The Sooner State’s petroleum industry began a decade before statehood when the first Oklahoma oil well was completed at Bartlesville in 1897.
On April 16, 1917 – ten days after the United States entered World War I – the Murdock Oil & Gas Company was registered to do business by J.P. Wolverton, T.H. Williams, and B.W. Fesler, all of Chickasha, Oklahoma. They hoped to find oil with money from people willing to take the risk.
Their newly formed petroleum exploration venture, with capitalization of just $25,000, depended upon investors to fund wildcat drilling (away from proven production).
The company looked for black gold riches just a few miles east of Bartlesville, in Nowata County. “The discovery of oil and gas in 1904 earned the region a reputation for being the world’s largest shallow oil field with a number of those wells still producing today,” notes an article in the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.
As competition for leases and drilling equipment grew fierce, the county seat of Nowata experienced its own oil boom.
Among Nowata hotels built during the “boom” days, “one hotel in particular deserves mentioning,” writes Maxine Bamburg in her 2009 article, Nowata.
“The Savoy, constructed in 1909 on the town square, was a three-story, brick building where oil leases were signed and formal balls were held,” she explains.
Unsuccessful attempts have since been made to preserve the Savoy building, which served as a county hospital in the 1940s. Nearby is the Nowata County Historical Museum with displays about the oil boom.
About 35 miles to the north of Nowata County, the July 23, 1917, Coffeyville (Kansas) Daily Journal reported the Murdock Oil and Gas Company had completed a producing oil well on the Mary A. Coody farm.
“The well, which was shot [see Shooters – a “Fracking” History] Saturday, is the first drilled by the company and is good for sixty barrels,” the newspaper noted.
By Oklahoma law, Coody was entitled to an allotment of Cherokee oil rights, as were members of her family who also had “headrights” in the county (learn more about headrights legislation in Million Dollar Auctioneer of the Osage Nation).
Murdock Oil & Gas founder J.P. Wolverton was also president of Midas Oil & Gas Company, whose property adjoined the Murdock lease. He enthusiastically promoted both companies in the Wichita Beacon newspaper.
The cost of drilling an oil well by 1918 was about $2.50 per foot and with oil selling at less than $2 per barrel, a single dry hole could bring an end to a company and its investors’ hopes. This seems to have been the fate of both Murdock companies.
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? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website. For membership information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.