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Publicity surrounding the discovery of oil at Red Fork in 1901 drew oilmen's attention to Oklahoma and instigated significant exploratory activity. At the beginning of the twentieth century Oklahoma Indian lands were in the process of being transferred from communal tribal ownership to individual tribal member holdings. This process, which made legal access to Indian property very uncertain, kept most oil men away from areas under Indian control. However, early in 1901 two Pennsylvania oil developers, John S. Wick and Jesse A. Heydrick, got a dubious lease on 410,000 acres in the Creek Nation. With the intent to drill for oil, they focused their attention on an area near Sapulpa. When the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway station agent at Red Fork refused to accept a draft on their Pennsylvania backers to release their drilling equipment, they were rescued by a loan from two local doctors, John C. W. Bland and Fred S. Clinton. In return, they agreed to drill the well on the allotment of Sue A. Bland, wife of Dr. Bland, at Red Fork.

This particular event eventually led to a serious dispute as to who discovered the Red Fork Field, Wick and Heydrick or Bland and Clinton. They spudded in on May 10, 1901, at the edge of the village that was located about four miles from Tulsa, but on the opposite side of the Arkansas River. Shortly before midnight on June 24, 1901, the well hit a gas pocket at a depth of 537 feet, and oil shot thirty feet over the top of the derrick. Wick panicked and telegraphed to Joplin, Missouri, for help, and by the next day reports of a spectacular oil discovery filled local newspapers. When Heydrick returned five days later from a business trip to Pennsylvania, Red Fork was overrun with more than four thousand fortune seekers clamoring for leases. Upon investigation he discovered that the well was only producing ten barrels or less per day, but that did not stop the stampede to get in on an oil boom.

Meanwhile, concerned federal government officials immediately stopped oil leasing on Indian lands, but public pressure forced them to reopen the activity the following year. The Red Fork discovery never produced a great amount of oil, with most of the wells being in the fifty-barrel-per-day range, but it did produce excitement and drilling activity. The discovery also prompted Tulsa citizens to begin a strong promotional campaign, with the result that by 1904 a much needed bridge had been built across the Arkansas River. This gave Tulsa access to the Red Fork Field and beyond and started that community on the road to becoming the predominant oil city in Oklahoma.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kenny A. Franks, The Oklahoma Petroleum Industry (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). Kenny A. Franks, The Rush Begins: A History of the Red Fork, Cleveland and Glenn Pool Oil Fields (Oklahoma City: Western Heritage Books, 1984). Bess Mills-Bullard, comp., "Digest of Oklahoma Oil and Gas Fields," in Oil and Gas in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Geological Survey Bulletin 40, Vol. 1 (Norman: Oklahoma Geological Survey, 1928). Carl Coke Rister, Oil! Titan of the Southwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949).

Bobby D. Weaver

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