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Julia Cauble Smith
Santa Rita Oil Well
Illustration, The Santa Rita Oil Well. Image courtesy of the University of Texas. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

SANTA RITA OIL WELL. Santa Rita No. 1, located in Section 2, Block 2, University of Texas lands in Reagan County, came in on May 28, 1923. Several shady promotions of "salted" wells were perpetrated in West Texas in the 1920s. But the Santa Rita well, which flowed intermittently until the end of June, proved that oil existed in the region. The Santa Rita resulted from the efforts of several men over a period of four years. The land promotion was initiated in January 1919 by Rupert P. Ricker, a University of Texas graduate, Reagan County lawyer, and World War I veteran who took advantage of a 1917 law that allowed the leasing of state land for oil exploration. He and four associates made preliminary applications on 431,360 acres owned by the University of Texas in Reagan, Upton, Irion, and Crockett counties. A filing fee of $43,136 was due the General Land Office in thirty days. Ricker intended to promote the land deal in Fort Worth and sell enough leases to pay the filing fee. When he found no interest in his land deal as the thirty-day deadline neared, he sold his ideas, maps, and preliminary leases for $2,500 to an old army friend from El Paso, Frank T. Pickrell.

Pickrell and his partner, Haymon Krupp, a prosperous El Paso merchant, had no better luck promoting the acreage than had Ricker. Not wanting to lose their investment but still hoping to promote the leases, Pickrell and Krupp decided to develop the acreage themselves. Krupp borrowed the money to cover the filing fee. He and his New York friends incorporated as Texon Oil and Land Company (see TEXON, TEXAS) to raise capital, but the company stock sold too slowly to fund drilling on the acreage. Pickrell then persuaded the board of directors to approve a sales promotion for certificates of interest in a sixteen-section block of leases called Group No. 1. Investors paid $200 each for a .0004882 interest in the group. Texon Oil raised over $100,000 from the promotion and used some of the capital to make rental payments and to buy used drilling equipment. The first oil test on Group No. 1 acreage was called Santa Rita No. 1, named for the saint of the impossible. The well was spudded on January 8, 1921, just before the thirty-day deadline.

Pickrell, who had no experience in oil, considered himself lucky to have hired an experienced driller, Carl Cromwell, for fifteen dollars a day and stock in the company. Cromwell moved his family to the lonely drilling site beside the tracks of the Orient Railroad. For 646 days the cable-tool rig pounded, and the two-man crew bailed the hole. They averaged only 4.7 feet a day. Late on May 27, 1923, the bit drilled into the dolomitic sands, called "Big Lime," just above the 3,050-foot level. Cromwell shut down the well when he saw gas bubbles escaping from the casinghead. The driller and his tool dresser, Dee Locklin, were convinced they had an oil well and left the site to lease surrounding mineral acreage while the discovery was yet unknown.

Early on May 28, with no further drilling, the Santa Rita roared to life, sprayed oil over the top of the derrick, and covered a 250-yard area around the site. The well attracted the attention of area residents and scouts from major oil companies, and Pickrell eventually enlisted the aid of independent oilman Mike Benedum to test the extent of his field. Benedum's efforts proved that the area was indeed rich in oil and that Santa Rita No. 1 was just a small beginning for the men who promoted it, for the University of Texas, and for other oil-rich areas of the Permian Basin.

In 1940, under the leadership of the Texas State Historical Association, the Santa Rita rig was moved from its original site to the University of Texas campus in Austin. Its presence commemorates a time of transformation for both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, which shared in the university's land royalties. In 1990, after almost sixty-seven years of production, the Santa Rita No. 1 was finally plugged.


David F. Prindle, "Oil and the Permanent University Fund: The Early Years," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 86 (October 1982). Martin W. Schwettmann, Santa Rita: The University of Texas Oil Discovery (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1943; rpt. 1958). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Julia Cauble Smith, "SANTA RITA OIL WELL," accessed August 13, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dos01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on June 29, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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