1920s West Texas petroleum discoveries that have kept on giving.
West Texas petroleum history was made in 1923 when a wildcat well blessed by nuns revealed the true size of the petroleum-rich Permian Basin. A small university at Austin owned the arid land, which had been deemed mostly worthless by experts. The Santa Rita oil well proved them wrong.
Successful exploration of the Permian Basin, once known as a “petroleum graveyard,” began in February 1920 with a discovery by William H. Abrams in Mitchell County in West Texas. When completed after “shooting” the well with nitroglycerin in July, production averaged 20 barrels of oil a day.
The W.H. Abrams No. 1 oilfield discovery well of the Permian Basin would lead to the area’s first commercial oil pipeline in the Permian Basin, according to a Texas Historical Commission historic marker placed near the well in 1996 (reported missing in 2020). Even with its limited production, the Abrams well began attracting oil exploration to the barren region. (more…)
Pennsylvania drillers kept oil production from 1882 well a closely guarded secret.
Anyone interested in Pennsylvania petroleum history should not miss the annual celebration at Cherry Grove. Every June, this small community of oil patch historians has celebrated a dramatic 1882 oil discovery with the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day.
Oil prices plunged in 1882 when production from a single Pennsylvania well was finally revealed. Oil production from the well drilled on lot 646 in the wilderness of Cherry Grove Township, Warren County, had been a closely guarded secret.
Rumors of a major oil discovery came at a time when markets were already oversupplied by the nearby Bradford field, the first giant U.S. oilfield. Widespread speculation about the well’s production influenced oil prices, according to geologist Raymond Sorenson.
“Numerous operators and marketers sent personnel to watch the well on 646, leading to the development of oil scouting as a recognized profession,” Sorenson noted in 2012.
But even the best detective work of early oil scouts were initially stymied at Cherry Grove.
Dedicated volunteers at a small Pennsylvania community annually celebrate “the great 1882 Oil Excitement in Cherry Grove” every June.
Owners of the lot 646 well had quietly secured nearby leases before word began to spread about the May 17, 1882, discovery well that flowed with 1,000 barrels of oil per day.
The true oil production news about the “mystery well,” operated by the Jamestown Oil Company, sent shock waves through early oil market centers. The nation’s first commercial oil well in Titusville was just 23 years old.
“The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explained historian Paul H. Giddens in his 1938 The Birth of the Oil Industry.
“The excitement in the oil exchanges was indescribable,” Giddens noted the classic historical account. “Over 4,500,000 barrels of oil were sold in one day on the exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford.”
Visitors annually tour the “mystery well” site in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania.
According to Giddens, the Cherry Grove discovery demoralized the market and drove the price down to less than 50 cents per barrel. It brought an early financial crisis for the young U.S. petroleum industry.
Despite the collapse of oil prices, hundreds of derricks appeared around Cherry Grove — and thousands of people moved there while the boom lasted.
Celebrating Cherry Grove Oil
Although short lived, the drilling boom deserves to be remembered, according to dedicated volunteers of the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day Committee, which for decades has hosted petroleum history events every June.
“Before the railroad could lay a new line to Cherry Grove, the boom went bust,” noted Walt Atwood, president of the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day, in 2012. “Thousands of people moved on. Those who remained kept the memory of the Oil Excitement alive with reunions that became known as Old Home Day.”
According to Atwood, in 1982 a group of Cherry Grove Old Home Day regulars rebuilt a “life-size 1882-style oil derrick and shanty” for the historic 646 Mystery Well’s centennial celebration.
Volunteers worked with township supervisors to raise funds and bring a work crew from the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps. The volunteers reunited in 2007 for the 125th anniversary to rebuild the 646 Mystery Well replica.
The latest annual celebration — “the 140th Anniversary of the Great 1882 Oil Excitement in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania” — is set for Saturday, June 18, 2022, with free events to take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the replica well behind the Cherry Grove Fire Hall, 6045 Cherry Grove, Road (State Road 2001), southwest of Clarendon.
“Anyone who is interested in oil field history, or the history of Cherry Grove, is encouraged to participate to keep the history alive,” explain organizers of the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day.
Learn more about the historic 1882 Pennsylvania well in geologist and historian Ray Sorenson’s presentation, “Cherry Grove Field, Warren County, Pennsylvania: The Lot 646 Mystery Well and Its Aftermath,” given to the Tulsa Geological Society on April 10, 2012, and adapted into a paper for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG).
Recommended Reading: Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pa., Images of America (2000); The Birth of the Oil Industry (1938). 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 preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member today and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Cherry Grove Mystery Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/mystery-well-of-cherry-grove. Last Updated: May 15, 2022. Original Published Date: May 12, 2013.
The Ohio petroleum industry began with an 1885 oilfield discovery.
A “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio began when Benjamin C. Faurot, drilling for natural gas, found oil instead. His Ohio oil well of May 19, 1885, revealed the petroleum-rich Trenton Rock Limestone at a depth of 1,252 feet.
“The oil find has caused much excitement and those who are working at the well have been compelled to build a high fence around it to keep curiosity seekers from bothering them,” Lima’s Daily Republican reported the next day.
“If the well turns out, as it looks now that it will, look out for the biggest boom Lima ever had,” the newspaper proclaimed. The oil excitement rivaled the Trenton formation natural gas drilling from neighboring Indiana (See Indiana Natural Gas Boom).
A circa 1909 post card promoting the petroleum prosperity of Lima, Ohio, which began with an1885 well that found oil while drilling for natural gas.
In February 1885, looking for cheap energy for a paper mill he owned, Faurot had brought in cable-tool drillers from Pennsylvania to bore a natural gas well,” noted a 2019 article in the Lima News. His Lima Paper Mill produced straw board and egg cases at its plant on the Ottawa River east of downtown.
After the oil discovery, Faurot organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company. Excited Lima citizens organized their own oil exploration venture, the Citizens’ Oil Company, which allowed only 100 investors with none allowed to hold more than five shares of stock sold at $20 per share.
Faurot’s well had revealed the Lima oilfield, soon to be the largest oil-producer in the world.
Lima oil stored in wooden storage would be shipped to Cleveland refineries. Circa 1900 photo courtesy of Allen County Historical Society.
“In May of 1885, Lima was a bustling community of some 8,000 people with a new courthouse and, thanks to leading businessman Benjamin C. Faurot, an opera house. It claimed a soon-to-be-electrified city street car system, railroad connections in all directions and a handful of newspapers,” noted a 2019 article in the Lima News.
“The great enterprise of piping oil from the Lima fields to Chicago manufacturing establishments is now, in this year of 1888, being undertaken by the Standard Oil Company, who practically control all the oil territory around Lima,” noted one reporter at the time.
Among those attracted to Lima was the future four-time mayor of Toledo, Samuel Jones, who helped found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon), patented an improved oil production technology, and became known as “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio.
In 2006, the Ohio Historical Society dedicated a Faurot oil well marker at 835 East North Street in Lima.
According to historian Richard Timberlake Jr., the “Panic of 1893” was a serious economic depression in the United States. Like a similar nationwide financial collapse two decades earlier, it was marked by the overbuilding of railroads, resulting in a series of bank failures.
By 1886, Lima was the most productive oilfield in America after producing more than 20 million barrels of oil. Much of the oil was “heavy” — thick and sulfurous — but by the following year Lima oilfields led the world in production.
“Though short-lived, the oil rush brought an influx of people, pipelines, refineries, and businesses, giving a powerful impetus to the growth of northwest Ohio,” concluded the Allen County Historical Society, which in 2006 placed a Faurot historical marker near the oil well in Lima.
After developing a new method for refining the heavy Lima oil, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey began construction on its Whiting refinery in 1889. The company used improved pipeline technologies to deliver refined Lima oil to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. There, at 72.5 cents per barrel, Standard Oil fueled the world’s largest steam boiler installation at the time. Chicago’s fair ultimately attracted 27.5 million visitors.
Refining Sulfurous “Lima Oil”
A emigrant German chemist would bring Ohio oil riches to John D. Rockefeller. On February 21, 1887, Herman Frasch applied to patent a new process for eliminating sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.”
Inventor and mining engineer Herman Frasch (1851-1914), the “Sulfur King.”
The former employee of Standard Oil of New Jersey, was quickly rehired. Rockefeller had acquired some of the Lima oilfields for bargain prices because the wells produced a thick, sulfurous oil. Despite its difficulty to refine, the petroleum tycoon had accumulated a 40-million-barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour “Lima oil.”
Standard Oil Company bought Frasch’s patent for a copper-oxide refining process to “sweeten” the oil. By the early 1890s, the company’s new Whiting oil refinery east of Chicago was producing odorless kerosene from desulfurized oil, making Rockefeller a fortune.
Paid in Standard Oil shares and becoming very wealthy, Frasch moved to Louisiana — where the skilled chemist and mining engineer invented a new method to extract sulfur from underground deposits by injecting superheated water into wells. By 1911, multimillionaire Frasch was known as the “Sulfur King.”
In 2006, the Allen County Historical Society placed an Ohio historical marker near Benjamin C. Faurot’s oilfield discovery well site at the North Street crossing of the Ottawa River in Lima.
At Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio –the largest man-made body of water in the world — supported commerce of Erie Canal beginning in 1845. By late 1880s, Mercer County was producing oil from wells pumping on platforms on the lake. Learn more in Ohio Offshore Oil wells.
Recommended Reading: Ohio Oil and Gas (2008); Where it All Began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); Herman Frasch -The Sulphur King (2013). 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 preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join today as an annual AOGHS annual supporting member. Help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Great Oil Boom of Lima Ohio.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/great-oil-boom-of-lima-ohio. Last Updated: May 11, 2022. Original Published Date: May 19, 2019.
“Bond of Friendship” memorial 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, the Osage dedicated a “Bond of Friendship” statute to him in nearby Skedee.
Born at Adrian, Illinois, in 1865, Walters was one year old when his parents moved to the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory. Hw was named in honor of Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteers, the first Union officer killed during the Civil War (shot while removing the Confederate flag from the roof of a Virginia hotel).
Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters, “auctioneer of the Osage Nation.”
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.
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.”
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
Colonel E.E. Walters (above in striped shirt) on March 18, 1924, accepted a $2 million bid from Josh Cosden for a single 160-acre Osage lease.
The close friendship between Osage Chief (phonetically) Wah-she-hah and Walters was rare enough at the time to warrant an Oklahoma monolith. 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.
Still standing in Skedee, the 1926 sculpture depicts the 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.
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.
Osage Chief Bacon Rind and Colonel E.E. Walters in an undated photo.
“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, notes 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 adds. “One did not have to be an Osage to inherit an Osage headright.” Estimates vary, but approximately 24 Osage Indians died violent or suspicious deaths during the early 1920s, when con men, bootleggers and murderers began a “Reign of Terror.”
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-selling 2018 book Killers of the Flower Moon by journalist David Grann investigated the disturbing and tragic stories.
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.
Sadly, 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.
Like the town, the “Bond of Friendship” of Skedee, Oklahoma, has deteriorated since 1926. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.
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.”
After almost a century, the Skedee “Bond of Friendship” monument began showing its age. The legacy of the once famous friendship has provided some slight merriment for at least one contributor to Roadside America:
Although a traditionalist in customs, Chief Bacon Rind’s leadership earned his people millions from oil and natural gas resources.
“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: the pillar is plastered cinder block around old oil pipes, while the Chief and the Colonel appear to be made of Play-Doh spray-painted silver. The distended lower half of the Chief, in particular, looks as if he’s carrying a space alien seed pod that is about to burst.”
According to more dependable sources, Chief Bacon Rind, “a statuesque man at six feet four inches,” perhaps the most photographed of all Native Americans.
The Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration noted the chief was frequently asked to pose for the prominent artists of the day “and created an image of the romantic ideal of the American Indian.”
Skedee’s population peaked in 1910. Today only about 50 residents call Skedee home. The aging monument draws few crowds. Chief Bacon Rind died in 1932 and Colonel Ephriam Ellsworth Walters followed in 1946. For those who choose to look deeper, the heart of Skedee can be found 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 Leases 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.
Osage writer Anna Marie Jefferson published a book about the 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.”
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 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 email@example.com. © 2022 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: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/million-dollar-auctioneer. Last Updated: April 18, 2022. Original Published Date: March 27, 2015.
Natural oil seeps, giant oilfields, and the beginning of the California petroleum industry.
“Everyone thinks of Los Angeles as the ultimate car city, but the city’s relationship with petroleum products is far more significant than just consumption.” — Center for Land Use Interpretation
Edward Doheny discovered the Los Angeles oilfield in 1892 when he drilled into tar seeps near present-day Dodger Stadium. Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Culver City, California.
When struggling prospector Edward L. Doheny and his mining partner Charles A. Canfield decided to dig a well in 1892, they chose a site already known for its “tar” pools that bubbled to the surface.
Some historians report that Doheny was downtown when he noticed a cart with a black substance on its wheels. The Los Angeles oilfield’s history would begin when Doheny asked the driver where he had come from.
On April 20, 1892, Doheny and his partner Canfield struck oil near present-day Dodger Stadium and revealed the giant Los Angeles City field, part of the onshore and offshore geology of California oil seeps. The “tar” Doheny had seen on the cart’s wheels was asphalt from one of California’s animal-trapping pools discovered in 1769 at Brea by a Spanish explorer.
A tower moves on tracks, servicing 19 wells drilled at sharp angles under the adjacent neighborhood. Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation.
The Los Angeles City oilfield discovery well, completed in 1893 between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue, set off California’s first oil boom by producing about 45 barrels a day. Within a few years, hundreds of wells were producing oil that was being refined into lubricants and kerosene for lamps.
Los Angeles Oilfields Boom
Indian Territory onlookers gathered in Bartlesville for the 1897 “shooting” of the Nellie Johnstone No.1 oil well.
After securing rights to explore in the Cherokee Nation, a small group of businessmen drilled on the west bank of the Caney River and found oil on March 25, 1897, at a depth of about 1,300 feet. A few weeks later, Bartlesville residents gathered at the site to watch the “shooting” of the Nellie Johnstone No. 1, the future state of Oklahoma’s first commercial oil well.
Soon after the Civil War, America’s search for oil to refine into kerosene for lamps prompted entrepreneurs, speculators, and the new petroleum industry’s “wildcatters” to seek their fortunes on the great plains of the Indian Territory.