshone Oil Company today survives only as a collectible stock certificate.

According to Bonner’s book, during a visit to New York City in the spring, the determined Cody oilman carried pocket flasks of oil to show his friends in the East and to interest investors. “With what degree of seriousness we cannot know,” writes the author, some of his eastern friends called him, “Bill, the Oil King.”

Unfortunately for the Shoshone Oil Company, all the major oil strikes were found north and east of town; nothing of significance on the company’s placer claims.

If Shoshone Oil Company had drilled farther south and a little east of Cody, it may have found the northernmost extension of the prolific Oregon Basin. This field, discovered in 1912, has produced more than 482 million barrels of oil and 300 million cubic feet of natural gas, reports the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Today, Shoshone Oil Company survives only as collectible stock certificates. In 1915, two years before his death, Buffalo Bill promoted a new oil venture, writing to an acquaintance, “Don’t you and some of your friends want to come in on the ground floor – and make a real clean up?”

A plan to form the Buffalo Bill Oil & Gas Company seems to have come to naught. Success in the Wyoming petroleum business once again eluded William F. Cody, who died on January 10, 1917, in Denver.

“It would be hard to imagine the history of Wyoming around the turn of the twentieth century without Buffalo Bill,” concludes Bonner in his 2007 book. “He brought enormous, electric energy into the Big Horn Basin and the state as a whole.”

Founded in Cody the same year Buffalo Bill died, the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association opened the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in 1927, renamed in 2013 the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The Wyoming State Historical Society, founded in 1953, further supports historical research and preservation.

Also see “Petroleum Pioneers of Wyoming.”

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.

 

The petroleum industry supplies America with an amazing variety of products that are often “hiding in plain sight.” For Binney & Smith Company, common oilfield paraffin changed the company’s destiny by coloring children’s imaginations.

Dustless chalk circa 1904.

Although they longed for color, students in Alice Stead Binney’s classroom had to settle for dustless chalk. An-Du-Septic dustless chalk was so popular among turn-of-the-century teachers that it won a Gold Medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

Teachers like Alice loved the tidy new product, but their choices were limited. Pencils of the day were primitive, with square “leads” made from a variety of clays, slates, and graphite.

Color writing implements were the toxic and expensive imports of artists, best kept away from schoolchildren.

Alice’s husband Edwin, and his cousin, C. Harold Smith, created the award-winning An-Du-Septic chalk as a consequence of expanding their pigment business into the sideline production of slate pencils for schools. Read the rest of this entry »

 

May 14, 1953 – Tulsa’s Golden Driller debuts at Petroleum Expo

 An American Oil & Gas Historical Society energy education conference in 2007 included a field trip to petroleum museums in Seminole, Drumright and Tulsa - with a stop at the Golden Driller.

A 2007 American Oil & Gas Historical Society energy education conference includes a field trip to museums in Seminole, Drumright and Tulsa – with a stop at the Golden Driller.

The Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth introduces the original Golden Driller at the International Petroleum Exposition in Tulsa, Oklahoma, May 14 to May 23, 1953.

It is temporarily erected again for the 1959 Expo – and attracts so much attention that the company refurbishes and donates it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority.

The giant is rebuilt in 1966.

Today, the Golden Driller – a 76-foot tall, 43,500 pound statue of an oil worker – is the largest freestanding statue in the world, according to city officials.

The rebuilt statue  is permanently installed at the 21st Street and Pittsburg Avenue site for the 1966 International Petroleum Exposition. Refurbished again in 1979, the angle-iron structure made of plaster and concrete reportedly can withstand 200 mph winds.

The Golden Driller first appears at the 1953 International Petroleum Exposition. In 1966, Mid-Continent Supply Company builds a permanent version that can withstand 200 mph winds. Photos courtesy the Tulsa Historical Society.

The Golden Driller’s right hand rests on an old production oil derrick moved from an oil field in Seminole, Oklahoma.

Declared Oklahoma’s official state monument in 1979, a plaque at his base dedicates him “to the men of the petroleum industry who by their vision and daring have created from God’s abundance a better life for mankind.”

Tulsa’s first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress, held in 1923, helps make the city known as the “oil capital of the world.”

May 14, 2004 – Petroleum Museum Opens in Oil City, Louisiana

In 1911, Gulf Refining Company built drilling platforms to reach the oil beneath Caddo Lake in Louisiana. This early “offshore” technology worked well and production continues today — out of sight for most vacationers, water enthusiasts and young fishermen.

The first public museum in Louisiana dedicated to the oil and gas industry opens in Oil City, 30 miles northwest of Shreveport.

Chevron donated an oil derrick that stands beside the Louisiana State Oil Museum in Oil City, about a 20-minute drive from Shreveport.

The Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum, originally the Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum, includes the historic depot of the Kansas City Southern Railroad. The museum preserves the many Caddo Parish discoveries – and the economic prosperity brought by a North Louisiana petroleum boom.

With the first oil wells drilled in the early 1900s, by 1910 almost 25,000 people are working in and around Oil City, which becomes the first “wildcat town” in the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas region.

The museum documents the historical importance of the first oil discovery in 1905 – and the technology behind the May 1911 Ferry No. 1 well at Caddo Lake, one of the nation’s earliest over-water oil wells. Gulf Refining Company completed this early “offshore” oil well on Caddo Lake, where production continues today. Read the rest of this entry »