Birth of the Wichita Oil Field

The story begins with a well drilled into a salt dome in the Beaumont area in far southeast Texas.  On January 10, 1901 a Captain Lucas was in a local store when the shopkeeper received a frantic call from Lucas’ wife telling him that the well the Captain was drilling a few miles away had “spouted” and blown out.  The well site known as the Lucas No. 1 was located in a place called Spindletop.  Lucas quickly drove his horse and buggy to the wellsite where he could see a steady stream of black liquid spewing out of the hole, settling on the derrick and other equipment.

Oil had been discovered five years earlier in Navarro County, but Spindletop was a phenomenal find.  Production from the Lucas No. 1 would eclipse in a few days the estimated production from Navarro County in the five years prior to 1901.

The first well to come in from the Wichita Oil Field was the ClayCo No. 1, just northwest of Electra in Wichita County.  Jo and Bony Moore were residents of Electra, as far back as when it was known as Beaver Switch, having moved there in 1897.  Bony (full name: Jeremiah Bonaparte Moore) was the first mayor of the town.  They were both native Texans, with Jo having been born in Wise County and Bony in Ellis County before moving to the Decatur area.  They had also grown up together and had been married in 1892.  Bony had taken a job on the White Face Ranch of the large Waggoner spread.  The Electra that they knew was a small ranching town with only a few homes, a post office, drug store, a small hotel and one nondenominational church.  Sundays were a day to get together at church and socialize with friends afterwards.

The Moores had easily settled into ranch life, with Bony becoming a ranch foreman.  Jo told of becoming acquainted with the nearby Comanche tribes and of being good friends with Chief Quanah Parker.  She related that when Quanah and his tribe would pass through the ranch on their way to Wichita Falls to trade, they would often camp hear the ranch house and the Moores would butcher a goat or a beef for them.  The cordial relationship continued after Quanah’s death and would extend to Quanah’s son Baldwin.

Jo Moore told of the excitement that occurred on April 1, 1911 when the ClayCo No. 1 well blew in.  Some thought the news was an April Fool prank.  One of the workmen, “Dad” Massengill had to be convinced that it wasn’t a joke before he would even go look at the well.  Another rumor was that it was a gas well and that there was a chance that Electra could go up in a fiery explosion at any minute.

Local writer and former editor of the local newspaper, Mrs. Abby Cooper said that she and her husband formerly owned the quarter section of land where the famous well was located.  They had sold all but the mineral rights three years earlier but continued to live nearby.  Having bought the land for $20 per acre and sold it for $30 per acre, they were satisfied with their profit.  Mrs. Cooper remembered that around the time oil exploration began in the area, a barrel of oil sold for 50 cents while drinking water sold for 1 dollar a barrel.  Water was so scarce that she felt ashamed to do laundry in public, she recalled.

Virtually overnight, tents and shacks sprouted up to house the incoming flood of workers.  One of the tents was occupied by our grandfather who had moved to a farm in Wilbarger County about a year earlier.  He would soon hire on with an oil company and work in the same general area for the rest of his career.  Bony Moore would eventually do the same.  They both would work for the Texas Company and its successors until each of them retired in turn, Bony in 1932 and our grandfather in the 1960s.

By late summer in 1911, Electra was a literal boom town and the oil discoveries had spread to other nearby areas.  Oil was the main topic of conversation.  The local soda fountain served a drink called the Gusher Special.  Almost all rail cars coming into the area were transporting oilfield equipment and almost all tank cars rolling out were filled with crude.  Farmers would remark that their best crops were the oil leases they were collecting on.  Companies in the exploration business included ClayCo, Texas and Producer, Corsicana Petroleum, Honker , Electra Oil and Gas, Overman and Neff and Mattews Oil.  Others included the Wichita County Oil Company, Silurian Oil, Palmer Oil, Williams-Kessler, Red River Oil and the Electra Oil Field Company.  It was not unusual to hit oil at a depth of 1,000 to 2,000 feet.  Other fields came on line in the next decade including the old Burburnett field in 1912, the Burburnett Townsite in 1918 and the Northwest Extension in 1919.  It is estimated that the total production in the unified Wichita Field since the old ClayCo find has easily exceeded half a billion barrels of oil, and it is still producing 105 years later.

The Texas oilfield helped reduce some of the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Many workers would find full time or part time employment there while other parts of the country suffered more severely, with nothing to offset them.  This personally benefited our family, as another grandfather of ours moved to the area from Wise County where he had done some farming and ranching.  His first oilfield job was to drive a mule team hauling pipe for new lines to transport the production.  He worked for Magnolia Pipeline and its successors until his retirement.


(Image credit: Associated Press)

On the 35th anniversary of the ClayCo strike, about 10 years after the well was shut in, a laborer and amateur stone mason named Ollie Martin Stidham fashioned the simple monument shown above and installed it on the site of the old ClayCo No. 1.  It was unveiled April 1, 1946 and the brass plate on it read as follows:

ClayCo No. 1
Here flowed oil
April 1, 1911 opening one of
world’s largest oil fields.

Crewmen                     Depth 1628 FT.
Hal Hughes                  R. T. Craig
Richard Harper            S. G. (Dad) Massengill
Sam Turnbo                 Clark Moody
Ed Beeler                     Lamar Weathersby
A. F. Dennison

On Saturday, March 31, 1951, the town of Electra hosted a parade to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the discovery.  The parade featured millions of dollars worth of oilfield equipment.  Pioneers and special guests were treated to a chuck wagon feed.  There was a luncheon for pioneer women.  In addition, there were pipe laying and rod pulling contests, and local singing groups performed on a platform that had been erected downtown.  Chairman Allen Krohn declared “Electra’s history is unique.  Forty years after the initial discovery, oil is still our principal industry.  Electra has every reason for celebrating.”  Now, some 65 years later, production in the field has long since declined, but the Wichita Field will always have its unique history.

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6 thoughts on “Birth of the Wichita Oil Field”

  1. Thanks so much. Mr. Noble Stidham, Sr. is buried in the Old Electra Cemetery. Is that your relative? They list him as “O. M. Stidham” in the Associated Press newspaper photos.


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