Michigan’s Golden Gulch of Oil

The 1957 well drilled on Mrs. Houseknecht’s dairy farm.


The only giant Michigan oil and natural gas field was discovered in January 1957 on the dairy farm of Ferne Houseknecht. Her first oil well revealed Michigan’s golden gulch of oil that proved to be 29-miles-long. (more…)

Lou Della Crim Revealed

As the Depression neared, a wildcat well on the Crim family farm in East Texas proved the existence of the largest oilfield in the lower 48-states.

Three days after Christmas in 1930, a major oil discovery on the farm of the widow Lou Della Crim revealed the extent of the mighty East Texas oilfield.

lou della crim sitting in front of her oil wells

“Mrs. Lou Della Crim sits on the porch of her house and contemplates the three producing wells in her front yard,” notes the caption of this undated photograph about the wells that followed the historic 1930 discovery on her farm. Image courtesy Calib Pirtle/Neal Campbell.

lou della crim Malcolm Crim stands by his discovery oil well

Malcolm Crim stands at site of his famous 1930 East Texas oil well, the Lou Della Crim No. 1, named after his mother.

Some say a gypsy predicted the oil discovery for Malcolm Crim. Others say it was because his mother, Lou Della “Mama” Crim, was a pious woman.

On December 28, 1930, Mrs. Crim’s eldest son struck a gusher on her Rusk County, Texas, farm. The Lou Della Crim No. 1 well initially produced 20,000 barrels of oil every day.

“On Sunday morning, December 28, while Mrs. Crim was attending church, the Lou Della Crim well blew in,” noted Joe White, director of the East Texas Oil Museum in 2004.

The headline-making oil strike was about nine miles north of an earlier discovery on another widow’s farm. (more…)

Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory

The astute Pennsylvania businesswoman’s plant included a dozen cheaply built and unpainted wood buildings.

In 1899, Mary Byron Alford, the “Only Woman in the World who Owns and Operates a Dynamite Factory,” prospered in the midst of America’s first billion-dollar oilfield. Mrs. Alford’s nitroglycerin factory cooked 3,000 pounds of nitroglycerin every day.

Mrs. Aldord's nitro factory newspaper article

Penn-Brad Museum Historical Oil Well Park and Museum Director Sherri Schulze in 2005 exhibited a laminated (though wrinkled) page from a newspaper published in 1899. “This was done by a student many years ago,” she said. “It was a school project done by one of Mrs. Alford’s descendants.”


First Mississippi Oil Well

Young geologist revealed giant Yazoo County oilfield.


The first Mississippi oil well was drilled in 1939 after a Yazoo County geological survey by a young geologist who had sought a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls for children. “It all began quite independently of any search for oil,” noted a southern history journal decades later.

first Mississippi oil well geologist fred mellen

Frederic Mellen became president of the Mississippi Geological Survey in 1946. Images courtesy Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey.

In February 1939, Frederic F. Mellen worked for the Works Progress Administration in Yazoo County during the Great Depression. The 28-year-old geologist supervised a clay and minerals survey project, “to locate a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls and other utensils for an underprivileged children’s nursery.”

Instead, Mellen launched Mississippi’s oil industry.

At Perry Creek, about a mile southwest of Tinsley, Mellen’s survey found a strata of Mississippi’s known Jackson formation. But the seam was 250 feet above where it was supposed to be. It was a salt dome structure, well known since Texas’ spectacular Spindletop Hill discovery in January 1901.

Mellen urged more seismographic testing. The Jackson formation was persuasive evidence that there was oil to be found along Perry Creek. Indications in the Yazoo Clay suggested an anticlinal structure, according to Edgar Wesley Owen in Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975).

“Although the favorable area had been leased by an oil company about 10 years earlier and relinquished after a seismic examination, the Survey issued a press release in April 1939 describing its findings and recommending that the structure be drilled,” Owen explained. When published in the State Geological Bulletin on April 12, 1939, Mellen’s startling survey results prompted renewed interest in finding Mississippi’s first commercial oil deposits after decades of searching and hundreds of dry holes.

The Tinsley formation included, “a northward contour closure of at least 135 feet – a structure so favorable for oil and gas accumulation as to warrant further geologic sturdy and seismographic exploration,” the Bulletin press release proclaimed, adding that it “especially should it be further explored for the reason that it lies less than 35 miles north-west of the Jackson Gas Field.”

first Mississippi oil well

“Mississippi’s prospects of finding oil in commercial quantities were heightened yesterday,” proclaimed the Vicksburg Evening Post in 1939.

Union Producing Company of Houston, Texas, leased much of the area. Company landmen quickly acquired mineral rights to about 2,500 acres around Tinsley. As others rushed to find their own leases, Union Producing Company began seismographic testing, 10 miles southwest of Yazoo City.

Seismic data prompted the company to choose a drill site on the Green Crowder Woodruff family farm on Perry Creek (S.W. Corner, N.W. Quarter, Section 13, Township 10 North, Range 3 West).

On September 5, 1939, after six weeks of drilling, Union Producing completed the G.C. Woodruff No. 1 well at a depth of 4,560 feet. The well, which had shown signs of oil at the end of August, flowed at 235 barrels of oil a day from a sandstone later named the Woodruff Sand. Within 35 days, drilling companies, investors, and speculators recorded more than $5 million in lease and purchase transactions.

first Mississippi oil well

Union Producing Company discovered the Tinsley oilfiled at a depth of 4,560 feet.

“Almost eighty years to the day after the discovery of the famous Drake well on Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, the first commercially important oil pool in the southeastern states was discovered,” declared John S. Ezell in The Journal of Southern History, (Vol.18, No. 3, August 1952).

“Hotels are over-flowing, restaurants are overtaxed, map companies are dizzy from the rush of new business,” reported Oil Weekly, adding that “farmers are trying to obtain drilling clauses with leases, geophysical crews are slipping through the woods, and in every hotel lobby John Doe will tell you he has a sure-shot lease – for sale at the right price.”

Three weeks after the Woodruff No. 1 well was completed, Union Producing exported to Louisiana the first barrel of Mississippi crude oil, sending four tank cars carrying 8,000 gallons of oil from Tinsley Station to the Standard Oil Refinery at Baton Rouge.

first Mississippi oil well newspaper headline about oil well

Following the discovery, the Commercial Appeal of Memphis explained the well’s completion with “a drilling crew sets a ‘Christmas tree’ (drilling apparatus) in place.”

The Southland Company in 1940 constructed a small oil refinery at Crupp, seven miles southeast of Yazoo City, near the Illinois Central railroad freight line. By June 1944, Mississippi had 388 wells in eight producing oilfields. Texas oilman Sid W. Richardson discovered the prolific Gwinville oilfield in August 1944.

Cumulative production from the Tinsley field would reach more than 224 million barrels of oil and 14.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas by 1997, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

“The discovery and development of the largest oil field in the southeastern States is an exciting part of Mississippi’s history,” proclaimed Mississippi State Geologist William H. Moore in 1974.

“The fact that this giant field was discovered through the application of basic geology, in an investigation not necessarily slated toward oil and gas exploration, is a tribute not only to the geologist making the discovery but to all geologists engaged in similar undertakings,” he added. The Office of the Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey, in 1974 published Moore’s Tinsley Field 1939-1974, A Commemorative Bulletin. A Yazoo City newspaper editor was among his sources regarding the historic well.

“When the Tinsley oil field was discovered in August of 1939 Mississippians, and Yazooans in particular, thought at last Mississippi would mushroom in development as did Oklahoma and parts of Texas and Louisiana,” noted Norman Mott Jr., editor of the Yazoo City Herald in 1974. “Yazoo City experienced a great deal of excitement and the chaos of the early days as the center of the beginning oil industry in the state,” Mott said. “Adding greatly to the dreams of an oil boom was the discovery in the spring of 1940 of the Pickens Field in eastern Yazoo County. However, Pickens was not another Tinsley.”

Frederic Mellen (1911-1989) was a founding member in 1939 of the Mississippi Geological Society. In 1985, the society sponsored a summer field trip led by Mellen, “to traverse the very hillsides of Yazoo County that he had mapped 47 years previously in his discovery of the large surface anticline that later became the giant Tinsley field,” reported Stanley King in A Brief History Of The Mississippi Geological Society.

As of 2017, with secondary recovery through carbon-dioxide injection, the Tensely oilfield was still producing more than 6,000 barrels of oil a day, about eight percent of Mississippi’s total oil production.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Mississippi Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-mississippi-oil-well. Last Updated: December 20, 2019. Original Published Date: September 3, 2018.


Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel

Visiting Cisco, Texas, to buy a bank, Conrad Hilton saw an opportunity as roughnecks waited in line at a motel.


The first Hilton Hotel came in 1919 when Conrad Hilton, intending to buy a Texas bank, witnessed the booming Ranger oilfield. “He can keep his bank!” declared Hilton before buying a motel overflowing with roughnecks in nearby Cisco.

Mobley Hotel in Cisco Texas

Conrad Hilton visited Cisco, Texas, intending to buy a bank. When the deal fell through, he went from the train station across the street to a two-story red brick building called the Mobley Hotel. He noticed roughnecks from the Ranger oilfield waiting in line for a room.

On October 17, 1917, the McClesky No. 1 well hit an oil-bearing sand at 3,432 feet deep and launched the world-famous Ranger oilfield boom. Thanks to this “Roaring Ranger,” in just 20 months the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company – whose stock had skyrocketed from $30 to $1,250 a share – was drilling 22 wells in the area. Eight refineries were soon open or under construction, and the city’s four banks had $5 million in deposits.

The Ranger oilfield and other nearby North Texas discoveries gained international fame by eliminating critical oil shortages during World War I – allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.” (more…)

Mrs. Dysart’s Uranium Well

Years of futile drilling for oil pays off unexpectedly.

Stella Dysart spent decades searching for oil in New Mexico. In 1955, a radioactive uranium sample from one of her “dusters” made her a very wealthy woman.

Life magazine featured Stella Dysart in front of a drilling rig in 1955, soon after making a fortune from uranium after three decades as of failure in petroleum drilling ventures.

In the end, it was the uranium – not petroleum – that made Dysart a wealthy woman. The sometimes desperate promoter of New Mexico oil drilling ventures for more than 30 years, she once served time for fraud.

But in 1955, Mrs. Dysart  found that she owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore.

Born in 1878 in Slater, Missouri, Dysart moved to New Mexico, where she got into the petroleum and real estate business in 1923. She ultimately acquired a reported 150,000 acres in the remote Ambrosia Lake area 100 miles west of Albuquerque, on the southern edge of the oil-rich San Juan Basin.

Dysart established the New Mexico Oil Properties Association and the Dysart Oil Company. The ventures and other investment schemes would leave her broke, notes John Masters in his 2004 book, Secret Riches: Adventures of an Unreformed Oilman. He describes her as “a woman who drilled dry holes, peddled worthless parcels of land to thousands of dirt-poor investors, and went to jail for one of her crooked deals.”

Dysart subdivided her properties and subdivided again, selling one-eighth acre leases and oil royalties as small as one-six thousandth to investors.She drilled nothing but dry holes for years and years. Then it got worse.

dysart uranium
Years before her good fortune from uranium in one of her failed oil wells, Stella Dysart served 15-months in prison for selling interests in New Mexico oil leases to Los Angeles investors without authority from the California Corporation Commission. In 1941, she had promoted her Drysat No. 1 Federal well, above, which was never completed.

A 1937 Workmen’s Compensation Act judgment against Dysart’s New Mexico Oil Properties Association bankrupted the company, compelling sale of its equipment, “sold as it now lies on the ground near Ambrosia Lake.”

Two years later, it got worse again. Dysart and five Dysart Oil Company co-defendants were charged with 60 counts of conspiracy, grand theft and violation of the corporate securities (act) in 1939. All were convicted, and all did time. Dysart served 15 months in the county jail before being released on probation in March 1941.

New Mexico Uranium

By 1952, 74-year-old Dysart was broke and $25,000 in debt. Then she met uranium prospector Louis Lothman. When Lothman in 1955 examined cuttings from a Dysart dry hole in McKinley County – he got impressive Geiger counter readings. Drilling several more test wells confirmed the results.

Dysart owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore. She was 78 years old when the December 10, 1955, Life magazine featured her picture captioned, “Wealthy landowner, Mrs. Stella Dysart, stands before abandoned oil rig which she set up on her property in a long vain search for oil. Now uranium is being mined there and Mrs. Dysart, swathed in mink, gets a plump royalty.”

Praised for her success, her fraudulent petroleum deals in the past, Dysart died in 1966 in Albuquerque at age 88. Secret Riches author John Masters explains that “there must be a little more to her story, but as someone said of Truth – ‘it lies hidden in a crooked well.'”

More New Mexico petroleum history can be found in Farmington, including the exhibit “From Dinosaurs to Drill Bits” at the Farmington Museum. Learn about the state’s massive Hobbs oil field of the late 1920s in New Mexico Oil Discovery.

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: Legend of “Mrs. Dysart’s Uranium Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/uranium. Last Updated: December 7, 2019. Original Published Date: April 29, 2013.