WEST TEXAS HISTORY
Oil Discoveries And West Texas Music
In the early 1900's Americans were moving
west in wagons in search of land and opportunity that goes with free
ownership. Sometime before the 19th century the Texas Legislature appropriated
2 million of acres of land covering parts of 20 West Texas counties
for The University Of Texas.
Many of these ranches were enormous in
size but most were insignificant in value. After traveling 400 miles
by wagon from Corsicana W. A. Ricker would be the first to lease land
in Reagan County for oil exploration. In 1921 Frank Pickrell obtained
the leasing rights from Ricker and The University Of Texas to drill
a wildcat a stone's throw of the Orient Railroad on the far Southwest
corner of the county. On the very last day before the drilling permit
was about to expire a well was spudded in. Since water is needed for
drilling the very first well was actually a water well. A group of Catholic
women had invested in the venture and had asked that the well be named
Santa Rita ("Patron of the impossible) plus giving Frank Pickrell a
small package containing dried rose petals, that had been blessed in
the Saint's name, asking him to christen the well.
The location was
surveyed by state licensed surveyor J. J. Goodfellow of San Angelo.
The geologist was Hugh H. Tucker. The wooden rig was built by R. S.
McDonald of Big Spring. Carl Cromwell from Cisco was the driller with
the water drilling machine coming by rail from San Angelo on the Orient
Express. After 22 months of drilling with a cable tool rig averaging
5 feet per day the crew noticed gas bubbles and oil on the bailer from
the 3,050 feet depth. The rig was then shut down and Frank Pickrell
was notified in New York by telegram as the workers took off trying
to lease some of the surrounding land for themselves.
A few days later on May 28, 1923, without anymore drilling, the San Angelo Standard reported the well had blown in at 6:00 AM. It was later learned that Santa Rita #1 was on the very edge of the oil pool with 107 wells eventually being drilled in two pay zones with University #1B producing from the deeper zone at 3000 barrels a day. Santa Rita #1 was the beginning of a new era for West Texas as oil exploration spread across the Permian basin making it one of the largest oil producing regions in the United States pumping huge amounts of money into the University of Texas system. In 1990, after 67 years of production, Santa Rita #1 pumping unit is now a commemorative on the campus of U.T.
About the same time W.A. Ricker was leaving Corsicana heading for West Texas William Frizzell was moving his family to a farm near Corsicana at Tuckertown to get work in the newly discovered Powell oil field. Both William Frizzell and his son 15 year old Naamon worked in the oil field. In 1928 William Orville "Lefty" Frizzell was born to Naamon and A.D. Frizzell behind an oilrig in a house on the Pure Oil Company lease at Tuckertown.
Lefty's formative years were spent in El Dorado, Arkansas where his father continued working in the oil fields. When he got older Lefty worked with his father as a roustabout in the oil fields of Loco Hills in Artesia, New Mexico. It was his great dislike of this type of work that pushed him into a singing career.
He quit his oil field job in Artesia in 1949 taking a playing job at The Ace Of Clubs in Big Spring, Texas. Big Spring was a West Texas town founded because of the T & P Railroad and oil having been discovered in the 1920's. The Ace Of Club's patrons along with Hoyle Nix & The West Texas Cowboys across town at Yales's Inn were mostly workers from the Cosden Refinery in Big Spring. Forty miles west of Big Spring is Midland, Texas and prior to World War 1 Midland was a railroad town serving the surrounding ranch communities and was once called "Midway".
The future of Midland would change when on May 27th 1923 Santa Rita #1 blew in 70 miles southeast. Today Midland is a thriving community of 100,000 people and is sometimes referred to as "Little Dallas". In 1937 Ernest Tubb visited Monahans winding up living in Midland working for Blatz Beer that included a radio show featuring The Blatz Western Melody Boys. Roy Orbison's family moved to Wink with his father working in the Winkler County oil fields. Like Lefty Frizzell, Roy became an oil field roustabout working for El Paso Natural Gas Company. Roy later majored in geology at Odessa Junior College.
Oil fueled the economy of most West Texas towns attracting families that would not only produce black gold but gold records. Tanya and La Costa Tucker along with Larry Gatlin were born in the oil town of Seminole. Dan Seals born in the oil town of McCamey. Guy Clark was raised in the oil town of Monahans writing "Texas 1947".
Abilene, Texas was formed when a couple of local ranchers C. W. Merchant and John Merchant persuaded the Texas & Pacific Railroad to bypass Buffalo Gap bringing the line through their ranch lands that later became the township of Abilene, Texas. The first test well was drilled in 1892 near Abilene High School. Slim Willet wrote most of his songs about the oil patch that included the Snyder, Texas oil boom. Ranch pioneers Ira & Ann Yates (part of ranch later became Iraan, Texas) shallow well #3 discovery become the wonder of the world with a potential of producing 175 thousands barrels a day (not a misprint). In 1926 oil discoveries put the Panhandle on the map. By 1934 the world's largest single producing gas field was in the Amarillo Mountains with refineries being built all across West Texas that included the Farmer's refinery in Lubbock.
Note: The West Texas Music Hall Of Fame oil rig logo was taken from a photo of Santa Rita #1.