McMullen County

Oil History in McMullen County

Crude oil production in 1982 totalled 899,661 barrels; 20,209,632,000 cubic feet of gas well gas, 693,355,000 cubic feet of casinghead gas, and 56,627 barrels of condensate were also produced. The county's economic profile began to change in the first two decades of the twentieth century, as the oil and gas industryqv grew in importance. Trace amounts of oil, sulfur, and natural gas found in water wells as early as the 1890s had encouraged wildcatters to search for petroleum deposits in the area, and by 1905 oil explorations were conducted in a number of locations along the Frio River. In 1908 a water well being drilled on the Charles Byrne Ranch east of Tilden erupted in a geyser of gas and water 100 feet high. After Byrne's son discovered an oil seep on the Frio River in 1915, the family reported their findings to William M. Stephenson, an oil entrepreneur. Soon Stephenson's company, the Grubstake Investment Company, had leased 300,000 acres of land in the county. Stephenson's company had its first major success in November 1917, when a drilling crew found natural gas at a depth of 816 feet on a site near present-day Calliham. The well produced 62,000,000 cubic feet of gas per day; by 1923 Stephenson's company had laid gas lines and was piping gas to San Antonio. Meanwhile, in 1922, the company also made the first major oil strike in the county on a ranch owned by Joseph T. Calliham. So many people had moved to the prospecting area by that time that Stephenson arranged to lay out a formal townsite on the ranch. In 1923 the new town-called Calliham, after the owner of the site- was granted a post office, and a boom town rose quickly on the spot. During its heyday in the 1920s Calliham had three two-story hotels, four cafes, a dance pavilion, a newspaper printing office, and a number of other businesses. Meanwhile, oil production became an important part of the economy. In 1930 only 10,000 barrels of oil were extracted from county lands, but as early as 1934 production jumped to 225,000 barrels. By 1940 748,000 barrels were pumped. After a brief decline in the early 1940s production began to rise again. In 1946, 287 wells produced 514,000 barrels of oil in McMullen County. In 1956 882,000 barrels were pumped, and in 1968, 1,335,000 barrels were extracted. Though production declined during the late 1970s and early 1980s, after 1986 more oil was being pumped than ever. In 1989 production was 5,701,325 barrels; by the end of that year 77,000,000 barrels of oil had been pumped in McMullen County since the first well was drilled.

From Thomas Hester, Digging into South Texas Prehistory: A Guide for Amateur Archaeologists (San Antonio: Corona Press, 1980). McMullen County History (n.p: McMullen County History Book Committee, 1981). Joe Pate Smyer, A History of McMullen County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1952).