People in the area, especially Indians, knew that something was there for a long time, perhaps hundreds of years. The nearby Tobacco Plains always had a kerosene smell to it, something noted in early accounts of the area.
By 1867 Henry H. Rogers had come along and the two formed the Charles Pratt and Company, although Standard Oil bought them up by 1874.
In 1902 the Montana Swiftcurrent Oil Company started up after miner Sam Somes found oil instead of the minerals he was hoping for, primarily gold. By 1906 the area had been staked out and stretched sixteen by fifteen miles, with wells on each acre. Oil drilling in Glacier had begun.
In Montana it was clear that if there was oil there was money. Butte Oil Co. got interested in the Kintla oil fields in 1900 and started construction on an eight-foot wide wagon road the next year. The company got its drilling equipment shipped in from Pennsylvania using that road. They were able to drill a 1,400-foot deep well right near the shore of Kintla Lake until disaster struck in the form of a fire over the winter of 1902-3.
Thom made that point clear nearly a decade later when he was now a professor at Princeton when he presented his findings in a Geological Society of America paper in 1923, using the term the Williston Basin for the first time.
If there was oil there’d be men to come and try their hand at getting it out, and several attempts were made during the 1920s, primarily around Baker and Glendive. Starting in 1924 the area around Williston, North Dakota first began to see drilling, primarily by Clarence Iverson on his farm south of Tioga.
A new chapter in the history of Montana had begun, and the state didn’t even know it yet.
The first oil rush to happen in America occurred in Pennsylvania in 1859, which is when the nation’s first well was drilled, the Drake well. Oil was marketed to consumers as kerosene lamp oil for their houses; to painters and cleaners as naptha and benzine; and of course to anyone that needed gasoline for a motor, of which there were still very few.
“Explorers and Exploiters.” National Park Service. Web. Retrieved 22 October 2014. http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/glac2/chap3a.htm
Malone, Michael Peter; Roeder, Richard B.; Lang, William L. Montana: A History of Two Centuries. The University of Washington Press: Seattle, 1976. p 314-28
Malone, Michael P. Montana Century: 100 Years in Pictures and Words. Falcon Publishing, Inc.: Helena, 1999. p 9-11.
“Montana’s first oil well was drilled at Kintla Lake in 1901.” Daily Interlake. 20 December 2011. Web. 22 April 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2014. http://www.dailyinterlake.com/news/local_montana/article_5d37faf6-2b84-11e1-975e-001871e3ce6c.html