Stephens County

Oil History in Stephens County

Wildcatters first drilled for oil in Stephens County land in 1911; a 2,400-foot well eight miles northwest of Breckenridge was abandoned in 1913. Oil was finally found in May 1916, at a depth of 2,470 feet, on the W. L. Carey farm near Caddo. Soon other producing wells were drilled, including Smith No. 1 near Parks, which was the first heavy gas well struck in the county and the one that started the local boom. A terrific boom centering around Breckinridge took off in 1921, when drillers brought in Stoker No. 1 just outside of town. Breckenridge became a forest of wooden derricks; over 200 wells were drilled within the city limits. On September 1, 1921, Keithly No. 1 blew in at 3,068 feet with a huge flow that drenched the countryside until it was harnessed by the Humble Oil Company (later Exxon Company, U.S.A.qv) after two weeks' work. The Breckenridge oilfieldqv was prodigious. In one year it produced 15 percent of all the oil produced in the United States (more than the combined production of the states of Louisiana and Kansas that year), and supplied one-third of the petroleum produced in Texas. By the early 1920s the town had two daily newspapers, ten theaters, eighty-nine oil companies, and seventy-nine eating places. The oil boom also led to the construction of two other railroads into the area; the Ranger, Wichita Falls and Fort Worth line built into the county in 1920 and was followed by the Cisco and Northeastern in 1921. Thanks largely to the oil boom, the total population of the county more than doubled between 1910 and 1920, when the census counted 15,403 people; by 1930 the population had increased to 16,560. Oil production also helped to stabilize the economy during the depression; in 1938 more than 1,408,000 barrels of petroleum were produced. Oil production and related industries remained important to the local economy. About 1,249,000 barrels of crude were produced in the county in 1944, 3,427,000 barrels in 1956, and more than 2,978,000 barrels in 1965. Production reached 3,913,000 barrels in 1978 and more than 4,987,000 barrels in 1982. In 1990, 5,601,323 barrels were produced, and by January 1, 1991, almost 286,548,000 barrels of crude had been produced in the county since discovery in 1916.

From Betty E. Hanna, Doodle Bugs and Cactus Berries: A Historical Sketch of Stephens County (Quanah, Texas: Nortex, 1975). Stephens County (Breckenridge, Texas: Stephens County Sesquicentennial Committee, 1987).