First Wyoming Oil Wells

Book by Washington Irving in 1837 helped reveal natural resources of Far West.


Tales of a Wyoming “tar spring” convinced the experienced Pennsylvania oilfield explorer Mike Murphy to drill a shallow well in 1883. He sold his oil to Union Pacific to lubricate train axles. Others would follow in the search for Wyoming oilfields.

Civil War veteran Philip Shannon explored for oil at Salt Creek outside of Casper in 1890. His well revealed what proved to be a 22,000-acre oilfield. An oil gusher drilled by a Dutch company made headlines in 1908.

But the story of Wyoming’s petroleum really began with Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” (more…)

Million Dollar Auctioneer

Bond of Friendship monument dedicated in 1926 preserves the history of Osage oil leases.


Colonel Elmer Ellsworth (his real name) Walters was the most famous auctioneer in all of Oklahoma history. In 1912, the Osage Indians hired him to auction mineral rights from their petroleum-rich reservation. By 1920, they had awarded him a gold medal for his skillful sales of Osage oil leases.

Walters, paid just $10 a day, earned the tribe millions of dollars while working beneath a giant elm tree in Pawhuska. In April 1926, Osage friends and local residents dedicated a Bond of Friendship monument in Walters’ nearby hometown of Skedee.

Newspaper ad courtesy of Colonel Walters' great-great-granddaughter Hope Litvinoff.

Newspaper ad courtesy of Colonel Walters’ great-great-granddaughter Hope Litvinoff. Her grandmother in 1926 helped unveil a statue in Skedee, Oklahoma, honoring Walters and the chief of the Osage Nation.

Born at Adrian, Illinois, in 1865, Walters was one year old when his parents moved to the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory. He was named in honor of Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteers — the first Union officer killed at the start of the Civil War (shot while removing the Confederate flag from the roof of a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia).

Although Walters became a deputy U.S. marshal at 19, he began gaining distinction as an auctioneer. He sold live stock, real estate and mineral leases in 2,250-square-mile Osage County.

Million Dollar Elm

Beginning in 1912, Walters sold Osage mineral leases in 160-acre blocks based on “headrights” from a 1906 tribal population count. In Pawhuska, between the Osage council house and the county courthouse, Walters called the auctions while standing in the shade of what became known as the “Million Dollar Elm.”

The bidders for the leases were a who’s who of leading Oklahoma independent producers. E.W. Marland biographer John J. Mathews quotes one impressed onlooker: “You could stand on the edge of the crowd and see two or three of the biggest names in America squatting there on the grass, as common as an old shoe, and when they raised their hands it meant millions. That’s a fact!”

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Another onlooker described hundreds of spectators and reporters who gathered to watch the bidding. Walters proved so effective at “extracting millions from the silk pockets of such newly minted oil barons as Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland, and William G. Skelly” that the Osages awarded him a medal.

“On February 3, 1920, before that day’s bidding began, the Osage tribe presented Walters with a medal to show their appreciation for all the wealth he’d drummed up for them in the shade of the Million Dollar Elm,” the witness reported.

First Union officer killed in the Civil War, complete with rank. Currier and Ives engraving, 1861. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Born in 1865, Colonel  E.E. Walters wasn’t actually a Colonel. He was named in honor of the first Union officer killed in the Civil War, complete with rank. Currier and Ives engraving, 1861. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

By 1922, the National Petroleum News proclaimed that Walters had “Sold 10 Times As Much Property Under Hammer As Any Other Man” and his friends, the Osage, became “the richest people in the world.”

Beneath the Pawhuska elm on March 18, 1924, Walters secured a bid of $1,995,000 for one 160-acre tract. It was the highest price paid at that time, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Walters reportedly received more Osage gifts, including a diamond-studded badge and a diamond ring for his auctions of Osage oil leases.

Dark Side of Headrights

Sudden great wealth for the Osage people brought a bloody criminal conspiracy of unsolved murders that left dozens of Osage men, women, and children dead — killed for the headrights to their land.

Colonel E.E. Walters, million dollar auctioneer, at Elm tree. Detail from a photo in Oil! Titan of the Southwest by Carl Coke Rister, 1949.

In the early 1920s, Colonel E.E. Walters stood in the shade of a soon famous Elm tree to auction mineral leases, including a $2 million bid for a single 160-acre Osage lease. Detail from a photo in Oil! Titan of the Southwest by Carl Coke Rister, 1949.

“Osage mineral leases earned royalties that were paid to the tribe as a whole, with each allottee receiving one equal share, or headright, of the payments, noted Oklahoma Historical Society historian Jon D. May in Osage Murders.

“A headright was hereditary and passed to a deceased allottee’s immediate legal heir,” May added. “One did not have to be an Osage to inherit an Osage headright.”

Estimates vary, but at least 24 Osage Indians died violent or suspicious deaths during the early 1920s, when con men, bootleggers and murderers began a “Reign of Terror.”

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William K. Hale was one of the worst. He was accused of repeatedly orchestrating murders, tried four times, and finally convicted of a single killing. The best-seller 2018 book Killers of the Flower Moon by journalist David Grann investigated the disturbing and tragic stories.

The New Yorker staff writer’s award-winning book would be adapted in a $200 million movie directed by Martin Scorsese, who acquired book rights in July 2017.

Sadly, at the time most Oklahoma news media ignored the reservation’s murders — and the murderers. Newspapers there and around the country instead featured scandalous stories of incredible Osage wealth squandered on Pierce-Arrows and gaudy fashion. As Osage Indians died, reporters mocked the tribe with sarcasm and caricatures.

In his 1994 book, Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Greed and Murder on the Osage Reservation, Washington Post journalist Dennis McAuliffe noted little wonder that, “this period in our history hardly dances with awareness.”

On April 22, 1926, hundreds gathered in Skedee, Oklahoma, for the unveiling of the 25-foot "Bond of Friendship" monument honoring the chief of the Osage Nation and the state's greatest auctioneer of mineral rights.

On April 22, 1926, hundreds gathered in Skedee, Oklahoma, for the unveiling of the 25-foot Bond of Friendship monument honoring the chief of the Osage Nation and the state’s greatest auctioneer of mineral rights.

As a result of the Osage murders, on February 27, 1925, the U.S. Congress passed the “Osage Indians Act of 1925,” a law prohibiting non-Osages from inheriting headrights of tribal members possessing more than one-half Osage blood.

According to the Osage Nation, in 2022, “approximately 26 percent of all headrights are owned by non-Osage individuals, churches, universities, and other non-Osage institutions who can freely bequeath such interests to any person or entity the non-Osage chooses.

Bond of Friendship

On April 22, 1926, hundreds gathered in Walter’s longtime home of Skedee for the dedication of a 25-foot Bond of Friendship monument. The unveiling revealed “painted bronze” statues of Walters and the chief of the Osage Nation shaking hands on a two-tiered sandstone and concrete base. 

Statue of “Bond of Friendship" in Skedee, Oklahoma, has deteriorated since 1926. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

Like the town, the Bond of Friendship of Skedee, Oklahoma, has deteriorated since 1926. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

The friendship between Osage Chief (phonetically) Wah-she-hah and Walters left a statue in the Skedee town square. Wah-she-hah translates to Star-That-Travels in the Osage language — but history and visitors to the Skedee statue remember him as Chief Bacon Rind.

Osage Chief Bacon Rind and Colonel E.E. Walters in an undated photo.

Osage Chief Bacon Rind and Colonel E.E. Walters in an undated photo.

Still standing in Skedee, the 1926 sculpture depicts Osage Chief Bacon Rind wearing his traditional otter-skin cap and a cloak. Walters wears a suit with trousers tucked into his boots and holds his hat in left hand. At the statue’s unveiling, the popular “auctioneer of the Osage Nation” had sold $157 million in lease sales for his friends. But it wasn’t all good news.

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By the early 2020s, the Skedee Bond of Friendship monument began showing its age. The legacy of the once famous lease auctioneer and the Osage friendship provided some  merriment for at least one contributor to Roadside America:

“The lesson imparted here is that white and red can be harmonious — if you just add a little green…Atop a blocky concrete pillar stands the Chief and the Colonel, facing each other, shaking hands. The work is primitive for such well-oiled honorees…while the Chief and the Colonel appear to be made of Play-Doh spray-painted silver.”

Chief Bacon Rind, Osage friend of the million dollar auctioneer.

Although a traditionalist in customs, Chief Bacon Rind’s leadership earned his people millions from oil and natural gas resources.

However, the Osage Chief Bacon Rind, “a statuesque man at six feet four inches,” at one time was among the most photographed of all Native Americans. The Works Progress Administration noted the chief frequently posed for the prominent artists of the day “and created an image of the romantic ideal of the American Indian.”

Chief Bacon Rind died in 1932 and Walters followed in 1946. The population of Skedee peaked in 1910; a century later fewer than 50 residents remained. The tall but weathered monument remains in the center of town.

Walters, an amateur poet, had his hopes for the future carved into his hometown monument’s base:

…I will build for them a landmark,
That the coming race may see,
All the beauties of the friendship,
That exists ‘tween them and me…
And explain it to grandchildren,
as they sit upon their knee.

Preserving Osage Oil Stories

In 2018, an Osage writer decided to look deeper into Walter’s life and times. Already an author of several books about Osage history, Anna Marie Jefferson a year later published her 2019 book, Colonel E. Walters: Auctioneer for the Osage Lease Sales During the early 20th-Century. Her research includes local newspaper accounts and rare images from his career.

Book cover of 1999 bok, Colonel E. Walters: Auctioneer for the Osage Lease Sales

Osage writer Anna Marie Jefferson published a book about Colonel Walters in 2019.

Jefferson, who grew up in Osage County, remembered visiting the statue as a child in neighboring Pawnee County. “As an Osage (Sac and Fox/Pawnee as well) I was unaware of who Colonel E. Walters was, the man on top of the memorial.”

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Familiar with Osage leader Bacon Rind, Jefferson began researching the life of Walters and his famed long career as a skilled auctioneer.

“When traveling the Osage, sometimes one needs to go just beyond the county lines to find early Osage Nation,” she explained in her book’s introduction. “Such is the case with the Bond of Friendship monument in the small town of Skedee, Oklahoma.”


Recommended Reading: The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil (1985); Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (2018); Colonel E. Walters: Auctioneer for the Osage Lease Sales During the early 20th-Century (2019). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2023 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Million Dollar Auctioneer.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: February 26, 2024. Original Published Date: March 27, 2015.

First Kansas Oil Well

Natural gas discoveries and an 1892 oil well at Neodesha revealed giant Mid-Continent fields.


Small amounts of oil found in 1892 at Neodesha in eastern Kansas would be called the first commercial oil discovery west of the Mississippi River — although the driller had been searching for natural gas. The search for the Sunflower State’s petroleum resources began decades earlier.

In 1860, George Brown, a newspaperman in Kansas Territory, recalled stories about an oil spring in Lykins County. Brown, who had arrived a few years earlier from the Pennsylvania oil regions, gathered a few partners and drilled three shallow wells one mile east of Paola. (more…)

First Alabama Oil Well

Reports of a “mineral tar” from the 1840s helped H.L. Hunt discover an oilfield a century later.


Swallowing “tar pills” supposedly had been curing ills since the mid-1800s, but Alabama’s petroleum industry officially began in 1944 with a Choctaw County well drilled by a well-known Texas wildcatter. On February 17, independent producer Haroldson Lafayette “H.L” Hunt completed his Jackson No. 1 well after discovering Alabama’s first oilfield.

H.L. Hunt had found success in the earliest Arkansas oilfields of the 1920s and even greater success in the East Texas oilfield of the 1930s. He now had revealed the Gilbertown oilfield of western Alabama, about 50 miles southeast of Meridian, Mississippi.

Rare 1849 geology map of Alabama , printed in 1849 by Michael Tuomey.

Geological Map of Alabama, printed in 1849 by Michael Tuomey, professor of geology, mineralogy and agricultural chemistry at the University of Alabama. Tuomey published his First Biennial Report of the Geology of Alabama in 1850. Map courtesy University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections.

Despite limited knowledge of the state’s geology, regions with oil and natural gas seeps had attracted interest as early as the mid-19th century. Prior to Hunt’s Choctaw County wildcat well, 350 dry holes had been drilled in Alabama. 

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Geologist and petroleum historian Ray Sorenson has investigated the earliest reports of petroleum in all producing states. His on-going project has documented first signs of oil in the United States, Canada, and many parts of the world (see Exploring Earliest Signs of Oil).

In Alabama’s case, Sorenson uncovered an account by an early expert in the scientific field of geology. The first Alabama state geologist, Michael Tuomey, described reports of a “mineral tar,” and cited an 1840s account of finding natural oil seeps six miles from Oakville in Lawrence County.

With quantities of oil and water emerging from a crevice in limestone, Tuomey observed that “the tar, or bitumen, floats on the surface, a black film very cohesive and insoluble in water.”

Circa 1950 Alabama oil well steel drilling derrick.

The A.R. Jackson No. 1 well in 1944 revealed an Alabama oilfield near the Mississippi border. Photo courtesy Hunt Oil Company.

Similar to “Kentucky oil,” Alabama’s Lawrence County oil became popular for its medicinal qualities. Oil from the county was claimed to be “a known cure for Scrofula, Cancerous Sores, Rheumatism, Dyspepsia,” and other diseases.

“Patients visiting the Spring find the tar taken and swallowed as pills, the most efficient form of the remedy,” Tuomey quoted the observation from “Tar Spring of Lawrence” in the 1858  Second Biennial Report On the Geology of Alabama (published one year after his death).

Tuomey served as the state geologist of South Carolina from 1844 to 1847, and as the first state geologist of Alabama from 1848 until his death in 1857. His Geological Map of Alabama was printed in 1849.

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In addition to oil, traces of natural gas were discovered in Alabama in the late 1880s, and by 1902, natural gas was being supplied to Huntsville and the town of Hazel Green, according to Alabama historian Alan Cockrell.

“In 1909, a small discovery by Eureka Oil and Gas at Fayette fueled that city’s streetlights for a time, but no natural gas was recovered anywhere in the state for several decades afterward,” he added.

Learn about the earliest oilfield discoveries in other U.S. producing states in First Oil Discoveries.

Gilbertown Oil Discovery

According to Cockrell, Alabama’s oil and natural gas industry did not truly begin until H.L. Hunt of Dallas, Texas, drilled in Choctaw County near the Mississippi border and discovered the Gilbertown oilfield.

Concrete foundation of Alabama's first oil well, the A.R. Jackson Well No. 1, completed in 1944.

Concrete foundations are all that remains of Alabama’s first oil well, the A.R. Jackson Well No. 1, completed in 1944 near Gilbertown. Photo courtesy Explore Rural S.W. Alabama.

After five weeks of drilling, the well was completed on February 17, 1944, at 2,585 feet in the Selma chalk of the Upper Cretaceous. Hunt’s A.R. Jackson Well No. 1 two miles southwest of downtown Gilbertown had reached a total a depth of 5,380 feet before being “plugged back” to its most productive oil-producing geologic formation.

H.L. Hunt’s first Alabama oil well produced just 30 barrels of oil a day, but launched the state’s petroleum industry. “The discovery of this well led to the creation of the State Oil and Gas Board of Alabama in 1945, and to the development and growth of the petroleum industry in Alabama,” notes an Alabama historic marker erected at the site. 

Alabama geological map showing petroleum regions.

Deeper drilling led to more Alabama petroleum discoveries in the 1980s. Map courtesy Encyclopedia of Alabama.

The first oilfield would produce 15 million barrels of oil, “not a lot by modern standards but enough to make ‘oil fever’ spread rapidly,” Cockrell noted in “Oil and Gas Industry in Alabama” in 2008. The search for another oilfield took 11 more years.

The 1955 oil discovery at Citronelle, a town above a geologic salt dome, finally launched a new drilling boom; five new Alabama oilfields were discovered by 1967. Mobil Oil Company drilled Alabama’s first successful offshore natural gas well in 1981.

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As production technologies advance, geologists believe opportunities exist in the “hard shales of the deep Black Warrior Basin beneath Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties and in the thick fractured shales of St. Clair and neighboring counties,” according to Cockrell.

By 2022, more than 17,500 oil and natural gas wells had been drilled in Alabama since the state’s first commercial oil discovery in 1944. According to the Washington, DC-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), about 10 percent of the Alabama wells produced oil, 59 percent natural gas, and 30 percent (about 5,000 wells) were nonproductive “dry holes.”

Mapping Mineral Riches 

From the journal Cartographic Perspectives of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS):

Settlement of the newly available land enabled Alabama to move rapidly from being a part of the Mississippi Territory, to its own Alabama Territory, and finally to statehood in 1819. The favorable climate and rich soil brought large plantations and slavery.

1849 Geologic map of Alabama detail.

Appointed State Geologist of Alabama in 1848, Michael Tuomey served until his death in 1857.

Michael Tuomey (1805-1857), professor of geology at the University of Alabama in the 1840s, had attempted to lead Alabama’s economy away from slavery-based agriculture. In 1849, he produced the first survey of the state’s mineral wealth. His map Geological map of Alabama showed exactly where the state’s natural riches were located. The efforts of Tuomey and others were rejected, as were similar efforts in other southern states.


Recommended Reading: Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks: A Guide (2000). Drilling Ahead, The Quest for Oil in the Deep South, 1945-2005 (2005). Your Amazon purchases benefit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Alabama Oil Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: February 9, 2024. Original Published Date: October 21, 2017.

First Nevada Oil Well

Wildcat wells drilled near Reno inspired decades of gambling.


The search for commercial amounts of petroleum in Nevada began in 1907 with an expensive well drilled southwest of Reno. After reaching a depth of 1,890 feet, the remote wildcat in Washoe County proved unproductive — a dry hole.

A second exploratory well was rumored to have been drilled northwest of Reno, but few details about it survived, because drilling permits were not required until 1953. (more…)

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