A short line with a short life, the 40-mile-long Wyoming North and South Railroad began quietly during the oil-boom years of the 1920s. It helped the Salt Creek area thrive for a time, but unsound construction, better roads for cars and trucks, bad weather and the Great Depression sealed its demise.
salt creek oil field
salt creek oil field
In August 1922, five U.S. Marines “invaded” the U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve at Teapot Dome in central Wyoming to evict oil drillers the government had determined were there illegally. Bribery connected with acquiring those drilling rights eventually led to the Teapot Dome scandal—one of the worst in U.S. politics.
Oil refining in Wyoming began in 1895. By the 1920s the state boasted 16 refineries, with Standard Oil’s plant at Casper by far the largest. Production tracked oil booms and busts throughout the 20th century, culminating in the 1991 shutdown of Casper’s Amoco (formerly Standard) Refinery. Six refineries remain in production today.
Prospectors first struck oil in the Salt Creek Oil Field in northern Natrona County, Wyo. late in the 1880s. The first gusher came in in 1908. The subsequent boom lasted until the late 1920s, peaking in 1923, when the field produced more than 35 million barrels of oil. Tom Wall, who went to work in the field in 1917, stayed for decades and in the 1970s wrote out his memories of life in the oil patch through boom and bust. After 125 years and thanks to new technologies, the Salt Creek Field continues to produce today.
The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 established the modern system by which oil and coal companies may lease federal land. This system has proven enormously beneficial to Wyoming’s state coffers since it was first enacted nearly 100 years ago. How this all came about is a story of early oil producers looking for a way around a presidential order and a highly contentious Supreme Court case, all with lucrative results for the state of Wyoming—and a stabilizing result for the industry.
Oil seeps were reported often in the early 19th century in what later became Wyoming; it was sold, for example to Oregon Trail travelers for wagon lubricant. The first producing well in Wyoming Territory was drilled in 1883 at Dallas Dome southeast Lander. Perhaps the state’s best-known historic oil producing region is the Salt Creek Field, north of Casper, which was one of the world’s largest-producing fields in the 1920s. Oil remains an important part of Wyoming’s economy and culture today, and the state is ranked high among the top national producers.
Although the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s was named for a Wyoming rock formation resembling a teapot, the wrongdoers were not from the state. During the administration of President Warren G. Harding, oilmen Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny bribed Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall to gain access to the naval petroleum reserves located at Teapot Dome in the Salt Creek field north of Casper in northern Natrona County. Fall was the first Cabinet official to be imprisoned for crimes committed during his time in office. Sinclair also served a jail sentence.