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About This Site

Gateway to Salt Creek Oil Fields, 1920's

In the 1920's approximately one-fifth of all petroleum produced in the United States, came from one oil field, the Salt Creek Oil Field north of Casper.

Salt Creek Oil Field, 1922.

The presence of petroleum in Wyoming was known as early as the Bonneville Expedition of 1837. Indeed, Jim Clyman, a member of the 1824-25 Ashley Expedition, noted in his memoirs:

In traveling up the Popo Azia a tributary of Wind River we came to an oil springe neare the main Stream whose surface was completely covered over with oil resembling Brittish oil and not far from the same place ware stacks Petrolium of considerable bulk

By 1842, the Hilliard Oil Spring was producing petroleum used in the making of leather, and by 1868 William Carter of Fort Bridger was drilling for oil, although, Mike Murphy is generally credited for the first commerical oil well in the Territory, about 1883. The Salt Creek field was discovered in 1887 by Cyrus William "Cy" Iba (1831-1907). Iba, born in Reinholds, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was one who moved west from Indiana in 1851 seeking fortune in the gold fields of California. With the end of the California Gold Rush, Iba moved on to prospecting along the Snake River in Idaho. He ultimately moved into Wyoming. Allegedly, he recalled from his trek to California the oil seeps along the Emigrants's Road near Poison Spider Creek. Thus, in 1883 he began exploring for oil, ultimately finding the Salt Creek field as a result of an oil seep at Jackass Springs. The springs were described by Harold D. Roberts in his 1956 Salt Creek Wyoming: The Story of a Great Oil Field as

"an alkali water spring in the side of an arroyo leading into the west bank of Salt Creek, so contaminated with crude oil that as much as a bucketful at a time could be skimmed off of the surface of the little pool which trappers or cowboys had dug for the spring."

Laramie City lawyer, surveyor, and former territorial delegate Stephen Downey is also credited with discovery of Jackass Springs. Downey's claim was either abandoned to, or "jumped" by, a group led by Lutheran minister, former "honorary" Nebraska state geologist and former territorial geologist Samuel H. Aughey (1831-1912) and railroad, mining and canal promotor John R. Bothwell. Aughey left Nebraska under a cloud of accusations of forged endorsements. He was later cleared. Aughey is now remembered primarily for his claim that plowing the land would result in increased rainfall. Aughey gave the springs their name. Bothwell, himself, had a somewhat tarnished past. He was cashiered from the Army in 1870 for misappropriation of government funds and property. He moved to New York where he engaged in mining promotion. He left New York under allegations that he had misappropriated shareholders' moneys from a number of mining companies.

Salt Creek Oil Fields, 1930's

The result of the conflicting claims to Jackass Springs was ten years of litigation between Iba and Aughey's group, the "Central Association of Wyoming." See, Iba v. Central Ass'n of Wyo., 5 Wyo 355 (1895). While the litigation ensued, Iba busied himself with the Casper Mountain Mining District formed to govern reported gold and copper discoveries on the top of Casper Mountain at Eadsville (named after Charles W. Eads, later convicted of horse theft) and Copperopolis.

Salt Creek Field, approx. 1930

The process of staking claims during the early years of the Salt Creek field was pursuant to the Mining Act of 1872 and literally required the driving of stakes about the four corners of the claim and the driving of a center stake upon which would be posted a notice of the claim. Appropriate paper work would then be filed. Theoretically there must have been a discovery of a mineral upon the property. If the claim were left unguarded, it would be comparitively easy for someone else to "jump" the claim and post their own notice, etc. Thus, with the arrival of larger companies, line riders would be employed who would camp in the fields and ride the claims to keep out jumpers. In 1920, an act was passed by Congress providing for the leasing of oil rights from the federal government which ended the need for the line riders.

Other oil strikes in the Wyoming followed the Jackass Springs discovery, including a large find by Philip Martin "Mark" Shannon in Salt Creek in 1889 and finds at Lance Creek north of Lusk, and Oregon Basin in Park County in 1912.

Philip M. Shannon

Shannon was originally from Shannondale, Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania he was a major independent oil producer having an interest at the time in over 20,000 acres of oil leases. Shannon, lying about his age, enlisted in the Union Army at the age of 14. Following the war, he worked for a time as a traveling salesman and then as a wildcat oil driller. His reputation was assured when he hit oil near Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania, in 1882, almost being killed in the process. Shannon's two partners in the venture dispaired of the well when no oil had been hit by 1800 feet in depth and departed the site. Shannon and a contractor, a Captain Haight, continued on. John J. McLaurin in his 1896 Sketches in Crude Oil described the scene:

Shannon stayed to urge the drill a trifle farther and it struck the sand the sand at one o'clock next day. He drove in two pine-plugs, sent a messenger for his partners and filled the well with water to shut in the oil. The well wouldn't consent to be plugged and drowned. The stream broke loose at three o'clock, hurling the tools and plugs into the Forest ozone. Shannon and Haight, standing in the derrick, narrowly escaped death as the tools crashed through roof and fell to the floor.

With his discovery of oil at Salt Creek, Shannon began the wholesale filing of claims, ultimately filing on over 150,000 acres in Wyoning. To take advantage of the oil, in 1894 Shannon organized the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Co. which constructed a small refinery in Casper. There was, however, a difficulty, the refinery only produced 100 barrels a day. The oil had to be hauled in barrels fron the wells by mule-drawn freighters to Casper. Taking equipment for drilling the wells was an adventure. In 1918, Karl T. Schulyer noted in testimony befoe the House of Representatives Committee on the Public Lands that it took three days for the wagons to go from Casper to the Salt Creek Fields. In that age, he testified, even a man on horseback "would find it a mighty hard ride to get there riding from morning until late at night. They usually made two days of it and stopped at the Horse Ranch midway."

Horse Ranch was a way station half way between Casper and the oil Fields. Schuyler continued,

"The road was very rough and the going was difficult. Water was scarce, weather conditions terrible, snows and blizzards, and it was over this territory and under such conditions that there was transported to this field the material and supplies requisite to develop and carry on the operations there, including the establishment of camps and buildings and other facilities for the work that had to be done"

Freighting Equipment to Salt Creek

Note sheep wagon at end of train. John D. Rockefeller's Standard Trust looked at Salt Creek, but determined that without a pipeline, the area would not be profitable.

Freight Train hauling 60 barrels of oil to refinery in Casper

Thus with the necessity of hauling the oil to the refinery by horse-drawn train, Shannon's venture was a money loser. Gene M. Gressley in his Oil and History Do Mix, Petroleum History and Research Center, the University of Wyoming, described it as a "debacle." Shannon sold out to Joseph H. Lobell. If John R. Bothwell was a confidence man extraordinaire, he was exceeded by Lobell. Dr. Gressley had few kind words to say of Lobell, referring to him as "one of the most contriving charlatans," "sometimes tailor, erstwhile lawyer" and "all time promoter."

Dutch Camp, approx. 1930.

The first major well in the Salt Creek Field was "Big Dutch" in 1907 at Dutch Camp. Dutch Camp was the headquarters for the Wyoming Oil Fields Company. In 1910, the Midwest Oil Company and the Midwest Refining Company were formed by Oliver H. Shoup, later governor of Colorado, and Verner Reed and the following year the first small pipelines began to serve the area. But transportation supplies and oil still relied, as noted by C. H. Bowman, to a great extent on "teamsters with their 16- to 24-horse string teams, who * * * struggled with their loads of freight across the sticky gumbo flats during the spring thaws and across the sandy stretches in the hot, dry summer months." In 1916, the first motor truck made its appearance upon the scene. Thus, between 1917 and 1921 the road was graded and improved with the first five miles north of Casper being paved with a 16-wide concrete highway.

Salt Creek oil transport, approx. 1922.

With The construction of the pipelines and the highway from the Salt Creek field to Casper, production increased dramatically. For further discussion of the Midwest Oil Company, see Casper and next page.

Midwest, Wyo., 1920's

The Town of Midwest, Wyoming, was originally named "Shannon Camp" after Shannon. Later it was called the "Home Camp" and was a company-owned town in which the company owned everything, the houses, the club house, the hospital, dormatories for single workers, and the houses rented to families. Midwest Oil Company was acquired by Standard of Indiana in 1921, which in turn is now a part of Amoco-BP.