Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 4, No. 4
December, 1926
FIRST OKLAHOMA OIL WAS PRODUCED IN 1859

BY MURIEL H. WRIGHT

Page 322

It is strange that, nearly seventy years ago, Oklahoma entered the race with Pennsylvania, for becoming a great oil producing region, though it was by accident that Oklahoma, had a well which produced petroleum, before the Civil War. In 1859, the world’s first deep well was drilled and brought in, at Titusville, Penn., with a production of twenty-five barrels a day, during the first year. About the same time, Lewis Ross, a brother of Chief John Ross of the Cherokees, was manufacturing salt at the Grand Saline, on the Grand River, in what is now Mayes County, Oklahoma. Wishing to increase his output of salt, Ross sank a deep water well, and struck a vein of oil, which flowed, by estimate, about ten barrels a day for a year, until the pressure of the gas became exhausted and failed to support the volume of oil.

Other evidences of petroleum in Oklahoma were the outcroppings of fine green oil on numerous water springs and streams. Some years before Lewis Ross discovered his oil well in the Cherokee Nation, the agent for the Chickasaws made out a report at the Chickasaw agency, dated August 29, 1853, which said:

"The oil springs in this nation are attracting considerable attention, as they are said to be a remedy for all chronic diseases. Rheumatism stands no chance at all, and the worst cases of dropsy yield to its effects. The fact is, that it cures anything that has been tried. A great many Texans visit these springs, and some from Arkansas. They are situated at the foot of the Wichita Mountains on Washita River. There is one or two of great medical properties."

Among the well-known springs in early days, was one at New Spring Place, north of Tahlequah, in Going Snake district, Cherokee Nation; and another called Boyd Springs, northeast of the present city of Ardmore, in the Chickasaw Nation. The Indians often gathered at the latter place in

Page 323

great numbers, and lighted their camps with the gas, by placing a tube or gun barrel in the ground.

Over fifty years ago, a water well was dug by an Indian on his farm in what is near the southern part of Pontotoc County, where green oil was also found. In the early seventies, when this man bought one of the first mowing machines in the country, he drew up the green oil from his water well, in a little bucket, to oil his machine for cutting the rich grass on the prairies of that locality.

There was also a natural oil spring at the old Peter Maytubby place, about six miles northwest of the present town of Caddo, Bryan County, Oklahoma. Between thirty-five and forty years ago, a hotel was opened at Maytubby Springs, and the place became well known as a resort in this country and the surrounding states.

On account of the natural outcroppings of petroleum throughout the country, interest was aroused to such an extent, among the Choctaws and Chickasaws, that Oklahoma’s first oil company was organized in 1872. This company was known as the Chickasaw Oil Company, incorporated under the laws of the State of Missouri. According to the constitutions of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, at that time, the land was held in common by the citizens of the nations, but the individual citizen was encouraged to develop the natural resources of the country, by being allowed the right to lease a limited amount of land, which he might claim by prior right of having discovered its mineral value. Under this law, certain citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations met at Ex-Governor Winchester Colbert’s home, in old Pontotoc County, Chickasaw Nation, in February, 1872.

The original draft of the resolutions of this meeting, is an interesting document in the history of petroleum development in Oklahoma. It is written with ink in clear and regular handwriting; there are the old-fashioned s’s and well-rounded capital letters. A number of prominent Choctaw and Chickasaw families were represented at the meeting, some of whose grandchildren are well-known in the state to-day. The first paragraph of this old document expressly, states that these citizens entered into a contract with Robert M. Darden, of Missouri, as President of the Chickasaw Oil Company, on their own terms, "for the exclusive right and privileges in the pro-

Page 324

ceeds in the one-half of all oil produced from said entered land. It is agreed by said contract that the said oil company shall have one-half of all oil produced on every quarter section contracted for, the said oil company being at all expenses in boring and barreling the same and the oil to be divided at the wells, the said company taking one-half and the holders of certificates the other half."


All quarter sections were to be located near the oil ridge known to exist near Governor Colbert’s. The resolutions were unanimously adopted. Stock certificates were printed and issued during the spring and summer of 1872. But this was the very year that the first railroad was built through the Indian Territory; there was a great demand for coal and for the opening of mines along the "Katy" railroad. For this reason, interest centered on the coal industry, and the Chickasaw Oil Company undertook no real development. However, the organization of the company showed that the Indian citizens of early days were aware that their country had vast natural resources, and were eager to see its development take place.

In the years immediately following, prospecting for oil and gas in Kansas resulted in supplying the city of Panola, Kansas, with gas in 1882. Interest in the enterprise again extended into Oklahoma, when Dr. H. W. Faucett, of New York, came down into the Cherokee and Choctaw nations, and attempted to stimulate development in this country. Dr. Faucett had been identified with the oil industry since its beginning in Pennsylvania, and was thoroughly conversant with the business in every way.

Among a number of letters written by him, to Ex-Governor Allen Wright, of the Choctaws, is one dated December 12, 1883, in which he said, "It would be impossible to interest capital in the work unless there was some agreement as to the extent of territory that could be had and the specified royalty; it would not do to wait until petroleum was found. You will please write me fully and explicitly as to what can be done in both the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. Say if you think the exclusive privilege can be had, also the pipe line privilege for transporting oil."


Page 325

The following year, the Choctaw Council passed an act approved and signed by Chief Edmund McCurtain, on October 23, 1884, with the title of "An Act of the General Council of the Choctaw Nation creating the Choctaw Oil and Refining Company, for the purpose of finding petroleum or rock oil, and increasing the revenue of the Choctaw Nation." The incorporators were J. F. McCurtain, E. N. Wright, A. R. Durant and Allen Wright, former governor.

Nearly two months later; on December 13, 1884, the Cherokee Council also passed an act authorizing the "Organization of a company for the purpose of finding petroleum, or rock oil, and thus increasing the revenue of the Cherokee Nation." This was signed by D. W. Bushyhead, principal chief, and its charter was granted to Robert L. Owen and James. S. Stapler.

The concessions granted by these acts were assigned to Doctor Faucett, and covered the exclusive right to produce, transport by pipe line, and refine petroleum throughout the Cherokee Nation east of the 96th meridian, and in the Choctaw Nation from the Arkansas and Canadian rivers to the Red River, making a total of nearly 20,000 square miles of about 13,000,000 acres.


Immediately after the act was passed by the Choctaw Council, the incorporators met in regular meeting to organize the Choctaw company, of which the following prominent Choctaws were charter members; Samson Holson, McKee James, E. N. Wright, Alexander R. Durant, Allen Wright, Charles Winston, Robert Benton, James King, G. W. McCurtain, J. F. McCurtain, J. R. James, Jos. W. Everidge, Thomas E. Oakes, Isaac Burass, Edmund McCurtain, C. W. Frazier, Thomas Byington, G. C. Dukes. Officers for the company were elected for the term of five years; Dr. E. N. Wright was elected president, McKee James, treasurer, and Allen Wright, secretary.

At that time there was no law in the Choctaw Nation giving the power of attorney to any person to sign a contract for another party, so it was necessary for each individual member of the company to sign the contract with the producer, Doctor Faucett. A call meeting of the company was held, with all members present, to explain the matter, when it was

Page 326

decided to adjourn and meet at Sherman, Texas, to sign the necessary contract in compliance with the U. S. Revised Statute No. 2103.

The adjourned meeting was duly held at Sherman, Texas, on November 25, 1884, and was carried out in regular order. On the first motion the contract entered into between the board of directors and Doctor Faucett was produced, read, interpreted and adopted. After a thorough discussion of the rules and other matters of importance, each member signed the contract in the presence of E. P. Gregg, judge of the county of Grayson, Texas. Upon motion, the Choctaw company adjourned to meet at Tuskahoma, during the first week of the general council in October, 1885.


But passing the bills through the tribal legislature, for forming the oil companies, and signing the contracts with the promoters was not the end of the matter. During the first days of the session of the United States Senate, at Washington, in 1884, a resolution of inquiry was passed, with reference to the legality of the leasing of Indian Territory. On January 3, 1885, the Department of the Interior addressed a letter in answer to this inquiry, in which it was stated:

"The Cherokees have a fee simple title to their lands and they do not recognize the right of the Department to interfere in the management of their affairs with reference thereto...

"They (the Cherokees), are quite capable of determining, without the aid of the Interior Department or Congress, what is to their advantage or disadvantage and the government cannot interfere with their rightful use and occupation of their lands, which are as rightfully theirs as the public domain of the United States.

"The right of the Cherokee Nation to control its property is especially guaranteed by the provisions of article 5 of the treaty of 1835, and subsequent treaties. This is especially the case in the treaty of 1866, as may be seen by reference to article 16 of that treaty wherein it is stipulated that the lands to be taken by the United States to settle friendly Indians on, should be paid for at such price as the Cherokees and such friendly Indians might agree on, subject to the approval of the President of the United States.

Page 327

"The rights reserved to the United States are clearly expressed in the several treaties, and the right of the United States to control the Cherokee property, and prevent the nation from having the full and absolute control of the products of these lands is not even suggested."

This decision also affected the Choctaws, who stood, substantially, on the same footing, with regard to title of lands and the right of self-government as guaranteed by their treaties.

By the summer of 1885, a number of members of both the Cherokee and Choctaw companies were beginning to complain that Doctor Faucett was not getting down to the real work of drilling, fast enough.

He addressed a letter to Governor Allen Wright on August 8, 1885, saying, "Your letter of the 29th came just as I was leaving for my work in McDonald Co. I wrote you fully in regard to my documents from the Department. I shall go to Fort Smith the beginning of the coming week if nothing prevents, and then down into the Nation to make a selection of locality and arrange for lumber, sills, etc., for the rig so as to commence drilling. I shall go to Governor McCurtain while there that there need not be any misunderstanding. Don’t be alarmed about my allowing the agreement to expire by limitation, for I have spent too much money and time to allow it to go by default."

Within a short time an oil rig was up in the Choctaw Nation, on Boggy River, about twelve miles west of Atoka; another rig was partially up, at Alum Bluff, Going Snake district, Cherokee Nation. When the Cherokee Council met in the fall, Doctor Faucett had failed to file the necessary notice as to his intentions, so two days before its adjournment, the Council repealed the Act of 1884. This was a disastrous blow to the work in the Cherokee Nation. The New York men who were behind Doctor Faucett financially, withdrew from the enterprise. The following year, Robert L. Owen induced the Council to reinstate the charter, but it was too late to arouse any further interest in the work both among the financiers and the Cherokees, themselves, who did not appreciate the cause of so much delay.

After the action of the Cherokee Council, Doctor Faucett was forced to raise money outside of New York; he soon se-

Page 328

cured help from some St. Louis men, who organized and incorporated the National Oil Company, under the laws of the state of Illinois. The new company backed Doctor Faucett in the drilling of the Choctaw well. Of course all this meant further delay. By the time of the annual meeting of the Choctaw company, in the fall of 1886, the members of that company voted to have the directors drop Doctor Faucett if he did not go to drilling within a short time. However, he had made all his arrangements and started on the well near Atoka, within the specified time.

It was hard to get drilling supplies to the Indian Territory in those days. Most of the supplies were sent from St. Louis, by way of the "Katy" railroad, to Atoka; from there they were hauled by ox wagons twelve miles to the well. From the very beginning of Doctor Faucett’s work in the Choctaw Nation, the enthusiastic support of Dr. E. N. Wright, president of the Choctaw company, encouraged him in his attempt to develop petroleum in this country.

On several occasions, funds were low and Doctor Wright supplied the necessary money, out of his own pocket, to feed the men and kept the work going at the well on Boggy. Drilling was continued to the depth of over 1,400 feet, and a showing of oil and gas was found.

In the first half of 1888, Doctor Faucett took sick at the well; it was necessary for him to return to his home, in Neosho, Missouri, where he soon afterward died. This closed the work of the Choctaw Oil and Refining Company.

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site