The Life of Boom and Bust Oil Towns in Payne County

Story and images provided by Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar

Every March, Stillwater becomes abuzz with the community read “One Book, One Community.”  At the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar, we are pleased to partner with the Stillwater Public Library and the community for this program. This year’s book is “Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” and the Museum has chosen to focus on the oil portion of the book, with the new exhibit “The Life of Boom and Bust Oil Towns in Payne County.”  The exhibit features several towns in the county whose boom and bust have faded into history, but it will also include towns such as Yale and Cushing, which have lived on and continue to rely on oil today.

The promise of new land and new money attracted oil prospectors who flooded into the formerly unassigned lands in search of “black gold” under the Earth’s surface. Mildly successful wells sprung up in Ripley and the township of Norfolk. Further to the north, the Yale-Quay Oil Field became another gusher, beginning production in 1914 at the Harvey C. McCroskey farm. The boom brought droves of people into the communities, rapidly expanding the small farming townships into vibrant oil hubs. Cushing even became home to the most prolific oil field in Oklahoma, the Cushing-Drumright Oil Field. The success of this oil field is often credited for causing the booming success of oil in Oklahoma and its surrounding states in 1912.

As production hit its peak between 1915 and 1916, oil towns grew, injecting a new life into communities. Hotels were erected, hospitals built, and theaters constructed, populating downtowns in the burgeoning oil centers. Some of the new wealth gave back to the fledgling oil communities; in Payne County one Osage woman, Mable Dale, used her newfound fortune to meet the needs of Yale, building the First Baptist Church and Yale’s first freestanding hospital.

Even with all of the new opportunities and excitement, oil booms had downsides. As rapid growth outpaced the expansion of governance and infrastructure, crime and corruption resulted. Some people prospered from the discovery of oil, while others would have been better off if the booms never came.  

“The Life of Boom and Bust Oil Towns in Payne County” takes visitors from the first spewing oil geyser, to the sudden disappearance of “black gold.” It will provide visitors an inside look into the life of an oil boom town, and will make you think about the role oil booms played in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

The museum will be hosting an opening reception for the exhibit on March 8th from 5:00-7:00 pm at the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar.  The exhibit will be on display through June 6th, then it will be headed to the Yale Public Library for display.  The exhibit will be open to the public free of charge during museum regular operating hours: Tuesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. and weekends from 1 – 4 p.m.   

The museum will also be hosting two book discussions about “Killers of the Flower Moon.” One will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14 and a second one will be held at noon on Monday, March 26.  Both will be held in the Sheerar Auditorium and participants are invited to bring a lunch to the noon discussion. Desserts and beverages will be served at both.

Keeping with the oil theme of the month, our Children’s Exploration Series program will be “Oil and Water,” which will be held on Saturday, March 10 at 2 p.m. at the Stillwater History Museum.  This program will combine history and science to explore how water, railroads, and oil transformed the land.

Visit the Stillwater Public Library for more information and a complete calendar of all the exciting programing this March.  To learn more about the Stillwater History Museum programs, visit our website SheerarMuseum.org or stop by the museum.