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The Big Muddy; 1916

The North Platte, River; 1916, Photo courtesy of the University of Wyoming

There are a number of Big (and Little) Muddy Creeks in Wyoming, there is a Muddy Dome and even a town named, Muddy; if you've ever been to Wyoming in the spring, after heavy winter snows, you'd understand. For a few months everything in Wyoming is muddier than hell.

I once drove thru the place in April, was quietly sneaking along Interstate 25 on my way to Sheridan going 90 MPH and got passed by a big 1 ton pickup truck pulling four horses in a trailer... doing at least 120 MPH. The entire rig looked like one giant mud ball barreling down the highway; I am pretty sure the horses in the back were covered head to tail in mud and didn't have a clue where they were going or what the hell the hurry was. Them cowboys would have been lucky to be getting 3 MPG. Even without the mud if they never turned that rig off at the fuel pump, they'd never filled up.

I think maybe the real "Big Muddy" is the North Platte River where it is the color of chocolate milk until July, when the Tetons are finally dried off. By August the Platte fishes pretty well, actually.

In 1916 an outfit named Merritt Oil and Gas Company drilled a well along the banks of the North Platte River, with the rig on the left, and made 24 BOPD at about 800 feet in the Shannon sand. They walked the rig around, or drove it around, in the mud, with those specially designed mud tires, and started drilling some deeper wells in the Wall Creek Sands between 1000 and 3000 feet. Some Wall Creek wells would make 150 BOPD and folks started to get excited about new oil country to go pokin' around in. Deeper Dakota, and Lokota sand stuff at 4,500 feet proved even more prolific with some wells blowing in at 500 BOPD. The Texas Company (Texaco) showed up, naturally, as did the Ohio Company (Marathon).

Drillers in the area did the best they could to keep logs of where sand, shale sequences were found, where hard knots of limestone, etc. were encountered, Continental Oil Company (Conco) got a hold of a lot of these drillers notes/logs and determined that all the excitement was happening on the flanks of a pretty big anticline of some 7,000 acres that had about 300 feet of structural relief. It leased the best part of the mapped out anticline and stumbled onto a thick, juicy Wall Creek sand that had enough permeability to drive a pickup through. Some 2,000 BOPD wells came out of that stuff. Mutual Oil built a refinery in nearby Glenrock. Continental bought them out in 1923 and then Standard of New Jersey built another refinery in Glenrock. More fields were discovered in this portion of the great, Powder River Basin, fields with names like Lush, Rattlesnake, Cottonwood, Coal Creek and the Teapot Dome.

Albert Fall, left, Edward Doheny, right.

Teapot Dome was located on Federal land and was part of three oil discoveries (two in California) that rocked the nation in scandal in 1922 when the Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, was caught taking bribes from oil companies for illegal leases. He facilitated leasing federal lands to his buddy, Harry Sinclair and the two California discoveries, including Elk Hills, to his old friend, Edward Doheny of Mexico fame. Albert Fall was a good friend and cabinet member of then President, Warren Harding. The scandal almost broke Harding's presidency. Fall actually went to jail and about the entire mess Harding once said "I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of them. It's my god-damned friends that keep me awake at night."

Most of these oilfields in this part of the Powder River were drilled with cable tool rigs. Cementing casing strings was just being developed in California in 1918 and had not arrived in Wyoming; just about all of the 3,000-4,000 foot wells required five concentric strings of casing, two for protecting against sloughing and two to protect over pressured water sands. Four to five inch liners were set to the top of pay sand and most got kicked started with torpedoes. The oil was green, sweet and 35 API. Much of the Big Muddy Field lied on University of Wyoming lands. The play basketball at UW at the Half Acre Gymnasium, built years ago with Big Muddy royalty.

Parketon, Wyoming, a feed store in the middle of nowhere, on the old Oregon Trail, became the Big Muddy Field camp for Ohio Oil Company and the town grew from a population of 20 something to nearly 3,000. When The Texas Company blew into town Parketon sort of became Glenrock, Wyoming and the boom was on. They were then overrun with gamblers, whores, lease hounds all overselling wells and illegal whiskey. Parketon/Glenrock was riddled with crime...and, like the rest of Wyoming in the spring, always dealing with mud:

Casper eventually became known as the center of the Rocky Mountain Oil Industry and it is still a very oily place. I spoke there once about 25 years ago and we drove thru it last fall on our way to big brown trout in Montana.

Man, when I write about Salt Creek Oil Field, just north and east of Casper, and its history, THAT is going to be fun. That was a big field in the real wild West.

Big Muddy Field

Big Muddy Field went on to produce 37 MM BO by 1956 when all the big boys abandoned it, except Continental who unitized it and began a water flood EOR project that made many more millions of barrels of oil until the 60's. An outfit named Rancher just bought the unit a few years ago to reflood it or begin injecting gas into. Parketon is vanished like so many boomtowns of the past.


Montana has a saying about it having "three months of visitors, and nine months of winter."

West Texans have a saying that when a norther blows in it can often feel so cold there is "nothing between us and the north pole but a barb wire fence."

The coldest place on earth is Wyoming, as far as I am concerned. I spent two miserable months there one winter working derricks. The wind chill in that derrick I suspect was often negative 50 degrees. The open prairie wind passes through you without a hitch.

The rig I was on was huge, with an elevator to the floor and slide down to the ground. These were deep wells and when the drill pipe came out of the hole it was hot, like 150 degrees hot. It would come thru the rotary table steaming and I would throw my rope around the stand of drill pipe, unlatch, and hug that drill pipe, embrace it like a loved one, because it was so warm. You could back up to the stands of pipe racked back and feel the warmth in your back. It was wonderful. But that wind was something I will never forget.

I'd often look down at my wet gloves and think I had no hands left, that when we finished the pipe trip they would have to be amputated and I would have to work as a check out clerk in an Allsups in West Texas. I could tell customers I lost all my fingers working derricks in Wyoming and I would become legendary.

From the derrick of that rig I use to watch F-15's, I think they were, from somewhere, strafe this rig...below the racking board. Those pilots must have thought that was cool. They'd get so close I could look straight across and see them grinning in the cockpit during their fly by. The noise would scare the shit out of you. They'd give a little wave of their wings as if to say...scared the shit out of you, didn't I ?

Two months of that stuff, then I got the hell out of Wyoming. When I told the toolpusher I was quittin' he said I had lasted a month longer than most Texans and then mumbled something to the effect that we were all pussies. I said yes, sir and lit out for warmer climates like a migrating goose in October.

Now I am strictly a Wyoming visitor and one that always marvels at the vastness of it. The great American novelist, Anne Proulx has written many wonderful short stories of Wyoming that are so good you'll want to sneak one in during tubing trips.


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