Pennsylvania wildcatters discover oilfield near Tulsa in Oklahoma Territory.
Six years before Oklahoma statehood, the 1901 Red Fork oilfield discovery south of Tulsa set the town on its journey to becoming “Oil Capital of the World.”
Attracted to Indian Territory following an 1897 discovery at Bartlesville (see 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, the technology used to drill the first U.S. oil well in 1859 along Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
After leasing thousands of acres in the Creek Nation, John S. Wick and Jesse A. Heydrick spudded their well near the village of Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. It was not easy for the Pennsylvanians.
“At the beginning of the twentieth-century Oklahoma Indian lands were in the process of being transferred from communal tribal ownership to individual tribal member holdings,” explained Bobby D. Weaver of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “This process, which made legal access to Indian property very uncertain, kept most oilmen away from areas under Indian control.”
The exploratory well was almost never drilled when the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway station agent at Red Fork “refused to accept a draft on their Pennsylvania backers to release their drilling equipment,” Weaver noted.
Creek Land lease
A loan from two local doctors, John C. W. Bland and Fred S. Clinton, led to the Red Fork discovery well being drilled at Red Fork on the tribal allotment of Sue A. Bland, a Creek citizen and wife of Dr. Bland.
Although the Sue A. Bland No. 1 well erupted an oil geyser high into the air, the discovery soon settled into production of just 10 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 537 feet. Despite the low production, the Oklahoma Territory well attracted a lot of national attention, drawing large numbers of exploration companies to the Tulsa area.
The Tulsa Democrat newspaper exclaimed, “Geyser of Oil Spouts at Red Fork” and “Oil Well Gusher Fifteen Feet High.” Within a week, Red Fork – once a quiet town of 75 people – was overrun by people clamoring for leases.
Many of the newcomers settled in Tulsa, which in 1904 constructed its first bridge across the Arkansas River to accommodate wagon loads of oilfield workers and equipment.
“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,” concluded Weaver.
“The discovery also prompted Tulsa citizens to begin a strong promotional campaign, with the result that by 1904 a much needed bridge had been built across the Arkansas River,” he added. “This gave Tulsa access to the Red Fork Field and beyond 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.
Recommended Reading: Tulsa Oil Capital of the World, Images of America (2004). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
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Citation Information: Article Title: “Red Fork Gusher.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/oklahoma-red-fork-oilfield. Last Updated: June 16, 2022. Original Published Date: June 23, 2014.