Heritage, Volume 12, Number 3, Summer 1994 Page: 17
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A though San Angelo enjoyed a
brief boom as the first oil headquarters of
the Permian Basin, that title was fairly
wrested from that city by Midland during
the first oil boom in the 1920s. This is the
story of that exciting era.
The Permian Basin, once an ancient
sea, encompasses a vast expanse of some
100,000 square miles in West Texas and
Southeastern New Mexico - a total of 54
counties. Midland and Odessa lie cupped
in the basin of this ancient inland sea that
covered the land known today as the Permian
Basin. These two cities, their past,
present, and future indelibly linked by the
cattle and oil industries, have been competitive
neighbors for so long, they can
hardly be written or spoken of separately.
The early economy of both towns was
based first on the cattle industry and trade,
but since the discovery of oil in commercial
quantities in 1921 near Westbrook in
Mitchell County, oil has been the key word
for the economy of both Midland and
Odessa and for the entire Permian Basin.
Odessa by 1930 became known as the
service and supply center of the Permian
Basin oil industry because of its strategic
location and its network of roads to the
various oil fields and boomtowns in all
directions. Midland became an important
banking and educational center for the
cattlemen and ranchers with its beautiful
homes, fine churches, and first-rate schools.
By the late '20s, Midland, strategically
located on the Texas and Pacific Railway
with direct access to Fort Worth and Dallas
to the east, was to replace San Angelo
and become the new oil business and administrative
headquarters for the Permian
As early as 1886 Silas W. Titus drilled
one or two wildcat wells on the Nasworthy
ranch near San Angelo. Four areas in the
Permian Basin were the scenes of later
drilling activities: The Toyah-Pecos Valley;
Pecos County; the Dayton-Artesia area in
Southeastern New Mexico; and the
Howard-Glasscock-Martin counties area
where sufficient oil was found to encourage
intensive drilling campaigns.
The discovery of oil in early 1921 in
commercial amounts was at the Underwriters
Producing and Refining Company's
W.H. Abrams No. 1 in Mitchell County.
This early field was of such value that it
justified the construction of a two-mile
track from the field to the Texas and Pacific
Railway in 1922, and oil was carried by rail
to the Rio Grande Oil Refinery at El Paso.
It was, however, the rankest of wildcats,
the Texon Oil and Land Company's Santa
Rita No. 1 (named for the Saint of the
Impossible) on Reagan County's University
Lands that blew in May 28, 1923, that
first placed San Angelo on the map as the
center for the Permian Basin oil business.
The city was besieged by landmen, oil
scouts, geologists, promoters, company men,
and independents who made San Angelo
their headquarters. But by the end of 1926
new forces searching for oil and its inevitable
wealth in the Permian Basin were
slowly twisting the fate of San Angelo as
the oil center. Difficult travel conditions,
immense distances, and lack of facilities
between locations made the life of a West
Texas oil man difficult, as witnessed by
Charles D. Vertrees.
Following a stint in the Mexican oil
fields, Vertrees moved to San Angelo in
1925, where he saw many changes in the
Permian Basin. His area included 56
counties, and he recalled the difficulty
coping with deep rutted wagon roads and
cow trails to the early well locations. It was
not uncommon to have from one to several
flats daily, and it was a bout to open and
close the many "bump gates" on the ranches.
(These same gates, however, were a blessing
to the oil personnel as they often served
as landmarks. For instance, there were 27
"When it rained,
it would take
all day to come
from San Angelo
to Midland, the
center of the
"bump gates" between Colorado City and
As a geologist, Vertrees watched company
wells at Artesia, New Mexico, and in
Crockett County's Todd Field at the same
time - some 300 miles apart. On trips such
as this, he took a cot, bedroll, skillet and
food, along with extra gasoline and a desert
bag filled with water to cool a hot engine.
Towns, especially those with hotels and
restaurants, were few and far between, so
camping out was more practical. Vertrees
recalled a 22-mile strip of paved road from
Christoval through San Angelo and six
miles of pavement toward the west from
Despite these rough conditions, West
Early West Texas oil men in 1925, who helped shape the future of Midland and the industry (left to right):
D.E. "Cap" Lounsbery, George T. Abell, and Tom Allen. Abell-Hanger Foundation Collection.
HERITAGE * SUMMER 1994 17
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 12, Number 3, Summer 1994, periodical, Summer 1994; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45412/m1/17/: accessed September 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.