Oct 05, 2007 | Posted in Essays, Places

In 1919, the great Mid-Continent Field of Kansas and Oklahoma produced 193 million barrels of crude, more than half of all the crude produced in the United States. At the time, this gigantic field was producing nearly twice as much as California and more than twice as much as the combined production of the Appalachian, Gulf, Rocky Mountain, Illinois and Lima Fields.

Prior to 1893, however, only local producers, more interested in natural gas than petroleum, were active in Kansas and the Indian Territories. William Mills was one of them. Mills and several Kansas partners in 1892 engaged a drilling contractor to drill for petroleum on four acres of land belonging to T.J. Norman just outside of Neodesha, Kansas. A 67 ft. derrick was built not far from Norman’s house. Drilling with cable tools began in the fall. Progress was swift. The well reached 835 ft. and entered the promising sand. On November 28, 1892, the T.J. Norman began to modestly flow, settling down to four barrels a day. A small and humble start, the T. J. Norman No.1 is recognized today as the historical beginning of the mammoth Mid-Continent Field. A replica of the T.J. Norman No.1 stands today in Neodesha recognizing this seminal event.

The T. J. Norman well was shut down and capped right after its discovery. Mills went east looking for investors in the venture. He went to Pittsburgh and made a proposal in early 1893 to James Guffey and John Galey, Pennsylvania oilmen flush with cash from their most recent, spectacular success in the McDonald Field not far from Pittsburgh. An agreement was reached where Guffey and Galey would take a majority interest in an enterprise formed to develop the Kansas property and personally get involved. Mills kept a one fourth interest that he very soon sold for $4,000 to the Pittsburgh men.

Guffey and Galey arrived in Kansas early in 1893 and began drilling and leasing with the enthusiasm of men on a religious mission. In the summer, fifteen test wells were drilled around Neodesha. Thirteen were producers. The T. J. Norman No.1 was shot October 4, 1893 and became a steady 12 barrel a day well. Encouraged, the Pittsburgh partners leased promising lands in Kansas and around Bartlesville and Tulsa in the Indian Territories. Some thought Guffey and Galey may have leased as much as one million acres. This could not be substantiated, however, because the partners were known for their indifference to keeping after “paperwork”.

John J. McLaurin, the late nineteenth century journalist and oil historian, claimed the Guffey and Galey partnership drilled 140 wells in Kansas and enjoyed success, gas or oil, with half. Forest Oil, a Standard Oil production company, purchased Guffey and Gailey’s leases in Kansas and the Indian Territories in 1895. Forest Oil leased 700,000 acres of promising oil lands in the region in 1895. Forest Oil was reorganized as a Kansas corporation in 1900 and renamed The Prairie Oil & Gas Co. Though a Kansas corporation, the firm was a completely owned subsidiary of The National Transit Co. Prairie’s chief operating executive was W.J. Young, the long time Vice President of Forest Oil. Young kept his offices in Pittsburgh in the Vandergrift Building. Close by, Guffey and Galey managed their many varied and scattered oil and gas interests from their Pittsburgh office.

Kansas oil production amounted to just 40,000 barrels in 1894. Production grew slowly, less than a million barrels a year till 1903. In 1903, numerous good wells around Chanute, Kansas produced over 50,000 barrels a month pushing the Mid-Continent production to 1.6 million barrels in 1903. Kansas wells produced 4.2 million barrels of crude in 1904 increasing the total for the Mid-Continent Field to 6.2 million barrels for the year. Discoveries in the Osage and Creek Nations increased the output of the Mid-Continent Field to 12.5 million barrels in 1905. In March of 1906, the word leaked out that a great gusher had been discovered at Glenn Pool, southeast of Sapulpa and close to Tulsa. The Glenn Pool activity pushed the Mid-Continent output to nearly 23 million barrels in 1906 and 46.8 million barrels in 1907, the year Oklahoma became a state. Unlike the California and Gulf crudes, Mid-Continent crude proved easy to refine into both gasoline and fuel oil.

What became known as the Cushing Oil Field, named after the closest rail station, began around the small Oklahoma town called Drumright. Tom Slick is credited by local historians for bringing in the discovery well, Wheeler No. 1, on or about March 12, 1912. Old Tom didn’t want anybody to know of his success, but he couldn’t keep it to himself. Prairie Oil & Gas was the major player in the development of Cushing. In August of 1913, the first well in the Healdton area in southern Oklahoma near the Texas border was discovered.

By 1915, the Mid-Continent Field of Kansas and Oklahoma was producing more than a 123 million barrels of crude annually. That year it surpassed California as the nation’s largest producing field. With its humble beginnings in Kansas two decades before, the Mid-Continent Field became the most prominent oil-producing region in the country.

Huff, Eileene Russell,Lakes of Oil, 2006
McElwee, NeilJ., The National Transit Co., Standard Oil’s Great Pipeline Company, 2007
McLaurin, JohnJ., Sketches In Crude Oil, 1898
Miner, Craig,Discovery! Cycles of Change In The Kansas Oil & Gas Industry, 1860-1987, 1987
Williamson, Andreano, Daum and Klose,The American Petroleum Industry, 1899-1959, The Age of Energy, 1963