Exploration company’s cable-tool well showed signs of oil as Great Depression began.


Although successful oil wells had been drilled as early as 1901, oil fever arrived in Montana with the October 1915 discovery of the Elk Basin oilfield in Carbon County.

More discoveries came at the Cat Creek oilfield in 1920 and in the Kevin-Sunburst oilfield of 1922, both of which motivated businessmen in Miles City to form the Montana Bell Oil & Gas Company. They filed to do business in the state on March 8, 1924, but their timing was terrible.

Wooden derrick similar to Montana's first oil well was drilled in 1901.

Montana’s first oil well was drilled in 1901 in the Kintla Lake area that’s now part of Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Montana.

In the last few months of 1924 alone, a financial crisis described by Montana’s superintendent of banks as a “veritable nightmare” closed 191 banks.

Bankrupt in Montana

Between 1921 and 1926, no state had more bankruptcies than Montana. Newspapers reported in 1924 reported “the tremulous activity” of Montana Belle Oil that “may be expected in this country within the year, unless present plans halted.”

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Nonetheless, Montana Belle Oil & Gas was able to secure a mineral lease from Adolph F. Loesch west of Miles City in April 1926. The company selected a drilling site for its first well in typically foreboding southeast Montana (see Public Land Survey System, Northeast Quarter of Section 28, Township 8 North, Range 45 East).

Drilling the wildcat well during hard financial times and in a remote location slowed progress. Legal issues also troubled the company, according to reports in the Billings Gazette.

“With the settlement of differences arising without recourse to the courts, the officers of the Montana Belle Oil & Gas company are preparing to proceed,” the newspaper noted in January 1928.

“Drilling in the Montana Belle Oil and Gas company well, located about twelve miles west of this city is proceeding 24 hours a day,” the reporter added.

Using dated cable-tool drilling technology, the company reached a depth of 1,035 feet. The Billings Gazette reported the company’s objective was a depth of 1,750 feet, “in accordance with the report of the geologist who has made a survey and examination of the earth strata, and at which it is expected that results will follow. Gas is also in evidence in the hole.”

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Investors and stockholders were encouraged that the well was “showing some light oil though not in commercial quantities.” The drilling continued into deeper formations. On October 24, 1929 — “Black Thursday” — the U.S. stock market crashed, launching the Great Depression.

In December 1929, five years after incorporating, Montana Belle Oil and Gas Company’s only oil well shut down for the winter. It reportedly had reach the impressive depth of 4,562 feet, but drilling never resumed. Montana Belle Oil and Gas Company failed in 1930, as did Miles City’s oil refinery and many other oilfield businesses.

The first Montana oil well was drilled in 1901 in the Kintla Lake area, later part of Glacier National Park. More about the state’s petroleum history can be found in the 2011 article “Montana’s first oil well was drilled at Kintla Lake in 1901.”


The stories of exploration and production companies joining petroleum booms (and avoiding busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything? Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Montana Belle Oil & Gas Company.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL:  https://aoghs.org/old-oil-stocks/montana-belle-oil-amp-gas-company. Last Updated: February 29, 2024. Original Published Date: April 13, 2022.


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