Indian territory oil history

April 24, 2017
Most Oklahomans know the history behind the title given to the city of Tulsa: Oil Capital of the World. Major oil strikes were made before the surrounding territory was even granted statehood.

Most Oklahomans know the history behind the title given to the city of Tulsa: Oil Capital of the World. Major oil strikes were made before the surrounding territory was even granted statehood. Oil fields like Red Fork (1901) and Glenn Pool (1905) placed Tulsa on the oil industry map. And although Tulsa remains nostalgic of its famous nickname, it is Houston that lays claim to the prestigious moniker today.

Glenn Pool's 75-b/d gusher in 1905 made the oil field one of Oklahoma's most famous. Although not one of the largest fields, it was still one of great importance. The Glenn Pool discovery initiated the oil boom in Indian Territory and-by extension-the soon-to-be-named state of Oklahoma.

Glenn Pool field, named after landowner Ida E. Glenn, was on Creek Indian land and paid out royalties of almost $1 million/year to Creek Indians that held 160-acre plots. Indian Territory consisted of land known as present-day Oklahoma and areas north and east of the Red River. This land defined to the Native Americans by the US Congress was occupied by the Five Civilized Tribes-Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, and Chickasaw-after being relocated from the southeast. Other tribes relocated were the Osage, Pawnee, and Seneca.

Early days of rock oil

In 1859, Lewis Ross, a brother to Cherokee Indian Chief John Ross, was drilling for saltwater brine to use as a food preservative and stumbled upon a small amount of oil that produced around 10 b/d for nearly a year. Although the pool had dwindled fast, the find proved that oil was present.

In 1884, the Cherokee Nation passed a law permitting the "organization of a company for the purpose of finding petroleum, or rock oil, and thus increasing the revenue of the Cherokee Nation." Edward Byrd, a wildcatter who held mineral leases from the Cherokee Nation, started drilling for oil in 1889 and completed the Chelsea well in 1890. The Chelsea well, which produced only ½ b/d of oil and therefore had no commercial value, set Byrd off thinking that his oil well was Oklahoma's first. The Choctaw Nation completed a well by H.W. Faucett and Choctaw Oil & Refining Co. in 1888 but also didn't produce commercial quantities and was considered the "other first oil well of Oklahoma."

Mineral leases on over 200,000 acres of Cherokee land were acquired by George Keeler, William Johnstone, Frank Overlees, and their Indian wives. Financially secured by millionaire Michael Cudhy, the new venture group hired McBride and Bloom, successful drillers from Kansas, to begin drilling in January 1897 near the new incorporated town of Bartlesville. Four months later, the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well exhibited oil.

"Shooting" was utilized by delivering liquid nitroglycerin that was poured into a metal "torpedo" canister into the wellbore before a detonating device was dropped to cause an explosion. The explosion triggered the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 to blow a gusher that produced 50-75 b/d of oil. Despite the large production capabilities of the well, the inability to move the crude to a local market forced the Nellie Johnstone to be capped for 2 years until the railroad arrived in Bartlesville.

Osage Nation

Like the Five Civilized Tribes' relocation to Indian Territory, the Osage Indian tribe was repositioned to Indian Territory and prospered with oil-rich land in Osage County. This "underground reservation" over the next 2 decades, would produce more wealth than all of the American gold rushes combined.

From 1901 to 1930, 319 million bbl of Oklahoma crude oil were pumped from Osage County.

Harry Sinclair, J. Paul Getty, Bill Skelly, and Frank Phillips learned the business and became industry legends because of their pioneering in Osage County as well as in other Indian Territories.

About the Author

Laura Bell-Hammer | Statistics Editor

Laura Bell-Hammer has been the Statistics Editor for the Oil & Gas Journal since 1994. She was the Survey Editor for two years prior to her current position with OGJ. While working with OGJ, she also was a contributing editor for Oil & Gas Financial Journal. Before joining OGJ, she worked for Vintage Petroleum in Tulsa, gaining her oil and gas industry knowledge.